Managers - Biases, do you know yours?

Updated: Sep 23, 2018



“Knowing That One May Be Subject To Bias Is One Thing; Being Able To Correct It Is Another.” Jon Elster

When people hear the word bias many, if not most, will think of things like news organizations that slant their coverage to favor one position over another (some call it fake news) or perhaps racial or gender bias and most recently what has occurred in social media like twitter and Facebook. 

Considering that Cognitive bias is the collection of faulty ways of thinking that is apparently hardwired into the human brain. The collection of biases is huge.. Wikipedia’s provides a List of cognitive biases containing 185 entries. 

Paying attention to and addressing biases in the work place is one often overlooked, but it is a key place to start in building and improving your relationship with your staff and in how you communicate with them. Further, addressing biases, both yours and your staff will build trust, enhance your listening ability, improve expectations, increase your visibility, foster trust, improve your observation skills, and help solve problems.

 We all have biases, but biases in health care are not only important to recognize, as they relate to reasoning, and decision-making but they can have disastrous effects on patient care if they are not recognized and taken into account as part of the care delivery process.  

 By improving your awareness of biases, you can help overcome them, become more self-aware as individuals, and strengthen your ability to make better-informed decisions.

To address yours and your staff’s biases it is helpful to familiarize yourself with some of the more common biases;  

1. Confirmation bias -If I had to single out a particular bias as the most pervasive and perhaps damaging, it would be confirmation bias. It is the effect that leads us to look for evidence confirming what we already think or suspect, to view facts and ideas we encounter as further confirmation, and to discount or ignore any piece of evidence that seems to support an alternate view. Confirmation bias shows up most blatantly in our current political divide, where each side seems unable to allow or acknowledge that the other side might be right about anything. This bias can be so strong that one will believe an out right lie even when it is proven to be a lie. As you consider confirmation bias you can no doubt see how it is at play when interfacing with staff. Can you think of a time in which you believed in something so strongly that you made a choice or decision despite evidence that was contrary to what you thought?  What where the consequences to that choice or decision???

2.Information biases – Like confirmation biases, Information biases tend to use a type of information-processing shortcut that produces fast but inaccurate decisions, they usually involve not paying attention or thinking through all relevant and available information. 

3.Ego biases – is the tendency to rely too heavily on one's own perspective and/or have a higher opinion of oneself than reality.  It appears to be the result of the psychological need to satisfy one's ego and for memory consolidation. The effects of egocentric bias can differ based on personal characteristics, such as age, cultural background and the number of languages one speaks.

4.Negativity Bias - The negativity bias refers to the human tendency to favor the negative, meaning when events are of equal intensity, things of a more negative nature (unpleasant thoughts, emotions, or social interactions) have a greater effect on a person’s psychological state than positive things. This can be evidenced most obviously in the media’s focus on negative news.  According to Professor of Psychology at Harvard University Steven Pinker, statistics show that crime, violence, war, and other social injustices are steadily declining in society, yet most people would argue that things are getting worse – specifically due to the negativity bias present in today’s media and our retention of the negative vs. positive news reported.

5.The Framing Effect - This bias involves reacting to information in different ways depending on how it is presented. This human tendency is often exploited by advertisers in marketing campaigns. For example, several studies have examined this, one study in which beef described as “75% lean” was given higher ratings than beef described as “25% fat” and another where business teams were allocated more funds when their performance rates are framed in terms of successes rather than failures.

6. Affinity bias - This refers to when we unconsciously prefer people with whom we share similar qualities. It occurs because our brain sees them as familiar and relatable, and we all want to be around people that we can relate to. However, this can cloud one’s judgment about which individuals are best for the job or task and may result in a less diverse work force, which means less creative views, problem solving and approaches to work.

By realizing and accepting that we all have bias, we can learn to watch for it in ourselves and help others who work with us to do the same. When we are on the lookout for biases, they are less likely to blindly dictate our decisions.

Be looking for ways to recognizing your biases;

  • Watch your language.

  • Identify particular elements in company processes that function as entry points for bias.

  • How people are hired

  • How work is assigned

  • What happens during performance evaluations

  • How compensation is determined

If you identify a bias in you self, visualize a positive interaction with the person or group toward whom you may have a bias.

One last point - when addressing biases in the work place..... Have a zero tolerance policy for behaviors that clearly show a negative bias e.g. ethnic comments or jokes, sexist remarks, or any other derogatory comment based on an implied bias.  These should be incorporated into behavior guidelines and performance reviews.

Playing attention to and addressing biases in the work place is the primary place to start in building and improving your relationship with your staff and in developing how you communicate with them. Addressing biases, both yours and your staff, will also foster trust.