Breaking Out of Bias

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Breaking Out of Bias

Cognitive biases influence our personal thoughts, often without us even realizing it. While it can be hard to control how we think and combat our ingrained ideas, it is possible, but we must first understand what a cognitive bias is and how it can affect us. A cognitive bias is your tendency to think, process, and interpret information in ways that can affect the decisions and judgments we make. There are dozens of different biases, but there are a few common ones that we tend to fall back on, often without realizing.

It is important to be aware of the biases you may face throughout the day so you can catch them and manage your resulting actions. We’ll look at a few common cognitive biases and how they can affect you in the workplace. We will also give you some tips on overcoming these biases to better yourself and your interactions within the office. 

4 Common Cognitive Biases in the Workplace

The first type of bias is Confirmation bias. This bias refers to the tendency to search for, favor, or easily accept information that validates your point of view and reject information that does not support it. For example, if a manager likes an employee and believes they do good work, they might let mistakes slide or ignore performance issues and view it as just an outlining event. It also works the other way; if a manager is at odds with an employee or is not pleased with their performance, they are likely to grasp any evidence that confirms mistakes and come down harder on that employee. 

A second common type is the Self-serving bias. People experiencing this bias tend to credit positive events to their character or actions but blame factors outside of themselves for adverse events. For example, if an employee gets offered a promotion, they may credit it to hard work, skills, and achievements. However, if a candidate interviews for a position and gets passed over, they can say it’s simply an issue of the interviewer not liking them or being difficult. 

Another bias we commonly see in the workplace is the Planning fallacy. This refers to the idea that people often underestimate the time it will take to complete a task or project. You may tell your manager that the project assigned to you will only take 20 minutes, but, in reality, it takes you an hour to complete. The Planning fallacy can lead to missed deadlines and unhappy managers. 

The last bias we will mention is the Bandwagon effect, also commonly known as groupthink or herd mentality. This bias is when we start to grab onto a specific attitude, thought, or behavior because others are, even if it is against our personal beliefs. We see this in all aspects of our lives, including the workplace. If you’re in a meeting with your team and everyone agrees with the topic at hand, you may likely join along and agree with the idea, even if you disagree or have a better contribution. The Bandwagon effect can kill creativity and participation in the office if people simply copy others and are too afraid to speak up. 

How to Overcome Cognitive Biases 

As mentioned before, these are only four common examples of cognitive biases; there are plenty of others that we may face. Whichever bias you may be experiencing, there are some ways you can try to overcome it. 

The first and possibly most crucial step is to build awareness; understand that cognitive biases exist and that everyone is affected. After accepting that they can fall victim to cognitive biases, managers and leaders should provide resources to help their team members learn about this topic and how it can affect them. 

Once you know how cognitive biases can affect your judgment and everyday life, you can start challenging your beliefs. We all have deep-seated beliefs and assumptions; however, we can always change our thinking when presented with new information. Start asking yourself questions like: 

  • “Where are you getting this belief from, and is your source trustworthy?”
  • “Is there any evidence that proves your belief is true?”
  • “Is there any evidence that could change your mind?”

These kinds of questions can get you thinking and analyzing your ideas instead of just internalizing what you may have heard or experienced. 

The last thing you can try to overcome these biases is to seek multiple perspectives. Think of the saying there are two sides to every story. Along those lines, you should start listening to other people’s opinions and views. Even if you disagree or have a different idea, listening to what others think is important because their way of thinking is just as valid as yours. They may even provide information that could alter the way you feel about a topic. Be open to changing your thinking based on new information and perspectives that you encounter.

One final note, if you notice that you are experiencing these cognitive biases, do not feel bad; these biases affect everyone in all aspects of life. Once you can recognize these thoughts and actions, you are on the right path to overcoming them. It is a challenging task, but once you start examining your thoughts and seeing other ideas that you may not have been open to before, you will see yourself thinking in an entirely new way. 

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