How to Deal With A Negative Bias

Tuesday, March 10 2015

Our brains are naturally lazy. They don’t like to work any harder than necessary, unless we push them to do so. According to Dr. Daniel Kahneman in his book Thinking Fast and Slow, we relegate assessments or decisions to the lowest possible level so that we can reserve space for important decisions at the higher level of brain function.

As a result, we develop habits that require little or no thought. Which pant leg we pull on first; which way to turn when we leave our driveway; how we answer the telephone. We attempt to make sense of people by organizing them into categories. We sort by race, religion, shape, temperament, hair colour, and other characteristics, and we assign attributes to those groupings. This process isn’t positive or negative; it’s just a ‘shorthand’ way of quickly assessing how best to behave when we meet someone. We get first impressions.

Dr. Kahneman explains that we operate with two brains. One that quickly reacts and one that is used for logic, deeper assessments, and problem-solving. When met by an unknown problem or person, our quicker, reactive brain tries to assess the situation by correlating it to our internal shorthand. We tend to believe our first impression, that unconscious bias from our lazy brain, rather than taking it any further.

In many situations, that’s okay. It works. It saves time. Quick reactions can save our lives in a potential car crash or prevent us buying junk from a con man.

In other cases, it can work against us. If our prospective client has an unconscious bias, her quick brain thinking could prevent her from even considering our product or service as a solution to her problem, even if the facts would disprove her position.

I could list hundreds of statements that might (or might not) have been true at one time, but have become unconscious biases and strongly held beliefs today. And they prevent people from thinking beyond their quick brain response.

  • Vaccinations cause autism
  • Ford stands for “Fixed Or Repaired Daily”
  • Condos are a rip-off
  • Leasing is bad, you should own it
  • Permanent life insurance is a waste of money
  • Salespeople are only interested in the commission

If you are selling to someone who has an unconscious bias against you or something you sell, can you convince them to buy? Only if you can engage their slower, more thoughtful, logical brain and increase their curiosity. As long as they are responding with their bias intact, you are unlikely to move them, at least in the short run. In some cases, you have to wonder if the effort required could be better used elsewhere.