Why Unconscious Bias Could Harm Your Business

There are dozens of biases, conscious and unconscious. Here are just three.

Confirmation Bias – is very common and is simply where we make a piece of information fit with our already formed views. I’m sure we’ve all heard voters before elections state they’ve always voted for X Party. They then argue for that party’s policies to confirm their already formed views.

Halo Effect—Focussing on a positive feature or behaviour, then allowing this positive view to inform unrelated features. When we apply this positively, it can have a beneficial effect and make a big impact.

Cristiano Ronaldo is arguably one of the best footballers in the world. He made a point of moving a sponsor’s product away from the camera at a Press Conference during Euro 2020. He is admired by millions. Consequently four billion dollars, were wiped off the share price of the offending fizzy drink company overnight. The price did subsequently recover. 

Social Proof – There are two types of social proof, positive and negative. The following are examples of two fundraising campaigns:

Positive Proof: “Your £10 will help feed a child in the third world and save his or her life.”

Negative Proof: “Children are literally starving to death in the third world, yet 95% of adults don’t contribute. Don’t be one of the 95%, your £10 could save a child’s life.” 

The latter failed. It emphasised the volume of inappropriate behaviour making it easier to ignore the plea as people felt comfortable as one of the 95%.

Context

Any example of unconscious bias is subject to the context in which it took place. For example, we might argue that UK residents prefer to holiday at home purely based on figures for 2020 and 2021. If we then started a tourism-based business based on the assumption this was a long-term trend, it would clearly be a perilous assessment.

In business, we can recognise a couple of key points:

First, the only way to know what our customers are thinking is to accept that we don’t know what their biases are. We need to communicate with them to find out.

We then need to research and target context as well as the customer. 

Last, accept you need to be flexible and that you can’t know everything. But armed with your newfound appreciation, you can make a difference.

  • Shelley Bridgman

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