Transceiver Bias: Writing and reading are not the same thing

FigureTransceivers transmit and receive, and we do too. “Transceiver bias” is my name for self-image distortions that arise from receiving information about how we’re doing while we’re preoccupied with transmitting information, that is, expressing ourselves.

We’re often surprised by photographs of ourselves. They don’t look like what we see in the mirror. Part of this is because the image is reversed in a mirror from what you see when you look at yourself in a picture, but part of it is also because looking in the mirror often involves posing in subtle ways. To pose we put on attitude. But when we’re looking at photographs of ourselves we’re more passive. The act of posing-transmitting a look-distorts seeing-receiving a look.

Likewise, we’re often surprised by recordings of ourselves talking. Part of this is because of the acoustic distortions of hearing our own voices resonate through our heads while we’re talking, but part of it is also that the act of expressing ourselves colors what we hear while talking. We listen to ourselves talk through the passion we are trying to convey. We’re more neutral when listening to a recording, so it sounds different. Expressing ourselves (transmitting) is not the same as hearing ourselves (receiving).

Nowhere is transceiver bias more evident than in music performance. I sound so passionate to myself singing or playing bass with my heart on fire and my head cocked back like Carlos Santana. Then, listening neutrally to a recording, I hear more clearly what I sound like-and it’s different, often not as passionate.

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One professional musician I know says he doesn’t practice anymore. He doesn’t need to learn any more technique or repertoire because he has plenty of both. But he listens to every show he does. He says nothing improves him faster. Performing (transmitting) is not listening (receiving). Only in listening afterward can you really tell what you sounded like.

The single most effective way for my students to improve their writing is to read their drafts out loud and correct all the parts that don’t flow. Why? Because writing is not reading. We think we can tell what we’re writing while we’re writing it-but given transceiver bias, we can’t. For the proficient writer, the written word is usually more articulate than the spoken word, but for the beginning writer the reverse is generally true. Beginners have had more oral practice composing sentences and getting ideas across than they have written practice, and so the combination of rereading while NOT writing and hearing out loud accesses their best internal editor.

In marketing, transceiver bias is a problem known as “product-focused marketing.” A company’s infatuation with its product’s details and particulars is motivated by its people’s enthusiasm for having created it. But this isn’t an enthusiasm often shared by their customers, who don’t want to know how it was created and how all the fussy little doodahs work. They want to know if the sucker will serve their needs. Again, you can’t gauge your creation while in the throes of creation.

Likewise, in management, transceiver bias causes something I call “founder’s fascination,” the tendency for leaders to assume that followers (employees, customers, clients, audiences, shareholders) will be as enthusiastic about their enterprise as they are. The founders have a lot of ego bound up in the venture. They always have a personal unique vested interest in their enterprise and are therefore especially eager to cause its success and avoid its failure. The leaders’ high-stakes investment causes them to transmit great enthusiasm. Biased by this enthusiasm, the founders then make an assessment of how the venture will be received by followers, forgetting that their followers aren’t biased by founder’s fascination and therefore aren’t as inherently enthusiastic.

And even when aware of this bias, a founder is naturally ambivalent about countering it. After all, isn’t enthusiasm contagious? Isn’t the best way to fire up employees being fired up yourself?

The answer is yes-but only up to a point, beyond which the leader’s zeal is a turn-off. The same with my efforts to channel Carlos Santana. If I play well then my passion is contagious. If I don’t then it makes me look like a fool, a “legend in my own mind,” a wannabe, a poser.

And what will make me play well enough that my enthusiasm is contagious? Countering my transceiver bias well enough that I hear what I really sound like.

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