Decisions form the primary work of church boards. Making beneficial, wise decisions is job 1. In blog article 133 I discussed the problem that “group think” can create for church boards, hindering the achievement of wise decisions. In this blog I consider another factor which negatively influences church board decisions, namely “confirmation bias.” Essentially this bias emerges as individuals favour their own perspective about an issue and refuse to give serious consideration to alternative positions. So we seek information, interpret information, present information, favour information that supports our own view of the issue. This creates “myside bias.”
When this bias is operating, we use various filters to ignore or reject data that could provide a more balanced perception. Thinking processes become selective, data choices get narrowed, opposing points of view are rejected out of hand. The result is a strong push to adopt the preferred position.
Various motivations drive confirmation bias. Perhaps self-confidence is most prevalent. Insecurity may be another — the inability to cope with perspectives that challenge. Sometimes we just get wrapped up in our pet projects and our ego becomes enmeshed. If people reject the project, this means they are rejecting us and so we fear loss of face and credibility. In other contexts confirmation bias operates because of an underlying power struggle. One can also imagine that individuals who have a sense of privilege will feel that their position on a subject should be accepted just because they support it. Sometimes in church board contexts people will claim that their perspective is what the Holy Spirit wants and so will reject any opposing perspectives.
If you are in the role of board chair, how do you help your board or individuals within the board cope with and work through confirmation bias?
- Work with the board to develop a project proposal template which requires presenters to include various options and not just one. Developing and employing such a tool signals that the board wants diverse viewpoints and recognizes the value of robust, thorough discussion in which all pertinent questions are welcome. Further, the board does not want predigested decisions which it is expected to rubber stamp.
- Insert time for prayer in any discussion of a serious matter so that the Holy Spirit can penetrate through wrong motives and produce a holy disinterestedness in the outcome. The only result desired is what brings glory to God and will advance the mission well.
- If the project proposed is controversial and significant questions cannot be answered, then permit a test-project to be run with strict limitations. Require a report to made after 6 or 8 months defining the results. Include a sunset clause that ends the test unless there is a specific motion by the board to continue. It is easier to risk minor failure.
- Control conflict-of-interest issues transparently, fairly and strictly.
We want people to be passionate about their ideas. However, the responsibility of a church board is to discern what is good for the whole congregation, what will advance the mission most effectively, what will control risk most prudently, and what will build unity.