Tips for spotting cognitive bias

Updated: Dec 14, 2020

When trying to look for opportunities to shift thinking or influence change, it's import to recognise the cognitive biases of others so you know where you're starting from. It's also important to listen to your own biases with a sense of self-awareness that allows you to be open-minded. It's not easy to do and particularly hard when in a room where you're being judged, but here are some phrases to consider and the types of bias they represent.

'All our customers are idiots as they don't know how to use the website' - attribution bias. Are they really stupid or is it badly designed?

'A man wouldn't like that colour, it's too feminine' - unconscious bias. Do we really know that 'all' men wouldn't like the colour?

'That's what the customers I spoke to said' - confirmation bias. Are there other 'new' things that are being missed in an effort to validate your existing thinking?

'I like it, so would they, as I'm the same as them' - affinity bias. Are you prioritising what you're comfortable with?

'The system is too hard to use.' - self-serving bias. Are external factors being used to account for other weaknesses?

"That's not what the exec will want" - belief bias. If it solves the problem why would they not want it?

"This project has a 10% chance of failure" - framing bias. What would happen if you turned that in to 'This project has a 90% chance of success'?

"I could have told you that before you started" - hindsight bias. Does this stop exploration of new ideas or are there valuable insights to share with the group early on?

"It takes a long time on average to complete this task" - anchoring. Careful if you're facilitating and saying things like this as people will 'anchor' to the word 'long' and work all other questions of relativity from that.

“That’s the way we’ve always done it” - status quo. Does that mean we should continue to stick with the same way?

“What customers want is not what they need" - overconfidence. How do you know?

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but a starting point that I hope will help you keep asking why we think the way we do and how it impacts our decision making.

(sources for this information:; and Thinking Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman)

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