Everyone is familiar with the concept of the old Q&A that typically comes after any speech, announcement or briefing.

It begins with the speech itself, of course, where the speaker(s) provides information that ideally is important or useful to the audience or general public. When the speech is finished (though sometimes it occurs during the speech), the speaker(s) then opens up the floor to questions from either the audience or their representatives — which for the most part consists of various types of media.

The mechanics of this type of information flow are solid, at least in theory. Application, however, can become a little problematic for a host of reasons.

  Someone makes a statement or series of statements based upon what they believe is the most important information they want or need their audience to hear. This could be anything from an advertisement for the latest in pet couture to the “best” way to clean the rain gutters on your home.

Questions are then posed in response to these statements that could range from “How much will Muffin’s hairstyle cost, and does it come with a mani-pedi?” or “Can I use my Rappelling  gear to clean my gutters — or would a rope ladder be better?” These are of course silly examples (everyone knows rope ladders work best), but this interaction applies to even the most serious situations and information.

Trust is a rare commodity in any era, admittedly, but the current situation in which the world finds itself is under a microscope to such a degree that most experts and leaders are at least attempting to give us as clear a truth as possible. It is in everyone’s best interest when every word spoken or written is scrutinized. But the caution with the Q&A sessions held daily in a world dominated by the COVID-19 pandemic is less about honesty and more about accuracy. And it is imperative that we realize that all the data, the actual facts upon which all questions and answers should be based, is far from complete. And this affects both the questions asked and the answers given.

Still, incomplete or not, there is a lot of data out there. Every day, if not every hour, brings new data into the pool of information, and that information must be processed and checked against existing data. Most of the world’s population has little more than a most basic knowledge of viruses and infectious diseases or how the research into those things actually works. But we do feel the effects and we want answers, so to most of us the progress being made seems like a snail moving through molasses — in February. It isn’t that way, but since we aren’t involved in it, we fail to realize it. We want our answers yesterday so we can stop worrying, stop living in fear of an unknown, and get back to the normal most of us didn’t realize we had.

Which brings us to an unfortunate side effect of the whole Q&A process: confirmation bias.

Both questions and answers are based on need and relevance.

We need to be sure the questions we are asking are designed to yield all of the information possible, good and bad; and we need to actually receive the answers we are being given rather than using part of those answers to justify the actions we desire to take.

Sometimes both the questions we need to ask and the answers we are given are unpleasant.

Favoring what we want over what truly exists is what confirmation bias is, after all. It may give us the illusion of comfort for the moment, but it is almost never an accurate decision.

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