Using the “Whoa Test” in Everyday Conversations

Are you familiar with deepfakes? These are manipulated videos using AI technology to make a person appear to do or say something they did not, and they are more than just convincingly believable – it takes active disbelief in what your eyes are seeing to know that some deepfakes are in fact, fake. And deepfake technology is getting harder and harder to spot. Whether it’s placing Tom Holland and Robert Downey, Jr. into the roles of Marty and Doc in Back to the Future, or more nefarious political deepfakes intended to sway people’s opinions, it can be hard to know what’s real. Luckily, Marty McFly himself has the perfect reaction when something is hard to believe: “Whoa!” And he’s not alone. In fact, researchers have proposed using the “Whoa Test” when responding to stimuli.

The School Library Journal sums up the “Whoa Test” this way: “Whether working with a group of fifth graders or a room full of their teachers and librarians, we often nudge learners to ask themselves whether or not a video passes the “WHOA!” test. It’s simple: If a post, article, or video makes you say “WHOA!” because it’s upsetting, outrageous, or too good to be true, that feeling indicates a need to investigate further. Extreme emotional reactions to the news, and other information, should be a signal to RESIST the urge to share—although our instinct is often to do the exact opposite. When we let emotion take the wheel, we make poor choices about passing on information.” (The International Society for Technology in Education’s (ISTE) Evidence Locker curriculum goes even further, using W.H.O.A. as an acronym to follow when taking next steps.) In other words, the “whoa test” is a low tech solution to a high tech problem. If a post, article, or video makes you say “Whoa!” because it’s upsetting, outrageous, or too good to be true, that feeling indicates a need to investigate further, rather than taking your initial reaction at face value.

But the same test can be useful in everyday conversations, whether they are work-related or personal – especially conversations with an emotional charge. How often have you felt hurt by something a friend did, or shocked by something a colleague has said, and left angry or upset? The other person in this scenario may not be a deepfake (if they are, you have bigger problems!) but it’s worth considering that you might not have the full context of why they said what they said. This isn’t to discount your response – your emotional response is entirely valid. But the actions you take next don’t have to be entirely directed by that initial response; you can probably recall a time when acting out of anger has gone poorly. Instead, what if you treated your initial emotion as your “Whoa Test” moment and took time to invesigate further? What would that look like this week?

This Week’s Tip:

When something shocks or surprises you in a conversation or meeting, notice your initial “Whoa!” reaction, but don’t stop there. As our friends at LeadvantEDGE suggest, “Stay curious, not furious!” Ask open-ended questions to find out more about what the other person meant in that situation. Refuse to believe the worst-case scenario. Use the Evidence Locker W.H.O.A. Test acronym to assess yourself and your next steps:

  • What do you bring to the table? Is there anything about your beliefs, values or biases that might make you more likely to believe your first response without checking it out further?
  • How does this information make you feel? Remember, any strong response that makes you want to trust or share without investigating further is a credibility red flag.
  • OMG: Was this designed to shock you, or give you a negative opinion of someone else? Was inflamatory language used? Are you buying in to the other person being furious, not curious?
  • Ask yourself some important questions: Is this too good or too outrageous to be true? What details seem too incredible to be believed and need to be further investigated?

Try this out this week, and let us know how it goes in our Facebook group! We’d love to hear from you. As always, you can subscribe to our feed here, or sign up for our weekly newsletter to get these articles directly in your inbox.

Published by Ian Jackson

Ian Jackson is the founder of Building Bridges Leadership, which works with individuals, teams, and organizations to create authentic community in the workplace. He also writes children's fiction and teaches creative writing.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s