By Daniel Bobinski
Perhaps you’ve heard of the book, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. In many ways, it paved the road for the field of emotional intelligence, because it provides a framework for self-management and relationship management.
One of the recommendations in 7 Habits is examining the lens through which we see the world. Why? Because that lens affects everything we see.
Do you believe people are lazy? Then you’ll subconsciously look for – and see – that behavior. Do you believe people are selfish? You will look for – and see – instances of that, too. People tend to see what they believe. Examining our lens helps us understand ourselves. And, it helps to realize our co-workers each have their own lens.
This phenomenon of people seeing what they believe is called confirmation bias, and I personally believe it is best understood from an emotional intelligence perspective.
To explain, when we’re very young we have no control over the events around us. So, when we’re one or two years old, we merely observe events and experience any emotions that emerge during those events.
Let’s say at the age of one we encounter a snarling, barking dog. If a parent is nearby and displays immense fear about our safety, we receive an emotional imprint of fear. If this scenario is experienced several times, we become emotionally imprinted.
At that age, we have no choice. Until we reach an age at which we can cognitively reason otherwise, whenever we see a snarling, barking dog, we’ll experience fear.
Once we form a view about something, confirmation bias kicks in quite easily. To quote Shahram Heshmat, writing in Psychology Today:
“Once we have formed a view, we embrace information that confirms that view while ignoring, or rejecting, information that casts doubt on it … We pick out those bits of data that make us feel good because they confirm our prejudices.”
Brain chemistry plays a big role in this. When we see something that confirms a belief, the brain’s “reward center” sends signals that make us feel good. But when we see something that conflicts with our beliefs, it’s like our brain flashes a huge neon sign that reads, “Warning! Conflict! No neuropathways exist for this information! Avoid! Avoid!”
Confirmation biases continue to form even in our adult years. Let’s say you have a creepy, mean, scruffy-haired boss who always wears a particular brand of shirt, which is always untucked. For several years you endure his obnoxiousness, but every interaction makes you like him less.
Eventually this guy moves away, but two months later, another scruffy-haired person joins the team who wears that exact same brand of shirt, and always untucked. It’s practically guaranteed your first impression of this guy will not be good, even though you don’t know him!
So, what are your biases? If you developed a belief as a result of a strong emotional imprint, it’s hard to consider an opposing point of view, isn’t it? With that, allow me to encourage you to read (or re-read) Covey’s 7 Habits book. It may help you understand the lens through which you see the world.
Daniel Bobinski, M.Ed. is a certified behavioral analyst, a best-selling author and a popular speaker at conferences and retreats. He loves working with teams and individuals to help them achieve workplace excellence. Reach Daniel through his website, www.MyWorkplaceExcellence.com.