Human irrationality is a fact of life for all of us. Travis Bradberry, author of Emotional Intelligence 2.0 shares 13 cognitive biases we all need to become aware of in an effort to think and react more objectively. As a change agent and life coach I have seen the hard evidence to show that most of what is in our way is not external forces but rather ourselves. This is in part why having an unbiased advisor or coach is so important. We need help discovering what we are cognitively blind to. By far the most common bias we encounter with our clients is what Bradberry refers to as the “Bias Blind Spot”. This is the tendency to only see biases in others and not ourselves.
To further illustrate our irrational tendencies Behavioural Economist, Dan Ariely, shares a study where they provide two types of beer and asked the participants for their preference. One group is told they are tasting one beer with vinegar added and another beer without. In this case the participants all prefer the one without. Then they offer the same two beers to a second group only this time they don’t explain that one was mixed with vinegar. In this case all the participants prefer the one with vinegar. Turns out that vinegar enhances the taste of beer. However, our preconceived notions of what vinegar could do to beer trumps how we experience it. In other words, our preconceptions shape our experiences and trump reality. This highlights that we don’t even have a clue when we are being irrational.
This also shows up when business leaders make broad assumptions of what they believe their employees and customers need. They proclaim they know their customer and they create products or services certain they are of great value for them. Yet they are often received with reluctance, caution or even rejection. Typically the response to this is to either push harder, re-engineer, or to abandon it all together. When really what is needed is to better understand all the preconceived beliefs that are in the way.
So how can we stop fooling ourselves?
Bottom line is that leaders need to invest in a more sophisticated understanding of human behaviour. Frankly this is a critical competence for any leader, parent, or life partner. This level of awareness needs to begin academically. Once we begin to understand the nuances of it we will see, hear, and experience everything differently and more objectively. Only then can we really begin to expand on the rewards of designing meaningful experiences for our employees, customers, families and ourselves.