Leaders Know Cognitive Biases Can Hurt Team Decisions (Part 8)

In my work with teams who make decisions together about tactics, strategy, and personnel, logical fallacies and cognitive biases show up, so I’m going to write a few posts about some of the most common. This is the eighth post in this series. You can find links to the first seven posts at the bottom of this one.

Cognitive Bias: Framing Effect

Definition: Being unduly convinced by context and delivery.

Simple Example: True story: a well-regarded high school science teacher proclaimed, “You will always remember what I am about to tell you: the popcorn ball was invented in Peru.” He wore a tie and made the statement with great authority from the front of the class.

To this day, his students believe what he said. So, I recently posted, “Where was the popcorn ball invented?” on my personal Facebook page. Sure enough, his former students answered, “Peru,” even though the real answer is likely Nebraska.

What it looks like:

In a meeting, Jimmy voiced strong opposition to funding something called PBIS.

He was in the minority, but he’d made this argument against PBIS so many times he was rather polished and prepared. He researched it over many years, formed a strong opinion, and supports his position. On the other hand, most other people on the board had minimal knowledge of the details.

Everyone stayed quiet after he spoke; clearly no one was going to make a motion.

Eventually Molly said, “Just because Jimmy is slick and strong-willed about this doesn’t mean we can’t still fund PBIS if most of us feel differently.”

Jimmy said, “Oh, that’s fine. I just think we need to have more debates around issues on this board so we know what we stand for. I don’t need to get my way or anything.” (Jimmy must have some training in productive conflict techniques.)

And sure enough, once people pushed past the Framing Effect, the board voted 5-2 (Jimmy had one ally) to fund the PBIS program.

But the vibe in the room was pretty clear; if Molly hadn’t spoken up, the program wouldn’t have received funding.Thus, a clear example of the Framing Effect.

What to do?

No one likes to think of themselves as easily manipulated. Instead, we must develop the intellectual humility to accept the fact we can be influenced. Only then can we limit how much the Framing Effect will take hold. 

When you find yourself either quickly rejecting or accepting something, just because it’s presented very poorly or very well, stay mindful of how the statement is framed. More importantly, stay mindful about what is left out. Ask follow-up questions, and pause to consider. Consider asking for a second or third opinion.

Thanks for reading,

Alan Feirer

For more in this series:

Post #1: The Slippery Slope
Post #2: The False Cause
Post #3: Ad Hominem
Post #4: Strawman
Post #5: Middle Ground
Post #6: Sunk Cost
Post #7: Confirmation Bias & Belief Bias

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