Getting beyond biases

10/21/2013 12:16 PM

10/22/2013 6:20 PM

One of push-backs I sometimes get about the work I do in diversity and inclusion is that it’s just common sense.

And that is absolutely correct.

Except that we are all out there self selecting what is common, thus explaining why we come to different conclusions about what makes sense.

“Confirmation bias” is what it’s called in the psychology field. And it means exactly what it sounds like — we seek out, observe and believe evidence that confirms what we already believe.

I’m no psychologist, but I see this all the time in the workplace and in a variety of social situations. People just don’t want to be wrong, particularly about something they have invested a great deal of time and energy being right about.

Let’s talk politics as an example. I, like millions of Americans, regardless of political persuasion, am glad that the government shutdown has been resolved. But I won’t be surprised when the next standoff comes, because Democrats and Republicans are firmly convinced — with an arsenal of points to support their opinions — that the other party is to blame.

I look at my world of social relationships, especially my social media world, as a loose microcosm of our country. For example, when it comes to politics, for every person I know who is a die-hard liberal Democrat with inflexible opinions on politics, I can find an equally die-hard conservative Republican who mirrors the Democrat in every obvious and not so obvious demographic, right down to his educational background and work sector.

And in each case, these individuals produce concrete, relevant, documented facts that support the points they want to make.

How do we ever get past this? Especially in the workplace, when these opinions stem from cognitive biases that can lead to illegal discrimination.

I’ve got three tips.

One, when it comes to opinions, just accept that you’re not going to change others’ minds because, like you, they are going to listen only to facts that support exactly what they want to believe.

Two, your beliefs are always correct. The beliefs of others are always correct. Each of you is just taking the facts that make you right and putting a ring on it. Be wedded to your beliefs if you want to, but know that many people are married to their beliefs also. And each of you finds those who disagree to be irrational, biased and, in some cases, just place dumb.

Third, when you’re making decisions in the workplace that involve people, such as hiring, promotions and firings, constantly check the biases you are bringing to the process. Ask yourself whether you are seeking facts to confirm whatever biases you already hold about the person because of race, gender, age, personality or current job situation.

And then confirm not your truth but the truth.


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