Bias Awareness
/ Author: David Prentice
/ Categories: Blogs /
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Bias Awareness

A common theme I heard growing up was that life was better back in the good old days.

I remember my dad complaining about cars not being as good as they were back when he was young or that they were far easier to work on than today’s computer- controlled cars. Food tasted better, TV shows were more entertaining, education was better, etc. 

Now that I’m older, I can appreciate where my dad was coming from. Sometimes, I find myself saying that, yes, of course things were better in the good old days. But that is an uncritical bias that I have. A sort of romantic notion that things are more complicated now and not as good as they once were. I have lived through the eras of black and white to colour to high def TV, Atari to Commodore 64 to PCs and Macs, 8-tracks to cassettes to CDs, VHS tapes to DVDs to Blu Rays to Netflix. Clearly, at least when it comes to technology, things may be more complicated, but they are also better—and cheaper—than in the past. Cars are safer. Communication is easier. Houses are more efficient. The web has connected people all over the planet. 

An uncritical bias favouring the past is only one of many biases that we may hold without even realizing it. And these unrecognized biases can negatively affect decision making. During a recent course I attended on pension board trust management, we discussed some of the biases that can affect good outcomes when making decisions, both in our personal lives and at work. Here are four. 

  1. Optimism bias – the tendency to think that one’s future is rosier than it really will be 
  2. Recency bias – the tendency to remember the last few things in a list more than those in the middle, and to assume items at the end are more important 
  3. In-group bias – the tendency to give preferential treatment to members of one’s own group 
  4. The rush-to-solve bias – the tendency to overlook data and other factors before making a decision 

The next time you serve on a bargaining committee, undertake a grievance investigation, or work to resolve a conflict, think about what your individual biases might be. How might they affect your decision making? Practicing the art of self-awareness for any bias you might have will help you make better decisions.

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