Confirmation bias is the tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms or supports one's prior beliefs or values. (Wikipedia).

Like any other bias, this behavior is unconscious. We all have biases. And we all are their victims when we don't pay attention. I have opinions. Yet, I force myself to search for contradicting information. Otherwise, I risk finding what I wanted to see and confirm my beliefs without putting them to the test. By the way, this is the biggest problem with social media echo chambers. When all the people (we follow) agree, we generalize to the whole population.

But back to the word 'hypothesis.' When researching a new idea, the scientific method mandates the following process: Observation, Research, Hypothesis, Experiment, Analysis, & Conclusion.

Observation is, per definition, subjective and research is very much subject to confirmation bias. The Hypothesis and Experiment steps are there to get us out of a deadlock situation. Formulating a hypothesis and a way to test and measure it, an experiment, forces us to consider another point of view and verify our assumptions.

Here is where this simple word 'hypothesis' enters my coaching vocabulary (in fact via my mentor Udo Wieg瓣rtner years ago). Whenever I hear someone jumping to conclusions, this word pops into my mind.

Coachee: "They did this, and they did that. I wonder why they don't trust me to do it."
Tim: "Is this a fact? Do you know that they don't trust you? How did you confirm this? Or is it still a hypothesis at this point?"

And if the coachee confirms that it might just still be a hypothesis, we can then continue the discussion in two valuable directions:

  1. How can we confirm or infirm this hypothesis?
  2. What other hypotheses could potentially explain this behavior as well

For both directions, we will have to enter the other person's point of view, relate and be empathetic. Often, the coachee will realize that their own biases have skewed the situation. They will then take a step back, calm down, and see the world in a new light.

All because of this simple word: 'hypothesis.'


Photo by Louis Reed on Unsplash