How confirmation bias explains your job (and your parents)

Confirmation Bias and The Breakfast Club

Here’s a good article from Fast Company, including this quote:

In a nutshell, people will interpret your current behavior in a way that makes it consistent with your past behavior, and they will tend to play down or completely ignore evidence that contradicts their existing opinion of you. What’s more, they will have no idea that they’re doing it.

Read that quote a few times, then go smash a mallet into your teeth, smile bloodily, and come back and keep reading. Those two-three lines are the essence of why work (and hell, your relationship with your parents) is a challenge. You’re 30, and your parents think of you like you were 6. (Happens all the time, to everybody. Try to say it’s never happened to you and you’re probably mildly delusional, plus there’s a unicorn in your kitchen at Thanksgiving.)

At work, you get a “brand” pretty quickly — past the hiring process, yes, but for your direct manager it might be from the hiring process — and to break out of that brand and get a new brand requires a whole shit ton of work.

Confirmation bias is also referenced at the end of The Breakfast Club:

“You see us as you want to see us…”

Why does this matter?

This is a deeply emotional issue for moi, because most people that meet me straight-up (“primacy effect”) think I’m dumb or slow or a stoner because of how I can come off. This killed me all the time in the job search process. Sometimes when I answer the phone, I’ve been told I sound like I just woke up. That came up all the time in job searches. It was a challenge because, at the time, didn’t want a job in Minneapolis, so I was mostly doing phone screens. I literally had to create a system where I would psych myself up as the phone rang just to overcome this whole thing.

That last paragraph was maybe less about confirmation bias, but it really is a deadly thing in the working world — especially because your manager is probably a time-pressed, deliverables-focused mess of humanity. If that’s the case, how do you get his/her attention to say “Hey, the way you think of me isn’t actually the right way?”

Well, it takes a long time. And you need numerous counter-examples so that his/her brain reconditions on the concept of who you are. And even if and when that happens, your manager probably still won’t understand what motivates you, know your strengths, feel they have the time to respect you, or involve themselves in your career development.

It’s a tough world out there — and a lot of it does root right back to confirmation bias.


Ted Bauer


  1. This is a both a fascinating topic and a depressing one. Depressing because of it’s level of truth. I too have had many struggles with job hunting due to the confirmation bias of others. Skills and experience be damned, what matters to most recruiters is saying the correct words and phrases to ensure that they’re hiring the right mindless drone to work for their company.

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