3 Strategies for Overcoming Bias in Decision Making

The best and most influential leaders throughout history have a certain set of skills and inclinations that comprises a good decision maker, but even the best leaders have been remembered for dreadful decisions. Despite growing amounts of research into the frameworks that comprise decision making, what’s keeping us from making better decisions?  Each of us […]

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The best and most influential leaders throughout history have a certain set of skills and inclinations that comprises a good decision maker, but even the best leaders have been remembered for dreadful decisions. Despite growing amounts of research into the frameworks that comprise decision making, what’s keeping us from making better decisions? 

Each of us seem to be unknowingly gazing into a trick mirror that can distort our ability to see clearly. These distortions can have catastrophic consequences, especially in leadership roles. Unfortunately, a higher risk of succumbing to this trick mirror comes with the territory of being in a position that requires high stakes decision making. And if we aren’t careful, seeing things through a distorted lens can have disastrous consequences…and we are all susceptible. In Harvard Business Review’s Guide to Making Better Decisions, authors John S. Hammond, Ralph L. Keeney and Howard Raiffa provide an antidote to this and say “the best protection against all psychological traps – in isolation or in combination – is awareness. Forewarned is forearmed.” Catching errors in thinking before they become errors in judgment hinges on whether we are able to engage in mindful decision making with a willingness to put our egos aside.  

Confirmation bias, a tendency to see what we want to see, is just one of many biases that 2020 has been particularly altered by – as seen by the broad spectrum of extremes in reactions to mandated mask wearing. The mind naturally tells itself stories that work in favor of its own illusory identity. And in a machine-driven world that is barrelling towards a future in AI, perhaps our edge is in our human ability to evolve and bring our own unique perspective to our decisions. However, it’s important that this unique perspective isn’t clouded by bias. 

Here are 3 important strategies to help free yourself from bias:  

  1. Examine the problem from different viewpoints using the “Six Thinking Hats.” Six Thinking Hats was created by Edward de Bono and provides a palpable tactic to use in order to break out of habitual thinking and gain clarity. By filtering a problem through the different hats, bias quickly surfaces and perspective expands. White for facts, black for surfacing potentially negative outcomes, red for an emotional lens, yellow for optimism, green for creativity and blue for coordinating action. Filtering a problem, different solutions and the impact of each solution through these hats provide a 360 view of alternatives so that decisions are informed and efficient. 
  1. Put yourself in someone else’s shoes. By using the Six Thinking Hats method, we can expand our own perspective about a problem. It’s important to also anticipate how others involved in the problem might perceive a problem and how it differs from our own lens. How would you feel in their place? What would you be most concerned or afraid of? How would you want to be treated? 
  1. Get outside perspectives. It’s important to foster relationships that value honesty so that in high stakes decision making, you are able to seek out unbiased honest feedback from uninvolved parties. Sometimes our own biases are so strong that having someone play devil’s advocate is the only strategy that will force us to expand our perspective.

Ultimately, good judgment consists of the level of understanding of the situation and the values that dictate that understanding. Good intentions can only go so far when clouded by bias, whereas the above strategies allow for decision making that is both intentional and mindful. 

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