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It was Dan's idea, it can't be wrong, can it? Dan hired that person, they must be Ok, it's everyone else that just need time to adjust. Dan's the leader, so must know all of the answers, doesn't he? Let's be honest, it's possible that Dan is in fact always correct and infallible, it is however unlikely. Before we go on What I if told You that you read the title wrong (and the start of this sentence)?
This happens because your brain has an expectation of what it should read based on everything you have experienced before and it decides what I really meant to type was "What IF I Told you" so it rearranges it to fit the reality that it expects.
Pilots learn to fly firstly by both instruments and being able to see the world around them, by combining both they have the perfect level of information, yet, remove what the eyes tell them and ask them to fly only based on instruments things can go pear-shaped pretty quickly. The stories of pilots flying into fog or heavy cloud and ending upside down are numerous, irrespective of what their instruments are telling them their brain overrules and says nope, I believe this… and the results can be catastrophic.
In business, we see it more than you think. The numbers on the finance report or the production output report tell us one thing, but our gut tells us nope, it doesn't feel right so it must be wrong. We see people leaving a business who we thought would never leave, they tell you that it's because of their boss or the pressure that they are constantly under. You can see the numbers but again your brain is telling you that something else is true, it can't be the boss because you hired them. So, what's happening here? 2 things that is happening with Dan, he's suffering Cognitive Dissonance and Confirmation Bias.
Cognitive Dissonance is where a person seeks to have consistency among their attitudes, beliefs and behaviours. It's that feeling you get in your body when you realise that the new step counter you board isn't actually helping you get any fitter. It must do however because all the sales information said it would, and I read it all and that's why I bought it. Yet you aren't getting fitter. It's a factor when organisations look at their bottom line and realise it's shrinking, the market is down, the sales aren't there yet their competitors are doing Ok still driven by the belief they cut the numbers of people in the manufacturing area (but not the managers) and then.. the numbers get worse, output is down as well… They enter what pilots call a graveyard spiral, that's the point when pilots plunge into clouds while ignoring their instruments and in about 2-3 minutes will hit the ground, abruptly bringing their flight, and life to an end. This graveyard spiral, the Cognitive Dissonance, is when, in spite of everything your systems are telling you, you ignore them and keep flying towards the ground.
To try to align reality with what the belief is the data is reinterpreted or ignored, it can't be true. The story you tell yourself is changed to fit the facts, it's embellished, it's polished until the story perfectly matches what is happening in your own world and the uncomfortable feeling that something isn't right diminishes. Worse still is when leaders surround themselves with people who they know will not disagree with them, thereby supporting their beliefs, in spite of the evidence, supporting the Cognitive Dissonance.
Confirmation bias is the side kick to Cognitive Dissonance, it's when we go out looking for information to back up our beliefs. It's when you look at the people leaving the business and then look at their length of service or the results from their departments and say yep, they were here too long anyway, nothing to do with that guy I hired being a terrible manager or a bully.
Confirmation Bias happens when you favour information that only supports your underlaying preheld belief, the information supporting it must be good, anything that doesn't, well that's just 'fake news'.
This bias changes everything about how we world, it changes what information we collect, what we read, what side of the argument we listen too, who we surround ourselves with.
The unfortunate thing is that we all have it, every single person has this issue to one level or another. The key is how you deal with it and how you work with it.
Limiting the impacts of Cognitive Dissonance and Confirmation Bias isn't impossible, in fact, it can be quite easy if you are open and brave enough.
You start by ensuring that as a leader you surround yourself with people who will disagree with you, who are willing (and able) to argue the other side of the argument, and you can't shut them down when they do. In any discussion, you should be asking yourself and your team about what bias you could be holding and how can you let it go. Once you start acknowledging it then you can start managing it.
Limiting the impacts of Cognitive Dissonance is harder since that requires you to change a belief or behaviour, you have to accept that something is wrong and that it's not possible to hold two competing beliefs or behaviours to be true at the same time, it's what makes your head hurt! Thankfully, if you take the step of having people who will challenge and disagree it's going to help you hear, they are going to be able to highlight this situation but it's up to you to decide which side to come down on, and you do have to pick a side.
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