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Three Cognitive Biases That Cost You Money, Stress, and Happiness

Three Cognitive Biases That Cost You Money, Stress, and Happiness
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Lets start with a simple question: how many of each animal did Moses take into the ark? If you pounced with the answer “2,” you have fallen into the same trap as most people. (The answer is zero—figure the rest out yourself.) Cognitive biases tell us we know when we don’t, create absurdly optimistic estimates of what we can achieve, and keep us stuck in bad relationships and bad jobs.

Here are three biases and some strategies for getting out of the trap they set.

1. The Sunk Cost Fallacy

Imagine you have a ticket to the movies for which you forked out 10 bucks, but you are attending with a friend who got hers for free.  The weather turns sour and they are re-running Dukes of Hazard.  Which one of you is more likely to cancel?  If you say “my friend, duh,” you are trapped by the sunk cost fallacy.

Your ten bucks is gone (assuming you can’t plead a refund).  Since you are out ten bucks whether you go or not, it should not affect your choice.  What matters is the cost-benefit of braving the weather, and whether your movie features more interesting characters than Boss Hogg. (Unlikely. Still.)

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The sunk cost fallacy traps people in bad relationships, bad investments, and traps countries in destructive, no-win wars.  (“We can’t withdraw because we have spent billions and people have given their lives.”)  What matters is the future—whether you can turn the relationship around, or whether the next billion dollars and young lives will be squandered in vain.

The sunk-cost fallacy is an example of a cognitive bias—a habitual, predictable, way of thinking that leads to error.  Wiki lists over 100; it seems the amazing human brain has many hard-wired flaws.

Some of these flaws may have conferred an evolutionary advantage.  Who knows what the exact conditions were five thousand years ago, but the hard-wiring of our brains may not have changed quickly enough to keep up with the white-heat of cultural and technological evolution that has happened in the last 5000 years (a blink of an eye in genetic evolution).

Conquering the sunk-cost fallacy is very tough.  Who has not poured time and money into something and wished they hadn’t, only to pour more in on the next occasion?  We like to self-justify (to believe that we made good decisions in the past); who likes to say “I was a fool then”?  Then, we look for confirming evidence things are going our way.  “He stopped drinking for a week, and had a job last year.”

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One technique is to create an imaginary scenario.  Imagine you parachuted into the (house, relationship, investment) for free, with nothing invested.  What would you do then?  If the answer is “run for the hills,” then you have your answer.

2. The Planning Fallacy

A second bias which causes enormous stress is the “planning fallacy.”  Humans suck at estimating how long things will take. Partly, we like to believe we are super-human, but mostly we are deluded about how complex things get.  As a writer, I’m constantly amazed that the last 5% of a project takes 30% of the time.  The average overrun on big technology projects is 27%, and many really big ones overrun by one hundred percent or more!  A group of students were asked to estimate how long a term paper would take, their “best case” guess was 29 days, and the “worse case” (excrement hits the fan) was 48 days.  They took an average of 55 days!

tough decisions

    How much stress and misery, I wonder, comes from people in offices saying “I can do it by Friday,” only to find that a couple of more Fridays are required?  We like to people-please, and to look confident and competent, but we are incompetent at estimating how long things take!

    3. Optimism Bias

    Our final bias rears its head in conflict situations, where everyone is sure of their “facts” and confident in their predictions about how different actions will pan out.  This family of biases means we take a rosy view of our knowledge, and a dim view of other’s.  Nobody is as right as they think they are.

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    Professor Philip Tetlock has studied expert predictions over a lifetime.  He found that experts (real experts, not talk radio experts) who were 100% sure of an outcome were wrong 25% of the time.  Further, when they thought an outcome had “no chance,” it happened 15% of the time.  What percentage of people are above average listeners?  96%!

    This “confidence without competence” is one cause of conflict running out of control.  People who are dogmatically sure of themselves beget adversaries who become similarly dogmatic. The next time you are in a conflict situation, make a table with two columns; write the facts (as you see them) in one column, and your opinions and conclusions in the other column. Ask your adversary to do the same (nicely!).  Check off the facts on which you agree, and where you disagree. Do some homework together.

    The difficult part of resolving conflict lies in the area of opinions, interpretations, values and predictions, so you are only part of the way there.  But going through the process of developing a shared set of facts will diminish the polarization, and allow you to get down to business.

    Learning about our biases can help.

    The sunk-cost fallacy keeps us stuck in a miserable past, throwing good time and money away after bad decisions. The planning fallacy creates tremendous stress as we struggle to meet unrealistic deadlines. Optimism biases make us feel sure of ourselves when we have no right to be, which leads us to prolong and exacerbate conflict.

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    We didn’t learn these things in school because they were not well understood, were not part of any college curricula (unless behavioral economics gives you jollies), and certainly far from mainstream understandings of how humans work.

    Learning about our biases puts us back in the game.  Like sharpshooters who correct for wind velocity and direction, knowing our thinking is skewed in a particular direction means we can auto-correct, make better decisions, and get more of what we want in life.

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    Published on July 27, 2021

    15 Smart Video Conferencing Etiquette Tips to Follow

    15 Smart Video Conferencing Etiquette Tips to Follow
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    During the pandemic, video conferencing replaced in-person meetings and has now become the standard option for business meetings. Over the past 17 months, most workers have gotten past the video conferencing learning curve with Zoom or Microsoft Teams (or their platform of choice).

    But just as with in-person meetings, attention can wax and wane. Some say we’re just not used to staring at ourselves so much on the screen. Instead of fixating on that, try employing smart video conferencing etiquette, or you may risk indiscretions that will flag you as a slacker.

    Put the Pro in Professional

    After more than a year of fine-tuning, here are the new rules of video conferencing etiquette.

    1. Mute Your Mobile and Other Devices

    The first video conference etiquette you need to know is muting your other devices. Just as in the pre-COVID days, someone’s obnoxious ring tone blaring Taylor Swift’s newest single in the middle of a meeting is also an annoyance if it happens during a Zoom meeting and so is the inevitable fumbling to turn off the sound. Even the apologies to the group get tiresome.

    Also, when notifications are activated on the computer that you’re using for the meeting, the incoming message takes over the audio and you’ll miss out on snippets of the conversation. Be sure to eliminate this possible faux pas.

    2. Dress the Part

    While working from home, you may have fallen into the habit of slipping on your comfiest T-shirt each day. Hey, no judgments! But before you log on to your video conference, try to make an effort with your appearance.

    Depending on your company culture and the importance of your meeting, consider dressing the part of the professional whom you wish to project. It will help you feel more self-assured, and others will likely take you more seriously.

    For women, wear light make-up, put on earrings, and make sure your blouse is crisply pressed. For men, show up freshly shaved. Wearing a crisp collared shirt in a solid color will usually suffice.

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    Pro Tip: Stay away from wearing white or black, unless those colors look great on you. Consider wearing light blue or brown instead.

    3. Stage Your Workspace

    Have you noticed the backdrops of experts interviewed on news shows? Bookshelves and photographs are carefully curated, and no busy-patterned furniture or artwork is in sight.

    Take note of what appears behind you when you choose the location of your video conferences. Piles of junk mail on the table or stacks of folded laundry on the couch will convey more about your personal life than you care to share. Make sure you remove clutter from the camera’s eye, and present a tidy, orderly workspace to your colleagues, coworkers, and bosses.

    4. Put Some Thought Into Lighting and Perspective

    Be aware that in a video conference, your computer camera can actually make you look up to ten pounds heavier depending on where you sit. But you can easily drop those added pounds by moving back from the screen to diminish the wide-angle distortion.

    Frame your head on the screen by tilting the screen up or down. Also, it’s best to not place yourself in front of a window or bright light, which makes you appear in shadow. Instead, face the light source, moving it (or yourself) until you have a flattering amount of illumination. You can also purchase some small spotlights that allow you to add light as needed.

    Pro Tip: If your lights add too much redness to your skin, consider counter-balancing with a green filter.

    Remember That Half of Life Is Showing Up

    5. Arrive on Time

    In the old days of in-person meetings, it was nearly impossible to slip in late into a meeting unnoticed. In today’s video conferences, logging in late still shows poor form. Instead, strive to arrive five minutes early and get yourself settled.

    Once the meeting is underway, the host may be less attentive about late arrivals waiting to be let in. Diverting the host’s attention away from the meeting with a tardy entry request is the ultimate giveaway that you didn’t honor the schedule. If you don’t want a black mark against you, log in on time.

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    6. Turn on Your Video

    Few people like to see their face on the screen, but buck up and turn on your camera in video conferences. In most cases, it’s better to be a face on a screen than a name in a blank square. Your statements will be more memorable when other meeting attendees can see you.

    If you need to turn off the video, either because of a poor connection, some commotion in the room, or a need for a quick break, give a short explanation via the chat feature. Then, go back on video as soon as you’re able.

    Pro Tip: Keep your explanation for your departure pithy. “Sorry! Doorbell rang. Back in five” says it all. Be sure to honor what you say in chat and really do return in five minutes.

    7. Plan Ahead Before Sharing Your Screen

    Don’t be one of those people who makes everyone else wait as you click through folders in search of a document. That’s just poor video conferencing etiquette. If you know you’ll need to share a document or video on your screen, prepare by pulling it out of its folder and onto your desktop. Also, clean up the files and folders on your desktop to reduce clutter and facilitate easy access. Close other programs like chat, calendar notifications, and email. Disable pop-up notifications to ensure there’ll be no unforeseen distractions.

    Be sure to remind the host before the meeting that you’ll need them to activate the screen-sharing function. Show courtesy once you’re finished by hitting “stop share” to return to the screen with participants.

    Attend to the Pesky Details

    8. Make Sure That Meetings Remain Right-Sized

    With the easy accessibility of video conferencing, it can be tempting to extend the meeting invitation beyond the core group and include everyone peripherally involved in a project. But just as with in-person meetings, the more people involved, the more unwieldy the meeting becomes.

    Use good judgment when asking others to sit through a video conference so that you don’t needlessly take up others’ time and so that participants can be fully engaged.

    9. Remember to “Unmute” Before You Speak

    Most of us are likely able to count on one hand the number of video conferences when someone didn’t have to be reminded, “You’re on mute!” Forgetting to unmute before speaking has become one of the most common missteps in video conferencing.[1]

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    Show everyone your impeccable video-conferencing poise by managing your mute feature with flawless control.

    10. Stay on Point to Keep the Meeting Length in Check

    As with in-person meetings, an agenda with assigned time limits for discussions remains necessary to keep a meeting focused. Data shows, however, that video conferencing can actually reduce meeting time.[2] Reasons include the elimination of commuting time and the ability to screen share and annotate to keep everyone on task.

    Additionally, side conversations are virtually impossible with video conferencing now that you can no longer have back-and-forth exchanges with the person beside you.

    Pro Tip: If you’re running the meeting, let attendees know in advance the protocol for the chat feature. Is it okay for them to “chat among themselves” or not? (See point 11, as well.)

    Talking Has a Time and a Place

    11. Chat Appropriately

    Just like side conversations or texting in an in-person meeting, the use of the chat feature during a video conference can be disrespectful unless it’s directed to all participants. Hence, it’s good video conferencing etiquette to mind your use of the chat.

    At the start of the meeting, you may want to ask the host if it’s alright for participants to use the chat feature. This allows them to disable it if they choose. Used appropriately, it can be a helpful tool to clarify or amplify an earlier point once the conversation has moved on or to let the group know that you need to sign off early (and why).

    12. Use the “Raise Hand” Feature to Avoid Interruptions

    The slight lag in many video conferences can result in speaking over another person if you attempt to jump into a conversation. To avoid this awkward interruption, indicate when you have something to add to the discussion with the raise-your-hand feature that signals the host you would like to speak. This effective meeting management device makes video conferencing run more smoothly, especially with a large group, but it must be activated and monitored by the host.

    Pro Tip: For meetings of six to ten people, sometimes the old-fashioned raising of your physical hand may be the best option. But it’s up to the meeting host. Ask them what they would prefer, and follow that.

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    13. Don’t Record the Session or Take Photos Without Prior Permission

    In this case, not sharing is caring. The “sharing culture” made popular through social media has little place in video conferencing. Before recording a meeting or capturing a screenshot of the participants, always ask for consent in advance from the full roster of attendees. Knowing that a video conference will be photographed or recorded could have a bearing on what others are willing to discuss.

    Manage Yourself

    14. Minimize Distractions

    While de-activating audio and video features can keep distractions from affecting the other participants, you will need to manage noise and disruptions on your end to give your full attention to the meeting.

    Move out of high-traffic zones in your home, keep your door closed, and ask family members to be considerate.

    15. Save Snacking for Later

    Save snacking for later—or earlier. Eating while on video conference is a no-no. Munching in front of the group while close to the camera—as you are when video conferencing—subjects the participants to an up-close and (too) personal view of your food consumption process.

    However, it’s perfectly fine to sip quietly from a glass of water or cup of coffee or tea. If the meeting threatens to last for more than two hours, you may want to ask the host in advance to schedule a five-minute break at the halfway point.

    Final Thoughts

    Even though bosses are now beginning to ask workers to spend some of their workdays on-site, up to 80 percent will permit employees to work remotely at least part of the time, which means more video conferencing in your future.[3] Mastering these video conferencing etiquette tips will help you dial in—as well as dial back—your participation and demonstrate your unwavering level of engagement to the team.

    Featured photo credit: Chris Montgomery via unsplash.com

    Reference

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