Your Hidden Bias in Public Speaking Skills and Conversations


In general, people believe they are ‘rational’ and that they make decisions based on facts, which will lead to effective solutions. However this is simply not the case. We are all prone to making decisions that are far from rational. Knowing how this affects your client, staff and boss can help you influence them. Further, it can help you question if you are introducing any bias into your own decision making.

This is super important for any public speaking situation.

Cognitive bias is one of the reasons why we don’t always make the best decisions. Cognitive bias comes in many forms and can be characterised by the tendency to make a decision and take action on insufficient information, overconfidence or reliance on past experience.

In business this can be a mistake. The wrong decision can cost your business financially and compromise your market position. An awareness of the types of bias that exist can help you overcome them.

Here are three of the most common cognitive biases prevalent in the business world: 

The Gamblers Fallacy

This bias can be summed up as someone believing that if there is a certain chance of an event happening over the long period, the results will mirror those chances. A good example of this would be a coin being flipped. If a coin has landed on heads nine times in a row, individuals are likely to conclude that it will land on tails the next time. This is because over the long period, half the flips should be heads, half should be tails.

However the events are completely independent and this line of thinking can cause a huge risk in your management. If you are assuming an event will occur because it has not before, you need to ensure that the events are not independent of each other. If they are, you cannot guarantee what the result will be so you will need to seek further information before committing to a decision.

A classic example of this is the sales manager who says, “It’s a numbers game.” No it’s not. Sales is a game of skill – understanding the client, presenting information and closing the deal. It doesn’t matter how many clients you call if you don’t have the skill to close the deal.

The Halo Effect

The Halo Effect is where a perception of ‘goodness’ is assigned to an entity due to some other factor. A classic example if using the assumption, “He must be a great bloke. After all, he follows the Swans!” As crazy as this sounds, it happens. People are assigned a level of skill based on the University they graduated from, the religion they follow or even what part of town they live in.

This can have an effect on your brand.

It can also influence your decisions when it comes to the recruitment of staff. Studies have shown that those who are attractive benefit from a ‘halo’ effect – their skills are assumed to be higher.

We need to be careful not to judge individuals or a business by their appearance and associations with external factors. Study the facts.

This halo effect is seen all the time with public speaking skills. People attribute someone ability to understand a concept with their ability to to stand and speak about it in public. This is seen at University (and in the corporate world) all the time. You have professors who are very knowledgeable, but are really bad at public speaking. Just because you are smart does not mean you are a great public speaker. (The reverse is also true; Just because you have great public speaking skills does not mean you have something worth listening to. You need both knowledge and public speaking skills.)

Negative Information Bias

We retain and use negative memories more than the positive ones. If we have to make a decision in a situation, which might not have gone right on a previous occasion, we often justify our actions based on the negative rather than any other previous positive experiences.

This bias causes us to avoid the action, which may place us in an undesirable position again. It is a reaction that is driven by the need to be safe and avoid the pain of the earlier occasion.

Avoiding Bias

One of the best ways to avoid bias is to understand that it is present within your business and that your decisions can be influenced. If you are aware bias will occur you will be better able to consider the scenarios in your business and the facts which surround them.

By looking at the whole picture you can make better informed decisions which can help lead you to greater financial reward and success.

If you struggle to challenge your preconceptions, then it could be useful to talk to someone who can offer an external perspective. But be warned that they too will have the same processes going on in there!

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