By Bev Strickland, Managing Director of Strictlymarketing
It can be very healthy and rewarding to be surrounded by people who share the same values and ideas we have except, perhaps, for when we are in business.
Anyone running a successful business which has more to offer than their competitors, has not achieved this by being surrounded by like-minded people.
Instead, they have built diverse work teams who are encouraged to challenge and question the thinking and approach of management, so they are not offering cookie-cutter solutions, but instead have permission to think outside of the box and challenge the status quo.
This is not to say a business should have staff who are belligerent and looking for arguments; no business needs that kind of energy.
But when a business has staff who all think alike and are happy to jump on board with each other’s thinking, it runs the risk of falling victim to confirmation bias and in the process, is not doing itself any favours.
Britannica defines confirmation bias as “the tendency to process information by looking for, or interpreting, information that is consistent with one’s existing beliefs”.
“People are especially likely to process information to support their own beliefs when the issue is highly important or self-relevant,” Britannica continues. “In the context of decision making, once an individual makes a decision, he or she will look for information that supports it. Information that conflicts with the decision may cause discomfort and is therefore ignored or given little consideration.
“People give special treatment to information that supports their personal beliefs. Confirmation bias is important because it may lead people to hold strongly to false beliefs or to give more weight to information that supports their beliefs than is warranted by the evidence.”
Brittanica continues saying people can become “overconfident in their beliefs because they have accumulated evidence to support them, when in reality much evidence refuting their beliefs was overlooked or ignored, evidence which, if considered, would lead to less confidence in one’s beliefs”.
Harvard Business School‘s Patrick Healy, in a piece on the topic, goes so far as to say, “confirmation bias is dangerous for many reasons—most notably because it leads to flawed decision-making”.
How to avoid confirmation bias
There are a number of ways to address confirmation bias and a solid starting point is to ensure diversity in any work team.
Sitting around talking to each other, they are more likely to agree that something would be a good service and product if they are surrounded by others who believe the same thing.
Introducing women, staff from other demographics and ethnic backgrounds, and team members who are both older and younger, can produce brainstorming of a level never seen in your organisation.
This is provided their voice is listened to and valued. If they are not given a voice, the confirmation bias will not be challenged.
Healy from Harvard Business School suggests another way of reducing the chances of confirmation bias may be appointing a team member to play Devil’s Advocate and take a position contrary to the team for the sake of debate.
Our three top tips
- Build an inclusive team which brings different viewpoints and experience to the workplace
- Encourage discussion and input from all your team
- Appoint someone as Devil’s Advocate