7 Decision Making Skills for Church Leaders to Help Fight Confirmation Bias
“It is difficult to lay aside a confirmed passion.” – Caius Valerius Catullus
We are all impacted by confirmation bias. We develop a belief about a situation then seek out information that bolsters that belief. We end up analyzing our options through the filters of what we already believe to be true.
I first got thinking about confirmation bias when I was reading the Heath Brother’s book [Decisive: How to Make Better Choices] and it’s one of those ideas that has been haunting me since I first considered it. It’s sexier to believe that my “gut reaction” to decisions are going to end up in the right place … in fact I loved Malcolm Gladwell’s work Blink and it gives me evidence that I should just go with my gut when making decisions. Oh wait … I think I’m doing it again. Confirmation bias rears it’s ugly head.
Confirmation bias is real and active in the life of every leader. The problem with confirmation bias is that you selectively filter what information you choose to pay attention to and value. So, not only will you actively look for evidence and seek out experts that confirm your existing point of view, but even more dangerous, you will hide from or discredit any information that contradicts your viewpoint. Here are some habits to add into your life to fight against the influence that confirmation bias has on your leadership:
- Seek Advice … Especially Different Points of View // This is one of those areas where the ancient biblical text reinforces current understanding. “The way of fools seems right to them, but the wise listen to advice.” Proverbs 12:15 Who do you have in your life that disagrees with you without being disagreeable? Strong leaders need people around them who are willing to present contrary points of view on how to accomplish the mission.
- Ask Reality Testing Questions // Rather than asking “Do you think we should launch our next campus here?” ask questions that force you and your team to look beyond your assumption. “What is it about this location that makes it better than any other?” or “What data do we have that shows us that this would be the best next step for us?” Move from questions that are based in emotion and special insight to questions focused on evidence.
- Find Successful Variance // When you come up against a decision you will naturally start to gravitate towards a single option. Resist the temptation to see that as the golden option! Do some research to find some other ministries that have come up against the same decision and picked an alternate path. Work to connect with other leaders who picked another road and it seemed to “work”. Learn from them before making your decision.
- Resist Binary Choices // There are always more than two options. Reject duality thinking. It’s weak leadership to only see two options.
- Encourage Feedback // Find a way to develop regular and open dialogue with your leaders and community. Don’t wait for people to give input into your thinking or leadership … seek out their input. Celebrate leaders that bring opposing point of view in a grace-filled manner. Stress that the best ideas win … not your ideas.
- Get Over Yourself // You might be smart … gifted … talented … blessed … whatever word you tell yourself but you are facing a decision so by definition you haven’t been here before. This is new territory If it wasn’t … you wouldn’t be making a decision. Get humble and learn. Don’t assume that just because your leadership intuition worked with some past decisions it’s going to work again. We all have a narrow bandwidth of actual expertise and we venture it beyond it all the time. Don’t assume your expertise applies to this new area.
- Google Better. // Ending on a tactical note … don’t search for what you want to prove, because with 55,000,000,000 web pages in it’s database you’re sure to find some that agree with you. Instead, use open-ended searches that aren’t biased. You can find lots of stuff that proves that 9/11 was a government conspiracy, AIDS is a biological weapon and that the mullet is still an acceptable hairstyle. But you don’t want to be lumped in with that crowd … do you?