This is the first article of the series “Unconscious Bias 101”, which will explore the different types of unconscious bias and their impact on business. Today we focus on Confirmation Bias. 

How can we truly innovate when unconscious bias is always lurking in the shadows? This is a critical question that not enough companies are asking. It’s a known fact that diversity ultimately leads to enhanced prosperity within an organization. According to ClearCompany, racially diverse teams outpace non-diverse teams by 35%. With such diversity not only comes increased productivity, but also, the exchange of diverse ideas; some of which may be the solution to a glaring area of concern.

Eliminating Unconscious Bias

In order to eliminate unconscious bias from the equation, it must be understood by its multiple sub-facets. This is where we begin: with confirmation bias.

Confirmation bias is essentially the interpretation of new evidence as means to confirm an existing belief, while ignoring evidence that would prove that belief false. In other words, it ignores contradictory evidence and works to only further a pre-conceived notion; therefore, its “stick-to-the-status-quo” otherwise, it’s wrong. Say, for instance, one believed that left-handed people were smarter than right-handed people. Whenever a left-handed individual figures out a smarter solution faster than a right-handed individual, greater emphasis is placed on this as “evidence” that left-handed people are smarter. Although this could be true, it certainly isn’t enough to state this is factual evidence as validation to the argument. This simply perpetuates this belief and ignores anything that opposes it.

Confirmation Bias as a Threat

So, why does confirmation bias pose a threat to companies? If an organization isn’t fully aware of its impact, confirmation bias will eliminate alternative solutions to (business) problems based on preconceived notions that are believed to be correct; when the evidence you ignore would suggest alternative solutions may solve such problems. It acts as the great enemy of problem solving. It will secretly act in its own best interest to find answers for a concept that may easily be proven false (or unproductive). Instead of ignoring the cause of a negative trend, there are ways to challenge this way of thinking.

1 –  Change what you see

Proactively seek out evidence that contradicts a firm belief in order to see the “full picture”. For example, rather than only looking at the name and school of a candidate while reviewing the resume—look beyond the demographics and really review a candidate’s skills and experience. Allow the evidence to deliberately change what is viewed as true (correct). Say, for example, you believe people with glasses get higher grades in school than those who don’t wear glasses. In order to challenge this belief, seek out people who receive higher grades in school that don’t wear glasses to make you rethink this concept.

2 – Purposely stand amongst diversity

Expand your thinking by hearing differing points of view; this includes befriending people of different race, ethnicity, culture, or religion to see what they have to say. In the case of a hiring manager, seek out individuals with different backgrounds on their resume. We tend to associate what we know as safe, and what is safe as true. We also tend to associate what we don’t know as unsafe, and what is unsafe is false. Purposely surrounding yourself with a diverse group of individuals will familiarize yourself with different viewpoints or concepts that previously appeared “dangerous”.

3 – Actively play the “devil’s advocate” role with yourself

Consistently question the motives and ideals behind the logic of your initial decision or the decision your most inclined to make. Ask yourself the true intent of a decision, and what impacts it could have on yourself or on your company. Admit you/we/us have blind spots. Our blind spots are attributed to our bias and cause us to overlook important characteristics that may not be a good fit in our organization. Structured interviews that focus on diversity hiring can benefits your organization in asking the right questions. 

Be sure to read our next article of “Unconscious Bias 101”, were we discuss the effects of attribution bias on leadership!