What is confirmation bias? How to overcome it and examples
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Everyone bases their understanding of life based on previous experiences and knowledge. In terms of your professional life, having a confirmation bias might stifle opportunities or strain relationships if it's too extreme. Understanding what confirmation bias is and how it applies to your professional career may help you identify moments where you use it. In this article, we discuss what confirmation bias is, provide examples of it, identify how it can affect you and inform you of how to minimise the impacts of confirmation bias in your professional life.
What is confirmation bias?
A type of cognitive bias where an individual favours information that supports previously existing beliefs or biases is the answer to 'What is confirmation bias?' This type of bias impacts how we receive and interpret information and can affect our development and education in our professional lives. Only seeking information that supports your pre-existing beliefs creates a closed professional ecosystem that may limit development and stifle future opportunities, as you may struggle to work in a diverse work environment.
As you meet more people in your professional life, there could be instances where you interact with people with differing personal and professional views. Healthy work practices include communicating and debating these ideologies healthily rather than closing them off in favour of seeking ideas that support your own. People who hold a strong confirmation bias also interpret information like news, assignments and briefings in a way that supports their pre-existing beliefs.
Examples of confirmation bias
To better understand what confirmation bias is, here are some real-life scenarios of cognitive bias in the workplace:
Example 1: Research and analysis
A CEO has an idea that touts a particular product as 'the next big thing' and dedicates time, resources and finances to researching and developing it. The fact that the CEO has conducted research, such as surveys, competitive analysis and general market research, after having the idea of the product, already establishes the existence of confirmation bias. Ideally, the CEO would conduct research and market analysis before developing a product for the best possible chance of success. Confirmation bias in this scenario could mean wasted resources and expenses for a product that may fail.
Example 2: Employee relations
When applied to professional relations, confirmation bias can pose a problem for the team's working environment and corporate culture. If a team member or employee has different beliefs or opinions, there may be prejudice against them. This can introduce negative relationships in the workplace, which can cause tension. These tensions can hinder a company or department's productivity, so it's important for team managers to ensure a safe and harmonious work environment.
Example 3: News and media
Fake news, misinformation and clickbait headlines are unfortunate by-products of modern-day media and can impact workplace relations and professional development. When an individual reads the news, they are more susceptible to believe claims that confirm or support their pre-existing beliefs. Confirmation bias and misinformation are designed to create highly polarised beliefs on issues that can cause unnecessary tension. This is the catalyst behind fake news and can create a rift in workplace relations and a negative working environment.
How does confirmation bias affect us?
Confirmation bias can be a serious issue not only in the workplace but in our social and personal lives as well. It's natural to have a confirmation bias in our lives regarding certain topics or aspects, but there are ways it could affect our lives if the bias is serious and unchecked. Here are some ways confirmation bias affects us:
Seeking information: When an individual has a confirmation bias about a certain topic, it's unlikely they seek information to challenge their views and more likely they seek out information that supports their world views and opinions to encourage them that they're correct. Seeking different opinions on topics is an essential part of healthy debate and creating a neutral world view that is accommodating of all ideas.
Interpreting information: The interpretation of information can vary greatly depending on an individual's confirmation biases. It can affect the way one interprets neutral information to support their pre-existing notions, such as buying a product and realising it's the same as other business solution tools they've tried.
Remembering information: Confirmation bias can change the way individuals store and interpret information, thus creating a memory that is altered by their biases. An example of this is someone having a bad experience at their previous organisation, who then discredits the organisation either publicly or privately, causing this negative experience to create a bias in their memory, which might make them more receptive to negative information regarding it rather than support positive information about it.
Favouring information: The definition of confirmation bias is to favour certain information that supports your own pre-existing opinions, and it can also apply to the opposite, where we may give less weight to facts or opinions that do not support our own. An example of this is when a peer gives you a suggestion on how to complete a task but you ignore their advice, but when a senior member of staff makes the same suggestion, you're receptive to the advice because of your pre-existing opinion of them.
How to overcome confirmation bias
We apply confirmation bias to our lives to make sense of the vast amount of information available to us. While most of us don't have time to investigate information fully and find multiple sources and data on a topic, there are a few things that you can do to help overcome confirmation bias:
1. Ask questions
When you read an article about a topic, it's sensible to ask questions about it to remain neutral. Believing everything you read on the internet, where anyone can publish information, is dangerous and can lead you to consume content curated to supporting your confirmation bias. You can ask questions when you hear information from friends or peers to encourage a healthy discussion pertaining to the topic. Asking questions helps you strive to understand the topic fully to remain neutral in many situations.
2. Check for reputable sources
Due to the sheer amount of information available online, there is a lot of fake news and misinformation that may be disguised as real, leading to misconceptions. Many articles may not cite its sources or discuss reputable studies related to its field. In that case, it may be beneficial for you to conduct extra research on the topic by finding more reputable sources. If possible, try to consume information from established organisations that have a practice of citing its sources. That way, you can trace where the information you're reading comes from.
3. Focus on cultivating a positive workplace environment
A workplace includes a variety of individuals, all with very different worldviews and opinions. By default, there are going to be certain views or practices you may not agree with. A workplace that focuses on its productivity and team chemistry is a much more harmonious environment to work in compared to one that bickers and creates tension all the time. Confirmation biases may be a catalyst to creating a tense work environment, so focusing more on aspects such as chemistry, morale and bonding can help avoid a negative and unproductive workplace.
4. Learn conflict management
Learning how to manage conflict, whether or not you're in a superior management position, can help diffuse situations that lead to a negative work environment. Confirmation bias, when severe, can impact working relations to the point where a department may not be as productive as it can be. Understanding and identifying confirmation biases in the workplace can help you develop the skills necessary to manage conflict and diffuse potential problems.
5. Enhance your emotional self-awareness
Emotional self-awareness is the foundation for emotional intelligence. Understanding how you feel about information, how you interpret it and how it affects your life can help you overcome this confirmation bias. The confirmation bias phenomenon focuses on an individual's emotions, so someone who is self-aware of this can take the steps to control it and remain neutral when required. Emotional self-awareness is a crucial skill to learn for individuals who seek professional success.
You can develop your emotional self-awareness by journaling about your feelings and asking yourself questions. This can help you determine why you feel the way you do about certain topics, which can help you combat confirmation bias.
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