If someone were to ask whether we are a good judge of character, most of us would probably say that yes, indeed we are. Having interacted with others, our assessments of them are generally proven correct, because we’ve seen evidence to support our conclusions.
Or have we?
Confirmation bias, also called confirmatory bias or myside bias, is the tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms one’s preexisting beliefs or hypotheses, while giving disproportionately less consideration to alternative possibilities.
What does that mean?
People are prone to believe what they want to believe.
So, what’s the big deal? Well, if I’m not being objective and then I wrongly convince myself of something negative about someone, I’m creating problems where there were none.
What does that look like? It may take the form of… a coworker.
I’d like to introduce you to someone we all know. He works down the hall.
Most of us consider ourselves to be good people. We do our best to wake up on the right side of the bed, to see the good in others. But this guy! He is the exception; there’s nothing good about him. To put it frankly, the guy is a Doofus.
Doofus is always doing the wrong thing at the wrong time. For instance, a couple of days ago it was the end of Q1. We were frantic, scraping for orders, rushing shipping – our goals were nearly in our reach. When we got to the office that morning, Doofus had left everyone a note with “tips to get us through the day.” (Quite frankly, he’s the last guy I’d take a tip from.) Then, around 10:00 a.m. he announced to everyone that he was done with his tasks and could lend a hand if anyone needed help. (One of my friends whispered, “Yeah, you can help by leaving.”)
At noon Doofus announced that he was headed to the deli and asked if anyone wanted to go. (He knew none of us were going to be able to leave our desks, and yet he still announced his departure. I nearly told him to get out of my face!) Then, at 2:00 p.m., our boss asked if anyone could give him a ride to the airport. (We all knew who was going to help; Doofus is a serious butt-kisser.)
Then it happened. He returned just before 4:00 p.m. With a can of Coke he stood next to the main printer – which was in overdrive, pushing out mailing labels. That’s when he did it. After telling a stupid joke the can slipped from his hand and – poof – the printer was done.
We were furious! And what made us even hotter is we knew it was going to happen!
You know what that is? It’s B.S.
It’s a Belief System.
The most effective leaders, those who get the most out of their team, understand this important fact: To the extent we choose, we will always find the evidence to support our current belief system.
The reader already knows that, had the person above been looking for different evidence, they would have found it. There was plenty of evidence to acquit Doofus. Yet, because there was an inaccurate belief system, because the colleague had been “Doofused,” there was only one type of evidence that was being inventoried – the evidence that supported the current belief system.
Tell-tale Signs of the Doofus Principle, their costs
- “What you need to understand is…”
Belief System expressed: You don’t know and I do.
Cost: they’ve already begun to tune us out.
Alternative approach: “What I’d like us to explore is…”
- “And this is the marketing team, our creative folks.”
Belief System expressed: Nobody outside of marketing is creative.
Cost: we’ve significantly reduced the ingenuity capabilities of our entire team.
Alternative approach: “And this is our marketing team, some more of our creative folks.”
- “She’s an idiot.”
Belief System expressed: That person will never have a chance around me.
Cost: poor communication; poor relationships; poor results.
Alternative approach: We don’t see things the same way. (Neither one of us is wrong.)
What will happen if, starting today, you begin looking for different evidence in those around you?
Read more at the sources for quoted material:
Exploring Leadership’s Doofus Principle