My wife and I were walking this evening and we arrived at a light that was completely lit up – Red, Yellow, and Green – all shining brightly. The cross street also had all lights turned on — Red, Yellow, Green Left Arrow, Green Right Arrow.
This is the ultimate mixed message. If all the lights were off, this is a “no message”. With all the lights on, it leaves you to guess which one you should decide to follow.
So we all know that mixed messages lead to uncertainty, what I found most interesting (besides the challenge of figuring out when it was our turn to cross the street) was how traffic responded. It reminded me that when we are faced with uncertainty, we look to those around us for confirmation [Previous Post].
One side of the street was just crossing the light without even appearing to slow – “Hey, that car looks like it’s going I guess I will too.” On the other side, one car stopped so they all stopped, but then couldn’t figure out when to start again.
It was groups of people making decisions based on subtle clues about what others were thinking. This creates a type of either virtuous or vicious cycle which can be signaled entirely on random things (someone takes their foot off the gas, looks like their slowing so the next person brakes expecting them to stop, more cars see stopping they all stop – how do they decide to go again – same way, one car inches forward a little, another thinks they are going so starts going through, this indicates to the “incher” hey it’s time to go.”
This should tell us a few things: First, if we send mixed messages, we are leaving the recipient in a position where they will simply look around to figure out what is going on. Second, when we find ourselves as the recipient, we should either ask for clarification or step back from the scenario and decide what is best independent of the crowd.
If this topic interests you, you might like the previous post as it talks more about just how much we look to others to make our decisions in times of uncertainty.