What you believe is true and what is actually true may not be the same thing, and this can lead us to projection bias.

When you’re working on an important project or just working with others, it’s important to understand other people are different from ourselves. If we are focused on something which means a lot to us, it’s easy to assume it will be just as important to others.

This can lead us to overlook the considerations and priorities of others. When this happens, it makes it very difficult to work with others as you can lose their interest or simply annoy them. This is called projection bias and it is vital to understand it to be able to mitigate its effects and work efficiently as a team.

What Is Projection Bias?

Projection Bias is the belief that others have the same priorities, attitudes or beliefs as we do. This is true however similar we are to the other person, as what we believe to be important, we consider to be important to others.

We are all inclined to believe our ideas are the best, especially if we have certain experiences others don’t. However, it is important to understand projection bias so that we can negate its negative impact.

Projection bias occurs when we are too caught up in our own beliefs and desires that we don’t understand the other person. Projection bias is linked to consensus bias which leads us to believe that others think like us and will agree with us. When suffering from projection bias, we ignore the thoughts of others because they don’t align with our own.

Imagine you and your team have been given an important project. You consider the first step to take on some market research to understand your consumer. You might believe this to be the most obvious and successful first step.

However, your coworker might believe the first step is to understand the product in order to market it effectively. This causes tension because you don’t agree and you might dismiss your coworker’s idea.

Why Does Projection Bias Happen?

When we are experienced, we tend to overestimate the regularity of our own ideas and best practices. We also have a certain idea of our own future success based on our previous successes.

This can make it difficult to empathize with others who may not share our expertise. As such, we use our current state as an anchor point for our decisions rather than being open-minded to the opinions of others.

How to Avoid Projection Bias

Recognize It

When you are aware of your own expertise in an area, this is where it might affect us most. The first step in avoiding projection bias is recognizing you may be suffering from it.

Recognize the areas in which you have particular strengths. When faced with a situation where you are working with others in this area, note that the bias might occur here.

Keep Your Mind Open

Secondly, try to stay open-minded. Just because you have experience in a certain area does not mean that your methods are perfect. Don’t let your own expertise narrow your thinking, because best practice is constantly changing.

Stay open to ideas that differ from your own and remember that others might not necessarily think the way you do. We are all capable of learning and adapting our work to improve.

When in a team situation, listen to others and respect what you hear.

You may not agree with them, but allow them to speak and consider their views. Listening is the key to making others feel respected. You cannot demand respect from others if you don’t give it to them. Give others time to explain their ideas and reasons behind them.

You might actually find yourself agreeing with their thought process, even if you don’t agree with the idea. When you don’t agree, it is okay to be critical and to ask pointed questions. This allows you to stretch your thinking but also helps others to grow.

Maintain an open dialogue and refrain from shutting down a conversation because you don’t agree. Building on each other’s ideas can be greatly beneficial both within a team but also in the final product.

Consider a collaboration of methods to attack the problem from many different angles. By formulating a holistic approach, you may find yourself working faster and to a higher standard.

Final Words

When making important decisions or working on big projects, we are all guilty of failed decision making. There are a number of biases that can affect us on a daily basis. It is important to recognize what these biases are and that we are not immune to them.

Identifying where we might be affected by projection bias is the first step in ensuring it does not impact on our work. It might take a little practice to get it right at first, but after time you will find yourself to be much more open to others. Working on yourself is the first step to working well with others.

References:

  1. https://scholar.harvard.edu
  2. https://www.cmu.edu
Francesca Forsythe, LL.M., M.Phil.

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