Why We’re Right, Even When We’re Wrong: The Struggle with Confirmation Bias

June 14, 2018 Derek Heim

Have you ever noticed that when you watch a sporting event, you are more eager to correct the referee on a “bad” call toward your favorite team, than if the same call was made against the opposition? This everyday phenomena is what modern psychologists refer to as confirmation bias. That is, we actively seek out information that agrees with our perspective, while at the same time striving to disprove facts that do not line up with our beliefs.

Confirmation bias plays a key role in our decision-making. We will discredit sources that make us question what we believe, claiming that they possess “bias,” or are not a “credible” outlet for news. Although this psychological theory has a very strong presence in our lives, it can be a hindrance in the workplace. Most professionals and leaders will claim that “thinking outside the box” is one of the keys to success. However, confirmation bias is one of the many forms of cognitive biases that restricts our free, original thinking. 

What is the root of this restrictive chain of thought? 

In order to understand how confirmation bias impacts our workplace performance, and before we can make strategies to effectively remove it from our subconscious, we need to first begin developing an idea about where our own biases stem. Frankly, confirmation bias comes from the original discomfort we, as a society, feel when we have gotten something incorrect. It is easier for us to ignore new evidence, then recognize that we might be wrong. 

Confirmation bias in the workplace

One of the main examples of confirmation bias in the workplace occurs when we’re evaluating the performance and effectiveness of our colleagues. Normally, we have an established opinion about how our coworkers perform. This information could have been collected from the retelling of someone else's opinions or from our own experiences — whether positive or negative. 

For example, we may believe that Susan from IT is uptight because she wears a dress everyday to work. Or we may think that Nelson in the Marketing Department is lazy because he never dresses professionally. If we see each individual exhibit these behaviors, we immediately accept this as fact. But, if they act in a way that does not conform to our pre-existing ideas, we are not open to seeing it. Even further, when we seek opinions of these individuals, we actively look for those in a like-minded state. We will discredit those that oppose us. 

How can you avoid confirmation bias?

In order to have an open and diverse workplace free from bias, it’s crucial to create a strategy to eliminate confirmation bias. Luckily, this can be relatively simple. If you feel that you are beginning to experience confirmation bias, and that your opinion about a coworker or potential hire is becoming clouded with pre-existing beliefs, ask yourself the following questions: 

  • Why do I hold my current beliefs?
  • What impact would there be on my ego and pride if I were to learn that my views were incorrect?
  • Have I genuinely sought out alternative viewpoints?
  • Is it possible that I am wrong?

In the corporate world, it is crucial to remain unbiased about your fellow employees. Leaving your biased opinions at the door leaves your organization feeling more connected, empowered, and supported. 
A great example of this playing out in day-to-day action is that of the Salesforce Ohana culture. Salesforce follows the Hawaiian belief that families — blood-related, adopted, or intentional — are bound together, and that family members are responsible for one another. Through programming, benefits, and workplace culture, Salesforce strives to ensure that their workers have a positive Worker Experience

Eliminating bias and other unwarranted beliefs can create an atmosphere of security that leaves workers feeling engaged and protected. Do you want to learn more about the Worker Experience and how diversity and inclusion can improve your organization? Check out our blogs and other workplace culture resources at the Appirio Hub

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