If you read the title and got a little upset, it’s ok. We are all biased. We can’t even help it. There are literally dozens of types of biases that psychologists identify in our world. A couple of my favorites that I see a lot, in my own life and in others lives, are:
Attentional Bias – This occurs when a person’s recurring thoughts and preoccupations tend to shape his/her view of the world. For example, a person who is constantly thinking about their looks tends to notice and be aware of the looks of others to a higher degree. I sometimes call this the “Middle School Girl Syndrome”.
Outcome Bias – This is when a person judges the quality of a decision based solely on the outcome of a decision. It could be illustrated thus: a businessman makes a decision to purchase a competitor, and the end result nearly puts him out of business. He then looks back to the decision to buy as a “bad” decision. It may have been the best decision at the time, given the information available, but his bias is now against acquisition. This may keep him from growing in the future… I often refer to this as the “Shoulda, woulda, coulda bias”.
Confirmation Bias – This bias manifests when a person holds a certain set of beliefs and then seeks out, interprets, or selectively remembers information in order to further reinforce those beliefs. If I believe that “John” is “out to get me” at work, and that is the story that I tell myself, then I will find evidence to support that everywhere. I like to call this the “Fox News Effect”.
Is it bad to have biases? No. If you didn’t, your mind might explode. It would mean that you might struggle to make sense of the world around you. Our minds are wired to recognize patterns and create mental maps and templates so that we can quickly attempt to weed out unnecessary information and attempt to focus on the most important things. It’s adaptive. It can also be dangerous, though, if we aren’t aware of it. That’s when biases can form and become maladaptive. This is where a coach comes in…
For years, I have had a memory/interpretation/belief of a certain event that occurred with my Father. I will spare you the details, but suffice it to say that he and I disagreed about something small, and I took his criticism VERY personally, and that story that I told myself about what happened colored every interaction with him (and others) from that time on. I used to tell people the story when I was talking about my Dad so they could understand more about him. When I told it to my coach one day, however, he challenged me to look at it in a different way. He asked me to look at it from an outsider’s perspective and reinterpret the interaction accordingly. This ruined my life. Completely.
You see, I didn’t WANT to look at it differently. I’ve been unwittingly collecting evidence against him because of it for years and I was apparently perfectly fine with holding a grudge (with a smile, I’m in the South for crying out loud) and letting that shape my worldview. However, it took someone OUTSIDE the situation, that was not emotionally involved, to see it from a different angle and to force me to do the same.
I went and apologized to my Dad the next weekend. He had no idea what I was talking about. He didn’t change his behavior to any great degree then, and he hasn’t since that discussion. But I have changed. Dramatically. I couldn’t have done it without a coach. I needed someone who could watch the game tape of my life and analyze it, then provide recommendations of how to run my routes differently. He could look me in the face when I was giving the excuses, and then he could lovingly (or with just enough heat to motivate if needed) call me on my foolishness and help me get myself back on track. These are things that I contend that a person could not do on their own. It requires outside help. It requires a coach.