~ Article written by L. Michael Hall PhD ~
If you and I are going to make great decisions, there’s another requirement.
Namely, making decisions that are unbiased. Yet in saying that we now have a problem. The problem is that we all are so primed and skilled in making decisions that are highly biased in our favor. We are biased to think and decide for what we want, even if it is not reasonable, rational, or ecological. In fact, this is the problem with most decisions. Whether you are trying to decide something about yourself or for yourself, or you’re part of making decisions as a family, or a business division is trying to make a decision – most decisions are highly biased. And worse than that, most of the time we’re not even aware of it.
What makes our decisions so biased?
There are many factors-
We solely use information that is available to us, that we easily remember or have access to (availability bias).
Ideas, understandings, and beliefs that already structure our lives- we are biased to confirm what we already know (the confirmation bias).
A narrative or story of your life or group (the narrative bias).
The need to justify what you’ve already said or committed to (self-justification bias).
Desire to make things as simple and easy as possible (ease bias; over-simplification bias).
The desire to want to get the results that you want (the results bias)
And on and on it goes. There are a great many (scores and scores) of biases that can intervene in your decision-making- biases that you may be completely unaware of and yet biases actually controlling our choices and preventing you from discerning differences that may be critical. Given all of these cognitive biases, how is it possible for you and me to make unbiased decisions?
The How To
The first answer is to be sure to take the time to pause, step back, reflect, and consider before deciding. Taking a meta-moment to step back gives you the ability to slow down the compulsion to make a decision simply because you are caught up in an emotional state favoring a particular decision. While emotion does and should play a key role in making solid decisions, you and I also need to avoid being railroaded into a decision solely because of intense driving emotions. Sure you want it-and that’s a good sign. But upon reflection-is it really good for you? What consequences may result from it which you have not thought about? Can you really afford it? How holistic is it when you consider family, relationships, health, etc.?
For big decisions that mean major shifts or reorganizations in our lives- we need a bigger meta-moment for reflection. For this longer-term pause, you may want to put the decision on hold for several days, a week, or even more in order to more thoroughly think through the ins-and-outs of the decision.
A second answer is to be sure to gather high quality information as you are getting ready to make a decision.
What information do you need? What information is available? Do you know how to get it? Who to ask? How to collect and arrange it so that you can use it in a highly resourceful way?
The problem here is the confirmation bias, again- you will be tempted to gather information that is supportive of the decision you want to make. We all do this. To resist that temptation, intentionally create a set of questions such as the following:
What information goes against my preference? How thoroughly have I welcomed, entertained, and considered that information?
Is there information have I not considered?
What do I not know? What do I not know that I don’t know? What potential blind spots may I be operating from?
Am I assuming certain points to be true or obvious?
This now brings up a third option in answering how to deal with your own natural biases as you make decisions. Get with someone who will play devil’s advocate with you- someone who will bring a strong healthy skepticism to your decision-making process. Find someone to talk it out with and who will ask “hard” questions to test what you are saying and/or who will help you sort out the pros and cons as well as identify the criteria you’re using as you are thinking about a decision.
Unbiased decision-making is rare and it will never be completely clean of biases, but there are ways that you can work toward reducing your bias so that you can more likely make a great decision. To your highest valued decisions and your best performance in decision-making!