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Confidence is not Bias

Over the years – even recently – I’ve sparred with colleagues and critics who’ve made a cottage industry of convincing anyone who will listen that no one should have confidence – in anything or anyone.

They will never say this outright, of course, but that would be the only logical conclusion to their core argument, which is that no human being is justified in having confidence because all human beings are biased.

This is to say that, as biased creatures, everything we do, everything we decide, and everything we say is vulnerable to error or misjudgment. Human beings, therefore, cannot be trusted, only doubted.

Bias, of course, is real and can be quite damaging, but the campaign to advance doubt in ourselves and each other sets up a rather convenient set of circumstances for those confidence-busters out there who are quick to position themselves as the willing arbiters of who or what can or cannot be trusted.

You will never hear them admit to this or acknowledge their own biases and how those biases taint their view of humanity and its potential. But they don’t need to. We already know.

The underlying motive to control others is unmistakeable among many who perpetually ring the bias bell. Controlling others creates feelings of relevance and self-actualization, exactly as the great positive psychologist Abraham Maslow predicted.

It also assuages some of the fears that many seem to have these days for confident, decisive people. Confidence is painful to observe when you don’t have any yourself. Worse, if you are a control freak, confident people are nothing short of frustrating because they are difficult to control, at least until the time comes that their confidence is lost or manipulated away from them.

One way to manipulate confidence away from people is to convince them, and those watching, that to be confident and to be biased are the same.

Both confident and controlling people, of course, exist in all walks of life and occupations. And it seems that in recent years, the bias industry has grown by leaps and bounds. Here is a list of 20 occupations for which bias has been identified as a threat:

  • Healthcare Professionals: Healthcare professionals, including doctors, nurses, and therapists, may show bias in diagnosing and treating patients based on the patient’s race, gender, age, or socioeconomic status.
  • Teachers and Educators: Teachers may have conscious or unconscious biases regarding students’ abilities based on their racial or ethnic background, socioeconomic status, or gender.
  • Law Enforcement Officers: Officers may show bias in their treatment of individuals based on race, religion, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, or perceived threat level.
  • Lawyers and Legal Professionals: Bias can influence the way they handle cases, select juries, and perceive the guilt or innocence of their clients.
  • Journalists and Media Professionals: They can show bias in the way they report news, select stories, and frame narratives in alignment with a personal ideology.
  • Human Resources Professionals: HR can be impacted by bias in hiring, promoting, and firing decisions that aren’t based on legitimate reasons or sound evidence.
  • Social Workers: They may show bias in case assignments, child removal decisions, and support provided to families.
  • Psychologists and Counselors: Therapeutic outcomes may be influenced by biases regarding a patient’s mental health status, race, gender, or other characteristics.
  • Researchers and Scientists: Bias in research can lead to skewed results, biased interpretations, and lack of representation in study samples.
  • Judges and Judicial Officers: Judges may show bias in sentencing, granting bail, and interpreting the law based on the defendant’s background.
  • Politicians and Policymakers: They may show bias in policy development, legislative decision-making, and resource allocation.
  • Real Estate Agents: Agents might show bias in showing homes, negotiating prices, and deciding which neighborhoods to recommend based on a client’s race or socioeconomic status.
  • Bankers and Financial Advisors: These professionals may show bias in loan approvals, interest rates, and financial advice.
  • Data Scientists and AI Developers: Bias can lead to discriminatory practices in algorithm development and data modeling.
  • Actors and Casting Directors: Bias in casting can lead to lack of diversity in film, TV, and theater roles.
  • Recruiters and Headhunters: Bias can influence decisions about which candidates are considered for job opportunities.
  • Advertisers and Marketers: Bias can affect the portrayal and targeting of different consumer groups.
  • Software Developers and IT Professionals: They can show bias in the design and development of technology products and platforms.
  • Consultants and Business Strategists: Bias can impact their advice, solutions, and strategies.
  • Architects and Urban Planners: These professionals may show bias in their design decisions, planning, and development of urban spaces.

The list could be longer, but the point is made. Bias is part of the human condition. But what are we to make of that? Are we not justified in having confidence in ourselves and each other? That seems like a very bad idea since, without confidence, consequential decisions can’t be made, expertise can’t be shared, sensitive and challenging work can’t be performed, compelling arguments can’t be formulated, and strategic plans can’t be finalized.

Confidence, it can be argued, is the bedrock of all meaningful endeavors.

Confidence is a necessary ingredient of both leadership and expertise. Leadership and expertise are the necessary ingredients of progress.

As a way to deal with the bias problem, there is a tendency to place limitations on individuals or confine them so the effects of their bias are minimized. Perhaps this means depriving a professional of biasing information.

Should a doctor not be told that her sick patient who complains of stomach cramps is an alcoholic, since that might bias the doctor to ignore other potential causes or allow her diagnosis to be stained with contempt for her patient?

In fact, the opposite is likely true. The doctor should make a habit of gathering as many facts as possible about all of her patients and then build and exercise her capacity for sound, thoughtful, and compassionate decision-making about treatment options. Through continuous exposure to biasing information, the negative effects of bias can mitigated.

Giving her less to think about doesn’t help her patients, and might just kill them.

No reasonable person denies that bias exists and that bias can have devastating consequences. Being aware of bias and understanding how it works can help professionals in a variety of occupations be more reliable. So there’s value in discussing bias and its implications.

But the discussion becomes toxic when it unnecessarily and unjustifiably erodes the confidence of qualified, thoughtful professionals who’ve earned the right to be confident and whose stakeholders are counting on them to be confident.

The top mitigators of bias are experience and intelligence. If we focus on building both, the threat of bias will dissolve in a bath of heightened self-awareness.

Confidence is not bias; and confidence should not be unfairly interpreted as an indicator of an intellectually lazy or prejudiced mind. That would be a really biased thing to do, after all.

Confidence is that magical stuff that allows us to maintain our energy and commitment to the task at hand, even when faced with adversity.

Being responsible with one’s confidence, of course, is the hallmark of trustworthiness. By focusing on our capacity to meet the responsibilities with which we’ve been entrusted, we can be confident that our biases will be far less likely to cause harm.

Given the choice between focusing our attention on biases or our capacity to meet our individual and collective responsibilities, I strongly recommend the latter.

John M. Collins is an Authoritative Leadership and Expertise Coach at Critical Victories in Southfield, Michigan. He specializes in supporting clients in authoritative, high-stakes occupations requiring high levels of expertise to earn and retain the trust of the public or other consequential stakeholders. John shares some of his unique philosophies and insights on high-stakes leadership in his 2022 book, THE NEW SUPERIOR – A BETTER WAY TO BE THE ONE IN CHARGE (, available in hardcover and audio. 

John works with people, teams, and organizations across the United States and oversees. If you are serious about expanding your leadership effectiveness, click below to request a free client strategy call:

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