Unconscious bias refers to attitudes or stereotypes that affect our views, our actions, and our decision-making in an unconscious way. These biases, which encompass both favorable and unfavorable opinions, reside deep in our subconscious and are activated without our awareness or intentional control.
Having unconscious biases doesn’t make us good or bad. It makes us human. And getting defensive or feeling guilty about having unconscious biases doesn’t help. Being honest about your deeply held attitudes and beliefs does. Once you are more aware of your unconscious biases, try practicing these strategies to minimize their influence.
- Slow down. Research shows that we are more prone to the influence of our biases when we are tried, rushed or stressed. Slowing down can help us switch off our automatic brain reactions and improve our ability to channel more thoughtful responses. Be sure to get a good night’s rest before making major decisions, especially those related to talent development or performance. When you notice a “bias-trigger”, try these simple techniques to counteract snap judgement before responding: take three deep breaths, take a sip of water, count back from 10, recite the ABC’s to yourself, think of a happy time or loved one.
Embrace a both/and mindset. Too often we are conditioned to think there is one right way (our way). The truth is, no one has a monopoly the truth and accepting that can help take the edge off the resistance you likely feel when your beliefs are challenged. Remind yourself to seek to understand, not to agree. And keep in mind that the best decisions are not binary. Think both/and to avoid getting stuck with overly simplistic either/or, good/bad, right/wrong, yes/no outcomes.
- Listen without judgement. Focus on what someone is saying versus who is saying it to allow yourself to be more receptive. Try reflecting on what you are hearing as if a trusted family member or friend were saying it. Doing so may help you receive information with more empathy and understanding.
- Make it personal. Make it a habit to evaluate people based on their individual characteristics rather than those affiliated with their group. And be proactive about recognizing each individual’s uniques capabilities, reflecting on how what makes them different can be an asset to the team.
- Think positive. If you are aware that you harbor assumptions or stereotypes about certain groups, conjure up positive examples of that stereotyped group, such as celebrities or personal friends, before interacting.
- Evaluate your actions and seek feedback. Here are some questions to reflect on to become more self-aware of your blind spots:
- When I say someone is not the right fit, what do I mean?
- Do I have the same go-to people all or most of the time?
- Who do I seek advice from or listen to more in meetings?
- Do I know who might consistently feel like an outsider?
While we will never rid ourselves of all unconscious biases, use these tips to jump start the effort that is rooted in the lifelong process of critical self-reflection.