In another video from its Ethics Unwrapped series, the McCombs School of Business (University of Texas) introduces the concept of self-serving bias. This is our tendency to gather and process information that promotes our self-interest or supports our pre-existing opinions. In short, this bias is a mechanism by which we boost and/or preserve our own self-esteem.
Examples of self-serving bias are not hard to find. We see it everywhere – from politics, to journalism, to our own kitchen tables. It feels good when our feelings/thoughts/actions are affirmed by others. However, our preference for information that bolsters our own opinions inevitably influences our behavior, which means we’re making decisions using murky, one-sided judgment.
Self-serving bias also influences us to shirk responsibility and blame others when mistakes are made. It’s the team captain that claims the victories are due to his leadership and the losses are because of the laziness of his teammates or her coach’s poor management.
In the workplace, our lack of sound judgment and failure to own our mistakes can directly affect productivity. It stunts innovation by blocking out opposing ideas, and weakens collaboration by shifting the dynamic to “every man for himself.”
While we may never fully eradicate our self-serving bias, there are definitely ways to guard against its influence. This first step (you guessed it!) is self-awareness. Are you discussing your ideas or are you arguing them? The difference between the two is how open-minded and willing you are to both listen to and consider other ideas.
Accountability is key. When evaluating project successes, be intentional about giving credit to others and their contribution to the success. When something goes sideways, hold yourself accountable for your part by looking for an area where you can improve moving forward. This will not only help you reframe your thinking, but will also provide valuable lessons learned that your organization can take into future projects.
Nothing is stagnant. We are either continuously improving or we’re impeding progress. As organizations, as leaders, and as people, it’s imperative that we take the steps necessary to not only know our own strengths, but to also be aware of our weaknesses. When we identify the situations in which our self-serving bias is the most prevalent, we can go into them keeping that bias in check, allowing room for diversity of thought and helping to produce better outcomes.