I’ve been in a couple of different meetings lately where I’ve been surprised at people’s reactions to new findings. In both cases the results of a study were shared with a diverse group of people. While I found the information shared to be highly insightful and illuminating, others in the group heard the same information and replied “there’s nothing new here… it’s exactly what I expected to see”. The result? I’m ready to go change everything, and others in the room are feeling confirmed that everything is okay exactly as is. How can different people see the exact same results and come to such different conclusions?
There’s a psychological term called Confirmation Bias. Simply stated “there is a tendency of people to favor information that confirms their beliefs or hypotheses”. In the case of the above meetings, I (naturally looking to change things up) focus on the information that demonstrates dissatisfaction or problems. The people in the meeting that are fine with the status quo focus on the comments that are more positive and dismiss the negative comments as irrelevant.
I know there is a world of Brain Science research out there that explains this in great detail. In a nutshell, our brains save countless time by looking for patterns and putting new found information into existing “buckets”. Therefore, it is physically easier to apply new learning to an existing belief than to open up new storage areas for unique thoughts. (I apologize to all of my neuro-science friends for this gross oversimplification).
So what can we do about it? Awareness is the key. Don’t limit your understanding to the first glance of new findings. Knowing your brain is filtering this information can allow you to look a second time and attempt to see the information as it truly is. Listening (with an open mind) to others’ opinions on the same data can also benefit you.
This is no different than physical exercise. It’s hard at first and it makes you very fatigued. But before long it becomes a habit and your body comes to appreciate it.
Watch for this in your next meeting. Once you are aware of it, you’ll see it everywhere. If you can learn to see past your own natural bias, you will be able to add value that is appreciated by everyone in your organization.