Every leader wants to create and support a culture that fosters trust, community, and collaboration. But unconscious biases could be the Achilles Heel in your organization and could destroy a culture you’ve worked hard to cultivate.
An undercurrent of unconscious bias in the workplace can impair the judgment of your leadership, impact decision-making, and cause you to miss out on the valuable talent in your organization.
The good news? Leaders can work to create an ideal environment by learning how to address their cognitive biases, alter their behaviors through sustainable change, and support their leaders and managers in doing the same.
What Is Cognitive Bias?
Cognitive bias is essentially a system in your brain that makes decision-making easier by seeking information that backs up your current beliefs. Think of it like a filter through which all information flows and which helps you determine the best course of action based on the information you have.
For example, if you believe stress needs to be avoided in the workplace for you to produce your best work, you’ll always see stress as an inhibitor to productivity. Someone else may have a neutral feeling about stress or believe it helps them produce their best work.
Cognitive biases are linked to our survival instincts. This is why the brain has a disposition towards negative biases or tries to oversimplify information. It’s trying to help you avoid a possible threat.
The problem with cognitive biases is that they aren’t always useful or easy to recognize in today’s work environment. Often, we form these biases based on limited information. Making any decision with insufficient information can result in faulty decision making and can ultimately harm you and your team.
How to Recognize Cognitive Biases
When an organization makes deliberate decisions based on limited information available, these decisions are often influenced by cognitive bias.
To recognize cognitive biases in your organization, you should address these biases on two fronts:
- Group accountability
Accountability is essential in the creation and cultivation of a culture of open-mindedness. In an open-minded and accountable culture, teams feel comfortable identifying and calling out biases in a respectful way, while keeping the good of the organization in mind.
What’s more effective when it comes to recognizing cognitive biases is self-accountability. By learning and understanding the different types of cognitive biases, leaders and employees will be more likely to keep themselves in check when it comes to these biases.
Effects of Cognitive Biases on Team Culture
One major way cognitive bias can influence team culture is when leaders are building a team. Generally, people are more disposed to hire people who think like them and have the same values.
If a leader has constructed a team with members that are too similar to one another, these similarities can stifle the creativity and effectiveness of the group.
If leaders and team members fail to call cognitive biases out immediately, these biases can lead to massive, multilevel organizational errors. Looking at common behavioral biases with investors, it can be easy to see how such an oversight or blind spot can put a company at severe financial risk.
5 Cognitive Biases Examples in the Workplace
Understanding and analyzing cognitive bias examples can help you recognize them within yourself and others, and therefore mitigate their negative effects. Many of the following examples are based on implicit bias, which are those biases that unconsciously affect us.
- Heuristic bias: This bias results in a more drastic reaction to information that elicits strong emotions from you. For example, if you get an angry email, you may be more inclined to take action on it than other emails that elicit less of an emotional response from you.
- Status quo bias: This bias results from the desire for things to remain as they are. If an organization believes that circumstances are better if they stay the same instead of evolving, it may miss out on the opportunities or innovations that keep it competitive.
- Confirmation bias: This bias causes someone to warp information to fit their already defined beliefs. This is an especially dangerous form of bias because it often means that individuals overlook large pieces of information that are contrary to their views rather than change or abandon their own beliefs. Their brain twists information to “confirm” the conclusions they’ve already come to.
- Sunk cost bias: The Sunk Cost Fallacy refers to an organization’s tendency to follow through with the current endeavor because of the time, money, or effort it has already invested in it. If a team frames decision making on a current project in terms of the resources they’ve already used to complete it, they might not recognize that the current or upcoming costs are not worth ongoing investments.
- Bandwagon effect: This bias describes the tendency for people to go along with the majority opinion and equate this majority opinion with validity. In other words, the more people believe a decision, the more legitimate it seems to them.
How Can Leaders Overcome Cognitive Biases in the Workplace?
Critical thinking is one of the best tools leaders can use to overcome unconscious cognitive biases in the workplace.
Awareness is essential as well. Removing the emotion and extra weight around decision making can help provide clearer judgment.
Be sure to get other team members to weigh in on issues, and purposefully debate different sides of a decision. This allows you to evade unconscious biases held by the main decision makers.
The Bottom Line
While many leaders have top-notch talent and experience, cognitive biases can unknowingly hold them (and their business) back from quality judgement, decision making, and team building. This can not only hurt the organization itself, but its people too.
Leaders can create an ideal environment and build a culture where employees want to be—that is, one that fosters trust, community, and collaboration—by learning how to combat cognitive biases.
Looking for assistance, or not sure where to start? Arootah Leadership Training teaches long-lasting change by addressing the impact cognitive bias has on your decision making.
Have you discovered effective ways of uprooting cognitive bias in your workplace? Share in the comments.