Don’t Hide Your Bias

If you work in media sales, the advice you give should benefit your clients. But it will also benefit your employer, and you.

A new study indicates that there’s a good reason to display your bias proudly.

Salespeople should display their bias proudly

Photo by Julien Tromeur/Adobe Stock

In my day job, television station sales departments present me to their clients as an outside advertising consultant. My business card doesn’t have the station call letters — it has the name of my consulting company.

Early in the process, some advertisers ask me how “independent” I am. They want to know if the advice I give is going to be biased in any way.

Yes, I tell them, it will definitely be biased.

I point to the station sales manager and say, “That’s the person who bought my airline ticket to come here. If the plan I recommend doesn’t involve television and digital advertising, I have to go home on Greyhound.”

The line usually gets a laugh, and the clients relax a bit. Everybody now knows the rules of the game.

I’ve always done this out of instinct — my gut feeling has been that disclosing my bias increases the level of trust.

A recent New York Times column indicates that this disclosure has real benefits. In the article Dr. Sunita Sah, a professor at Cornell University, discussed “specialty bias” found in some medical advice.

Perhaps in an attempt to be transparent, some doctors spontaneously disclose their specialty bias. That is, surgeons may inform their patients that as surgeons, they are biased toward recommending surgery.

My latest research, published last month in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, reveals that patients with localized prostate cancer (a condition that has multiple effective treatment options) who heard their surgeon disclose his or her specialty bias were nearly three times more likely to have surgery than those patients who did not hear their surgeon reveal such a bias. Rather than discounting the surgeon’s recommendation, patients reported increased trust in physicians who disclosed their specialty bias.

There are some caveats to this — elsewhere in the article, Sah discusses situations in which disclosure decreases trust, although it may paradoxically increase the chances that the advice will be followed.

The bottom line is this: if you work in sales, you are going to be biased toward the products and services you sell.

Sharing this openly is not only the right thing to do — it will increase your chances of making a sale.


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