Executive Coach and Leadership Developer, Robert Farndell, who is a speaker at next week’s Psychology Festival of Learning, points out that there are a host of deep-seated biases, as well as a range of ‘shortcuts’ in the ways our brains are wired that lead us to making decisions that are predictable rather than optimal.
Our built-in biases
Poor decision-making in our lives can lead to loss, stress, frustration, conflict and despair.
“When making career decisions, personal decisions and business decisions, we all have to live with the consequences,” Robert says.
“Unfortunately, our brains tricks us along the way, and we fall prey to in-built biases that shape our choices without us even knowing.”
An example of this is the “Confirmation Bias”, where we focus on the information that supports our pre-existing beliefs. Another is the Narrow Framing bias where we tend to frame our decisions between very narrow tramlines.
Over-confidence in our abilities
Researchers have found that most of us are excessively optimistic about our plan of action; over-estimating the likelihood of positive outcomes and under-estimating the chances of negative ones.
An over-confidence in our abilities, as compared to others, also regularly trips us up.
In our eagerness to claim the credit for past successes, we often overlook how the role of chance and circumstance, as well as the support of others actually part of an achievement we regard as ‘ours’.
Escalation of commitment
Another common decision-making pitfall that many of us can relate to is what is termed as the “Escalation of commitment” which causes us to justify investing more and more resources in a losing proposition just because of all the emotion and energy, time and money we have already committed.
While we all have a mind field of biases that set us on an autopilot course when we are making decisions, there are also “heuristics”, brain shortcuts that we need to be aware of.
As Robert makes clear, brain heuristics exist to serve us in making quick sense of the world in a moment.
They are very useful, in say, fight or flight situations. But they also come out to play when we need to make long-term decisions, and then may well be a lot less helpful.
Circumvent your biases
But as Robert points out it is not enough to just know what pitfalls we could fall prey to when making an important decision. We actually need to employ strategies so that we make decisions in a very different way.
“You need to use a decision-making process that forces you to engage your full thinking about the decision at hand,” he says.
“For example, to circumvent the Confirmation Bias, you can:
Isolate your ego – We hate to be wrong, and we’re desperate for others to validate our position. If you can detach yourself from your need to be “right” you will be more open to absorbing non-confirming data.
Seek disagreement – Foster an environment where it is not only okay for people to disagree with you but also encouraged.
Ask better questions – “Where has this course of action not worked well?”
Seek wider data – Understand that you are constricting your filter and force yourself to step back to get a wider view.”
Robert Farndell is talking about “Making better decisions during times of change” on Tuesday, 8th September at SACAP’s Johannesburg campus.
Engaging for Change is the theme for the annual Psychology Festival of Learning, which will be hosted by SACAP (The South African College of Applied Psychology) at their Johannesburg campus on 8 and 9 September and at their Cape Town campus from 10 to 12 September.
Tickets for the Psychology Festival of Learning as well as the programme with speakers details and topics are available on the website.