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Five Steps to Prevent Confirmatory Bias

Consider the following scenario: you have recently joined a company and are giving a presentation to your boss and colleagues. Your boss yawns several times and keeps looking at his phone as you speak. Although you’re relatively new, based on prior behaviour you had already formed an impression that he is rude. Taken together with his current behaviour, you conclude that he is indeed bad mannered. During the Q&A, he asks difficult questions. You feel attacked and humiliated and answer his questions poorly.

This is an example of a workplace situation where confirmatory bias, a social psychological concept, may have been at work. Confirmatory bias is our tendency to search for, interpret, favour and recall information in a way that confirms one set of preexisting beliefs or hypotheses. Without being attuned to its effects, confirmatory bias can negatively affect our behaviour and interactions with other people.

Here are some tips to prevent yourself from being affected: 

  1. Be aware that this happens to you and everyone else.

  2. Pause and observe the conclusion you just reached in your head. For example, he is yawning and looking at his phone while I am presenting; therefore he is rude.Challenge yourself: do you really have enough evidence to reach this conclusion? Do you know everything about him? Could his behaviour be attributed to something else?

  3. Deliberately adopt an open mind so you can gather other data. He usually seems tired; maybe his wife just had a baby? Perhaps he has a personal emergency and is waiting for news?

  4. Constantly revisit your mindset to ensure you’re considering all your possibilities. Don’t assume he is deliberately trying to be difficult. Maybe he asks questions so he can understand the information better.

It is also important to be aware of your own behaviour to decrease the possibility of becoming a victim of someone else’s confirmatory bias.

The next time you meet a new person: 

  • Consciously adopt the voice, body language and words that will set this conversation off on the right note.

  • Observe the other person’s reaction to you.

  • Continuously reassess feedback to ask yourself what conclusion this person has reached about you.

If you believe this person has come to an unwarranted conclusion about you, assume responsibility for guiding her brain away from that conclusion.

Choose deliberate behaviours that will change her mind and seek out every opportunity to use them.

Being aware and taking active steps to mitigate confirmatory bias will help you frame people’s behaviours more objectively and also help you manage your behaviours more effectively as well.

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