I was recently taking a client through their Leadership Circle Profile 360° feedback debrief, which I always find to be a very powerful conversation, with powerful insights. We found ourselves discussing biases, which we all have, and how they affect our effectiveness.

Research suggests that there are more than 175 cognitive biases, including, my favorite, the bias that I’m not biased (objectivity illusion) – we tend to “know” how objective we are while seeing the bias and flaws in other people’s reasoning and beliefs.

Biases are our brain’s way of simplifying a complex world – sifting through too much information, creating/assigning meaning, determining how to act and what to remember. There is, in case you haven’t noticed, too much coming toward us, so our brains compensate to “help” us function.

Only sometimes that help is not helpful.

Biases skew our perception in many ways – so that we’re more likely to hear information that agrees with what we already believe to be true (confirmation bias), or we’re swayed by the colleague who spoke with us last about a team challenge (recency bias), or we believe we have control over an uncontrollable situation or person (illusion of control bias).

With my client, we talked about attributing our successes to our internal, personal factors and our failures to external, situational factors (self-serving bias), which enables us to reject some of the tough 360 feedback about how we’re coming across. We focus more on our intention than our impact, and we rationalize why we “had” to do something or how “overly sensitive” someone is when they tell us we’re too harsh, or controlling, or direct.

Biases fascinate me. They fascinated my client as well. They happen so automatically and unconsciously, that we have to work very hard to have them affect us less. My client cares deeply about people and is passionate about her business, and while the 360 reflected that, it also reflected that her passion was seen and experienced as controlling or critical or arrogant more so than caring. My client was determined to change her behaviors and shift peoples’ perceptions and experience of her, and she realized she needed to be aware of all the many ways her brain would trick her to not fully take in this feedback.

I hate to use an overused saying, but, perhaps especially with biases, awareness is the first step. It’s certainly a most important step. Biases happen, again, so automatically that they’re very hard to notice, much less manage, even for someone like me who is fascinated by them.

A few other helpful steps can be:

  • Ask for and be open to feedback – Like my client, how you engage with others may not have your intended effect, but you don’t know if you don’t ask. Make feedback – including 360 feedback with the help of a coach – a common practice for you, your team, and your organization.
  • Look for other perspectives – And other’s perspectives. One of the best ways to combat our bias is to actively look for other interpretations, explanations, and points of view.
  • Slow down – Biases are coping mechanisms to move more quickly in a complex, fast-paced world. The more we slow, pause, and reflect, the more chance we have to notice and move away from biases.
  • Be gentle – With yourself and others. Biases are a fact of life. In fact, they are how we’ve evolved to continue to live. But they get in our way and lead us astray. A huge dose of compassion – for yourself and others – for how easily we’re caught in our own biases is necessary, and helpful, to find a way out or through.

Our biases are here to stay and we have our objectivity illusion bias to make us certain we’ve taken all the steps and are no longer biased. But if we continue to be Thoughtful – present, intentional, authentic…and reflective – we have a chance of managing our biases so that they don’t lead us fully astray.

How have you noticed bias affecting your leadership and what have you done about it?
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For support in becoming even more aware of your own biases, contact Lisa at lkohn@chatsworthconsulting.com.

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