According to the Handbook of Evolutionary Psychology, a cognitive bias refers to a systematic pattern of deviation from rational judgment, where an individual draws inferences about other people, groups and situations in an illogical fashion. A subjective reality is created from their perceptions, which in turn dictates the individual’s behavior. Thus, “cognitive biases may sometimes lead to distortions in perceptions, erroneous judgments, illogical interpretation, or what is broadly called irrationality” (Haselton, Nettle & Andrews, 2005).
While developing leaders for organizations all over the world, I have come across hundreds of cognitive biases that have decreased the performance of individuals and teams, led to bad business decisions and created failed change efforts.
This series will discuss some of the most common biases that I have encountered, the emotional configurations that create them, and how I used Emotional Intelligence to empower leaders to battle them.
The Illusion of Asymmetric Insight – “I know you but you don’t know me”. This is a social bias that falls under the attribution bias category. Attribution biases refer to cognitive biases where systematic errors are made when people try to find reasons for their own behavior or the behavior of others (Kelley, 1967). The Illusion of Asymmetric Insight makes it seem that you know someone far better than they could possibly know you, and also assumes that you know someone else better than they know themselves. This applies to groups as well, where a group feels it knows outsiders far better than outsiders could possibly know the group.
This bias leads to misunderstanding important groups like customers and stakeholders. It leads individuals to believe that customer and stakeholder needs and challenges are already known, or that “I know what you need more than you know what you need”. Rather than offer true solutions that are based on an objective customer qualification process, the wrong products are pushed onto the clients based off incorrect information produced by the bias.
End results often include loss of sales, decreased team performance, and lower customer satisfaction.
This bias normally occurs when the individual has low self-awareness and is over-using Self Regard (confidence) and under-using Reality Testing (seeing things objectively). Over 90% of the leadership development plans that I have created where someone is experiencing the Illusion of Asymmetric Insight bias, this combination of emotional skill use is the culprit.
In this instance, an EQ360 assessment, which is a multi-rater Emotional Intelligence assessment that delivers identity and up to 5 independent social reputations, is the best weapon to battle this bias. Use the results of the EQ360 to generate self-awareness, and to craft a development plan that involves careful reduction of Self Regard (confidence) while simultaneously boosting Reality Testing (seeing things objectively).
In my experience, the key difference between middle management and executive leadership is the level of self-awareness that the individual possesses, and an EQ360 can maximize self-awareness and help the middle manager battle the Illusion of Asymmetric Insight bias.
The False Consensus Effect – Another attribution bias, this refers to the idea that most people think that his or her ideas, beliefs, and values are considered normal, and that the majority of people agree with them. This leads to a perception of consensus, and incorrectly creates overconfidence, leading to over-use of Self Regard (confidence) and under-use of Emotional Expression (constructive expression of emotions) and Impulse Control (resisting the impulse to act). This leads to incorrect decision making, false assumptions, and is one of the top enemies of Change Management.
When managers assume that his or her beliefs are in consensus with others in the group, specific details or decisions are glossed over or go undiscussed. Many employees will often not challenge management decisions in the discussion stages, but will offer passive resistance during deployment and change management stages if the program direction is one they are not in agreement with. The end result is a failed change effort, and management is dumbfounded as to why, claiming all along that “everyone agreed to the decisions”, when in reality, they never truly confirmed if that was true.
In this instance, an EQ-i 2.0 Workplace assessment and general psychological strategies can be deployed to ensure the culture is a “psychologically safe” environment to proactively voice opinions. The False Consensus Effect creates an environment where differing opinions are discouraged, so being aware of this bias ensures it doesn’t perpetuate change resistance and groupthink.
In addition to over-use of Self Regard (confidence) and under-use of Emotional Expression (constructive expression of emotions) and Impulse Control (resisting the impulse to act), the Workplace assessment will likely reveal that the individual is also under-using Empathy (understanding how others feel) and Social Responsibility (social consciousness), so creating a development plan based on balancing these skills is essential.
It is one of the few biases where the emotional configuration consists of 5 out-of-balance emotional skills.
In addition to self-assessment, creating feedback loops in the form of frequent and informal check-ins, or comfortable conversations, helps battle this bias by promoting feedback and psychological safety. Best-practice is 2 check-ins per week, no more than 5 minutes long if verbal and no more than 3 sentences if written.
In summary, individuals can battle both of these attribution biases by using Emotional Intelligence tools like the EQ-i 2.0 to generate self-awareness, and determine which emotional skills are out of balance. These biases lead to incorrect interpretations of the world around us, which in turn alter our emotional processes and subsequent behavior in a destructive way. Identifying them, and creating a development plan to defeat them, is vital to long-term success.
Bar-On, R. (2002). EQ-i Technical Manual. Toronto, Canada: Multi-Health Systems.
Haselton, M. G.; Nettle, D. & Andrews, P. W. (2005). The evolution of cognitive bias. In D. M. Buss (Ed.), The Handbook of Evolutionary Psychology: Hoboken, NJ, US: John Wiley & Sons Inc. pp. 724–746.
Kelley, H.H. (1967). Attribution theory in social psychology. In D. Levine (Ed.) Nebraska Symposium on Motivation, Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press