Most of us have some type of cognitive bias. If you aren’t already familiar with cognitive bias, then it is important to know the definition, because chances are, you have cognitive biases in some form or another.
Simply put, a cognitive bias is a systematic error in the way that you think that effects your ability to make decisions and judgements. For most people, their cognitive biases are related to memory. You may remember an event or situation in a different way from how it really happened for a multitude of reasons. However, that miss-memory can eventually impact the way you think and lead to biased opinions, thoughts or decisions. Even if your cognitive biases aren’t particularly harmful, or noticeable, chances are you have them.
Say you really believe in something, such as the idea of gender bias in the workplace. Chances are when you look for and interpret information, you are going to look for those that back up this theory that there is significant gender bias in most companies, because you already believe it exists. You are much more likely to believe articles that support this notion and dismiss any evidence that counters it, instead of reconsidering the opinion you have. This is a type of cognitive bias known as confirmation bias.
However, sometimes these biases aren’t as clear.
For example, say you are interviewing a new potential hire for your company. On paper, this person is extremely qualified, the best you’ve seen. When you interview him, his responses are spot on. He is personable, has great references, exceptional social skills. He is somehow charming, endearing, commanding and professional all at the same time. You meet with this person, and you actually really like him not only as an employee but as a candidate. However, something just doesn’t feel right. You know it doesn’t make sense, and you can’t really give a reason, but you just feel it.
So, what do you do? Do you hire this man even though you have an inkling of a bad feeling, or do you let him go? Just “trusting your instinct” can be a hard sell, especially if it means explaining to others in your company why you let this amazing candidate go.
These are all ways that cognitive bias is not only impacting you but your life and those around you as well. There is nothing you can do to magically make cognitive biases just go away, but there are ways you can overcome them and use it to your advantage.
Getting Over Anchoring
One of the most common ways that people exhibit cognitive biases is by anchoring. This means jumping to conclusions on first impressions or making rash decisions without thinking it through. A simple solution? Set up a time to sit down and reflect before making big decisions, whether this means writing down your thoughts or just meeting with others to flesh some ideas out.
Avoiding Gambler’s Fallacy
There are some situations where people simply tend to expect that past events are going to influence how things will happen in the future. This is known as the Gambler’s Fallacy. Think of the earlier example of the job interview. What if you didn’t want to hire the outstanding individual because you’ve hired a man that looks like him before that didn’t work out? This would be a Gambler’s Fallacy.
If you want to make a rational decision but tend to lean towards doing these things. Take a deeper look at what is in front of you. Is there any real reason to not hire this individual? If you tend to have this cognitive bias than data and facts should be your new best friend.
Defeating Confirmation Bias
Earlier when we talked about confirmation bias, chances are you could think of a time or situation where you may have done this. Whether this means only watching Fox News or refusing to read anything that is against vaccinations. Defeating confirmation bias can be challenging, but if you are willing to open your mind and talk to others then you can really overcome it and gain a whole new insight that can be surprisingly beneficial.
The best way to do this is to purposefully surround yourself with people who are different than you and who have different opinions than you do. If you look at the most intelligent and successful people on the planet today, they will likely tell you that they have different experts and advisors around them with different opinions and insights.
This is a great way to make sure you have someone who is always challenging your thoughts. It can also encourage you to gather more insight, data and information from a wider variety of sources.
Keep these approaches in mind. They may be just what you need in order to defeat cognitive biases and use them as a way to leverage your success in the future.