Admitting when you’re wrong is never easy, whether it is a simple case of a mistake about the facts or an entire perspective shift. However, it is a crucial part of honest communication for the believer and truth-seeker. Here’s the first step in handling the process in a careful and mature way: recognizing when you’re wrong. Stay tuned for parts 2 and 3 later, on the other steps in the process of admitting you were wrong.

Confirmation Bias: The Barrier to Recognizing When You’re Wrong

The first step in any case is actually recognizing that you were wrong about something. Although this may seem simple, in reality this can be an extremely challenging first step.

As fallible humans, we are prone to confirmation bias, which essentially means we tend to see and interpret information as supporting our own beliefs or views. In even simpler terms, confirmation bias means we see what we want to see. This seems to be even more prevalent in today’s world of curated social media feeds where we get to choose most of the input we receive based on who we follow.

What does this mean for recognizing you were wrong? It means that you’re less likely to realize it, because you tend to (even subconsciously) interpret things you read and hear as either being in your favor or being completely baseless and false. Unless you actively work against it, confirmation bias can prevent you from truly considering the evidences and arguments someone from an opposing side presents to you.

How to Combat Confirmation Bias

Although confirmation bias is pesky and can often be subconscious, the cause isn’t hopeless. With a little extra effort, you can combat confirmation bias.

  • When you listen to someone, listen actively. Focus on what they’re saying and ask follow-up questions as necessary, rather than crafting your clever rebuttal as they speak. Try to learn something from every conversation.
  • Make a habit of reading or listening to other viewpoints on a regular basis. Go ahead, follow some people from the other side on social media. Or try reading the news from a couple different sites with a variety of perspectives. Maybe even stop hiding from that coworker or classmate who’s super passionate about a cause you’re uncomfortable with. When you pay a bit more attention to these voices, you will learn more about what these individuals actually believe. You might be surprised to find it’s different than you thought. Stereotype-busting, here you come!
  • When you read information that seems like a slam dunk for your view, ask yourself why this is. Where did the author get their facts from? Did they tell the whole story? What might be the response from someone who wouldn’t be so thrilled with this article? Put on your critical thinking cap with anything you read, not just things from the other side.
  • Do a brief fact-check before you share or reshare. You know many stories circulate like wildfire on social media–Facebook especially. How many clickbait, sensational titles do you see on a given day? Before you share or reshare posts like this, at least do a quick Google search. If something will take too long to research, you’re better off not sharing it at all! Avoid becoming part of the problem.

When You Realize You Were Wrong

What about that moment when you beat confirmation bias, here a good case, and realize you were actually wrong? What does that moment look like?

Sometimes, it’s not a moment at all. You may come to this realization slowly, as you receive and process more information. It may take you hours, days, weeks, or months to come to a conclusion about all you’ve learned. And that’s okay.

But other times, the moment does come quickly and sharply. A humorous real example from my own conversations recently revolved around the process of making crinkle-cut French fries. I was telling one of my younger family members that “they mash up the potatoes and then mold them in the shape of those things, they don’t just cut them like that.” Meanwhile, another adult heard me and laughed. “Now, who told you that?” he said. “They have special blades to make the crinkle cuts. They don’t need to mash all the potatoes up first.” I said, “For all of them, though? They look like tater tots to me…” He searched for a picture and showed me the blade, sure enough. I was embarrassed as the realization that I was wrong hit me suddenly, in view of the rest of the table.

What do you do when you realize you were wrong, whether it was a simple, silly thing like crinkle-cut fries or something major in the political/social realm? Next it’s time to consider the implications and readjust your perspective. Then it will be time to admit you were wrong. We’ll cover the next step in the process next month. In the meantime, feel free to comment, message us, or tag us on social media to let us know how you beat confirmation bias and recognize when you’re wrong!

Homeschool graduate pursuing an Applied Linguistics degree at the University of South Florida in preparation for working in Bible translation or overseas missions. I think deeply and laugh hard. Languages and history fascinate me, and music and words inspire me. My favorite thing is sharing hope and truth with the world and equipping others to do the same.

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