How Seeing the World Without Bias Can Help You Succeed in Business and Life

We all want to believe that we’re rational and unbiased when it comes to observing the world around us, but many of us are unconsciously influenced by our biases and prejudices. Unless we’ve been specifically trained to check the facts and observe impartially, it’s easy to form opinions based on our subjective perspective rather than objective facts. You may find this difficult to believe, but this story is more common than you understand.

Consider the story of John. John always seemed to struggle in his personal and professional life. He quickly jumped to conclusions and made assumptions about people and situations without observing and understanding the facts. As a result, he was in constant conflict with his colleagues and loved ones, and he couldn’t advance in his career. He couldn’t understand why things weren’t going his way and thought he was the victim of bad luck. We have all met people like John, who seem blind to how they stand in their own way.

Consider an alternative story, the story of Sarah. Sarah was known for her ability to see the world without bias. She took the time to gather all of the facts before making decisions, and she was always willing to consider multiple perspectives. As a result, her choices were well-informed and effective, and she could consistently reach her goals. She had strong relationships, and her coworkers admired her ability to lead. She knew that her success resulted from her ability to check the facts before coming to conclusions, and she felt grateful.

It’s easy to read stories like this and think, “Well, duh, I know it’s important to check the facts and consider the perspectives of others.” It’s quite another thing to do this on a day-to-day basis. You probably consider yourself a sharp critical thinker who checks the facts and comes to rational conclusions. Still, the reality is likely that you could not be more mired in bias and cognitive distortion if you tried.

How to Check the Facts Before Forming an Opinion

One widespread way you likely see the world with bias is to form opinions and come to conclusions far before you have enough data to understand a situation fully.

Consider the couple Jack and Jill. They had been together for many years and were happy in their relationship. One day, Jack says he wants to take a solo trip to a remote island to reconnect with nature and find inspiration for his writing.

Before talking to Jack about why he wants to take such a trip, Jill decides Jack’s desire is selfish. She felt hurt and ignored and can’t shake off the feeling that Jack no longer cares about their relationship. She reconsiders whether this relationship has a future.

Jill might not be suffering so much if she first took the time to check the facts. Why does Jack feel a trip to a remote island is necessary instead of a weekend at a local hotel? Is Jack aware of the logistical problems, such as Jill handling childcare for two weeks alone? Is Jack willing to do something else to compensate for his absence in their relationship, such as taking her out on a lavish date when he returns, or returning the favor by watching the kids while she takes her own refreshing vacation? Knowing the answer to these questions may change Jill’s opinion about whether Jack neglects her. These questions are worth investigating before leaping to an emotional conclusion.

If Jill were acting more thoughtfully, she might start by making a list of the facts. A fact is anything you can detect with your five senses: touch, hearing, sight, smell, and taste. If Jill were to list the facts, she might make a list like…

  • Jack told me his writing career is important to him (hearing)
  • Jack told me he has been feeling uninspired lately in his writing (hearing)
  • I’ve read that famous writers sometimes thrive in isolation (sight)
  • Jack says he wants to take a solo trip to a remote location so he can write (hearing)

Notice this list does not include “Jack is being selfish” or “Jack doesn’t care about me” because those are not facts. You can’t hear “being selfish” or “not caring.” You can see and hear actions that might lead you to such conclusions, but they are not themselves facts.

Once you have a list of the facts, the next wise thing to do is consider the facts you don’t know. Jill doesn’t know Jack’s plan for childcare while he’s gone, nor his plan for financing the travel. She fears that he will put it all on the credit card and dump the childcare on her, but since they have not discussed it, these are fears, not facts. The next best step for her would be to calmly gather this information from Jack before forming a conclusion.

Jill could discover many different things. Jill could speak to Jack and find he has a thoughtful plan to care for Jill and the children’s needs. She could also find out he’s planning on taking out a high-interest loan and playing hookey. We all fear we will discover our partner is betraying us and jump to conclusions about their selfishness. Still, the reality is that when we check the facts this way before coming to conclusions like that, we often discover there was nothing to be upset about in the first place.

You can use this same technique when talking to someone about politics. You might hear someone say something that sounds incendiary, like “There are some things women just can’t do as well as men.” What do you do? Do you feel offended, tell this person off, scoff, walk away, or form a bad opinion of them? Do you think I shouldn’t have to listen to this? Or do you ask them questions about their opinion and discover they only mean that more men qualify to be special forces than women because men are more often able to meet special forces PT requirements? In the former circumstance, you make an enemy. In the latter, a friend.

Common Emotional Obstacles to Checking the Facts

It’s not practically difficult to check the facts. All one needs to do to check the facts is respond to strong emotions or tense situations by asking exploratory questions instead of defending or retreating. But it’s one of the most challenging emotional skills to learn because it requires unlearning basic things our society teaches us about how we should act.

Assuming a threat when there is none

One emotional obstacle that commonly gets in people’s way when checking the facts is the tendency to assume there is a threat when there is none.

Our culture teaches us to stand up to injustice and unfairness. “Don’t let them walk all over you,” your dad will say. “Give them a piece of your mind!” But if you respond to the person who says there are some things women can’t do by lecturing them about feminism, you will neither change their mind nor make a friend. You can only do either by listening patiently to what they say, ensuring you understand, and checking the facts before responding.

Or consider romantic relationships. The internet is glutted with advice about relationships — what boundaries you should set, the consequences, when you should dump someone, for what, and how to do it. Much of this advice is formulaic: “If he does X, he’s being selfish, and you should leave him.” Maybe there’s some token advice about communication, but this advice is primarily superficial linguistic tricks that do not cut to the heart of navigating conflict. And so what happens is one partner says or does a few things that strike a negative emotional chord in the other. Instead of both parties coming together to gather facts and ensure they understand the situation before reacting, each party concludes on their own and then sets against the other as an enemy. Fighting ensues.

Being unwilling to be wrong

Checking the facts greatly reduces the amount of conflict you experience with others over relationships, politics, work projects, and more. Still, it comes at the high cost of admitting you’re wrong extremely regularly.

When you come to conclusions on your own and then stalwartly defend them, you get an emotional rush from being right and being a defender of what’s right. I know from experience that it feels good to give someone a feminist lecture.

Suppose I slow down and listen to what the person across me is trying to say. In that case, I might discover I’m wrong, and also, I’m behaving like all those aggro feminists my republican family members complain about. That doesn’t feel very good.

If you stop there, avoiding what feels bad and doing what feels good, like most of humanity, you will always have trouble acting wisely. The trick is to make the bad feeling of being wrong start to feel a little good.

There are a few psychological tricks I use to achieve this.

  1. When I catch myself dwelling on an opinion, such as “He’s being an ass” or “I shouldn’t have to deal with this,” I return to the facts, like “He canceled our plans for tonight,” and “I wish this weren’t happening.”
  2. When people I’m speaking to correct me, I verbally reaffirm the correction. I say to the person I’m speaking to, “Wow, all these years, I’ve thought X, and it’s been Y. Thank you for teaching me this.” This tells my subconscious brain that I should thank people for correcting me, not get angry at them.
  3. Looking back over the years, one of the ways I measure my development as a person is in how many opinions I previously held that I no longer hold. People who mature and grow change their opinions frequently over the years, while people who get stuck thinking the same things year after year.

Do I do these things perfectly? Hell no. Anyone in my life would tell you I’m contentious and argumentative at the best of times. But these tricks have helped me take the edge off over the last few years.

In Conclusion

We can improve our decision-making and problem-solving abilities by learning to see the world without bias. This can lead to increased creativity and innovation in our work and better communication and relationships in our personal lives. In business, unbiased observation can lead to better strategic planning and decision-making, resulting in greater success.

In conclusion, seeing the world without bias is crucial for success in business and life. Our subconscious biases can distort our perception and lead us to make poor decisions. Still, we can overcome these biases by practicing mindfulness, seeking diverse perspectives, fact-checking, and critical thinking. Take the initiative to apply these strategies daily and notice the positive changes in your decision-making and overall success.