- Posted by Janet Zaretsky
- On April 18, 2017
- 0 Comments
Your brain is your best asset and your worst enemy all at the same time. Why? You are smart, your brain gives you the ability to accomplish whatever you decide. However, it also selectively filters out information based on what you want to confirm or deny. It is called confirmation bias. It has been scientifically proven.
In the Lifehack article “How Our Brains Trick Us Into Believing The Wrong Things” Jeffrey Lau says, “Confirmation bias is a psychological phenomenon which people tend to seek information to reinforce their own beliefs. It is also known as myside bias, which literally means the strong belief to own group’s ideas when we are in a large collaborative group.”. This phenomenon impacts our everyday lives, our relationships as well as our business decisions.
For example, have you talked to someone about a problem at your job or company and they were super optimistic and enthusiastic and basically dismissed your concerns with their optimistic view? Or the opposite situation, where someone was so pessimistic that they could only see what was wrong and how everything was doomed to fail? Both sides of this equation lead to potentially bad business decisions because their view is guided by what they already know to be true, not what is real, and objectively true. What is worse, is we are all doing it frequently, perhaps with less intensity than I just described.
Let’s look at this through some examples. I was talking with a client, *Sarah, who was a partner in a startup company. She was so excited about everything they were creating. When I asked about the business plan, she showed me her projections. When I asked her how she came up with the numbers, she gave me her reasons, based on her ‘feelings’ and ‘excitement’ and what she ‘thought’ would happen. I questioned her rationale. When I had her look from facts, separated from emotion, she saw her flawed thinking that led to the projections. This ability to separate out her confirmation bias from reality allowed her to change her marketing strategy and get more realistic about projections. When she was not related to reality, it skewed her planning and execution activities and ended up impacting her cash flow severely. Had she stayed on that path, it is highly likely she would have failed. Seeing her confirmation bias allowed a whole other view and shaped future actions.
Another example—*Mary was dealing with her staff. She liked some of the staff and some she did not particularly like or think well of. One of her staff, *George, she had a confrontation with a year ago. They reportedly resolved their confrontation. Yet, she felt like he was sneaky, and he did not do a good job. Whenever someone would mention his name, she had a negative thought and an emotional reaction. She basically got stuck in the incident with him a year ago, and everything he did since then was filtered through that bias when she decided he was sneaky and did not do a good job. *George had no chance to win with her. When we discovered this, she was able to set aside that bias and began looking at his work product from a more objective view. She discovered that he was actually an asset to the company and was not sneaky at all, but rather he was modest and a good worker!
A very useful practice is to consider you and I often are operating with an unconscious bias and are filtering what is happening to confirm what we already know. This practice can include asking a simple question: “What is true?” or “What is real?” and then asking, “How do I know?”. That sequence of questions will allow you to reveal if you are operating in reality or operating through some already existing view you are simply confirming. When you discover you are operating out of confirmation bias, simply set aside your prejudgment and look objectively. You might need the help of a coach or trusted advisor to help you with this process, especially if it is highly emotionally charged.
Be on the lookout for your brain sabotaging your success in this way! The beauty of our brains is we can always change their patterns and turn our sabotaging into our success!
P.S. If you are interested in talking to me as a coach about this sort of situation, apply for a strategy session.