How to minimize the extent unconscious bias impacts your decision-making process

“That’s not what I meant to say.”  Yet, I did.  Was I tripped up by my unconscious biases?

The list of cognitive biases, a subset of our unconscious biases, is long (150+). Biases influence how we behave in the world.

Unconscious bias is a performance killer

“Unconscious bias is a powerful yet quiet performance killer. It literally makes us do things we didn’t mean to do, say things we didn’t mean to say, and sometimes, even offend people without understanding how we offended them.” That’s the opening lines in this terrific 10-minute video, by educator/speaker/author, Dr. Tyrone Holmes, ‘Unconscious Bias the Hiring Process’:

(If video isn’t displaying, watch it here,  on YouTube)

I thought the messages Holmes’ communicated, including the tips for managing one’s biases, clear and succinct. Yes, he focused on only two (of the 150+) biases, though, interesting they were (affinity bias, beauty bias). Yet, his focus brought added clarity to his message.

I believe his underlying messages apply to most any context, beyond HR, given biases are human nature, writ large.

Three ways to better manage your unconscious biases

Here are three techniques / tips that Holmes suggests, to minimize the extent to which unconscious bias impacts your decision-making process:

  1. Know what your biases are. Be honest with yourself. Know what your biases are; i.e., your stereotypes, prejudices…  To help in the discovery process, ask yourself this question, “What are the situations and circumstances in which I’m comfortable, and what are the situations and circumstances in which I’m less comfortable?” With the ‘less comfortable’, interrogate yourself about who are the people involved, what was I doing… Your answers will clue you in (if you aren’t already) to your biases and preferences.
  2. Interact in situations and circumstances in which you are less comfortable. For example, if you are a baby boomer who feels comfortable hanging out with other boomers, but not with millennials, maybe you could take a millennial to lunch, or maybe interact with a millennial whom you don’t typically interact with? Give it a go.
  3. Use self-talk. (staying with the above boomer-millennial example) Say to yourself, before having lunch with millennial, “The first thing I am going to do is spend a few minutes listening to them. I’m not going to use any of my preconceived notions to judge them. I’m going to set aside my assumptions, about what they do. I’m going to genuinely and sincerely make an honest attempt to get to know this person.” In effect, you are using cognitive restructuring to rewire your thinking. Do it enough, and it’ll become a habit, as this metaphor explains.

Myself, I often apply points two and three above, less so point one. Alas, I’m wondering if that’s because I would overwhelm myself in the discovery process?  How about you?

[Ben provides conflict management services for small to medium-sized businesses, nonprofits and local governments. Contact Ben.]

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