Bias number 33 is known as the courtesy bias. This is a cognitive bias that affects the way a person responds to a request for feedback on goods and services.
In short, people will hold back on giving their full opinion of a product, a service or an experience to avoid offending the person or organisation requesting the feedback. Instead, they opt for what they consider to be a polite or more socially acceptable response over sharing their true thoughts and feelings about the offering.
Imagine you are in a restaurant, a fine dining restaurant that gets rave reviews in all the right places. You expect nothing but the best.
And yet, your food arrives lukewarm, you find a hair in the fish course, and the server seems disinterested at best, inattentive at worst. What do you do?
Perhaps someone at another table loudly reveals her thoughts and feelings about the experience, asking to see the manager to lodge a complaint and request a refund. How does this change the gentile atmosphere? What impact does this have on you?
I hold my hand up. I am definitely guilty of this bias. I know there are times when I’ve received shoddy service and I pretended everything was OK.
What was the fear that prevented me from speaking my truth?
For me, it was the fear of appearing too demanding, of occurring as pushy, of being seen to be unkind. Why did I care? Well, I had created an identity that revolved around being seen as easygoing and kind. There couldn’t possibly be another side to me, could there? At least not one that I’d let others see.
More recently, I have found myself holding back in sharing alternatives to the constant pandemic narrative being thrust down our throats. I have even had people tell me that I’m “showing my true colours” on environments like LinkedIn when I shared research pieces that contradict the mainstream narrative.
What aspect of the cage was I rattling with my disclosures?
I was presenting a challenge to the niceties under which supposedly civilised people are expected to live and work. It seems that it’s more admirable these days to agree with the consensus. There’s little room for challenging viewpoints to be expressed.
It’s as if society is being thrown into a communications piping bag and squeezed through the cylinder until each person pops out as a perfectly formed, uniform blob of sweetened mixture ready for the oven. Our societal role determines our particular flavour and consistency of bake.
You’re a doctor? You are a red velvet muffin. You’re an engineer? You are an apple tart. You say you’re a singer? Well, you get to be a meringue, and you can express your individuality by the selection of fruit you choose to go with it. With or without cream? Custard, you say! Steady. You might be veering too far off the acceptability track.
It makes me wonder who is acting as the Paul Hollywood of the public face, sitting in judgement on your choice of bake. Are you making the grade? Will you be selected to participate in the next round?
Consider that judgement by our peers, or the threat of being judged by our peers, is a fear that has the biggest impact on our ability to be freely self-expressed. Some of us would rather die than be judged a certain way by people we don’t even know (or like).
Why? The threat of being exiled from the group means we’d have to walk alone. It awakens the mammalian fears of being banished from the community, which puts our survival at risk. Our identities, whether we know it or not, are completely bound by strategies to manage the threat to our survival.
But in reality, who is judging you? You are. You are your own worst critic. It's true that other people judge you. It's true that you judge other people. We're all guilty of it.
Does any of this make the judgements true or important? Only if you say so.
When you stop, take a deep breath in and out and look at a situation from a bird’s eye, you give yourself the opportunity to challenge your own judgements of yourself and you can assess the judgements of other people from an impartial point of view.
In these moments ask yourself, “Is my life really in danger?” In 99.9 per cent of the cases, the answer will be no.
What is at risk is your own self-image, the identity that you’ve spent years cultivating. Given it is rooted in baseless fear, is it worth saving?
Our thoughts can swing to the opposite pole, in which we believe the way to break through this bias is to become a complainer. But consider that complaining is also rooted in unpleasant emotional energy like blame. Complain enough and you might get what you want, but at what cost?
Are you doomed to swing between insincerity and blame for the rest of your life? How might you transform this bias?
Consider offering feedback, which is neither a lie nor a complaint. Being committed to offering feedback gives you the power to share pieces of information with another person that enables them to make improvements to their product, service or experience.
Feedback, delivered with the intention of helping a person or an organisation improve, acts as a gift. It’s an act of generosity that creates opportunity for growth. And while you have no control over how your gift is received, you have complete control over how it is delivered.
Providing feedback from a standpoint of generosity can mean the difference between mediocrity and brilliance. If you could give another person an opening that enables them to express their brilliance, would you? Feedback is the route. Accepting feedback is just as important as giving it. Putting yourself at risk allows other people to contribute to you in ways you can't see when you do it all on your own.
Want to make it to the Bakeoff finals? You’ve got to integrate Paul and Prue's feedback and come back each week demonstrating you are applying the learning. You’ve got to dare to do something different. You’ll need to bring a revelatory creation to the table.
How does your brilliance taste? Let’s find out. Ready, steady — bake!