I was listening to a nurse leader explain a decision that she had made that was not producing the results that she had intended. She appeared unwilling to acknowledge that she had not done enough due diligence or listened to the concerns of others. Like most leaders, she did not want to reflect on the thinking that was behind her decision and whether or not, it could be flawed. All of us have what can be described as cognitive biases – those annoying glitches in our thinking that lead to questionable decisions and erroneous conclusions. Being aware of our own potential biases can lead us to ask better questions and avoid decision making that is made on auto pilot. The following are 5 cognitive biases that are important for leaders to consider as they make decisions.
As leaders, we feel more comfortable with people who value what we value and agree with our opinions. Confirmation bias is when we only seek out opinions that agree with ours and avoid those that threaten our world view. We see this behavior in politics today when people only view media such as Fox News or MSNBC where commentators agree with their viewpoints and confirm what they already believe to be true. As leaders, we need to feel comfortable having our thinking challenged so we can make the best decisions.
Observational Selection Bias
Observational selection bias is when we start noticing things that we did not see before – but wrongly assume that the frequency has increased. Leaders sometimes do this when a problem is brought to them involving a staff member – they begin paying close attention and can mistakenly believe that the behavior is occurring all the time when it is not – leading the employee to feel that they are being “singled out”.
Status Quo Bias
In our changing health care environment, the status quo can feel very comfortable. The status quo bias is when we believe that change would be for the worse and we stick to our routines and ways of doing things. Our decisions then tend to be in the direction of maintaining the status quo versus trying anything new or different.
Projection bias is when we believe that others think as we do and agree with us on issues. The danger here is that we can assume that there is consensus on issues when in fact there is not. Leaders often fail to fully communicate decisions because of this projection bias and the belief that others have their grasp of the issues.
Bandwagon Effect Bias
The bandwagon effect bias occurs when we enter a group think mentality on an issue. This bias can happen when there is a strong desire to fit in and conform. Unfortunately, it can lead to flawed thinking and poor decision making because not all aspects of a decision have been considered.
The most effective way to avoid bias in your thinking is to encourage others to challenge your opinions and ideas. Your best decision making will occur when you have considered all aspects to a situation including those that might be uncomfortable. Easy solutions and quick decisions are not always the best. We need to strive to see more nuances in situations by being aware of our biases.