We think we know how our world works, but we don’t.
We move through life forming opinions and cobbling together a story about who we are and why we do the things we did leading up to reading this sentence and taken as a whole it seems real. The truth is, there is a growing body of psychology and cognitive science research that says we do not have a clue why we act in the way we do or choose the things we do or think the thoughts we think. Instead, we create little stories in our heads about why we gave up on a diet, why don’t coach people or why we manage our time in the way we do.
As humans, we have invented amazing things; we have even reached the moon. We manage to lose our keys, forget what we are about to say, get fat, go broke and move from one crisis to another. The bottom line is every brain, within everybody, is infested with preconceived notions and patterns of thought that lead it astray without the brain knowing it.
You are issued one at birth, a model that comes riddled with delusions and cognitive biases, built to create stories to help explain the complicated and messy business of being a person. It also comes with something else, a powerful overconfidence that works around the clock to keep you from noticing all those shortcomings. Sure, you are capable of logic and reason and rationality, but when you fall short of those ideals, you tend not to notice. That brain in your noggin hasn’t changed much in the half-million years.
So what is a Cognitive Bias?
They are predictable patterns of thought and behaviour that lead you to draw incorrect conclusions. We all have this ability to see things in the wrong way, and we rarely notice them. Many of them serve you to keep you confident or inhibit you from making an idiot of yourself. Cognitive biases lead to poor choices, decisions and insights that are often incorrect. Cognitive biases are very human and arise from our need to make sense of a situation before deciding on a course of action. As we acquire, retain and process relevant information, we filter it through the context of our own past experience, likes and dislikes. Not surprisingly, with every subsequent challenge, our response is increasingly shaped by our knowledge of ‘how we’ve always done it’. There are over 180 cognitive biases found so far!
We are going to zero in on a few that could impact how we manage people. As a manager, being aware of these biases enables us to ‘think about our thinking’ and reduce the potentially negative impact of these biases. Here are three biases that can impact how we view ourselves and how we manage our teams, they are:
Self-Enhancement Bias – A Bias that can sometimes lead us to think that we are better than we are. Research shows that 80% of us see ourselves as above average. Just ask anyone ‘Are you a good driver?’ and see what response you get. Ask 100 people if they have good common sense, and more than 95% will tell you they do. Ask them if they are good coaches, and almost as many will say yes.
Confirmation Bias – A Bias that stops us looking at the whole picture as we filter out information and focus on facts that back up our perceptions around people and events. We tend to like people who think like us. If we agree with someone’s beliefs, we’re more likely to be friends with them. While this makes sense, it means that we subconsciously begin to ignore or dismiss anything that threatens our world views, since we surround ourselves with people and information that confirms what we already think.
Recency Bias – A Bias that sometimes clouds our judgement by making us focus on and putting more importance more recent events rather than what has happened in the past. Have you ever felt that feedback you have received was unfair because this is the first time you have made a mistake and before that, you have excelled in that area? This could be an example of Recency Bias, where we are given feedback on a most recent event but have failed to acknowledge previous and past performance.
So how do we outsmart our cognitive biases?
We are all susceptible to biases, especially when we’re fatigued, stressed or multitasking. Even the smartest people exhibit biases in their judgements and choices. It’s foolhardy to think we can overcome them through sheer will. But we can anticipate and outsmart them by nudging ourselves in the right direction.
Be aware of the biases you have created about colleagues or team members; ask yourself, if you were meeting them for the first time, would you think differently about them? Would you treat them differently? Are you favouring people because they think like you?
Ask for feedback about biases you may be demonstrating – be open to the input, remain curious and suspend judgement. All feedback is a gift even when it is poorly wrapped. You may not like it, and it may be uncomfortable, but there is value in it nonetheless. Regardless of the other person’s motivations for giving you feedback, there is always the opportunity to learn something about yourself that you previously did not know.
There are two truths. Be curious; there are always two truths, your ‘truth’ and someone else’s. Remember a difference in an opinion is an opportunity to learn as opposed to a threat to your own identity. People who are scared to change their mind are the people that will fail to improve anything
When making decisions, take a step back, assimilate all the information before coming to a conclusion. Check any assumptions you have made.
The lens I see my team through
Look at every member of your team and ask yourself the following questions
o What do I believe to be true about each person
o What conclusions have I drawn?
o What assumptions have I made?
o What meaning have I attached to create those assumptions?
o What data did I select to create these assumptions?
o Was I looking at the whole picture or did I miss something?
o Are there any other conclusions or beliefs I could have adopted if I had looked at the bigger picture?
If you choose to change how you view a person or a situation, you will be amazed at the difference in the results you observe!