How to handle cognitive bias in the workplace

Sophia Wichtowska, Content Writer

Imagine for the last month you have been preparing for a pitch with your colleague. You spend days meticulously compiling data to win over your superiors. Despite working as a team, your colleague is more charismatic in the presentation: the audience hangs on her every word. Without intending to, she receives the bulk of the praise and recognition for the work.


The halo-effect is one example of the cognitive biases built into the human brain. Our overall impression of a person influences how we feel about his character, or what she says. We find it difficult to look at the cold, hard facts, and this can lead us astray. 

No matter how objective we try to be, we are all at the whim of our brain chemistry. A number of these biases exist and can wreak havoc with our ability to make level-headed decisions. Understanding what they are can help you significantly in the workplace - even help you to gain an advantage. 

Different types of cognitive bias

A cognitive bias is an error in judgment or thinking that occurs as we make sense of the world around us. Our brains are powerful, but limited in the amount of processing they can do at any one time. Biases are generalizations created by our minds to deal with large amounts of information more quickly.  

Instead of taking the time to think logically and objectively, our brains will jump ahead to using this pre-programmed system. This flaw can lead us to make poor decisions or take action without considering all of the facts. This comprehensive list from VeryWellMind explains each of the biases in more detail. 

Using cognitive biases to your advantage

Knowing about the cognitive biases wired into our brains can be useful. We can use the information to influence our decisions and actions at work. Here are our top tips for stepping back and preventing your biases from taking over: 

1. Do your best to look at all the evidence

Confirmation bias is when we favor information that supports our existing beliefs. Rather than remaining open to new information that could change our point of view, we opt to stick with what we know and discard additional details.

When you find new evidence or data, try to look at the information with fresh eyes. We don’t advocate throwing all of your prior experience out of the window. Still, it can be helpful to keep an open mind when presented with an idea or piece of information that challenges what you already know. It could help you to develop your experience in a particular topic or make you more aware of the latest advances in your field. 

2. If possible, allow time

The availability heuristic is when we place higher value on information that comes to our minds quickly. If we have experienced an event or found out a piece of news recently, we tend to think it is more likely to be accurate, as we are more easily able to access the thought or memory.

When you are brainstorming ideas for a new project, allow yourself enough time to come up with a range of possibilities. Perhaps speak with your colleagues and ask for their input. The first ideas you come up with won’t necessarily be the most effective. Ideally, you should draw on information from a variety of sources to know which plan is best before proceeding. 

3. Give credit where it is due

The self-serving bias can be challenging to manage. Naturally, we want to tell positive stories about ourselves to stay hopeful and enthusiastic about the future. However, when something terrible happens, we tend to assume that it wasn’t our fault and that forces beyond our control are to blame. 

When good things happen, we are quick to give ourselves credit. This bias can cause all kinds of problems if we want to make progress in a particular skill or area at work. If we are unable to see our faults when learning something new, we are unlikely to make progress. If we blame external forces or others when things go wrong, not only will we annoy our colleagues, we will fail to understand the adjustments necessary to get better. 

4. Arm yourself with important criteria

Attentional bias is when we pay attention to certain things and ignore others. We tend to focus on topics we are interested in, have experience with, or think about regularly. When making important decisions, we might fail to consider essential criteria because they aren’t readily on our radar. 

When making a decision, it can be helpful to make a list of all the criteria that might affect your choice. Involve trusted colleagues in this process, as they will likely think of different approaches to you. You can then carefully evaluate each aspect of the decision you need to make, without missing vital information. 

5. Put your ideas forward early

We also tend to favor the first piece of information we hear when coming to a decision. While the anchoring bias can make it difficult for us to come to reasonable conclusions and evaluate all of the critical information, it can also be helpful. If we are the first to bring a piece of information to the table, we are far more likely to be heard and noticed. If possible, be careful not to rush and share the first idea that pops into your head! 

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