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Leadership Today - Practical Tips For Leaders

Nov 18, 2022


Research demonstrates the process by which biased people become more biased. Here’s what to do about it.



Welcome to episode 164 of the Leadership Today podcast where each week we bring research to life in your leadership. This week we explore how biased people become even more biased.

We are living in particularly polarised times. On so many issues across society and politics we see people becoming more entrenched in their thinking and less open to alternate perspectives. Clearly this isn’t great for us individually and collectively. I’m sure, like me, you would love people to be open to changing their mind.

A key driver of what we’re seeing around us is selective exposure bias. Research demonstrates that people will actually walk away from the opportunity to make money if it allows them to avoid reading an alternative view of issues like same-sex marriage or gun control. A recent piece of research showed so-called “pro-diversity” thinkers are less susceptible to this bias. Someone who is pro-diversity in their approach is more comfortable interacting with new ideas and people who don’t share their perspective. They don’t necessarily just agree with others, but they’re happy to listen to different perspectives.

This presents a challenge though. If people who aren’t open to diversity in the first place also actively avoid information that might change their perspective, aren’t we doomed to just become more polarised? The authors of the study believe part of the answer is in making cross-group interactions inevitable. If we can, in our organisations and in society at large, cause people of differing views to come together. How do we do become more pro-diversity and less prone to selective exposure?

  1. Read widely. Don’t limit yourself to one news publisher. Actively expose yourself to new ideas and different perspectives.
  2. Engage someone who you know has different views to you. There’s just one rule here though - you’re only allowed to ask questions. Don’t argue back, just seek to understand.
  3. Agree to disagree, but be open to changing your mind. Saying we agree to disagree is a bit of a cop out - it closes down further discussion. Instead, be open to changing your mind.

Adam Grant’s book Think Again is a great read if you want to extend on these ideas.