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Removing Bias From Decision-Making

  • December 1, 2021
  • Written by Community Futures Meridian

We all like to think that when we reach a decision, we have done so by weighing up all the facts, statistics, pros, cons, equity, knowledge, experience, and anything else that might have a bearing on how we proceed. We believe we have been rational, logical, objective, and fair. Unfortunately, that is rarely, if ever, the case. The biggest reason is that to make a genuinely unbiased decision, we first have to know that reality is a moving target. Our reality is different from someone else’s because we perceive things based on our perceptions. In turn, our perceptions are based on how we see the world, which is tempered by our biases.

Confirmation Bias

The most significant bias that we fall prey to is confirmation bias, sometimes called myside bias. In this case, we pay more attention and give more credence to information that supports what we believe or want to believe. It’s why in the U.S., Republicans tend to watch Fox News and Democrats tune into CNN. We are all susceptible to putting more weight on the things people say that support what we already believe and ignoring or dismissing information that challenges our beliefs. This myside bias is why certain people on the fringes of society genuinely believe things that seem outrageous to the mainstream population. We become increasingly biased when we channel only information that supports what we already think, however misguided that belief might be. We sometimes do this to a dangerous degree.

Unconscious Bias

Unconscious bias is not dissimilar to confirmation bias; however, it is deep-seated to the point where we don’t need to feed it. We automatically tend to favour the opinion of people we find attractive over those we find unattractive. We might think younger people are less reliable but more tech-savvy than older people. We may believe all women are assertive and all men aggressive—or vice versa. We may be convinced that taller people make better managers. We defer to people in uniforms or those with honorifics such as Dr., or perhaps we distrust them.

None of this is consciously activated; it has developed within us, probably from childhood. It is neither right nor wrong necessarily, but we need to be aware of the power of unconscious bias when making decisions. It may appear as a form of prejudice, but prejudice is more often a conscious bias. It’s more about the brain making an instant decision based on a person’s experiences and background; it could be as simple as a gut feeling that black cars are better than red cars, or Chevy’s are more reliable than Ford’s.

The critical point is that there is a winner and a loser, and the result is not based on sound data.

Framing Bias

Framing bias, or “framing bias effect,” is where people make decisions based on how the situation is presented to them rather than on the facts. There are many ways a case can be framed to achieve the desired result. For example, you are shopping for a new casual jacket and see two for sale at $80. The store offers a 20 percent discount on one of them, and the other has a sticker announcing “$16 off.” Assuming you like them equally, which do you choose? Studies have shown that most people will choose the former. “Framing bias effect” kicks in because the percentage discount seems greater than the price reduction. The reverse is true for higher price items. If the jackets had been $750 and the discount on one was 20 percent, and the sticker on the other read “$150 off,” most people will choose the latter.

How you frame a question or a situation will affect your decision, be aware of how you frame things to yourself.

Conclusion

The amount of bias we display when making decisions can significantly affect our lives, especially how we act as leaders. The first step in combatting one’s biases is to know they exist, learn more about them, and take time to assess your decisions based on that knowledge. Cognitive bias is a vast topic. In this article, we have only scratched the surface; we urge you to investigate further.

To get you started, take a step back, imagine floating above yourself and looking down— the more disconnected you can make yourself, the better. Now, try to see the bigger picture, strip away the biases, see all sides of the situation. It’s tough to get a handle on our biases, but the rewards are worth the struggle.

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