Ensuring bias-free decisions

Ensuring bias-free decisions

852 583 Tashfia Shamim

Existing reward systems often honor spontaneity and experience. Yet, we continue to make bad decisions with terrifying consequences. 

What if someone told you instead that it is wiser to take your time for your next big decision? 

Humans are emotional beings equipped with cognitive biases inherent in how we think. A bias is a strong preconceived notion about something that allows us to quickly make sense out of a situation, even when we do not have complete knowledge about all alternatives. 

The mother of all biases that permeate subjective thinking is overconfidence. 

Here are some research-backed recommendations on how to prevent bias from leading you to a suboptimal solution in your next decision:

  1. Use decision analysis tools

Decision analysis tools guide us toward more logical conclusions. These procedures require us to quantify and place a value on each alternative in a decision. Afterwards, we specify probabilities associated with different outcomes from these options using statistical methods to determine the optimal choice. 

  1. Acquire expertise

Expertise and experience are not the same. 

Relying on life experience for decision-making can promote passive learning. Judgment skills cannot be transferred from one environment to another without the risk of misremembering feedback on the efficacy of past decisions. To overcome this, we need to understand the various ways in which bias can influence us individually, in groups, and be proactive in learning. 

  1. De-bias your judgment

De-biasing takes time and must be conducted regularly. The process is divided into unfreezing, changing, and refreezing practices and habits. The first stage requires explicit unfreezing of ingrained thought processes and habits. In the ‘change’ stage,  we can consider alternatives to our habits, decisions, and preconceptions by playing our own devil’s advocate. The ‘refreeze’ stage involves assessing decisions made after completing the last two stages through regular self-check-ups to ensure that they reflect the positive change. 

  1. Reason analogically

Reasoning analogically is a process where we try to implement a level of abstraction in our deductions from multiple scenarios so that this overarching understanding can be applied in more than one specific situation. Learning general principles for handling a certain negotiation, for example, gives us the flexibility to know when it is appropriate to apply that principle. 

  1. Take an outsider’s view

Overconfidence in groups and as individuals can lead to uninformed optimism towards a deadline or an idea that is unrealistic. It is recommended to play the outsider sometimes and to invite outsiders to share their perspectives too. Outsides could be colleagues from different departments or close friends that you trust with your private matters. 

  1. Understand biases in others

When we can understand the biases that pervade our own decisions, we can use the same underlying concepts to identify biases in others. To do this, managers often conduct correlation and regression analyses between the external decision-maker in question and a sample that is identified as a viable comparison group. 

  1. Push for wiser and more ethical decisions

Many cost-ineffective systems still exist in the world today, and it can seem like an overwhelming task to prescribe a solution to bigger problems. However, making small changes in how common organizational decisions are made can inspire wiser and more ethical decisions. The change can be as simple as removing the requirements pertaining to age group or gender and being open to hiring neurodivergent persons for a job opening.

To further understand and improve your thought processes against bias, enroll in our free course on Critical Thinking for Professional Success.  

References:

Bazerman, M. and Moore, D., 2013. Judgment In Managerial Decision Making, 8th Edition. 8th ed. New Caledonia: Courier Westford, Inc.

MasterClass Staff. 2021. How to Identify Cognitive Bias: 12 Examples of Cognitive Bias.

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