Can we be trained to be unbiased?

Kahneman tells a story about when he was grading papers.  If a student gave a good answer to the first question, he found himself giving the student the benefit of the doubt on other questions.  (A form of Halo bias.)  If the master made such a mistake is there help for us mere mortals?

There are a few who say it’s possible to be trained to recognize bias in ourselves, but most think it’s not.  Kahneman says:

“We would all like to have a warning bell that rings loudly whenever we are about to make a serious error, but no such bell is available.”

Because an “outside in” view can recognize bias we strongly recommend the concept of a “Bias-Buddy”.  Pair people up and have them review the other’s work.  Have them do pre-mortems and review checklists meeting notes.



Moneyball Selling

Bias # 2 – Confirmation Bias – We focus on things that confirm our beliefs

Confirmation bias is big.  It has us believing and focusing on the facts that support our beliefs and neglecting facts we don’t like.  For example, you are working an account you really want to win so you develop “happy ears”.  The customers talk and you listen, but your subconscious is giving more weight to what the prospect says to make you believe he or she likes our offer.  The result is that you won’t hear the negatives.

Because we are (most of the time) unconsciously searching for evidence to support our theories, we can fall into the trap of asking questions in ways that will support our theory.  Your theory could be anything from:

What you are thinking

How bias affects you


These guys are not a good prospect for me, I need to get out of here quickly to concentrate on a better prospect.


You only hear the answers that would disqualify them as a prospect.  Then you use that as ammunition to the boss to get them removed from your funnel.  Or,


You don’t bother to ask the questions because you think you know the answer and you won’t like it.

These guys are a perfect fit for product X

You only hear the answers that support the good fit and ignore other answers.


 Confirmation bias also affects the questions we ask.  Sometimes we won’t ask a question because we think we already know the answer.  So, rather than ask “How will this affect the way you go about your job?” we don’t ask because we’re pretty sure (and hoping) the answer will be “it will make my life a lot easier.”  But what if the answer is “It’ll make my life harder because I’ll have to learn a new way of doing things.”?  You could make a big mistake.

Given confirmation bias, what do we do about it?  We have these suggestions:

  1. Recognize that you could miss important insights that may make or break the sale.
  2. Whenever going out to talk with a prospect or customer write your questions down beforehand. We recommend having a list of questions you will ask all new prospects on every first sales call.  Having that list of questions ensures you will ask everyone the same question and not let your confirmation bias get in the way.  If your sales team meets with similar types of prospects, we recommend that all reps use the same first-call questions and that your team routinely review the questions to make sure they are relevant and getting the information you need.
  3. When you can, get the answers to your questions in writing. Obviously, you won’t record an in-person sales call, but your phone system might be able to record calls.  In addition, getting answers to follow-up questions via email is good. 
  4. When collating the responses and drawing conclusions, ask yourself two questions: are the conclusions I am drawing supported by what they actually said? And, if I were an unbiased third-party, would I be drawing the same conclusions?  Furthermore, summarize the discussion in writing as soon as possible after leaving your session.  Relying on your memory to recount responses too much later could allow you to unknowingly reintroduce your specific confirmation biases into the mix.

(Next page, Optimism Bias)