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Each of us has biases built into our judgment. While we recognize these preferences and inclinations in others, we may be unaware of similar tendencies in ourselves. As a result of lifes experiences, our brains have become wired to perceive events through certain filters which, we think, aid us in recognizing truth and wisdom.

While many of these filters are harmless, some are not. Skewed distortions of reality can lead to poor decisions in politics, medicine and business, as well as in our personal life. But we can improve things by admitting that we have certain biases, and then making an effort to understand why they cause us to act and think in unique – and not always positive – ways.

Our preconceived notions make it difficult to understand why others have different slants on what appear to us to be no-brainer decisions. We see others others points of view as biased, when in fact we are often the biased ones.

Politicians and doctors who accept gifts are sure their actions have not been influenced. Financial and business executives, even when found guilty in court, sometimes feel they did nothing wrong. Their actions may look unethical to us, but not to them.

Harvard psychology professor Daniel Gilbert, in a recent New York Times article entitled Im OK, Youre Biased, summarizes the problem this way: Much of what happens in the brain is not evident to the brain itself, and thus people are better at playing these sorts of tricks on themselves than at catching themselves in the act. People realize that humans deceive themselves, of course, but they dont seem to realize that they too are human.

The medical profession has been discussing clinical vs. actuarial judgment for almost 50 years. Studies have fond that mid-career doctors who rely heavily on their own clinical experience biases, instead of statistical rating systems, have a higher diagnostic error rate than other doctors. A younger doctor, recently out of medical school and not hampered by experience, may be more accurate because he or she has been taught to make actuarial, numbers-oriented judgments. Late career doctors, who have learned that experience alone may not give them all the answers, are also more likely to successfully use actuarial systems to improve their diagnostic ability.

Apply this to the business world: Being young or old could actually help in decision-making, and mid-career managers should be more concerned about their limiting biases.

So what else have we learned from all of this?

1. While searching for our own biases, we will, of course, spot some obvious biases of others. By recognizing the interaction of these biases, we can relate more effectively.

2. We can speed up decisions through an improved understanding of the preferences of our bosses, subordinates, and customers. Knowing their tilt in advance can also lead to more workable conclusions.

3. We can dilute the negative effect of our own biases by relying more on numbers and less on experience. That isnt to say that experience isnt useful; it is, of course. But when we make decisions on the basis of our gut instinct rather than quantitative analysis, the odds of being wrong are greatly increased.

4. Finally, its most important to concentrate on improving our own negative biases. Its not worth the effort to try to change someone elses leanings. The brains powers of self-delusion are so great that other people wouldnt understand what we are telling them anyway.

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