Confirmation bias in the workplace

Written by Michelle Mook on . Posted in Sunflower Diaries

Last week, our leadership development programme cohort experienced a fantastic day bringing out the best in their new team, Toby, Bracken, Charlie, and Thistle. Horses are incredibly intuitive and respond to exactly what they see in the moment. However, our minds can play tricks, highlighting evidence which confirms what we already believe. One of our lovely team members pricked his ears up and put his head down when a delegate approached him. The group saw the ears prick up and interpreted this as the horse being interested. The delegate saw the head go down and thought the horse didn’t want to work with him. Once formed, observations about others can be difficult to shift. Research suggests that people tend to accept information that supports their beliefs and reject information that contradicts them; this is confirmation bias. Experiments demonstrate that we experience a rush of dopamine when we find evidence to support our beliefs, so we look for evidence to support what we believe because it makes us feel good

What does this mean for the workplace? Although we may want to be fair and objective, at times this may not be enough. Confirmation bias can prevent us from gathering information that provides a balanced view and stops us from being objective. There are actions we can take to help reduce the likelihood of this happening. Once we are aware of confirmation bias we can learn to ask questions to challenge our objectivity or limited reasoning. It can help to have people around us who are prepared to question and put forward an alternative viewpoint, however we need to be open to disagreement. A great strategy to help overcome the natural inclination to look for evidence that supports our beliefs is to ‘consider the opposite’. This may sound simple but is an effective method of overcoming our limited reasoning. So the next time you find evidence to support your beliefs, find someone who is willing to point out the alternatives, or ask yourself to ‘consider the opposite’. And be prepared to listen!

The days we spend with the horses always gives us great insights into our own behaviour. To find out more about our management and leadership development programme, click here.

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