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Glenford Smith | Beware confirmation bias

Published:Wednesday | September 5, 2018 | 12:00 AM

QUESTION: Mr Smith, I am frustrated at my job because it's two years now we haven't got a pay increase, and management is saying that things look dismal this year. The company is making a lot of money, so I just can't explain it. Sometimes I feel like I want to scream. What should I do?

- M. B.

CAREER: Thank you for your inquiry. Many persons feel like you do at the moment, so you can be confident that 'this too shall pass'. You will feel better regardless of whether circumstances change or not. Let's address your question now, though.

When you quote 'management' as saying things are not looking positive this year, that really is feedback from just one person speaking in vague terms.

What does it mean that 'things are looking dismal?' You must ensure that you are not catastrophising and making it out to be something worse than it is, based on what's happening in your head. Here's what I mean.

We often fall prey to 'biased information processing', especially when we are distraught or otherwise emotionally tense. This means when someone says something that is out of sync with what we already believe to be true; or when the information is inconvenient to us, we interpret it in such a way that we hear what we want to hear.

When we're in such situations, we don't usually go through a normal evaluation process; we don't impartially make an unbiased decision. This is called confirmation bias - something we're all prone to.

We tend to hear what agrees with what we already believe or what is convenient for us hear. That is why you will go to a political rally and hear two people, who believe different and contradicting things, agree with the speaker, while saying he said two different things.

It relates to what you have said.

The person in management may say something about the prospects for your union to get a huge hike this year. In order to arrest or moderate your expectations, he or she may say that things look dismal. Now, notice what is said. It is really unclear what is meant by 'dismal'. But you may be hearing that you can't expect the normal 20 per cent raise. You may be 'hearing' management personnel saying you must only expect as much as a 10 or five per cent increase.

This will put you in a state of anxiety and stress. Scream if you must, but look at the situation logically and with some perspective.

Don't blow the situation out of proportion when you don't know for certain how much you will, in fact, be getting. You just don't know. You can ask the person you spoke with if they know the amount, since you do not know what dismal means. Speak to a colleague that you trust and have confidence in. In any case, don't stress over it. Share your fears.

Don't concentrate on the fact that you think the company is making a lot of money. You don't know that. The company has many bills that the persons in management have to think about.

Wait until you have something concrete to worry about. Don't make up stuff based on vague and indefinite information.

- Glenford Smith is a motivational speaker and success strategist. He is the author of 'From Problems to Power' and co-author of 'Profile of Excellence'.