“Tommy, you’re being biased,” one of my partners told me during a heated discussion about our next data scientist hire. While it would be natural to want to argue the contrary and defend a point of view, I simply replied with, “Yes, I am.”
I knew that I was biased in a particular direction, but in the end, we all are. What’s more, there is no need to hide it, as I reminded my colleague.
“Let’s admit that we both have biases and disclose what they are and why they exist,” I suggested to him as our hiring discussion played out. After all, when you’re inclined for or against something, you’re already declaring it in your argument. So, why not be open and state it clearly?
Once we both agreed that we had a particular bias, it allowed us to focus on the real conversation rather than argue about our respective leanings. What made this so valuable was not so much that it focused our data scientist discussion, but that it caused us to reflect on our biases and consider what they meant.
It’s all too easy to get set in your ways and stick to a particular bias, but if you’re unable to explain, defend or even fully understand it, then perhaps it’s time to reconsider your standpoint.
Without realising it, you may be caught in the cycle of repeating a basic misstep in your thinking, which can skew your judgement and result in cognitive biases. If you have a tendency to rely on the first piece of information you encounter when making decisions, then you’re likely to close your mind to other perspectives, regardless of whether or not that piece of information is flawed.
Alternatively, you may suffer fools gladly because of a tendency to search for, interpret and favour information that confirms your own beliefs. It’s an intellectual trap; attraction to information that re-affirms your own views can contribute to overconfidence in personal beliefs and cause you to maintain or strengthen those beliefs, even in the face of contrary evidence.
Interestingly, brilliant thinking may actually be found in bias. After all, being unbiased (in theory at least) means thinking like everyone else. This is also called “average thinking”, as your point of view will align with the norm. By contrast, richness in thinking comes from the ability to see alternative points and making connections that others don’t see.
This kind of thinking needs to be merited.
On the flip side, unfounded bias can be extremely harmful to you as a leader. To avoid this, it’s important to acknowledge that you have a bias, then suspend your judgement and take the time to understand other points of view.
Who knows? It may be prudent for you to embrace them.
A bias is not necessarily negative and holding one doesn’t mean you need to be bigoted — you can have a strong inclination and still keep an open mind. The important thing is to always listen to what others have to say.
This is how you’ll come up with better ideas and how you’ll grow in your thinking. In the end, listening to different opinions, rather than arguing for your point with closed ears, is how you’ll influence others.
This is the advice I give to executives on a daily basis. While being biased has its merits, listening to others is your chance to learn and to push your own thinking.
By considering different perspectives, you’ll gain the advantage of others’ experiences, insight and opinions. Debating against them is a waste of time, but listening in an effort to broaden your understanding is an investment.
Unfortunately, too many people keep their ears closed and only want to propagate their bias. They might think they’re displaying courage in their convictions, but they are in fact missing out on a valuable opportunity to learn and grow. Being open about your biases can lead to enlightened insight, but it’s in listening to others that biased thinking becomes truly brilliant.
— Tommy Weir is a CEO coach and author of “Leadership Dubai Style”. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.