Anchoring: Hearing Both Sides

As we’re looking through the 8 psychological decision making traps, we’re starting off with what we call anchoring. Anchoring is what we do when we give disproportionate weight to the first information we receive. It’s a human trait. It’s hard not to do.

Illustration: Say your spouse has only good things to say about a restaurant. The information you received first is that this place is going to be perfect for date night. So you sit down at the table, the service is excellent. The food is wonderful. And the price is great. Everything you experienced is in keeping with your anchored position.. you’re none the wiser. Flip the example.. your spouse told you this place was awful. You go there with some friends after work, and the service is excellent. The food is wonderful. And the price is great. Yet there’s a rub. In example 1, the dining experience was great. In example 2, the dining experience was ok.

We like to think that we can be completely objective about the experience, but truth be told, it’s nearly impossible to NOT anchor. Because you had been told and we’re pretty sure that this place was terrible, you gave disproportionate weight to the first information you received.

We do this in business all the time. With vendors, particular members in the community, facts about a certain controversial situation… oftentimes what you hear first, and the perspective you hear first, becomes your default position. I have learned that this is a vital thing to be aware of in our roles of management. As a leader, as a manager, your words and opinion can serve as a heavy anchor in one of your team member’s minds.

I oversee the majority of our company’s sales efforts: If I’ve had bad experiences with a certain client or a particular business in the past, I have to be wise about the information I share and don’t share with a new sales rep or CSR interacting with that client or business. If I start by saying, “Oh, let me tell you about that business…” or “this situation,” there is a good chance I’m going to be anchoring something in their minds. It’s the first information they’ve heard about the client, so they will give disproportionate weight to that information. You might have heard the saying. “I don’t want to poison the well.” Well, it’s easy to do accidentally.

Here’s the catch. You might be thinking, “I need to anchor their opinion about this situation,” and you might. Prudence might require that you tell them that story so that they don’t repeat the same mistake.

To overcome this psychological decision-making trap, there is no quick fix to make sure you don’t fall prey to it. Awareness is the main antidote. Just know, “this is how we think.” Your words weigh in people’s minds and other people’s words weigh in your mind. Your experience might not be their experience and vice versa. Keep your eyes open, and be aware, and you’re one step closer to making sure you don’t fall into this psychological decision-making trap.