Changing The Critical Five Warning Phrases Found at Work & Home

Source: John Jain

The idea of ‘cognitive bias’ has been big news of late. The idea that we all have preferences that we may not be seeing things as they really are. Often this is painted as seeing things through rose-colored glasses. Many parents worry if they are being fair in the way that they view their children – are they really as brilliant as we think they are, so is that our bias showing!?

A recent report from the online assessment provider Question mark has uncovered five ‘warning phrases’ that highlight cognitive biases that lead to poor decisions in the workplace. But these five phrases are equally applicable to raising children or home life in general.

We tried that before. It didn’t work.

In the workplace, you’ll often find people that are resistant to change, so this is a particularly common phrase to hear. Particularly in government departments or large organizations that are top-heavy.

Yet anyone who has helped a small child learn to ride a bike, assemble lego, or draw a circle knows that something not working doesn’t mean that the concept is flawed. Sometimes it is a bad idea (think pretending to be Superman and jumping off the house roof), but most of the time the idea needs to be approached from a different angle.

If an idea has the potential to make things better, then some time needs to be spent understanding why it didn’t work before.

In a workplace setting, this often requires you to look at things like appropriate training, management support, the time allowed to implement, and suitable resources. A common scenario in the workplace is ideas to achieve diverse hiring.

An often-touted statistic looks at orchestra auditioning practices around the world. The theory being that women are more likely to advance to second round auditions or be hired if the audition was blind – where the musicians play behind a screen and at no time are visible to the auditioners. On face value, it sometimes looks like this makes no difference whatsoever.

However, on closer inspection, the times it makes a significant difference in the number of women hired correlates to when the floor is also carpeted, so there is no difference in the sound of high heels or men’s loafers walking across a stage.

If the only reason to not try an idea is that it didn’t work last time, maybe it was a bad idea, but maybe this is also showing a cognitive bias that needs to be looked at further.

Arrogance Mindset Ego

Source: Rilson S. Avelar 

If it doesn’t come off, we’ll look really stupid.

Fear of looking stupid is a very human reason for avoiding doing something. From trying a new haircut, to changing careers, we take risks, and not all work out the way we wanted. Yet letting fear stop us taking strategic risks is the best way to stagnate – both personally and for companies.

Trying something new should be faced with excitement and a sense of the possible. In a business setting, this also needs to be balanced with a plan B if everything turns to custard, and the same should apply in a personal setting.

You’ve been wanting to die your hair, let the grey grow out, or shave it all off? If your fear of people laughing stops you from doing this, you could look at making gradual changes, having a wig to cover it, or just accepting that it is only a temporary change.

In a business setting trying a new marketing technique or introducing a new direction is often met with fear of poor media reviews, a decrease in profits, or loss of employee confidence. So, time needs to be spent on working our ways to mitigate the risk. Like the hairstyle example, you might need to consider gradual changes, but you can also look at discussing the proposed changes with employees to get feedback and have a clear guideline on how long you will let the changes play out before deciding if they are a success or failure. Remember, all press is good press when it comes to business.

It doesn’t matter what we do – we just need to do something.

On the other side of the coin is the idea that if you don’t change then you will stagnate. However, changing for the sake of changing rather than with a purpose in mind is usually a waste of both time and money.

Sure, if your house is starting to look tired it might be time to repaint, but if it’s looking great then you are not providing any benefit by spending the money to repaint at the moment.

It is the same in business. While Nokia is often used as an example of why you should change with the times and not underestimate threats, this shouldn’t be a reason to live in fear of missing out. Look at Facebook. Every time they make a significant change to their design or algorithm Facebook loses users

While the Facebook-owned Instagram takes a more patient approach to change. Instagram looks at rival companies such as Snapchat and TikTok, then assesses what it is about these platforms that appeal to their users. Only then does Instagram look at introduces a similar concept to their platform.

Change should happen for a clear reason, even if that reason is just “I was bored and needed a change”. Make sure you know what the reason is.

Plans Aspiration


If it worked for them, it’ll work for us.

Are you sensing a theme so far? For every idea, we say “do this”, there is an additional cognitive bias that also needs to be considered. In this case, the idea of “if it worked for them, it’ll work for us” is the professional way of your mother saying, “if everybody jumped off a bridge would you too?!”

Being aware of current trends and new developments is essential for any business. Yet if you are established before launching on the next big thing you need to consider if you are going to be ‘an early adopter’ or come out on the wrong side of the Betamax v VHS fight of the 80s.

Before adopting a strategy that has worked for someone else, decide why it has worked for them. In your personal life, you may look at a social media influencer and wonder why when you try the same style it doesn’t work. Or just take a look through the Pinterest Fails pins to see numerous examples that didn’t quite hit the mark.

Sometimes what you’re not seeing is the hours of research that has gone into a concept. That particular design only works because it is an exact shade of green, or that apps work because of hundreds of hours in user testing to get the ‘submit’ button positioned perfectly.

While looking at what others are doing and how they’re doing it is a perfect way to ensure that you, and your business, is prepared for the future, it doesn’t mean that you need to copy their example immediately.

Nature Bulb

Source: Iván Tamás

If it’s good enough for the boss, it’s good enough for me

The criticism the Questionmark report raises for this phrase is that it prevents innovative thinking. There are different ways of interpreting the cognitive bias at work, none are ultimately positive. Maybe employees see the hours the boss does (or doesn’t) work and think that this is the example they should follow. However, this almost always neglects to take in other factors of a manager’s contract, lifestyle, and work process.

Our cognitive bias tends to lead us to focus on only one aspect. For example, if your boss is always in the office and ready to start by 7 am, you might think this is the way to get ahead in the company. However, you probably don’t notice that they take a four-hour “lunch break” where they attend professional development training. Or maybe you do notice that they take a four-hour lunch break, but don’t realize that their contract has a training clause included.

In a progressive business that is going to survive the future managers need to embrace innovation and create an environment where employees want to share their ideas.

In your personal life, this can look like cultivating friendships that share ideas and insights – without necessarily expecting others to follow the suggestions.

Understand Your Cognitive Bias

While these are the five key warning phrases you should be on the lookout – they’re certainly not the only cogitative Biases that you will encounter. Being able to look hard at how you view the world and how you can shape your thinking ultimately leads to a more positive outlook.

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