Recognizing the 20 decision-making biases

Decision-making is one critical reason people come together for a meeting. There are many challenges to making good decisions, especially in a group setting, but one we often overlook is our natural biases. Business Insider organized 20 common cognitive biases that might hinder your ability to make sound decisions. Below, we’ve provided some tips that address these common decision-making biases that you can use to help yourself and your team make better decisions at your next meeting.

#1. Anchoring Bias

First impressions are powerful. They often shape how we evaluate other information. It is this first information that sets your perspective, potentially coloring everything else.

To help identify if you’re basing your thinking too much on the anchoring information, get a fresh perspective from someone outside the group. Provide them the same information, but in a different order. You might be surprised that their thinking challenges your own since this person has anchored on different information from you.

#2. Availability Heuristic & #19. Survivorship Bias

We tend to trust our own experiences and knowledge, even if these go against new information that is presented.

Try thinking like a journalist and uncover the source of your (and other’s) opinions. Perhaps there is solid information that everyone will benefit from hearing. Or, perhaps you’ll find that your information is incomplete or too heavily reliant on a single reference point.

#3. Bandwagon effect

We’re all familiar with the (negative) power of groupthink.

Help people share their true perspectives without bias from others. Use practices like anonymous voting and writing down ideas on post-its and displaying them in the room. These help avoid the subtle pressure to conform early on, before you’ve fully explored the options.

#4. Blind-spot Bias

Failing to recognize your own biases is exactly why we’re writing this article. We all have filters developed over time, based on personal experiences and learning.

Recognizing that we all are biased helps us take steps to unearth which biases are at play so that we can begin to counteract them. It never hurts to pause and ponder, “what assumptions am I making? How would someone else respond to this information?” Or, refer to the 20 biases chart and do a quick run-down.

#7. Confirmation Bias

Everyone wants to be right. Our brains tend to filter out the things we don’t want to hear and selectively listen to the ideas that confirm our assumptions.

It can be helpful to paraphrase what others say before defending your idea to ensure you ‘heard’ all the key points. Use openers like “This is what I heard you say…” Try to write down the the arguments or ideas one by one to make sure you got all the information before allowing yourself to judge it.

#8. Conservatism bias

If past experiences, processes or information are favorable for a decision, we tend to stick with it, even if it’s not the optimal solution. It’s challenging to encounter new information that will totally rock the boat. People strive for certainty and stability, but this safety net also holds us back from making a sound judgment.

When you notice a team member or yourself holding onto the past, try share your observation like: “I notice that as a team, we are hesitant to accept new information. What assumptions are we making? Do we have any sacred cows? Are we just following what we’ve always known and done?”

#9. Information Bias

We live in the era of information. But often, more information only adds complexity and delays the decision-making process. Gathering non-critical information might make you feel more comfortable about the decision, but it also impedes the whole process.

Make sure the information you gather helps drive toward action. Reflect on questions such as “do we really need that information to move forward?” and “will the additional information actually change the final decision?”

#10. Ostrich effect

Sometimes we might find ourselves rejecting negative information or completely blocking it out in a discussion. We’re like ostrich putting our heads in the sand, pretending nothing bad will ever happen.

To help spur contrasting thinking, rotate the devil’s advocate role or ask the team to put on the black thinking hat for a designated amount of time during the discussion. By doing so, people will feel more free to help elicit negative effects or potential risks because it won’t be tied to their personal opinion.

#15. Recency Effect

Fresh memories are always more powerful than older ones. People have a tendency to focus more on the latest information, believing it is more accurate or urgent. It’s dangerous not to look at the situation in a holistic way.

Be sure to put information into context. Ask questions like “what is the common trend or pattern of the data presented? How does it fit (or not) with what we already know? Have we seen information or situations like this before? Why or why not?”

#14. Pro-innovation Bias & #20. Zero-risk Bias

These two biases are on opposite ends of the risk-taking spectrum. Some teams might be overly positive toward their innovative ideas and underestimate the limitations and risks they might bring. Other teams are trying to mitigate any risks and stay in the safe zone.

Althose these two biases are very different from each other, there is a common approach to address both: Ask every team member to think of what would happen if the decision was even more innovative or even more conservative. If you find that it’s hard to come up with answers to either, you might be pushing close to one of the ends of the risk spectrum.

Your experience with cognitive biases

Have you ever caught yourself being swayed by one of these decision-making biases? Ever looked back on a decision only to realize that a bias clouded your judgement? Share your stories and other tips for how to avoid biases in decision-making.

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