The 5 Biggest Biases That Affect Decision-Making

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Here’s how to recognize — and mitigate — the most common mental shortcuts.

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Humans make thousands of decisions every day. To save time and energy, our brains don’t give each decision equal attention. Instead, we take mental shortcuts.

To brain scientists, these shortcuts are known as “biases.” They’re neither good nor bad; they just are. They help us in certain cases and hinder us in others. For instance, an expedience bias compels us to make decisions quickly. If we’re in a burning building, it might be lifesaving, but if we’re conducting a performance review, it might cause us to make a mistake.

That’s why we’ve unpacked these shortcuts to help leaders and teams mitigate the biases that negatively affect decision-making. Scientists have explored more than 150 such biases, which we’ve organized into five categories. These five domains comprise The SEEDS Model®, the framework that underpins our solutions for reducing unconscious bias.

We’ve outlined each of the five bias domains below.

Similarity bias – We prefer what’s like us over what’s different

Similarity bias most commonly influences our decisions regarding people: who to hire, who to promote, and who to assign to projects.

It occurs because humans are highly motivated to see themselves and those who are similar in a favorable light. We instinctively create “in-groups” and “out-groups” — boundaries between those we consider close to us and others who live on the margins. We generally have a favorable view of our in-group but a skeptical or negative view of the out-group. Hence, managers tend to hire employees who remind them of themselves.

Overcoming a similarity bias requires actively finding common ground with people who appear different.

Expedience bias – We prefer to act quickly

Humans have an innate need for certainty — to know what’s going on. A downside of that is the tendency to rush to judgment without fully considering all the facts.

Expedience bias crops up when we judge employees’ performance based solely on one data point or recommendation. The fix is to develop a step-by-step process that makes it easy to gather more information.

Experience bias – We take our own perception to be the objective truth

We may be the stars of our own show, but other people see the world differently than we do. Experience bias occurs when we fail to remember that fact. We assume our view of a given problem or situation constitutes the whole truth.

To counteract this bias, we need to build systems for others to check our thinking, share their perspectives, and help us reframe the situation at hand.

Distance bias – We prefer what’s close over what’s far away

Distance bias has become all too common in today’s hybrid world. It emerges in meetings when folks in the room fail to gather input from their remote colleagues calling in on a video platform.

This type of bias reflects our instinct to prioritize what’s nearby, whether in physical space or time.

We can mitigate distance bias with systems that acknowledge important figures outside our immediate proximity, such as calling on remote colleagues first in a meeting before discussing with the room.

Safety bias – We protect against loss more than we seek out gain

Safety bias refers to the all-too-human tendency to avoid loss. Many studies have shown that we’d prefer not losing money over gaining money. In other words, bad is stronger than good.

Safety bias holds back healthy forms of risk-taking. One way we can mitigate this bias is by putting some distance between us and the decision — such as imagining you’re offering advice to a friend — to make those events less emotionally tied to our current selves.

What’s important to remember about all biases is that no one can mitigate bias alone. It takes an entire group using a common language around bias to help each other make smarter decisions.

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