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  • Writer's pictureShandy Welch

Confirmation Bias

My daughter can camp with the best of us but get a stink bug near her, and she bolts out of the room in a fear-flooded frenzy! A quiet suspicious sound of fluttering will send her running. As you can imagine, with the weather warming, she is bolting in and out of rooms like a possessed child while the rest of us stare in disbelief.

How does this connect to leadership, I am sure the idea of confirmation bias (CB) is not new to you, but how often have you considered the role it is playing in your behavior, approach, or relationships? My daughter now sees the world according to the possibility of a stink bug. Every sound, every dot on a window, and every insect has the potential to be the dreaded bug. Only 5% of the time is she correct.

Forbes has a great article on this topic and describes confirmation bias as the “tendency for people to recognize, remember, and value new information that confirms what they already believe. The concept is not difficult to understand but surprisingly difficult to interrupt. Why? It is because unconscious biases are not only cognitive processes they are fueled by emotion.”

The emotional side of CB is the innate tendency to move towards pleasure and away from pain. This draw can become so powerful that we overlook the truth.

Why does this matter?

You are selling yourself and your team short. Perception is the key to success. Staying open to possibilities and curious about what you may not know will always allow for an opportunity. Confirmation bias shuts the door to possibility, it creates walls of thought and shuts down innovation and creativity. It is the easy way out, “if I align these thoughts and perceptions, my job is done” Nope… you have just sabotaged opportunity. The Decision Lab noted that “decision-makers have a tendency to actively seek information and assign greater value to evidence confirming their existing beliefs rather than entertaining new ones.” So we deny the possibility and unconsciously double down on falsehoods.

Great leadership seeks attachment to nothing. No idea is off the table, and an open perspective is everything. From here, our teams become nimble, fluid, and responsive. You pull away from the pack and become exceptional from this place.

How do I avoid confirmation bias?

  • Be transparent. Talk about the desire to avoid CB and hold each other accountable when it shows up. Give each other permission to call out comments that align with previous assumptions.

  • Approach problems backward, “if we were to fail, why would that happen?” From this perspective, you can catch and account for blindspots and assumptions.

  • Could you ask another question before concluding? CB leads to quick decisions; if you slow the process, you become aware of your skewed perspective.

  • Seek clarity and accountability. Ask yourself: “is this (idea, thought, assumption) true?”

  • Humility and curiosity: Seek to continually prove yourself wrong.

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