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9 Common Workplace Biases to Avoid

Excerpt from the best-selling book - Built to be CEO, available on www.builttobeCEO.com

In the business world, you trade the currency of credibility. Subconscious biases unintentionally erode credibility, and even the most well-intentioned people are not free from these biases.
The list of subconscious biases below have the potential to jeopardize the brand you have built for yourself and the work you do.

1) Conservatism Bias.

This bias leads people to believe that pre-existing information takes precedence over new information. Sound familiar? For example, a study presented employees with a company with two pieces of information – one much more familiar to the audience than the other; 99% of people weighted the information that is easy to understand as more important. Allowing conservatism bias to impact your decision making process could severely decrease your credibility.

2) Fundamental Attribution Error.

This is the tendency to attribute situational behavior to a person’s fixed personality. As a manager, you may often attribute poor work performance of an employee to lethargy and apathy. You would be failing to consider other explanations, especially those pointing to the manager herself or the external environment. As a result, you may lose key Members of your team or create a hostile and unforgiving work environment that would discredit your ability to lead people and a business.

3) The Decoy Effect.

This is a notorious CFO tactic. She will present the CEO with two viable options and one faulty one. This is a tactic to make the second option feel more palatable to you. Businesses probably use this bias against you already. For example, Apple uses pricing options on their products to make you choose the one they would like to sell, even if this not the best financial decision for you; the iPod Touch positions the pricing of the 16GB and 64GB options as price decoys, so users will go for the 32GB version, and pay $70 extra for the upgrade.

4) The Halo and Horn Effects.

The Halo Effect is a common sales tactic and occurs when someone creates a strong first impression and that impression sticks. The Horn Effect is the exact opposite – it allows for a single negative trait to unduly influence the perception of other traits. For example, you are more likely to assume that someone on your team is a low performer if they are a casual dresser, despite the lack of a scientifically proven relationship between performance and dress code. Again, you could lose strong performers and future leaders on your team if you suffer from this bias. Your team’s success is a key part of your success as a future CEO.

5) Confirmation Bias.

This is the tendency to evidence that does not. This psychological phenomenon is becoming more apparent in new social channels, like Facebook. Unlike Twitter, or real life, where interaction with those who disagree with you on political matters is an inevitability, Facebook users can block, mute or unfriend embrace new information as affirming pre-existing beliefs and to ignore any outlet or person that is not part of their current worldview.

6) The Ostrich Effect.

This is a direct reference to the fact that ostriches, when scared, literally bury their heads in the ground. This effect describes our tendency to hide from impending problems and lie to ourselves. During the financial crisis in 2008, many companies were blamed for ignoring the macroeconomic signs and even direct warnings from the Institute of International Finance (IIF). These warnings called for the need to make drastic, albeit inconvenient, changes at banks and other corporate goliaths – changes that could have cost billions of dollars.

7) The Bandwagon Effect.

This effect is the tendency to do what everyone else is doing – in stock markets, clothing trends, sports fandom and even board room decisions. During the dotcom bubble of the late 1990s, dozens of tech startups emerged that had no viable business plans, no products or services ready to bring to market and in many cases nothing more than a name. Despite lacking in vision and scope, these companies attracted millions of dollars in investment. And while this bias made thousands of people millionaires, it could jeopardize your path to CEO. If your preference is to hop on the bandwagon, you assume the risk of surrendering your opportunity to be unique. Uniqueness might even be the most influential factor in creating future CEOs (topic discussed in Chapter 9 of Built to be CEO).

8) Affect Heuristic.

This effect allows people to make decisions quickly by allowing their current emotions to influence their decisions. Interestingly, attitudes toward climate change, nuclear power and consumer judgments (the zero-price effect) have been shown to be affected by this heuristic. Unfortunately, in the workplace, passion is often mistaken for emotion without thought, and our society assumes that women suffer from affect heuristic more than men. During Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s campaign trail, the media pounced on her for tearing up once, despite her unswerving, controlled demeanor. Similarly, former Yahoo CEO Carol Bartz is frequently cited for her “salty language,” which has been used as evidence that she is “emotional” and a “loose cannon.” The Harvard Business Review found that based on one thousand 360-degree feedback reports on female executives, when women fervently sell an idea or argue against the consensus, for example, a male colleague or manager’s response was often along the lines of, “she was too hyped up” and “she was emotional.” The women themselves say they were simply advancing their cause or expressing an opinion, albeit passionately. Napoleon Hill, a best selling American self-help author, once said that “obsessed is just a word the lazy use to describe the dedicated.”

9) Bias Blind Spot.

This is the phenomenon that you are more susceptible to develop bias blind spots if you believe you do not have any, and tend to see biases in other people but not in yourself. A study conducted by Carnegie Mellon found that only one adult out of 661 said that they are more biased than the average person, when in fact, many participants belonged in that category.

As you digest these biases and how they impact you and others in the workplace, remind yourself to continue to be aware of the bias blindspot. Your intelligence, cognitive ability, decision-making ability, self-esteem, self- presentation and general personality traits are found to be independent characteristics that not related to the bias blind spot, and therefore can negatively impact you at your workplace in any industry.

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