Before we can use our critical thinking skills, it is important to remove barriers to thinking clearly. Our biases cloud our understanding, analyzing and decision-making more than we can imagine. In fact, Wikipedia lists more than 100 psychological beliefs and biases. It also lists 27 sociological biases or barriers in understanding and decision-making. In fact, it will not be unfair to say that bias is the opposite of common-sense clear thinking.
So, in the first step of getting information or data, we tend to select data or information, saying- “this is not significant”, “that’s biased”, “this will not work in our company”
That is why we remove biases before forming our questions or setting the decision making context. Lets look at some very common biases:
1. Confirmation Bias or Cognitive bias
Confirmation bias happens when we gloss over or even actively look for information that supports our existing beliefs, and reject information that go against what we believe. This may be a result of our subconscious thoughts, rather than intentional bias. That’s why these are called ‘blind spots’. It can lead to missed opportunities and poor decision making. This can lead you to make biased decisions, because we don’t factor in all of the relevant information.
I feel susciptable to Confirmation bias while making career-related decisions as well as networking decisions. How often we feel pressured to make a decision by persuasive or powerful colleagues or mentors or role models. I even feel rebellious and find information that don’t support advice given by colleagues whom I am not so comfortable with. Can you think of such instances in your experience?
According to Mindtools, a 2013 study found that confirmation bias can affect the way that people view statistics. Its authors report that people have a tendency to infer information from statistics that supports their existing beliefs, even when the data support an opposing view. That makes confirmation bias a potentially serious problem to overcome when you need to make a statistics-based decision.
To Avoid Confirmation Bias
We can look for ways to challenge what we think you see by taking on the role of ‘Devil’s Advocate’ ourselves. We can purposefully, seek out information from a variety of sources, and use techniques like, Six Thinking Hats to consider situations from multiple perspectives. We can also deliberately seek out people and information sources that challenge our opinions, or assign someone on our team to play ‘devil’s advocate’ for major decisions.
I have made it a regular practice to consult my Reality Check- a few people who think very differently from me- fortunately, at home itself. It is a good practice to identify a diverse groups or individuals, and name them as our reality check, regularly seeking out to their dissenting views. This will become comfortable when it becomes a habit.
2. Anchoring or “first impression” bias
That is a tendency to jump to conclusions – or to base your final judgment on information gained early on in the decision-making process. On any number of occasions, once we form an initial picture of a situation, it’s hard to see other possibilities. I have some regret stories myself; and have deliberately learned to go through a Ladder of Inference.
To Avoid First Impression Bias
I never lose sight of my decision-making history, and have a cryptic poster on my computer, of my lessons learnt when I have rushed to judgment in the past. Mindtools’ Ladder of Inference is a model I use to force the stages of thinking that I need to go through to make good decisions. This takes some practice, and later becomes a habit. I may take a little more time, but it ensures a thorough, well-considered decision. No regrets later. if I feel pressure to make a quick decision. (If someone is pressing aggressively for a decision, I tell myself that probably, what they’re pushing me for is, against my best interests.)
3. Overconfidence Bias: Another similar barrier to good understanding is Overconfidence Bias. Researchers found that entrepreneurs are more likely to display the overconfidence bias than the general population. They can fail to spot the limits to their knowledge, so they perceive less risk. Some succeed in their ventures, but many do not.
To Avoid Overconfidence Bias
We Write down answers to the following questions before making a Pros and Cons Table:
⦁ What sources of information do I tend to rely on when I made the following Table? Are these fact-based, or on hunches?
⦁ Who else is involved in gathering information?
⦁ Has information been gathered systematically?
Bottom-line: Write down in charts, ladders, checklists or a notebook, the facts and feelings which you took into account while understanding or making a major decision. Never repeat some of these biases and faulty thinking.
More on Improving Critical Thinking in the next few posts…