Qual Street

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Construal Level Theory - How close are we?


At the moment when more people then ever are working remotely, it’s worth knowing about Construal Level Theory…

The basic idea is that

humans tend to think in concrete ways about objects and events close to them, and in abstract ways about objects and events perceived as distant.

(I’m quoting Frontiers in Digital Humanities)

There are four ways in which we can feel close or far:

  1. we can be near or far in time (temporally)
  2. we can be near or far in distance (spatially)
  3. we can be near or far socially (how close we feel to someone/ how well we ‘relate’ or are ‘related’)
  4. we can also be affected by how hypothetical or abstract ideas are

And when we are primed to be/ get close… we are more effective in concrete, detailed thinking.

When we are primed for distance… we are better at big picture thinking/ theoretical thinking.

This has implications for so many things: let’s think of a few

First, for research/ idea generation – we can prime people to be better at exploring and thinking about detail… if we want people to think about how something works we should get them to make lists, picture an event that’s just about to happen, imagine it’s just in the next room. Whereas if we need big picture thinking about why an idea is beneficial then we should get them to write out some ideas in block capitals, name higher order categories of things: continents not countries, think backwards and forwards 100 years or more…

Second, for times when we are physically remote and we want to get close… what can we do to imply closeness? I’ve noticed with Zoom rooms when you break out into smaller groups and go into your room that you feel closer to people… I think there’s some ‘construing’ going on here… and maybe we can play around with closeness…leaning into screens to get closer, having the same backdrop on our screens, all having a cup of tea at the same time…

Third, how can we take advantage of our ‘useful distance’? A friend of mine has told me how much more productive she and her teammates are at work now they are working remotely. I suspect that they have a really useful amount of detachment, or distance from one another, which is probably yielding better decisions. Less ego more ‘group think’…

All fascinating stuff. The most quoted authors of CLT I’ve come across are Trope and Lieberman. (In case you want to get close to the argument).

P.S. Words and pictures seem to be processed differently… words and more ‘distant’, pictures are ‘closer’


Kath Rhodes, Qual Street Owner

I love love learning and so I invest time and resources with Ambreen and Claire into exploring social psychology, neuro science, creativity and new techniques in research. Read all about it and help yourself to the ideas that will deliver your business the insight it needs

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