Confirmation Bias

Confirmation Bias leads us to seek out information supporting an existing predilection and to discount opposing information.

Illustration: You’ve just had a heated discussion with a friend about which musician is better between Adele and Justin Timberlake. You, being wise, know that JT is one of the bests of all time. So you pull your phone out and do a quick Google search. “Why Justin Timberlake is the best musician of all time.” Congratulations, you just committed Confirmation Bias. A google search without confirmation bias would have been more like “who are the best musicians of our time and why?”

At work, it might play out like this. A sales rep managing an account is concerned about the trajectory of a major client. They just got out of discussions with a key decision-maker where he was informed of a new wrinkle in the purchasing process that could really affect our position with them if we don’t adjust, and he just can’t stop the feeling.

You’re an optimist, and also prone to committing confirmation bias, so you pull up recent sales year over year and inform your rep that, “Man, you’ve been crushing it! All sales are trending upward and there’s no reason to overreact.” What goes around comes around. You’ve confirmed your bias, and you’ve discounted his real-time information that opposes that bias. The same could be true on the flip side. Sales have been stagnant or non-existent with a prospect, but your rep has a real opportunity at their fingertips to grow the account if we act now. “No, they don’t buy from us and they’ve dangled carrots in front of us like this before. Don’t get tunnel vision.”

Confirmation Bias is ultimately a decision making trap that preys on ego. We hate to be wrong and often times we look in mirrors to other biased sources or irrelevant information to confirm our positions. The first step in moving past this one is recognizing that you don’t have all the answers and that situations change constantly. Keep your eyes open and listen to trusted advisors. Those suits and ties are worth listening to, especially when they’re telling you you’re wrong.