Have you ever met someone, discovered they graduated from the same university as you, and, because of this connection, instantly liked them? If so, you’ve experienced the affinity bias. Don’t worry, you’re not alone. Everyone experiences different biases…every day.
People don’t like the idea that they could be bias, mostly because they confuse bias with prejudice, and while prejudice is most definitely a type of bias, bias comes in more, and considerably less insidious, forms.
The brain is a complex muscle, and can easily suffer from cognitive bias—repeated patterns of thought that can lead to unreasonable assumptions and poor decision making.
There are many different types of cognitive biases, including beauty bias, judgement bias, intuition, and the halo effect. Some biases (more than others) can impact the workplace.
Types of Workplace Bias and How to Avoid Them
Some biases are far more likely to show up in the work environment, particularly during the recruitment and hiring processes. Prominent workplace biases include:
ANCHORING, the tendency to jump to conclusions.
What’s that saying about when we assume—because that’s what anchoring leads to. Anchoring happens when we take a piece of information we receive at the start of a situation (meeting, interview, etc.) and cling to it—relying on it when we make decisions. That initial information becomes an anchor to which all decisions, thoughts and ideas we make are connected. It’s basically it’s giving a lot of power to a first impression.
How to Fight Anchoring
Reflection is key. In business we often want decisions made quickly, but that snap decisions lead to anchoring. Time should always be made to reflect on a choice before it’s finalized. Taking that extra five minutes to consider a decision can lead to a better outcome.
AFFINITY BIAS, the tendency to like/be drawn to a person like ourselves.
How to Fight the Affinity Bias
When the affinity bias takes place in business, it can negatively impact the diversity of your workforce. If the people doing the hiring consistently chose candidates like themselves, you’re limiting your very own talent pool. Too much similarity can result in a lack of original ideas and limit innovation.
To prevent affinity bias the best thing a recruiter can do is take the time necessary to get to know a candidate better. Time is precious yes, but ensuring you give the same amount of time, and ask the same probing questions to each candidate gives you the chance to learn more about them and to find common ground.
CONFORMITY BIAS, the tendency to behave like those around us, rather than our true selves.
How to Fight Conformity Bias
Conformity bias is essentially herd mentality. People are more influenced by other’s choices and behaviours than they believe. In essence, it’s the idea that people can fall hard to peer pressure.
In the 1950s social psychologist Solomon Asch, conducted a series of experiments, now knows as the Asch Conformity Experiments. These tests demonstrate that even when a correct answer is obvious, people tend to choose the same answer as a preceding group, even when they know the chosen answer to be false. The experiment provided confirmation that people are easily swayed by other’s views and opinions and/or are afraid from going against the grain. In business, conformity bias can impact major decisions such as hiring and firing, among other things. To avoid conformity bias it’s vital companies have a strong mandate, mission and understanding of their role and the importance of diversity. (It always goes back to diversity.) It’s also important for individuals to have courage—to be unafraid of calling out bias.
OUTCOME BIAS, the tendency to judge a decision based solely on its outcome.
How to Fight Outcome Bias
Outcome bias occurs when we base decisions on what happened previously—particularly when we look at the outcome of previous events—without considering all the actions and decisions that led to their success.
When we over emphasize a result without consideration for what led to it, we create a win/lose binary, particularly when we focus on performance outcome. This can severely impact our employees, causing stress and creating an overly competitive environment. To prevent this, organizations must always consider everything that leads to an outcome. Having fully-outlined performance markers and constant progress reports can help. There’s always a possibility that an employee’s performance results are affected by high-team turnover, illness, or other factors beyond their control.
CONFIRMATION BIAS, the tendency to listen to information that confirms what we already assume to be true.
How to Fight Against Confirmation Bias
Leaders are often expected to be confident and decisive, capable of making the right decision quickly. But, as we’ve already learned there are several cognitive biases that can impact our decision making. Confirmation bias is no different.
In business, confirmation bias can lead to flawed decisions. When we seek only information that will confirm our beliefs and bolster our arguments we run the risk of falling victim to confirmation bias.
The best way to avoid this is to gather data using scientific methodology. Understanding that the questions you ask on surveys and in reviews, and how you measure the responses, will impact your results. Questions used for research purposes always need to be as unbiased as possible.
Confirmation bias is extremely difficult to prevent because humans don’t like to be wrong, and we certainly don’t like to be proven wrong. When you add hierarchy to that (boss/employee) the issue becomes even stickier. Subordinates find it difficult to correct or question their superiors. Developing a work environment that encourage open discussion and honest feedback can help fight confirmation bias.
The Human Blind-Spot
Psychological biases are complex. They’re affected and influenced by so much, including the people around us. We can often easily see the cognitive biases that affect others, but not those that affect us personally—which, in and of itself is a cognitive bias (the blind-spot bias). It’s important that organizations recognize that these biases exist and can impact business from hiring to decision making and even group cooperation. Once biases are better understood, they’re easier to recognize and avoid.