Ron Crossland Leadership Development

Ron Crossland Leadership Development

Nov 2016

Filling In The Blanks

A basic neuroscience principle I emphasize in my work is a concept I term filling in the blanks. As a pattern seeking, meaning-making species our brains actively and automatically make sense and meaning out experience. Many miscommunications occur when one person tries to get a message across that unintentionally leaves out some crucial aspect of facts, emotions, or symbols. This information gap is ordinarily filled in by the receiver’s brain, automatically, without thought.

Have you ever thought you fully understood someone, when it turned out later that what they meant was truly different? All of us have. Most of us are initially certain we understand. The filling in the gaps machinery not only completes a less than complete message - it adds to it a certainty factor that becomes more entrenched the longer the message stands uncorrected.

This mechanism can be used in political practice as we have recently witnessed. A key metaphor used in the 2016 US presidential campaign was
the system is rigged.

Seldom was this phrase modified, or if it was, it was from one candidate’s point of view.
Most of the listeners already had a complete mental understanding of a rigged system and that it was a negatively biased against their interests.

Yet all systems are rigged. Any system we create has inherent rules and procedures developed from some systems framework. We “rig” the system to achieve certain goals - hopefully ones that account for all interests. In the governing arena these systems concern how to manage the economic, health, security, freedom, and other aspects of a national society.

In the current election cycle “the system is rigged” referred to different mental models depending upon whether it came from far left, centrist, or far right political speakers. In this election when the far left or far right suggested the system is rigged, they meant in a negative manner.

The far left rigging referred to the power of Wall Street, unbridled greed of certain capitalist elements, the insensitivity to changing economics that affect the middle class and poor, and the promise of globalization. The far right referred to the government corruption, job loss due to immigration, inadequate security, poor trade deals, and insensitivity to the religious, rural, and white middle class. The centrist view, infrequently spoken, attempted to suggest the system could use reform in both the governmental and private sectors.

This metaphor was powerful in 2016. And it relied upon a great deal of filling in the blanks. Once a mental model is created, a simple repetition of a key metaphor can drown out all competing messages. It might be a great communication practice for elections, but it is a poor companion for governing.