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  • Writer's pictureDr. Vera Alves

How our Expectations can affect our Decisions at work


Life’s not always black and white. Our assumptions, biases (positive or negative), and judgments make us form unique expectations, which can significantly impact our decision-making abilities in any business setting. Behavioral psychologists around the globe suggest that we confront these biases and expectations to keep them from affecting clear thinking. But how well do you keep a close tab on your expectations? In this article, we reflect on how expectations can impact the direction of our work decisions and how we can better manage their impact. Let’s get started!


The potential dangers of automatic judgments

What are automatic judgments? These are decisions we make automatically by pulling information stored in memory.[1] Research indicates that our brains receive 11 million pieces of information at any given moment, but we can only consciously process about 40 of those pieces.[2] So, our brains take mental shortcuts by virtue of our unconscious, and we often make snap judgments, referred to as heuristics. Indeed, such automatic judgments help us make decisions in our day-to-day situations, like avoiding a collision while riding a bike. These are critical to survival. But these snap judgments can also be influenced by our positive or negative biases and may result in poor decision-making.


What about our intuition? We often refer to the feeling of knowing what we have to do as intuition. It is frequently described as an “inner conviction, gut feeling, or hunch that something is the way it is without (yet) knowing exactly why.”[3] Intuitions are the outcome of our unconscious thoughts.[3] They are “the summary judgments the unconscious provides when it is ready to decide.”[4] And our unconscious mind is influenced but our implicit biases. Implicit biases often come into play when we are stressed, fatigued, under pressure, or multitasking.[1] In such situations, our brain pulls information more from our unconscious mind and less from careful reasoning and data since we need quick decision-making.[1] While the process becomes simpler and faster, the decisions may derive from inaccurate assumptions, faulty judgments, or biases and stereotypes.


Do you trust your intuition?

How often have you made business decisions based on your intuition? Relying too heavily on our automatic judgments can be dangerous as you may overlook fundamental information for decision-making and fail to explore risks and uncertainties.[1] “Expectations have a momentum of their own because they lead us to act on assumptions that may or may not be true.”[5] For example, when you consider your opinion, belief, or perspective correct, you risk being subject to confirmation bias. This happens when we unconsciously look for or interpret information consistent with our beliefs. This biased approach to decision-making is largely unintentional, but it can derail our search for relevant, accurate input that might be contrary to our current beliefs. This means that people are likely to process information to support their beliefs, particularly when the issue is highly important or self-relevant, or when their self-esteem might be threatened. And it happens without us even noticing it, unconsciously!


What can we do to manage our expectations better?

Here are two suggestions on how you can better manage your expectations.

  • Acknowledge your biases: We all have biases (positive or negative). It’s part of our human nature. We need to pay more attention to how we react to situations, e.g., if we look for arguments that will confirm our plans or hypotheses instead of searching for all the available information, including a diversity of opinions and inputs. The more we develop our awareness of possible biases, the more we will be able to broaden our thinking and make better choices1, thus improving our ability to manage our expectations and how they affect decision-making at work.

  • Be curious and think about options: Approach interactions, discussions, decision-making, and conflict with curiosity and transparency. Ask questions, work on different scenarios, and question suggested decisions. Consider your options and seek to identify alternatives. Avoid framing decisions as yes-or-no questions because they narrow down your options.[1] Instead, work on generalizing alternatives, analyzing the pros and cons of several options[1] and the underlying assumptions and judgments that are the basis of your decision-making process.[3] Ask yourself (and your team): “What if the opposite of what I think is true?[6]

Even the great William Shakespeare must have realized the impact of expectations when he wrote, “expectations are the root of all heartache.” So, what should you do? We suggest you continue working on your self-awareness and keep your expectations and related work habits in check to counter the biases, assumptions, and judgment.


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Research indicates that 80% to 90% of the mind works unconsciously, which means that the brains of even the most unbiased people still exhibit this primal tendency. Leader Essentials Group can partner with your organization to implement our comprehensive Implicit Biases Masterclass training to help you and your team reduce the impact of biases (positive or negative) in your business decision-making and employment selection process. Send us an email at info@LeaderEssentialsGroup.com or direct message us on LinkedIn to schedule a 15-minute telephone or virtual consultation.


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Vera Alves is the Chief Consulting Officer at Leader Essentials Group, with extensive experience in leadership development and business management. With over 12 years of experience as a C-suite executive, Vera is highly skilled in leadership, strategic planning, operations management, organizational behavior, and change management. She possesses highly developed communication, training, and linguistic skills reflective of a very strong and charismatic leadership style.

_________________________________________________________________________ [1] Soll, J. B., Milkman, K, & Payne, J. W. (2015). Outsmart your own biases. Harvard Business Review, 93(5), 64-71 Retrieved from 41-2015_HBR.pdf (squarespace.com), 12/25/2022. [2] Rockson, T. (2017). How to address bias in the workplace. Retrieved from How To Address Bias In The Workplace (forbes.com), 12/25-2022. [3] Strick, M., & Dijksterhuis, A. (2011). Intuition and unconscious thought. In Handbook of Intuition Research. Edward Elgar Publishing. [4] Dijksterhuis, A., & Nordgren, L. F. (2006). A theory of unconscious thought. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 1(2), 95-109. [5] Einhorn, C. S. (2022). Make better decisions by challenging your expectations. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from Make Better Decisions by Challenging Your Expectations (hbr.org), 12/25/2022. [6] Barnett, J. (2018). The role of leadership in addressing bias in the workplace. Forbes. Retrieved from The Role Of Leadership In Addressing Bias In The Workplace (forbes.com), 12/25-2022.

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