In this article, I’ll be reaching into my big bag of emotional intelligence tricks to pull out a new Knowledge Nugget called Confirmation Bias. I’ll also be sharing a Tiny Tweak called Equal Airtime. Let’s get started with some simplified neuroscience.
Every day, thanks to your five senses, your brain is exposed to thousands of pieces of information based on the things you see, smell, taste, touch and hear. To get a sense of just how much information your brain processes in any given day, try doing a 10 second inventory.
Sit quietly for 10 seconds and inventory all the information your brain is exposed to.
Right now, after I did my own 10 second inventory, I came up with the following:
I heard a neighbor’s dog bark.
I heard the postman at my mailbox.
I saw a squirrel out of the corner of my eye.
I tasted the cough drop in my mouth.
I felt my skin sticking to my leather couch.
I felt the itch on my nose.
I heard my sleeping dog’s heavy breathing.
Think about it. That’s a lot of information in just a 10 second period for my brain to process. And that’s just the information I was consciously aware of!
During my 10 second inventory, the information I gathered from my five senses was for the most part inconsequential. So, my brain, which is an expert deletion device, could go ahead and ignore the information.
But I also smelled soup burning on my stove.
My brain knows this information is important. This information shouldn’t be ignored! Consequently, I got up and turned the flame off.
Our brains are meaning-making machines. In other words, for your brain to make sense of all the information it is exposed to through your five senses, it needs to determine if the information is relevant or irrelevant. Important or unimportant. In any given day, that’s a lot of information to processes! That’s why, in addition to being a meaning-making machine, your brain is also an expert deletion device.
Confirmation Bias One way your brain determines if information is important, is to see how the information aligns with your Beliefs (aka the stuff you believe to be important and true). This is where the Knowledge Nugget called Confirmation Bias comes into play.
Confirmation Bias is when your brain pays attention to the information that supports your Beliefs. Consider these examples:
If you believe your lawn service does a sloppy job, your brain is going to treat the information it encounters that supports this belief with a greater priority than the information that doesn’t. If the workers mess up the mulch, your brain will retain this information. If they do a great job edging, your brain may very well ignore it.
Here’s another example. If you think (that’s another word for believe), your employee is late a lot, your brain is going to focus more on the times s/he is late and will tend to ignore the times s/he is on time. This is because the on-time incidents don’t support your Belief.
Or, if you believe your partner interrupts too much, your brain will pay particular attention to the interruptions. However, on the occasions when your partner is listening, your brain may not take notice.
Confirmation Bias is when your brain pays attention to the information that supports your Beliefs and consequently, pays less attention to the information that contradicts them.
If right about now you’re thinking “This may apply to others, but it doesn’t apply to me.” you’re wrong. Everyone is subjected to Confirmation Bias – not because people are bad, misinformed, or don’t know better – but because this is the way the human brain is designed.
To process all the information your brain is exposed to, your brain must be efficient in its ability to sort through it all. That’s why your brain has evolved into an expert deletion device. To help determine what information to keep and what information to delete, as mentioned, your brain leverages your Beliefs.
Left unchecked, Confirmation Bias can get you into trouble sometimes without you even realizing it. This is because something you initially believe (e.g., your lawn service does a sloppy job, your employee is always late, or your partner interrupts too much) actually gets reinforced and strengthened over time because of Confirmation Bias!
Emotional Intelligence My Empowered by Emotions program is designed around the understanding emotional intelligence requires knowledge and skills in three key areas:
Thought Management – because there is a thought behind every emotion that activates
Emotional Literacy – because there is an emotion behind every decision and every action you take
Acting Intentionally – because your Actions directly impact the Outcomes and Results you achieve in your life.
Confirmation Bias is a Knowledge Nugget that directly relates to Thought Management. Armed with this powerful Knowledge Nugget you are empowered to increase your self-awareness around the thoughts you are thinking which leads to greater emotional intelligence.
The goal isn’t to eliminate Confirmation Bias. That’s impossible because Confirmation Bias is a direct result of how the human brain is wired and designed. Instead, the goal is to increase your self-awareness that Confirmation Bias exists in all of us. Based on this self-awareness, you can introduce into your day-to-day routine, a Tiny Tweak called Equal Airtime whereby you develop a skill to challenge your own thinking.
Equal Airtime The Equal Airtime Tiny Tweak is simple. When you have a strong Belief about something, you can challenge yourself to give “equal airtime” to an opposing belief.
Using the same examples, in the case of the lawn service you believe is doing a sloppy job, if you spend five minutes grousing about everything the lawn service is doing poorly, try spending five minutes pointing out the things the lawn service is getting right.
If you think your employee is late all the time, don’t just track the days when the employee is tardy. Track the days s/he is on time as well.
Or, if you believe your partner interrupts all the time, make it a point to notice the times when your partner isn’t interrupting.
When you exercise the self-discipline to incorporate the Equal Airtime Tiny Tweak, you are telling your brain to also prioritize and pay attention to things that don’t support your current Beliefs. In so doing, you may discover your original Beliefs (e.g., the lawn service stinks, my employee is always late, or my partner interrupts all the time) could be flawed or incorrect!
Summary An individual’s emotional intelligence is directly influenced by the extent to which they have developed a strong set of Thought Management skills.
The next time you are certain about something, take a minute and remember the Confirmation Bias Knowledge Nugget and practice some Thought Management! Your brain is going to seek out and find information that supports your Beliefs. This is the reason why biases are formed. You can’t prevent Confirmation Biases from happening, but you can incorporate the Equal Airtime Tiny Tweak to help challenge and broaden your thinking. Now that’s some Thought Management in action!