The Unbiased Opinion is a Myth. Discard It.
Unbiased opinions do not exist. As a leader, you seek objectivity in decision-making, but each person brings a stew of biases to every thought process. You can strive for objectivity by remaining vigilant against these internal biases, but they always impact your thinking. “Looking at the problem objectively” really means that you are looking at it from your perspective given what you know (or worse, assume) about the problem. Other team members will have other, reasonably objective perspectives that may not line up with yours.
Controlling for bias is hard, not least because there could be 150 different biases at work (see a list of the 23 most common in this Strategy+Business article). How then, to achieve sound decisions that minimize the influence of everyone’s biases?
Get professional help – from team members
Your brain is a jumble of biases built on past experience or communal teachings. To keep these inherent biases from becoming a barrier to sound decision-making, you as a leader have to embed a habit within your team of having perspectives challenged. (I have always called this the “pursuit of truth,” which can also be defined as having a bias towards learning, and for challenging assumptions.)
Look again at the list of biases in the article from Strategy and Business. If you try to control for all these mental influencers every time you try to form an opinion to share, you would never contribute anything to workplace discussions. To best control for your own biases during any analytic, evaluative or judgmental process, remind yourself that these subconscious influencers exist, and cannot be ignored.
A simple approach is to always acknowledge that biases are at work. Go ahead and share your thoughts, with two key phrases always bookending your comments:
“The way I see it…” and “What do you think?”
The first is the preface to your opinion, which clearly labels it as yours rather than universal. The second phrase comes after you have finished speaking. It provides permission for others to challenge your perspective from their perspective. Objectivity must be sought in the intersection of these opinions.
The danger here lurks in the risk of groupthink and the over-influence of loudmouths. A leader must guard against introverts being dragged along a particular path by extroverts, as the best cure for bias is collective discussion, and the evenhanded valuation of every opinion shared.
The authors of the Strategy+Business article summed up their perspective this way:
Bias is universal. There is a general human predisposition to make fast and efficient judgments, and you are just as susceptible to this as anyone else. If you believe you are less biased than other people, that’s probably a sign that you are more biased than you realize.
It is difficult to manage for bias in the moment you’re making a decision. You need to design practices and processes in advance. Consciously identify situations in which more deliberative thought and strategies would be helpful, and then set up the necessary conversations and other mechanisms for mitigating bias.
Place a premium on cognitive effort over intuition or gut instinct when designing bias-countering processes and practices.
Individual cognitive effort is not enough. You have to cultivate an organization-wide culture in which people continually remind one another that the brain’s default setting is egocentric, that they will sometimes get stuck in a belief that their experience and perception of reality is the only objective truth. Better decisions will come from stepping back to seek out a wider variety of perspectives and views.