7 Ways to Remove Biases From Your Decision-Making Process

Think more clearly and make better decisions with these strategies.
7 Ways to Remove Biases From Your Decision-Making Process
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We are defined by the decisions we make from the moment we wake up to when we fall asleep. Regardless of how mundane or unimportant these emotions and decisions may seem, you must learn how to remove any potential unconscious bias from your choices. Thankfully, there are ways to eliminate these biases from your decision-making and action-taking, such as the following seven strategies.

Related: Why Developing Self-Awareness Is Key to Managing Your Time

1. Know and conquer your enemy.

I’m talking about cognitive bias here. You need to be aware of each specific bias so you can better understand how to overcome them. But, what exactly are cognitive biases?

“Our judgments are often inaccurate because the brain relies on cognitive biases over hard evidence,” explains Dr. Travis Bradberry. “Cognitive bias is the tendency to make irrational judgments in a consistent pattern.”

Numerous research has found that these biases force people to make poor and unreasonable decisions. Moreover, our “unconscious biases are often so strong that they lead us to act in ways that are inconsistent with reason, as well as our values and beliefs,” adds Dr. Bradberry.

“Awareness is the best way to beat these biases, so pay careful attention to how they influence you,” he adds. And, you can only achieve that by knowing the different types of cognitive biases that can distort your thinking.

Common cognitive biases

Now, because some would argue that there are 104 of these options of Cognitive Bias, I don’t want to overwhelm you. So, I'll focus on some of the most common types of cognitive biases.

  • The Dunning-Kruger Effect: You believe that you’re smarter or more skilled than you are, which prevents you from acknowledging your limitations and weaknesses.
  • Confirmation Bias: When you favor information that aligns with your existing beliefs. In turn, you’ll disregard evidence that doesn’t conform — even if it’s accurate.
  • Anchoring Bias: Here is when you rely on the first piece of information you’ve learned. Salespeople often use this technique when presenting a high-priced option, which makes everything that follows seem more affordable.
  • Self-Serving Bias: Here is when you blame external forces when things are bad, but credit yourself when they’re good.
  • Optimism Bias: You believe you are more successful than others and won’t experience any misfortune.
  • Availability Heuristic: A mental shortcut where you believe that whatever comes to your mind quickly is the right decision.
  • Attentional Bias: This is when you only focus on some things while ignoring others. For instance, if you’re purchasing a new vehicle, you only consider how it looks, but neglect how safe it is.
  • False Consensus Effect: This bias is when you overestimate how much others will agree with you.
  • Functional Fixedness: What if you needed to hammer a nail but didn’t have one nearby? Since you don’t have a hammer, you won’t finish this task. That’s an example of this type of bias. But, there are other blunt objects you could use instead.
  • Misinformation Effect: Your memory has been interfered with, changing how you recall past events.
  • Actor-Observer Bias: Another type of bias that prevents you from becoming more aware of your own shortcomings. For instance, you might have excellent cholesterol because of your family’s genetics, but you might think a co-worker has terrible cholesterol simply because of their diet.

Related: Cognitive Biases: A Crash Course for the Millennial Mind

2. HALT!

HALT is an acronym for hungry, angry, lonely and tired, and it's used by recovering addicts and alcoholics. It reminds them to stop abruptly so that they can pay attention to how they’re feeling. In turn, this can help control impulsive behavior.

“You don’t need to battle addiction or be in recovery to master self-care and self-awareness, as we are prone to self-sabotage in our general seemingly healthy lifestyle,” explains Zita Fontaine. It’s a technique that can be used by anyone to encourage you “to pause and ask yourself how you are feeling,” adds Fontaine. “If you are hungry, angry, lonely, or tired it makes you more vulnerable and susceptible to self-destructive behaviors — including relapse.”

3. Use the SPADE framework.

Have a difficult decision to make? Try using the SPADE toolkit. It was developed by Gokul Rajaram and has been used during his time at Google, Facebook, and now Square.

I highly recommend you check out the new toolkit Rajaram has created. It’s going to much more detailed then you’ll find here, but here’s the gist:

    • S is for Setting: Precisely define the “what,” calendar a timeframe, and clarify the “why.”
    • P is for People: “The first thing you do for every SPADE is to identify the people who should consult (give input), approve, and most importantly, a single person who is responsible,” writes Rajaram.
    • A is for Alternative: As the decision-maker, it’s your responsibility to find feasible and diverse alternatives. Most importantly, gather critical stakeholders and brainstorm possible alternatives.
    • D is for Decide: Here is when you can solicit feedback from others and have them vote on the best course of action. Rajaram suggests keeping this private by using tools like email, text or Slack. You could also try running anonymous polls.
    • E is for Explain: The final step is to explain the decision via a committee meeting. Figure out the next steps for delegation and execution.

4. Go against your inclinations.

“What would happen if you decided to move forward in the opposite direction of what you originally chose?” asks Thomas C. Redman, aka the Data Doc, on HBR. “Gather the data you would need to defend this opposite view, and compare it to the data used to support your original decision.”

Afterward, you’ll want to reevaluate your decision based on the bigger data set. And don't sweat it if your perspective isn’t complete? At least it’s more balanced.

5. Sort the valuable from the worthless.

A while back, The Economist conducted a study that asked subscribers how they felt about the following three plans:

  • $59 a year for an online-only subscription.
  • $125 a year for print only.
  • $125 a year for print and online.

About 16 percent chose the first option, which was the online-only subscription. The third choice received the remaining 84 percent. That seems like a no-brainer since you would be getting both the print and online versions for the same price.

But, as Ben Walker explains in the Dialogue Review, “when the publisher removed option B, 68 percent chose the cheapest option and demand for the full package — the sale the publisher most favored — slumped.” What did this information show? According to Walker, “the stats demonstrated that irrelevant information — in this case, the obviously lousy option B -- can have a huge influence on our decision making.”

6. Seek multiple perspectives.

One of the simplest and most effective ways to remove any bias from your decision-making is to solicit the advice or feedback from others. Ideally, you should turn to those you trust, like a family member, friend, business partner or mentor. These are the people who will offer honest and constructive criticism, pointing out any blind spots while helping you gain fresh points of view.

Related: Stuck? 5 Ways Entrepreneurs Can Gain a Fresh Perspective.

7. Reflect on the past.

Take a timeout and reflect on similar past scenarios. How did you make that decision? What obstacles did you have, and how did you overcome them? What was the outcome, and what did you learn? Answering these questions can help guide you in making the right decision.

Furthermore, you could also use data to find a cost-effective way to hire or handle customer service inquires. That data can be used to determine which activities generated the most leads and reduced churn or help you review your team’s past performance. And, thanks to machine learning, analytics can make smart suggestions on how to spend your time and schedule important events.

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