What Is the Anchoring Effect & Is It Derailing Your Meetings?

Have you ever been in a meeting where the presenter dropped a bomb of information in their opening, then that was all you could focus on for the rest of the presentation? This is known as the anchoring effect. 

While it can serve a useful purpose in some settings (think debates!), it can also derail productivity and engagement if it’s not used carefully. 

What is the anchoring effect? 

The anchoring effect is a type of cognitive bias that can have a big impact on how your information is interpreted.

Recently, we talked about the framing effect, another cognitive bias that you can use to your advantage with a little planning. If you missed that post, you’ll find it here.

When it comes to the anchoring effect, the “anchor” is the first piece of information that’s offered. As humans, we’re often quick to take this first piece of information and put all of our focus into it. 

Once the anchor is set, we have the tendency to base any following decisions around it. 

Before we talk about taking the anchoring effect into account before meetings and presentations, let’s look at some common examples of it.

The anchoring effect in action

Think of the last time you negotiated something. 

In this case, let’s say it’s a house. 

The listing price is $500,000. This first number that’s presented to you will be the basis for future negotiations. Yes, you guessed it…the anchor! With this number in mind, you’ll base your offer around it.

If it’s listed for $500,000, your starting offer might be $470,000 because that seems reasonable and makes sense based on the listing price.

Now, if that listing price was $450,000, that number would be your anchor instead.

Do you see how that works? 

But the anchoring bias isn’t only in effect when it comes to money.

Perhaps your first child started walking at 12 months. When your second child still isn’t walking by 13 months, you panic because your first experience – your anchor – for this information tells you they should be walking by 12 months. 

The anchoring effect in meetings

There are times when this effect can be used to your advantage.

Let’s say you have some not-so-positive news to share with your team. Starting off on a positive note helps them focus more on that rather than the news you’re about to share. 

Think of it like a buffer!

That’s not to say this bias should be used to trick your participants – the same information still needs to be shared. But if delivered thoughtfully, perhaps in collaboration with the framing effect, the blow could be a bit softer. 

At the same time, you don’t want to risk derailing your entire presentation based on a singular topic. There are a few ways to combat this including moderation and anonymity, and the help of the right technology makes a big difference. 

Moderating content

One way the anchoring bias is seen in meetings is through the questions or comments your participants share. 

When they’re displayed to the rest of the team, they’ll naturally notice trends and popular topics. This can be great, which is why upvoting is a useful tool. But it can also sway their opinion or focus. 

To help control this, you’ve got a few options.

First, you can choose to moderate the questions before they’re shared. 

If someone asks or shares something you know will anchor the rest of the presentation, you can choose the right time to display it or if you share it at all. (Of course, it’s incredibly important to moderate fairly and transparently. Here’s how!)

Anonymity features

In any group, there tends to be leaders or those whose opinion others look to when they form their own. 

Sometimes, their opinions end up functioning as an anchor. During meetings, if they ask a particular question or make a comment, the rest of the participants might latch onto it and focus on it. 

If that’s not what you’re after, you’ve got a powerful tool at your disposal: anonymity!

Have your participants share their questions or comments electronically, but with the ability to hide their identity. If you turn on the anonymity feature, certain audience content is less likely to anchor the rest of the presentation for other audience members. 

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