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Coaching Confirmation Bias: Why We Think We are Right, Even When We are Wrong

This coach is screaming on the inside, "WHY ARE YOU SO BIASED?"

Have you ever encountered someone who just believed the "wrong" things for the "wrong "reasons?

Perhaps you've seen this person argue about politics, religion, or ethics and they only seek out, interpret, and recall information that benefits them, while completely ignoring everything else. Those people who talk incessantly what they believe is "right" when you know they are dead wrong.

We want you to really imagine this person. Is it your great aunt? Your boss? That annoying co-worker? That guy on Facebook? Those [insert political parties]? Actually, it's time to look in the mirror. IT'S YOU.

Yep, you're that person too. By virtue of believing someone else is "dead wrong" you have made yourself that person. Don't worry though, we are that person too, and so is the person you were thinking of. Why, because at one time or another, about something in our lives we all believe we are "right."

We have a tendency to hold that our beliefs, our stories, our theories about who we are and how the world works are absolutes, and we have the keen insight and confirmed research and experience to support these notions. We will even see everything that proves us right while subtly and subconsciously ignoring the contrary.

This very human characteristic unfortunately is inescapable and universal. And also something every culture and person enjoys indulging in at one time or another. Because of how prevalent it is we at CLCI aren't going to tell you how to stop this bias. We are gonna say in the real world, go out there and be as absolutely right as you wish. In the coaches chair however, that is when CLCI is going to step in and address some confirmation bias.

Coaching Confirmation Bias

It can be really frustrating when we actually try to help someone with a goal and their confirmation bias is getting in the way of progress.

That's why this week on CLCI Live, Brooke Adair Walters (M.C.P.C.), Jerome LeDuff Jr (M.C.L.C.), Anthony Lopez (M.C.P.C). confirm our confirmation biases and find ways for coaches to navigate a client's confirmation bias. Hint: We are coaching the person, not the problem.

What is Confirmation Bias?

If you can't see contrary evidence, is it really there?

So, are our opinions coldly rational and made through years of experience and vetting? Were they objectively formed and in no way influenced by personal desires or the context you were raised in?

If you are like most people, this is not the case. What more likely happens is that you start with preexisting beliefs based on a handful of experiences or information, and then you favor evidence that confirms those beliefs.

This is because humans were never hardwired for seeking out the capital T "Truth". Instead we decide what is true first, then we justify that truth in a way that benefits us. How do we do that?

  • We don't seek objective sources of information. Or, in our minds, they are when they really aren't.

  • We only seek out and interpret information that confirms our biases, rather than seek out points of view that challenges our beliefs.

  • We only remember the experiences that support the belief and forget anything else.

Confirmation bias is a tendency everyone has and it definitely does the heavy lifting as far as our beliefs go. Imagine if you actually had to rigorously evaluate every single belief and opinion you hold, you'd probably never get anything done.

What Confirmation Bias Looks Like

Imagine you are sitting in a room with a client. You've had a few sessions with them and they have the goal of leaving their career and starting their own business. Then they say,

"I can't though. I don't have a college education or a business degree. Successful business owners have an education, and the best business owners are from Harvard and other business schools. I need a degree first before I start my journey."

We know that this is patently FALSE. Their claim could not possibly be true in reality.

But here's the thing we may not know yet as the coach. Our client for decades has only been seeking out information that confirms this idea of success. They ignore or discount any other possibility of a successful-uneducated-business owner as a fluke. In fact, the very definition of success may have been altered to fit this reality.

Pop Quiz: So what's a coach to do? Do we...

  1. Throw facts and figures at them?

  2. Tell them they have a confirmation bias?

  3. Yell "You don't think I'm a successful business owner?! 🤬"

  4. Tell them to just try starting a business anyways and see what happens?

  5. Coach the client, not the bias.

The answer? Coach the Client, Not the Bias! Although we probably like the idea of yelling at our clients at times. What you need to do when you encounter a client with a confirmation bias is:

Be curious, investigate, and ask open ended questions.

In the above example we can ask:

  • What an education does for them

  • What does success actually look like

  • Is it always the case that you need a degree?

  • Have there ever been successful business owners without an education?

  • Do these "educated business owners" agree with his premise?

Or, we can simply acknowledge the belief and move forward. It may not always be appropriate to challenge a limiting belief if the client does not see it as one.

In our example, our client may be delaying their goal with an extra step, but to them, that step is necessary in completing their goal. Who are we to determine what is right or wrong for our clients and what beliefs need to be reevaluated? Perhaps that is our own bias stepping in? And if a client does surface a real block that is supported with confirmation bias, we have a way to help clients in 9 steps. Essentially you partner with the client to examine the block and see how it serves them and they can determine to discard it, work on it, or move forward.

In the end, we all utilize confirmation bias with great effect. What helps is that we acknowledge that it exists and act accordingly. One of the first steps to fighting it is getting an objective viewpoint. And that's where coaching comes in.


Thank you

Brooke Adair Walters, Jerome LeDuff Jr., and Anthony Lopez!

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