Magazine article American Nurse Today

How to Avoid Biased Thinking: As Nurse Leaders, We Must Challenge Our Beliefs and Keep an Open Mind

Magazine article American Nurse Today

How to Avoid Biased Thinking: As Nurse Leaders, We Must Challenge Our Beliefs and Keep an Open Mind

Article excerpt

Jessica, a Millennial (Generation Y) nurse working on a medical-surgical unit, recently completed her first year of practice. Ralph, her manager, is pleased with her transition and believes she's making good progress toward becoming a competent nurse.

During her first evaluation, Jessica tells Ralph she has mastered the role of being a med-surg nurse. She wants to know the next thing she can do in her career to reach her goal of becoming a manager. Ralph is disconcerted by her self-assessment, which he thinks doesn't accurately reflect where she is professionally. A Baby Boomer, he advanced up the leadership ladder one rung at a time. He impatiently tells Jessica she hasn't achieved competency as a staff nurse. He explains that a management position is a long way off and she needs to focus on mastering her current role.

Ralph's reaction to Jessica's self-assessment is a common one among today's leaders. One of the strongest motivators for Millennial employees is a supervisor who provides career development. Like Ralph, some managers have experience bias: they've formed a mental model based on their own experience, which may or may not be relevant to the current situation. When they hear employees like Jessica talk about their career, it reinforces their belief that Millennial nurses aren't willing to pay their dues. Instead, they want to know where the job will take them.

But Jessica's desire to know what's next for her isn't unusual for someone her age at her point in her career. If she doesn't receive leadership development, she may leave for what she hopes are greener pastures.

Cognitive biases

We usually think of experience as a strength in leading people, making decisions, or undertaking a new project. But the flip side to having a great deal of experience is that it can bias your thinking when it comes to innovating or dealing with new challenges. In Managing the Millennials: Discover the Core Competencies for Managing Today's Workforce, the authors suggest one reason many Baby Boomer and Generation X managers feel challenged is that Millennials' values, attitudes, and beliefs are counterintuitive to their experience bias. Like Ralph, they rarely consider the thinking behind their perceptions or question whether their thinking could be flawed.

We all have cognitive biases--glitches in thinking that lead to questionable decisions and erroneous conclusions. Daniel Kahneman, a Princeton psychologist and Nobel Laureate who studies decision making, explains that our thinking may be flawed if we rely too much on our own intuition and experience. Being aware of our own potential biases can lead us to ask better questions and avoid making decisions on autopilot.

Besides experience bias, five other cognitive biases also may influence our thinking.

Confirmation bias

As leaders, we feel more comfortable with people who value the things we value and agree with our opinions. Confirmation bias occurs when we seek only those opinions that agree with ours and avoid those that threaten our worldview. We see this behavior in politics today, with some people watching only Fox News and others watching only MSNBC, depending on which commentators they agree with and confirm what they already think is true. But as leaders, we need to feel comfortable having our thinking challenged so we can make the best decisions.

Observational-selection bias

This type of bias occurs when we start noticing things we didn't pay much attention to before and wrongly assume their frequency has increased. Leaders sometimes do this when confronted with a problem involving a staff member. They start paying close attention to that employee and may mistakenly believe the behavior in question occurs all the time, even though it doesn't. As a result, the employee may think he or she is being wrongly singled out.

Status-quo bias

In our changing healthcare environment, the status quo may feel comfortable. …

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