Subjective Perspective: 5 Types of Cognitive Bias to Avoid in the Workplace

Have you ever wondered what drives some people to make the decisions they do? In the workplace, we’re surrounded by co-workers from all walks of life with their own ideas and perspectives about how work should be performed. So, when it comes to making decisions that impact the team, a big new project, or the company overall, it’s helpful to understand some of the cognitive biases that can affect decision making.

Cognitive bias is a “systematic pattern of deviation from the norm or rationality in judgment. Individuals create their own ‘subjective social reality’ from their perception of the input … thus, cognitive biases may sometimes lead to perceptual distortion, inaccurate judgment, illogical interpretation, or what is broadly called irrationality.”

Simply put, cognitive bias occurs when we interpret or twist objective information in a way that aligns with our own personal beliefs or motivations. Here are five common forms to watch out for in your workplace.

Anchoring Bias
This cognitive bias occurs when we rely too heavily on the first piece of information received despite new or contradictory information that may come later. So, you’re essentially “anchored” to your initial impressions.

In the workplace: Watch out for anchoring bias when you’ve become so focused on reaching an expected outcome for a project that you ignore any new ideas or information that could redefine the scope of the work—even if it’s for the better.

Bandwagon Effect
One of the more well-known cognitive biases, the bandwagon effect occurs when we base a decision on overall popular support or beliefs of the group rather than relying on facts, information, or personal preferences.

In the workplace: Just because everyone on the team agrees on a course of action, that doesn’t mean it’s the right one. If you feel strongly about a more effective strategy or tactic, don’t keep it to yourself and simply go along with the others because you don’t want to cause trouble. Speak up and share your thoughts

Confirmation Bias
Even if you’ve never heard of confirmation bias, you likely see it every day on political talk shows or in the comments section of an op-ed on the local business journal’s website. This is the tendency to seek out or interpret information based on the desired outcome or pre-existing belief and ignoring or downplaying contradictory information.

In the workplace: If you’re only seeking research or stakeholders who align with your preconceived interpretations or desired outcome for a project, you’re missing out on additional information or strategies that provide a more complete picture of the scope of the work to be performed. In many cases, personal pride or unwillingness to be seen as “wrong” is a driving force of this cognitive bias.

Choice-Supportive Bias
Along the same lines as confirmation bias, choice-supportive bias is when a decision is retroactively rationalized by highlighting or exaggerating the positives while downplaying or ignoring the negatives altogether.

In the workplace: When a new initiative fails, it can be tempting to explain the mistake by taking a “revised” look at the event or thinking that led to it. In the long run, you’re better off owning failure, learning what you can from it, then putting a new action plan in place to achieve success.

Zero-Risk Bias
If you prefer the road most traveled, this one may sound familiar to you. Zero-risk bias is the tendency to choose the option involving the least amount of risk and therefore reducing any chance of failure.

In the workplace: Sure, you know the safest approach to a new project that guarantees success, but if that means just settling for good enough, you may be selling yourself short. Taking a big risk on a new idea is what drives innovation and could lead to a game-changing new product or service that sets your company apart from the competition.

What are some other forms of cognitive bias you’ve witnessed in the workplace? Let us know in the comments section below!

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