Becoming Rational Part 1 – Recognizing Bias
Biases can be hard to identify because they often provide the feeling of positivity and affirmation. Biases, although they make us feel good, prevent us from seeing alternative opportunities that may be better, more efficient or more cost effective then what you had previously come up with on your own. Identifying biases is the first step in rational thought.
Knowing different types of biases and how to counter them:
Confirmation bias occurs when an individual seeks out research, information or data that supports their already existing beliefs and ignoring or discrediting without review anything contrary.
Confirmation bias can be countered by intentionally searching for research, information or data that supports the opposite of your belief or opinion. By doing this you’re leaving yourself open to concepts you would not have normally thought of. This will make your decisions sound as you have reviewed all possibilities and move forward with what actually help you reach your goal.
An example of this in action is when the tech industry became a leading industry, tech companies ran into a problem where most of their employees all approached problems the same way due to their education in IT. The result was a lack of creative problem solving and a decrease in new technologies. To remedy this issue tech companies started promoting the hiring of non-IT degree holders, like history majors. Because History Majors have a different way to thinking they were able to bring new ideas that had not been previously considered.
Conviction Bias occurs when an individual moves forward with a decision or opinion simply because they feel strongly about it. The idea being “if I feel this strongly it must be true, if it were not true, I wouldn’t feel this much conviction”.
Conviction bias is a common bias that salespeople get behind. If they can identify what you are passionate about – and how their product can fit into that – then half their job is already done! Now all they have to do is verify or confirm your existing feelings on the topic and bam! Sold...
The best way to make sure you don’t get swept away in a decision is by taking a step back, waiting, and reviewing the opportunity from as many angles and perspectives as possible. If you find yourself getting overly excited about something, or find yourself saying something like “it’s meant to be” “what are the odds” “it’s too good to be true” - you may want to push pause on that decision and spend quality time in review. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is...
By staying diligent, taking your time in making decisions and considering alternate perspectives you will ultimately make decisions that promote your businesses best interest rather than decisions that just make your excited. Sometimes the best decision is also the one that gets you the most excited, and that’s okay too.
Appearance Bias occurs when you believe people are what they appear to be. If they appear to be successful because they are wearing expensive clothes, they must be successful (because you know, credit cards don’t exist).
This one seems like it should be easy to counter, but don’t discredit the power attractive packaging has. Be aware that people will always put their best foot forward to accomplish their own agenda, and it may or may not be honest/ align with your agenda.
Two phrases come to mind here: “Don’t judge a book by its cover” and “Actions speak louder than words”. The example I always think of when it comes to appearance bias is the story Little Red Riding Hood. Just because the wolf looks like little red riding hood does not mean that it’s actually her; and if you don’t look closely, you may be eaten in your sleep... Okay, it’s a bit extreme; but affective, right?!
Treat people as facts. They have no assumptions placed on them without a verification, either through actions of their own or direct referral. People with a proven track record will not have to try to sell you their services as much, because they know that they have the action and reputation to support their product or services.
Group Bias is defined by the influence a group or particular environment has on your thoughts or opinions. Like-minded people produce like-minded people.
The counter to group bias is easy in idea however relatively uncomfortable for people in practice. To counter group bias simply surround yourself with people from a variety of backgrounds with alternate and opposing opinions and perspectives. A diverse group provides checks and balances in your thought process and decision making. They provide perspectives and possible solutions you may not have previously considered.
Take outside perspectives graciously and really consider how that suggestion may impact your business. Not every perspective is going to be valid, however when you’re open to opposing or differing ideas you are able to expand your thinking; an idea that may not be a good fit may lead to one that is – and if you only surround yourself with people who think like you, you would have never heard that original idea that led to the breakthrough at all.
Blame Bias is observed in individuals who believe they have fully recognized and learned from their mistakes, which means any fault must be the result of someone or something else.
We can only really overcome blame bias when we understand that there is always something we could have done better in a situation where a mistake occurred. You are only able to control yourself / your actions, and there is always going to be room for improvement. In any situation, positive or negative, reflect on the outcome and how it could be improved in the future through only your actions/contribution. If your answer is “that situation would have gone better if the delivery was made on-time” then you’re doing it wrong. Take that same improvement opportunity and instead review how YOU could have made it better. Instead of “the delivery delay was the mistake” how about “I should develop a contingency plan for future projects to ensure any delays do not impact the timeline”.
Blame is rarely the responsibility of one resource; however, our instinct is to justify what we are doing by insisting that blame belongs to other resources involved in a mistake or failure. But when blame is turned inward, the error is less likely to occur again and we experience a more substantial growth in both business and as individuals.
Superiority Bias is seen in people who believe they are better than others therefor they know best in any given situation. Superiority is tempting, it is easy to think that you have learned 100% what there is to learn from a past mistake. As a result, you see your present decisions as obvious, impervious and the only possible option. It is important that we remember that each decision is situationally different. Even if you feel you’ve encountered this same issue before and know just the right answer, never discard potential differences and how they impact the success of your decision.
The long and short of superiority bias is not to let your ego get in the way of your success. Don’t get me wrong, there is always a place to use past experiences to make a decision. Humans are designed to bank past experiences to avoid potential dangers (for example: I was out gathering food and heard this low rattle... suddenly a new creature jumped out and bit Dave... two days later Dave died... Now when we hear this rattle sound we move away). However, when you’re so sure that your way is the only way you’ve effectively closed your mind to potential new perspectives. It is possible the reason your last decision didn’t work out was because you didn’t have the same perspective or experience as someone else.
Approach every decision with your personal experience as well as the experiences of others. All of this to say that there are appropriate times for exploring and sometimes there is not... Take each situation and reflect on how an outside perspective may contribute to a different outcome.
Bias can be exceedingly difficult to overcome as they require us to really review our deepest potential flaws. If you look at this list and thing “I don’t believe I'm influenced by any of these biases” odds are, you are (and it’s probably more than one). But succumbing to bias does not have to be permanent; with reflection and practice everyone has the power to be an independent and rational thinker and decision maker.
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