We seek information that confirms our existing beliefs while avoiding information that conflicts with what we believe to be true. This confirmation bias is a governor on your growth as well as your ability to take another person’s perspective, a good part of what makes up emotional intelligence, or empathy. Most of the time we don’t recognize that we eliminate the ideas and beliefs that make us uncomfortable, stunting our growth and making us less effective than we might be otherwise.
One of the benefits of law school is that you must prepare to argue both sides of a case. You are taught to look at the issue from both sides, taking the opposing view into account. This is a good starting point for overcoming your confirmation bias.
Let’s say you have some affinity for a particular political belief. You spend time on Facebook arguing with other people with conflicting views (sadly, and mostly to your detriment, as no minds are changed – surely not your own). You scour the Internet seeking information that confirms you are correct and allows you to prove the other person’s opinion is incorrect. Getting past your confirmation bias would begin with understanding why someone else believes what they believe and what truth is contained in their viewpoint . Instead of looking at only what confirms your view, you would look at what conflicts with it to gain a greater understanding and greater knowledge.
Maybe you believe the old prospecting methods are dead, that no one should pick up the phone and interrupt another human being at work, and that sales should only begin with inbound marketing, where a prospect expresses the desire to have you help them do something different. So, you search the internet for evidence that you are right, that you shouldn’t have to dial the phone, and that your leads should come to you ready to buy. This may be what you want to be true because it would make selling easier. Defeating your confirmation bias would require that you explore other objective facts, subjective experiences, and opinions that might, like the example of political beliefs, expose you to some truth that might benefit you by deepening your understanding.
When another belief or opinion or objective piece of data causes you to feel uncomfortable because it conflicts with what you believe, that information is worth exploring. The more uncomfortable something makes you, the greater opportunity there is for growth, development, and understanding other people’s perspectives.
What if what you know is only a partial truth? What if there are other partial truths that might provide you with a greater perspective?
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