For good decision making, check your biases at the door

Two quite opposite qualities equally bias our minds –habits and novelty.
– Jean de la Bruyere

Last week as I worked with a group of leaders at one of our colleges, we talked about a useful  5-step framework that can improve critical thinking and support better decision making.  One of the steps is to evaluate information, asking:

  • Do I have the relevant information to make a decision?
  • Is it accurate?
  • Am I evaluating it objectively?
  • Do I have any biases that may color my judgment?

This last question is especially helpful since biases can often creep into our decision-making processes without realizing it. Here is a list of biases that often pop up in decision making:

  • Confirmation bias – People tend to be willing to gather facts that support certain conclusions but disregard other facts that support different conclusions.
  • Premature termination of search for evidence – People      tend to accept the first alternative that looks like it might work.
  • Cognitive inertia – Unwillingness to change existing thought patterns in the face of new circumstances.
  • Selective perception – We actively screen out information that we do not think is important.
  • Wishful thinking – a tendency to want to see things in a positive light, which can distort perception and thinking.
  • Choice-supportive bias occurs when people distort their memories of chosen and rejected options to make the chosen options seem more attractive.
  • Recency – People tend to place more attention on more recent information and either  ignore or forget more distant.
  • Repetition bias – A willingness to believe what one has been told most often and by the greatest number of different sources.
  • Group think – peer pressure to conform to the opinions  held by the group.
  • Source credibility bias – A tendency to reject a person’s statement on the basis of a bias against the person, organization, or group to which the person belongs. People preferentially accept statements by others that they like.

I can think of several occasions where I have experienced source credibility bias because of my previous experience with an individual where I questioned their expertise or commitment. I’ve also had confirmation bias where I’ve collected confirming information that supports a decision and disregarded information that doesn’t fit easily. I’ve also observed others who have displayed this as well.

The challenge is to recognize biases in your own decision making. Incorporating the questions: 1) Am I evaluating it objectively?, and 2) Do I have any biases that may color my judgment? into your decision making processes can give you the time and space to make sure that your biases don’t lead you down a wrong path when making decisions.

Which of these biases cause the most problems for you and the teams you work with? What do you do to avoid them?

Anita Rios


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