Just like learning how to ride a bicycle, communication is a fundamental skill we need to consistently nurture and hone if we wish to execute it successfully. Unfortunately, our progress can often be hindered by certain unconscious biases that might work against our favour. To put it simply, cognitive biases are the ‘blind spots’ we overlook in our day-to-day interactions with others, or our decision-making processes. Since they are hardwired into our subconscious, the danger lies in the fact that they can influence the way we view the world — without us being aware of it at all.
For example, researchers Norton, Mochon and Ariely recently discovered a new cognitive bias in which consumers place a disproportionately high value on products that they have a hand in creating. This was aptly dubbed the “IKEA Effect”, as the Swedish furniture store had quickly amassed a cult following with its ready-to-assemble home goods. As a result, consumers began to view themselves as “co-creators of value” rather than just a recipient of value. We even see this subliminal preference in the burgeoning of social media platforms like TikTok and Clubhouse, where users are encouraged to create unique content to foster communities.
So, what are some of the deadly sins you have been unconsciously committing while communicating? Let’s take a deep dive into your subconscious…
1. Spotlight Effect
This bias is exactly what it sounds like. When we communicate with others, the spotlight bias preys on our deepest insecurities to make us feel like our listeners are judging us more than they really are. Depending on the individual, you could feel that your peer or colleague is scrutinising you on a variety of factors — from your age, the way you speak, the way you dress, to the quality of content you are delivering. This could lead to ineffective communication as it might affect your confidence and distract you from the crucial issues at hand that matter to your listeners (even more so if they happen to be important clients!).
2. Affinity Bias
Have you ever felt immediately more at ease when meeting a stranger who lived near you, or even shared a liking for your favourite sports team? This is affinity bias at work. Also known as ingroup bias, humans tend to perceive people who are similar to us (whether it be ethnicity, religion, hobbies, or profession) more positively. On the other hand, outgroup bias refers to the exact opposite, whereby we view people who are different from us more negatively. If we already hold preconceived notions about them even before presenting our ideas, we can make unjustified decisions about the other party, impacting our conversation with them.
3. Curse of Knowledge
In this case, knowledge does not necessarily refer to your IQ. Instead, think of a certain topic, product or service which you happen to know very well. For instance, if you’re adept at coding, certain terms might be familiar and simple to you but not to the layman. As a result, we might forget that our listeners do not have the same context or background as us, leading to a case of lost in translation!
4. Confirmation Bias
Confirmation bias occurs when we attempt to validate our (sometimes magnified) concerns about our listeners’ opinions and views of us, which are generally rooted in fear of disapproval or rejection. It usually occurs when we want to favour a specific outcome or our entrenched beliefs. Take for example a die-hard Samsung fan, who looks for positive reviews that support Samsung’s products while neglecting the pros of other technology brands. Shutting out other people’s opinions at the expense of validating our own negates the benefits of a productive conversation.
5. Courtesy Bias
Being overly polite might actually be a bad thing! When we want to please a client, or avoid offending our friends, we might hold back our honest opinions and instead, give socially acceptable answers we think the other party wants to hear. This can result in an unproductive conversation, as the ‘courteous’ answer might be a seemingly comfortable solution in the short term but create more drastic complications in the long run, especially in the workplace.
6. Illusion of Telepathy
As humans, it is natural for us to be in our own headspace regularly and relying on the voice inside our head, so much so that we form an egocentric bias. What this means is that we might think that because we know what we’re feeling so clearly, so can everyone else. This can lead to major breakdowns in communication if we do not clearly articulate what we mean and expect the other party to read our mind and behaviour.
7. Halo Effect
The Halo effect explains how we alter our judgements of a person, product or even an organisation. If someone excels in a certain aspect, we might also view them positively in other aspects, even if they are unrelated. Putting someone on a pedestal during a conversation solely because of one positive area can be dangerous as we might be prone to believing what they say at face value, and champion their views instead of our own.
So how do we combat these unconscious biases and work towards effective communication? For starters, we can practise the art of perspective-taking, also known as “theory of mind” or “mentalising”, which refers to the empathetic process of mentally stepping into someone else’s shoes to acknowledge their perspective and position, hence understanding their purpose behind their actions better. We can also practise active listening, to avoid monopolising the conversation and to ask the listener productive questions to facilitate better conversations. Like all life skills and hobbies, practice makes perfect!
Because it’s the thought that counts – Socium Thoughts bring together our thoughts and opinions on all things communication.
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