Thinking Errors and the Coaching Process: How to Help Your Leaders Make Better Decisions

Christy Pearson's picture Submitted by Christy Pearson May 11, 2016 - 7:14am
Thinking Errors and the Coaching Process: How to Help Your Leaders Make Better Decisions

Thinking errors are a common occurrence but for many, they may be an unknown concept. Simply stated, thinking errors occur when we have some error in our thinking. Typically, thinking errors are used as a way to delude or convince ourselves of something that is the way we want it to be. We tell ourselves stories because they are stories we want to hear.

Thinking errors have also been termed cognitive distortions, faulty beliefs, or cognitive biases. The main thing you need to know is, we think, therefore we will have some error in our thinking.

Because thinking errors can be quite common, they will emerge in coaching sessions with clients. And without paying adequate attention, they can be undetectable. As a coach, the first thing to do is become familiar with what a thinking error is and what it may look like in a coaching session.

Common thinking errors you might see in a coaching session:

  • Confirmation Bias---the tendency to look for and agree with information that supports or “confirms” a pre-conceived belief. “I always thought that engineers would be resistant to change and sure enough our engineering department is against our new initiative.”
  • Self-Serving Bias---the tendency to attribute positive events to our own doing and attribute negative events to external factors. “I’ve launched several successful businesses. Those few bankruptcies were only due to the economic downturn.”
  • Jumping to Conclusions---drawing a conclusion based on limited information. “The candidate was a bit nervous for the interview, there is no way this person can handle the stress of the job.”
  • Information Bias---the tendency to seek information when it does not affect action. More information does not always lead to better decisions. “Let’s put together a subcommittee to research the possible outcomes of this new initiative. We can then take those results and have a project team determine our next course of action.”
  • Bandwagon effect---the tendency to believe something because many others have the same belief. “My team thinks our project is a good idea so I’m going to launch the project earlier than we planned.”
  • Planning Fallacy---the tendency to underestimate the time it will take to complete a task. “Sure, we can put together a new marketing strategy in no time.”

As coaches, we can get into trouble when we accept what our leaders tell us at face value. Leaders describe a situation and we can get caught up in the aspects of the story and neglect that the story can be based on faulty information, distorted perceptions and misguided assumptions.

We can have a positive impact with our clients by helping them understand how they think and how their thinking processes contribute to how they perceive, decide, analyze and process information. Without some awareness of distorted thinking, leaders can make decisions that could have disastrous effects on their business.

Thinking errors are common and no one is immune from them. The key is to pay attention to the thinking process and then determine how best to address or reduce the impact of a thinking error. Using the following tactics can help reduce the negative impact of faulty thinking.

  • Enhance self-awareness. What are your own biases? What is your belief system and how do these beliefs impact decision-making?
  • Be curious and ask questions. Avoid accepting the first answer to a problem or the first opinion to a situation.
  • Be open to alternative viewpoints. Seek out other perspectives.
  • Always ask yourself or others why? Seek to understand the issue, the context and the rationale.
  • Be a bit skeptical to avoid accepting status quo, early data, or majority consensus. Be a little wary of what seems right or seems popular and a bit of skepticism will prove helpful.
  • Be willing to say “I don’t know” and ask for more information, opinions, or perspectives. This will help promote more conversations and exploration of issues.
  • View a problem from different perspectives. Try using alternative starting points and approaches rather than sticking with the first line of thought that occurs to you.

Awareness is often the hardest step in the process as we can be resistant to the issue or unwilling to acknowledge how our style of thinking can contribute negatively to a situation. As a coach, we will always be susceptible to thinking errors but awareness and understanding can help us best manage them.

The final takeaway, thinking errors are highly common and being a highly qualified and experienced professional will not make you immune to the occurrence. Stay open-minded, remain curious and search for the truth and you should be just fine.

Want more? Listen to Christy Pearson's CoachX podcast about Helping Leaders Make Better Decisions