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How Do You Handle Disconfirming Information?

Updated: Mar 27

Do You Have Confirmation Bias?

We have all had beliefs or perceptions challenged by the unpleasant emergence of pesky information or facts that force us to look more closely at our position, which we've held onto as a form of comfort because it helps us make sense of the world we live in.

The challenge with disconfirming information is that it threatens to upend our positions (and we were not looking to have them changed) and can force us to confront a new reality, a reality we had not anticipated and, perhaps, a reality we do not want.

As a result, we can feel:

  • Ashamed - why did I ever believe that?

  • Not smart - everyone else knew it but me.

  • Uninformed - how could I have missed that?

An essential question leaders need to ask and have a purposeful posture toward is:

"What do I, .....(insert leader's name here) when I encounter disconfirming information?

How do you handle Disconfirming Information?

Four ways to handle disconfirming information.  Dismiss it, Attack it, Ignore it, Engage it.
How Do You Handle Disconfirmation Information?

Some definitions:

Confirmation Bias

People tend to look for information that is consistent with their beliefs. This biased approach to decision-making is largely unintentional, and it results in a person ignoring information that is inconsistent with their beliefs. These beliefs can include a person’s expectations in a given situation and their predictions about a particular outcome. People are especially likely to process information to support their beliefs when an issue is highly important or self-relevant. Britannica

In short, confirmation bias means you only seek information that supports your beliefs. Social media algorithms support this bias by providing you with tweets and posts that support what you are looking for. The net result is you start to live in an echo chamber of similar-thinking people.

Disconfirmation Bias

Disconfirmation bias is a close cousin of confirmation bias.

Disconfirmation bias is a cognitive bias that occurs when people seek information confirming their beliefs and ignore information that contradicts them. This bias is often seen in people trying to prove a point or defend a position. It can lead to a distorted view of reality and can have a significant impact on decision-making. Clearer Thinking

In short, disconfirmation bias is the uncritical acceptance of information that supports your pre-existing belief and the active refutation of information that challenges an existing belief.

What are the effects of Confirmation Bias?

Confirmation bias is antithetical to rational thinking. When we have it, we seek out and interpret information in a way that confirms our existing beliefs. All humans have it; however, it can negatively affect our thinking and decision-making. In short, we only seek out information that (re)confirms the beliefs we presently hold.

Here are some of the effects of confirmation bias:

  • Poor decision-making can lead to bad decision-making when we only consider information that supports our existing beliefs. For example, if we are convinced that a particular investment is good, we may ignore warning signs that it might not be.

  • Uninformed opinions can prevent us from learning new information and forming unbiased opinions. For example, if we are against a particular political candidate, we may only seek information confirming our negative beliefs about them.

  • Groupthink: This can contribute to groupthink, a phenomenon in which groups make bad decisions because they conform to each other's opinions.

  • Polarization Can lead to polarization, a phenomenon in which people's views become increasingly extreme over time because they only seek out information that confirms their beliefs.

What are the effects of Disconfirmation Bias?

Disconfirmation bias is a cognitive bias that leads people to ignore or discount information that contradicts their beliefs. They only seek out information that re-confirms the beliefs they already have. This can have several adverse effects, such as:

  • People become more entrenched in existing beliefs: By giving more weight to information that confirms their beliefs than to information that contradicts them, they become more and more entrenched in their beliefs, even in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

  • It's harder to learn new things. People are less likely to seek out or pay attention to information that challenges their existing beliefs.

  • It makes problem-solving more difficult: People who are biased towards one particular solution are less likely to consider all possible solutions to a problem.

  • Makes informed decision-making harder: People are less likely to consider all of the relevant information when deciding if they are biased towards one particular option.

How can you overcome Confirmation Bias?

  • Be open to new information: Be willing to consider information that contradicts your existing beliefs.

  • Seek out diverse viewpoints: Expose yourself to various perspectives on the issues you care about.

  • Be critical of your thinking: Be aware of your own biases and try to challenge them.

  • Be mindful of your sources. Be skeptical of information that comes from sources you know to be biased.

How can you overcome Disconfirmation Bias?

  • Become aware of it: You cannot do anything about it until you are aware of it and aware of its existence in your cognitive thought processes.

  • Seek out information that contradicts your existing beliefs: Just because you encounter a belief counter to yours does not mean it is the correct belief, and yours is not. However, if you purposefully seek out and listen to beliefs counter to yours, you will start to develop a comfort in hearing and processing other beliefs.

  • Try to avoid jumping to conclusions: Consider alternate explanations or scenarios in which the information might be correct.

What is your response when you encounter disconfirming information?

This post aims to increase awareness of confirmation bias and disconfirmation bias and how they affect our decision-making process, positively or negatively. As leaders, it's important to develop a purposeful posture about how you will handle disconfirming information when it comes across your desk—because it will.

Thought Provocateur Social Media Series

The inspiration for the Thought Provocateur Social Media Series is that I love it when I encounter questions or bits of wisdom that stop me in my tracks. These insights tend to stay in your head for more than five minutes and may come back later to revisit you. In times of information overload, these are the tidbits that stand out. It’s when the signal outweighs the noise. You tend to remember them because they touch something deep inside of us.

About The Nexus Initiative

The Nexus Initiative is a boutique Executive Coaching and Advisory firm based on real-world operating experience. If you know someone looking for a trusted confidant with real-world operating experience to be their coach, please refer them to our website to set up a discovery call.

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