Overconfidence bias is something we are all guilty of and we may not even realize how much it affects our judgment.

What is overconfidence bias?

Overconfidence bias, or the overconfidence effect, is a bias established in a person’s subjective confidence of their judgments. As a result, that person will consider their judgments as much more reliable than the objective accuracy of those judgments.

How does it affect your judgment?

Generally, overconfidence bias will give you the tendency to be more confident in your own abilities, skills, and personal character. You may see yourself as more capable than your colleagues, more knowledgeable, or even more ethical, perhaps.

There are a number of ways overconfidence can affect your judgment. It may not be as simple to assume someone who is overconfident to be full of themselves, because it can affect people differently.

1. Skills and Ranking

Overconfidence bias can affect a person’s judgment because they might assume that their personal performance is greater than it truly is. This is one of the most common forms of overconfidence bias.

Generally, most people will believe that they are slightly better at something than they really are and we are unlikely to admit when we are not as good as we would like to be.

This can lead people into two main pitfalls. First, overconfidence in skills leads people to believe they are more highly skilled than colleagues. Although not necessarily a problem in itself, this can then cause people to deem themselves more important within a company or group.

Even more dangerous, however, they may take on too much risk. This is obviously a danger when that person’s skills do not match up to their beliefs.

2. Illusion of Control

The illusion of control happens when people believe they have more control over a situation than they actually do. We don’t like to admit when we do not have control over a situation but understanding when we don’t have control is an important skill.

Without the ability to recognize the level of control we have, we cannot properly manage a situation. Again, this leads to people taking too much risk, or not accurately assessing the risk in front of them.

Moreover, it can also be the case that someone with this type of overconfidence bias believes that they have more sway or persuasion with the management of a company.

3. Timing Optimism

Timing optimism is an interesting overconfidence bias and links with overconfidence in skills and in the ranking. Timing optimism occurs when people are too optimistic about how quickly they can perform a task.

This can lead to critical mistakes in the work itself and the missing of deadlines when it takes longer than people estimate for themselves to complete.

4. The Desirability Effect

The desirability effect happens when the outcome of a situation is so desirable that people overestimate the odds of that thing actually happening.

More commonly known as wishful thinking, the desirability effect leads to a number of different mistakes and behaviors simply because we believe our desired outcome will come true.

How can we restrain overconfidence bias?

The truth is, almost everyone suffers from some kind of overconfidence bias in varying degrees. The most difficult part is that it is easier to recognize in others than it is in ourselves. This makes it hard to manage our overconfidence biases so that we work more objectively and responsibly.

There are, however, a few simple things you can do to mitigate your own biases and make sure you stay as unbiased as possible.

Take time to focus on what can go wrong.

Without fully understanding the risks, you cannot mitigate them. By spending time on the worst-case scenario, you can create a proper plan to avoid them, but also to manage them should they happen. This will minimize risk and allow you to focus on the outcome you want.

Try not to focus on the outcome.

Once you have settled on the outcome you want, try not to think about it. Although this seems counterintuitive, keeping your thinking present focuses you on what is needed right now, not what you want. This will keep your thinking much more realistic and more likely to achieve.

Always try to overestimate your timings when planning a project.

Work is always better done when more time is spent on it rather than less. Give yourself a little bit more time than your first estimate. Double it if you can. The more time you give yourself, the less chance you take of missing a deadline.

Try to be humble.

Roger Lowenstein wrote that “there is nothing like success to blind one to the possibility of failure.” Don’t let your past success, or even wish for success, blind you to the realities of a situation. You may not be the best in the room at something and it’s okay to ask for help. Give yourself the best chance.

Keeping yourself responsible and objective can be difficult, but these steps can help you eradicate your overconfidence bias and ensure success. It can be difficult to put in place at first and will take practice. Yet, the more you practice, these steps, the less biased you will become.


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