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Asking for Consent When Making Decisions May Reduce Interpersonal Misperceptions

How to discern and bridge a gap in interpersonal communication.

Key points

  • Asking for consent as a practice can be extended to a broad domain of human interaction.
  • The decision by many administrators on SAT scores and admission would have benefitted from asking for consent from faculty.
  • By involving faculty in decisions, leaders can fulfill higher education's missions by enhancing collaboration, trust, and shared vision.

Asking for consent is frequently required as a practice to prevent potential harm to others in the processes of legal or medical activities, intimate interactions, and research participation. The three key components for giving consent involve competence, being well-informed, and voluntariness. The issue of consent needs to be further explored in psychological research (e.g., Bohns, 2022).

Reducing Misperceptions About Others

This current discussion argues that the practice of asking for consent is particularly relevant in situations in which individuals are unaware or ignorant about some mismatch between their belief about the validity or truthfulness of their messages or judgments and how and why the recipients invalidate the communications. Asking for consent may help discern and bridge the gap in perceived reality between the interacting parties because all human interactions involve a minimum of at least two living systems (e.g., self and others in interaction) who process, evaluate, explain, judge, validate, and/or invalidate each other’s communication by employing their cognitions and understanding of the reality.

An SAT-Related Example

According to the Chronicle of Higher Education and several mainstream media, administrators at about two-thirds of the universities and colleges in the United States have either suspended for years to come or permanently abolished SAT or similar standardized test scores as an admission requirement. The issue to be examined is not about whether the test scores serve as a valid or only predictor for college academic success. The test scores certainly may not reflect all the skills in writing, reading, critical thinking, math, planning, concentration, perseverance, and integrating knowledge and experiences necessary for students to function at college and in their lifetime.

The problem here is that the leaders’ decisions were made on behalf of their institutes of higher education but, to my knowledge, there are no published reports showing that faculty members at the thousands of campuses have ever been surveyed about their positions, viewpoints, observations, needs, suggestions, and experiences regarding the test-related decisions. The faculty members are the indisposable stakeholders for the issue because they are the main player in teaching and supporting students to deal with various academic challenges (including some students' insufficient readiness in such areas as reading, writing, and math). If the survey was given and a sizable portion of the respondents did not consent to the decision, it would not have changed the result. However, at least their feedback and supporting rationale would help the administrators improve the management and distribute resources and give support accordingly.

There has been a discrepancy between the administrators’ perception of students’ readiness in the foundational skills and faculty members’ awareness of the issue. In my conversations with hundreds of faculty members at various conferences and other professional occasions in the past decades, I have learned that the teaching challenges shared by almost all instructors involve improving students’ competence in those areas.

In short, if the leaders involve faculty members in the decision-making, the leaders can better fulfill the missions of higher education by enhancing collaboration, trust, and a shared vision.

Asking for consent can help reduce misperceptions of interpersonal reality because the unilateral confidence of the communicators cannot guarantee the validity of their messages for the recipients, who use their cognition of reality to verify the information with the consideration of their needs, motivations, and capacity and other relevant issues.

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