The mind is the instrument we use to perceive and process reality, but sometimes it can’t be trusted to act on its best behalf. How can we trust ourselves and our senses to lead us accurately and without bias? That’s an issue everyone must face, both personally and professionally.
To improve our decision-making, let’s just focus on one issue that can stymie our perception, confirmation bias. You’re going to face enough adversaries in life and your career, so you don’t need to chip in and be your own worst enemy. Learn how to identify confirmation bias in yourself and others, helping you be a better, more aware individual.
What Is Confirmation Bias?
Simply put, confirmation bias is when you seek evidence to support what you already believe. It rejects contradictory observations in favor of what confirms your preexisting belief or hypothesis. It’s a cognitive bias and a systemic error of inductive reasoning. In other words, it’s wrong.
It’s a product of selective memory or information; it springs from how one interprets things. Imagine you really want something, then you’re more likely to seek facts and analysis that favor your preferred outcome, especially if there’s an emotional aspect to it. No one wants to be wrong, but that doesn’t mean you have to always be right. One should never cook the books to reflect the data that supports the desired hypothesis.
You can see confirmation bias everywhere once you have defined it. The news is ripe with examples, as our political scene continues to stay polarized, and people on both sides of the political spectrum dig in their heels with self-righteousness. In fact, the phenomenon of fake news or the belief that trusted sources are lying is an example of confirmation bias that has left the United States in a place of stagnation.
How Confirmation Bias Impacts the Workplace
If this phenomenon is impacting society, then it’s certainly a problem in our professional lives. Regardless of your line of work, confirmation bias can bleed into your professional life and negatively affect what you do. If we can identify this tendency and work to resolve confirmation bias in our thinking, we can advance in our careers and help our company make better decisions.
Examples of Confirmation Bias
Have you ever conducted a survey, lead a focus group or were responsible for analyzing a project report at work? The results of that task would set the stage for a successful product or project. But confirmation bias will corrupt not only the data collected but possibly even how that data is collected. What questions do you ask? If you’re only asking those questions composed to get the answers you want, in order to support the business hypothesis that you came up with, then you’re in trouble.
Or, let’s say you’re in the market for a new employee. Confirmation bias can stand in the way of this process. You may have a preconceived notion of what type of person you want to fill the position. That is sometimes necessary, as you may need certain requisite experience and skills to suit the role. However, be aware of your bias. If the person graduated from an elite school, are you going to think differently than if they went to community college, regardless of what they studied and how they did?
While you must thin the herd before calling in a select group for interviews, be aware that confirmation bias might color how you pick and choose those resumes. Then, once you have someone across the desk from you, don’t let confirmation bias direct your thinking just because they’re wearing a pair of shoes you don’t like. It sounds absurd, but these are the preconceived ideas we hold as truth and taint our ability to judge the facts.
Confirmation bias leads to flawed decision-making. All businesses are making critical decisions all the time. Their very success rests on those decisions and intelligent strategic planning. If they’re being unduly influenced by confirmation bias, then not only the business, but all those it does business with and everyone who works for those companies is in jeopardy.
Why Do We Have Confirmation Bias?
There are many reasons to explain confirmation bias. One is simply that when we believe something, no amount of evidence will change that opinion. Belief isn’t rational. Beliefs work on a different level than reason.
There’s also the fact that we live in an age of information, coming at us from everywhere and always. We’re constantly feeding on our phones for micro-doses of data, from news sources, entertainment and even friends, family and strangers. However, those media outlets are often customized by the user, enabling us to pick and choose our sources to support our beliefs.
A Quick Way to Process Information
Confirmation bias offers an efficient if unreliable, way to process all the information we’re bombarded with daily. No one has the time to carefully go through all that information and form an unbiased conclusion. Sometimes there is a need a take the data at hand and process it quickly. Think of it as instinctual, an automatic reflex that has helped humans get out of harm’s way since we first appeared. Therefore, confirmation bias might not be correct, but it comes from a natural place.
Protect the Ego
Then there’s the less biological and more psychological cause of confirmation bias, ego. People don’t like to lose face or feel humbled by something. It messes with our self-esteem. Everyone wants to feel good about themselves. Even people who society would deem bad, who act criminally, without morals or ethics, very likely think of themselves as good people. We’re always the hero of our own stories.
Confirmation bias is when we don’t want to bruise our egos and therefore look for that which confirms what we already hold as true. This helps us not only confirm our goodness but our intelligence. We want to be smart, therefore we are.
Why Is Knowing About Confirmation Bias Important?
If we allow ourselves to be steered by forces we don’t understand, then are we really free to act properly and in our interest? No. So, why wouldn’t you want to know about phenomena and logical fallacies that distort our ability to maneuver successfully at work and in our lives?
Knowing what confirmation bias is and being able to see it in ourselves and when we are submitting to it, is helpful. It makes us not hold on to false beliefs and moves us towards an evidence-driven decision-making process. This is how one stays out of cults on one extreme but also keeps us from acting confidently about something that is frankly wrong. The latter is a practical method to avoid problems in relationships, whether personal or on the job.
Making the wrong decision could land you in prison or just hurt someone’s feelings. Regardless of the severity of the response, there is no benefit to holding onto confirmation bias. Maybe you think you’d be happier adhering to your confirmation bias. But look around you, do such people look happy? It’s usually those who are loudest about what they believe in that are secretly unsure. Their volume is reflective of a fear of being shown incorrect or having to admit they were wrong. That’s not happiness, it’s suffering.
Awareness is the First Step
Be cognizant of the tendency towards confirmation bias. It’s always lurking and the lazier we are, the more likely for it to appear. Know that how you act will influence results. Therefore, try to look at things in context. Know that there are other perspectives, and try to see things from as many angles as possible.
It doesn’t hurt to have others involved in the process. They might bring confirmation bias of their own, of course, but those biases are probably different than yours. The more people you can use as soundboards to test the accuracy of your decisions, the more they’re going to be reasonable and reflective of the real environment. Seek a devil’s advocate. Get more than just your perspective and see things more clearly.
Do you have a confirmation bias against using software? Do you think the tools you’ve been using are the best? Maybe they are, but take a moment to do the due diligence or take 30 days. That’s the length of the free trial being offered for ProjectManager, a cloud-based project management software. It features everything you’ll need to do your work effectively and productively. With kanban boards for workflow, online Gantt charts to help schedule collaboratively and a real-time dashboard with accurate and up-to-the-minute reporting on your progress, there’s nothing bias about it.