Thank you for all the comments on “S Is for . . .” and the earlier post describing the objective of this blog. These will replied to in an interim post (between this speech and the next) that will be published next week. I will also be introducing a new page with links to websites and blogs that you have provided me. (If you want to be added to the list, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.) Now let’s have your comments for:
B Is for . . .
You are not who you think you are.
Ladies and gentlemen: We like to think of ourselves as conscious, rational beings; logical, deliberate, solving problems one step at a time. We think of ourselves as Mr. Spock.
But to a large degree we are controlled by our emotional brain, our subconscious, the part of our brain that operates below our awareness. Our actions are determined by our biases, beliefs, and habits. We are Dr. McCoy.
Ladies and gentlemen: B is for bias.
Normally we think of bias as a negative trait, a synonym for discrimination against those who are different than us and wrong thinking, a personality flaw. But your brain is designed to be biased and to learn and apply rules without hesitation, so that you can react quickly to danger, adapt instantly to a situation, and anticipate your needs. You are wired to jump to conclusions. If you did not have these biases, you would have great difficulty surviving.
Learning is teaching your subconscious a set of rules which become habits, beliefs, and biases. You are being constantly bombarded with so much information that, if you had to process it all before making a decision, you would end up making very few and many of those you did make would be too late. So the biases make the quick decisions.
But biases can steer you and I in the wrong direction. Psychologists and neuroscientists have identified and characterized a number of biases. I am only going to use six of these to show how biases can cause us to make the wrong decision.
First, there is the Confirmation Bias. We prefer and deliberately look for information that agrees with and confirms our existing beliefs. We reject, without true examination, information that disagrees with our biases. In fact, we will distort and interpret new information to make it fit what we believe to be true.
An example of this bias might be love. When we first fall in love, the object of our affection is ‘the one.’ Every thing she does is just perfect. Others may make some less than glowing comments but that it because they are jealous of her wonderfulness.
Confirmation Bias leads to what psychologists call ‘inattentional blindness.’ We don’t see what we aren’t looking for.
Next, there is Self-Attribution Bias: We credit our skills and talents for the good things that happen in our lives. We blame bad things on someone or something else.
For example: When one of the stocks in my portfolio goes up, it is because of my research, my stock selection techniques, my genius. When one of my stocks goes down, it is the fault of the banks, the hedge funds, the Federal Reserve, the weather, the phase of the moon.
The next, Confidence Bias, extends the Self-Attribution Bias. We use confidence to measure of skill. Confidence gives us the illusion of knowledge. We prefer people who act and sound confident, those who can ‘fake it till they make it.’
Bernie Madoff acted and sounded confident and attracted a lot of money when knowledge would have shown his bragged about performance was impossible.
Next is Introspection Bias where we see the behavior of another as showing what kind of person he or she is. We see our own behavior as driven by circumstances and that we our really good people.
For example, you see a woman pass a beggar without dropping any money in his can. You just know she is a selfish person. But if you pass by with contributing, it is because you don’t have any spare change, you are late for a meeting, you will do it tomorrow.
Finally, there is the Prediction Bias. We think we can predict the future. When it doesn’t work out, we do an if only argument. I was almost right. It just hasn’t happened yet. Everybody can be wrong once.
The Hindsight Bias is like the Prediction Bias except that we do it after something happens. Once we know the outcome, we convince ourselves that we knew it would happen. We just didn’t mention it.
For example, I knew Peyton Manning was going to have a let-down. I knew that horse was going to win but I didn’t have time to go to the betting window.
What does all this mean to us as human beings? When faced with a new situation, a new problem, or an important decision, we should override our biases and not jump to conclusions. We should stop and think. We should make a conscious effort to be rational and consider all available information. (Of course, when that truck is heading at us at a high rate of speed, we might want to rely on our biases to jump out of the way.)
What does all this mean to us as speakers? We should be aware of our biases and beliefs and how different audiences will react to them. We should be aware of the biases and beliefs that audiences have in common and make sure our message will not be rejected by them. Audiences will be bored by facts and subconsciously reacting to what we say, constantly relating it to their experiences, their memories, their gut reactions.
You and your audience members are B for biased not bigoted. Use that characteristic of us all to relate to them emotionally so that they will be more engaged and more receptive to your message.