• Vishal Naithani

Taming the Subconscious at the Workplace

Updated: Oct 9, 2020

Human beings are creatures of habit who more often than not are not even aware that there is a pattern to how we behave, react and interact with each other. Spending the majority of our lives in our workplaces this interplay of emotions, behaviors and beliefs is the arena where our true self manifests itself.

When it comes to studying people interactions at the workplace, Organizational Psychology provides us with some fascinating answers. Let's look into a few Cognitive Biases – faulty reasoning (mostly subconscious) that impacts workplace decisions (or even decisions in personal life), our perception of other people, the subsequent decisions we take and the assumptions we make.

1. Red Herring Bias – A person attempts to distract by deviating from the topic at hand to another which he/she believes is easier to justify. This is what you observe in political debates where the question is on apathy towards civic services and the response is as random as why my political symbol is the best!

2. Genetic Fallacy – When an idea is either accepted or rejected because of its sourcerather than its merit i.e. who is speaking vs. what is being spoken. As people managers you might consciously or subconsciously have ‘favorites’ in the team, however, do not let genetic fallacy impede innovation and sharing of ideas within your teams. All you will be left with is an army of yes-(wo)men.

3. Bandwagon Bias - a.k.a. ‘the Penguin Syndrome’. Where a proposition is claimed to be true or good solely because the majority believe it to be so. Be extremely wary of this bias when you operate as teams and do not be ‘blind-sighted’ by the brilliance of ignorance!

4. Confirmation Bias – A form of selective thinking that focuses more on evidence that only supports our own school of thought while completely ignoring evidence that refutes our assumption. This bias is prevalent across workplaces and probably the one that manifests itself the most. We subconsciously look for supporters / cheerleaders to our ideas to re-affirm our beliefs and assumptions and completely ignore that there’s a possibility of a different story.

5. Recency Effect – This occurs when most recent information is better remembered and receives more weight in forming a judgment than earlier-presented information. People managers at times fall into this bias while evaluating people’s contribution towards team goals and assessing their performance. Therefore, it’s imperative to continuously engage with your teams frequently and capture mutually agreed observations.

6. Anchoring Bias – This is our common human tendency to rely too heavily on one piece of information while making decisions. Individuals anchor on specific information and then adjust to that value to account for other elements. Once the anchor is set, there is a bias for that value. Simply put, when we make ‘data speak to validate our assumptions’, anchoring bias is what comes into play.

Now that we know the impact of the subconscious on our decisions, let’s go back and reflect on a few decisions that we’ve taken recently. If we identify that a certain bias has very strongly influenced our decision(s), let’s have the courage to acknowledge and correct them. Let’s also consciously ensure that we do not fall in the trap of cognitive biases next time around at our workplace or at home to be fair to colleagues, family members and most importantly to ourselves.

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