We don’t see the world as it is. We see it as we believe it to be.
This is more than just misconstruing the actions of others because of our expectations or history with them. Everything we see, hear, taste, touch, and smell is being adjusted by our biases and changing the way we experience the world.
Having a hard time believing that nothing is neutral in your world and that everything you experience supports what you already believe? That’s cool. Let’s try a safe example.
Coke versus Pepsi
People tend to say they prefer Coke over Pepsi. Even in taste tests with clearly labeled drinks, Coke tends to win. Strangely, in blind taste tests, Pepsi usually wins.
For some researchers this begged the question; does knowing the brand of soda simply anchor our opinion (confirmation bias) or does our experience of the drink actually change? Does Coke actually taste different to us when we know it’s Coke?
By doing some fun studies in FMRI machines and using different scenarios (telling people which brand of soda they were going to drink, or letting it be a blind sample), researchers found that knowing the brand of soda actually altered how the brain processed the experience.
People didn’t just say they preferred Coke because they knew what it was ahead of time. Because they knew it was Coke, their brain actually processed it differently and was a much more pleasurable experience.
When the subjects didn’t know it was Coke, the brain did not react the same way. Despite the beverage being the exact same, the experience was far inferior and the drink was not enjoyed as much.
What does that mean about leadership and trust?
The way you experience results is being heavily flavored by whose doing it. A successful deliverable from Susan (everyone loves Susan) will feel better than a successful deliverable from Josh (we’re waiting for him to quit).
Unfortunately, this goes far beyond results. Who has an idea is going to greatly influence how good you think that idea is. I’m sure you disagree because you are more thoughtful and fair than most people, but remember our Coke example.
If you give someone a soda and they drink it, they may like it.
If you tell them you’re giving them a Coke and they drink it, they’ll like it a lot.
And that’s just flavored water. If someone you don’t especially like gives you an idea for a million dollar investment, you may not even consider it. If someone you like gives you the same idea, there’s a good chance you’ll love it.
That Sounds Miserable; What Can I Do About It?
Unfortunately, it’s not a mere psychological trick that changes your perspective of the idea. The way you experience the idea is fundamentally different if you know who it comes from (just like your experience in drinking a soda changes how your brain reacts to the sugary sweet).
There isn’t anything you can do to change that this happens. For now, the best thing you can do is to not lie to yourself. Admit this is true and take steps to protect yourself (and your team) from your biases.
Soon, we’ll talk about some steps that may help mitigate this. Spoiler alert, the cornerstone is going to be humility. If you cannot accept that you’re likely wrong, you cannot escape your biases. For now, we need to understand how this impacts what we choose to do and how that impacts our teams.