Lifting the anchor on unconscious bias
02 Sep 2019
Picture the scene...You’re sitting at a board meeting, faced with decisions of a highly technical or strategic nature, and you have an opinion formed from your own preconceptions. Suddenly, the first person to speak on the subject pipes up and you either find yourself surprisingly agreeable to their comments, or suddenly question how they could be so wrong. As a result, you add to the discussion based on their comment, or the discussion that arises from it, rather than managing to share your original opinion. Sound familiar?
As much as it may be uncomfortable to admit, what other people say can completely sway the way you present your own opinion. That can lead to a completely different outcome to what may have arisen if someone else happened to speak first.
The term for this bias is known as anchoring.
What is anchoring?
In a group discussion, the initial information that is received (the anchor) can result in all subsequent judgements being significantly affected, despite whether or not your original opinion agrees with the anchor or not.
Those who have similar opinions tend to gravitate towards it as they see it as confirmation of their own opinion, whereas those who disagree with the anchor tend to push further away.
Once the anchor has been set and acknowledged, all future negotiations are then often discussed in relation to it. It can also affect the interpretation of future information.
An example of anchoring (click here to enlarge):
An item on the agenda at a Governance Committee meeting is to discuss the percentage of assets that members should contribute into a DC scheme.
Who is affected by anchoring?
Anchoring can affect everyone in a group, no matter how knowledgeable they are in a field. For example, when an advisor starts a discussion by confirming or discrediting your preconceived notions on something you know a lot about; you may find yourself adjusting any differences to match their statements completely or, if you disagree, your view may diverge even further.
How can you avoid anchoring?
Biases in decision making is still a developing area of study, but why even chance it? Advancements in technology are allowing groups to overcome behavioural biases like these and make for a much fairer and more valuable discussion.
For example, our risk management tool, Periskope, can remove this bias almost completely. It works by asking all meeting attendees to respond to a question prior to the discussion with no reference point, just their own opinion. Both extreme views and those of a general consensus can then be challenged and discussed once all the results are averaged and shared amongst the group. The impact of dominant personalities on the group’s decisions are minimised, and as a result, the discussion reflects the true diversity of views, something widely recognised to add value to decision making.
If you would like to find out more about the risks of behavioural biases or how you can overcome them, please don’t hesitate to contact our team.