By definition, life is a personal journey. Even though we're all living in the same world, breathing the same air, and being guided by the same forces of nature, we each have incredibly different and unique experiences.
As a result of these unique experiences—which include factors like ethnicity, gender, location, religion, socioeconomic status, friends, neighbors, and education—we each see the world through our own sets of proprietary lenses.
While there are many positives associated with seeing the world from a unique angle, there are also some negatives. One of the challenges we each face in our personal lives and professional pursuits is the need to overcome cognitive biases as they relate to important decision-making.
Common Cognitive Biases
Whether you realize it or not, most of the decisions you make on the job are filtered through deeply embedded cognitive biases. Some are so small that they're inconsequential. Others can lead to drastically negative results. Jim Taylor, PhD
"Cognitive biases can result in perceptual blindness or distortion (seeing things that aren't there), illogical interpretation (being nonsensical), inaccurate judgments (being just plain wrong), irrationality (being out of touch with reality), and bad decisions (being dumb). The outcomes of decisions that are influenced by cognitive biases can range from the mundane to the lasting to the catastrophic."
Since you likely aren't aware of the biases that guide your decision-making, let's take a closer look at some of the common ones we are all forced to deal with.
Occam's Razor Bias
This bias tells you that the most obvious decision is the best decision—something that isn't always true. When you need to reach a conclusion quickly, it's easy to get duped by this bias.
One of the most common is the confirmation bias. It causes you to focus on the information that affirms the beliefs and assumptions you already hold.
No matter how open-minded you may think you are, you're controlled, at least to some degree, by in-group favoritism. In-group favoritism is your tendency to disproportionately value the opinions and beliefs of others who share certain characteristics with you like race, religion, personality, or common interest.
Status Quo Bias
The status quo bias is your tendency to make changes that avoid rocking the boat. In other words, if one choice will allow things to remain the same, you're more likely to choose it over the choice that causes friction.
How to Think More Freely
Your thought process will always be slightly influenced by ingrained biases. You just want to make sure you aren't being so controlled that you refuse to think for yourself. In business, as in life, here are some practical ways you can begin to think more critically and make decisions that are free of obvious bias and error.
It's easy to block out the factors that go against your preferred decision, but don't be afraid to embrace dissonance. Looking at a decision from both sides will allow you to make a more critical selection.
Go Against Your Inclination
When you face a decision and immediately have an inclination to make one specific choice over another, take time to reevaluate. Entrepreneur Thomas C. Redman tells people
Give Yourself Time
As Green Residential tells its clients
"Gather the data you would need to defend this opposite view, and compare it to the data used to support your original decision. Reevaluate your decision in light of the bigger data set. Your perspective may still be incomplete, but it will be much more balanced."
"You can almost always count on making a more rational decision if you give yourself more time to contemplate your options. If you're ever concerned about the strength of your decision, sleep on it; you'll feel refreshed in the morning and might have a new perspective to bring."
This simple yet effective piece of advice holds true with big and small choices.
Even after you've made a decision, you shouldn't feel tied to it to the point that you never waver. There's something to be said for recognizing when you make a bad choice and having the strength and awareness to pivot. This ability is the mark of a good leader.
Anna is a freelance writer, researcher, and business consultant. She is also a columnist for Entrepreneur.com, Forbes.com, and more. Anna specializes in entrepreneurship, technology, and social media trends. Follow her on Twitter and LinkedIn.
Opinions expressed by the author are not necessarily those of WITI.
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