How The Best Problem-Solvers Overcome Perception Bias
Companies are placing a greater emphasis on selecting, developing, and promoting employees with advanced problem-solving abilities. Research from the World Economic Forum shows that 5 of the top 10 skills employees need to be successful in 2025 are categorized as problem-solving skills (see chart below). This shift marks a tremendous change for employees and their employers.
Perception Bias And Problem-Solving
Did you know that there are more than 70 identified cognitive biases that impact our human judgment? As human beings, perception bias constantly influences how we assess and judge situations and people. Our perception biases are magnified when we engage with complex work challenges that require successful collaboration to develop winning solutions. The nature of these situations places us at a higher risk for experiencing perception bias because it can easily trigger negative feelings around uncertainty, failure, loss of control, and concerns about relationships. Research shows that negative emotions negatively impact our ability to:
- Accurately perceive situations
- Make decisions
- Manage stress
- Collaborate with others
All of these negatively impacted abilities are critically important for successful problem-solving.
Two Most Common Perception Biases
1) We Think Our View Is Best
We fail to recognize the constructed nature of our perception. We tend to believe that we see things just like a video recorder does, only capturing the reality that anyone else should readily see. We believe our views, opinions, and conclusions are free of bias from our experiences, personalities, values, and goals.
Research shows that we regularly underestimate that other well-intentioned and intelligent people seeing the same situation can walk away with a completely different set of meanings and realities than our own. When we think that our conclusions are obvious, we do not believe it is necessary to explain our thinking or inquire why others may have reached a different conclusion. Our natural tendency is to believe anyone who does not see it our way must be misinformed, lazy, crazy, or stupid.
2) We Don’t Adapt When We Are Wrong
Confirmation bias states that when we have established a belief or conclusion, we are very reluctant to change that perspective, even if introduced to information that is inconsistent with our initial conclusion. This dynamic is made worse by our desire to actively seeking information to confirm our established beliefs while ignoring opposing information.
There are good reasons our mind functions this way, as it serves us well in most situations. Because we do not have the time or mental energy to check all of our established perspectives so we default to routine thinking because it is fast and effortless.
Adding more fuel to the fire is that most of us spend an extraordinary amount of effort avoiding or concealing wrongness. When we are wrong, we experience feelings of embarrassment, incompetence, and humiliation. These negative feelings make it hard to admit when we do not have the correct answer or acknowledge that our beliefs are wrong.
Two Essential Skills For Navigating Perception Bias
1) Great Problem-Solvers Manage Negative Emotions
To excel at solving complex and relational problems requires emotional self-awareness, so you can remain mindful about where your thoughts and emotions are taking you. When facing complex challenges that provoke feelings of loss of control, frustration, or threat, emotional awareness allows you to choose behaviors that represent your best self.
Awareness of your emotional triggers and negative feelings helps guard against emotional reactions. Emotional awareness stops you from being reactive to the negative emotions of the moment and allows you to choose actions based on your values and long-term goals.
2) Great Problem-Solvers Ask Great Questions
The best problem-solvers embrace that people have different experiences, information, values, goals, and perceptions. They understand that this diversity of perspective is necessary to create new insights, innovations, and conclusions. This mindset helps mitigate the impact of perception bias by acknowledging up front that you do not have all the expertise, perspectives, and buy-in necessary to resolve the problem.
The ability to ask quality questions is the key to surfacing assumptions, inviting new possibilities, and creating a foundation of trust for generating quality solutions. Benefits for employees who lead with questions when problem-solving include:
- Staying in learning mode rather than judgment mode.
- Creating a setting where others feel included, valued, respected, and safe.
- Uncovering relevant information before forming and sharing your perspectives.
The best employees differentiate themselves by being great problem-solvers. Taking time to ask questions before sharing perspectives does not stop employees from sharing their views; it just means that they choose to ask questions and understand additional perspectives before sharing their own. Employees who are skilled at asking questions accelerate learning and problem-solving for themselves, their team, and their organization.
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