None of us like to think that we may be biased, that we hold unconscious and sometimes negative stereotypes. But one simple fact is true for us all: we are biased and it can hold us back.
Yale University confirms that all human beings hold stereotypes about people characteristics and groups. These become part of our neurological make-up and, when we act instinctively, these biases govern the way we behave towards others. Our actions may therefore be affected in a major way, for example avoiding an individual or group, or in a minor way such as simply unconsciously being less “warm” in our dealings with somebody.
At work this can have serious effects. At its most negative it can mean we display behaviours that fall into the realm of illegal discrimination. However even at a minor level it can mean we overvalue some people while undervaluing others; be they our team members, clients, customers or leaders. In short, our decision-making ability becomes damaged; being governed by our unconscious biases rather than by a conscious, rational and objective thought process.
While the subject matter of unconscious biases is a complex and often emotive one, thankfully the solution is straightforward. We first have to develop the self-awareness to accept that as a human being we do hold unconscious biases, and what our own unconscious biases are. We then need to learn the tools that mean we can consciously overcome our unconscious biases and can therefore make bias-free decisions in the future.
Facing up to the existence of unconscious bias, particularly in ourselves, can feel challenging. The bravery of doing so however means we can overcome our unconscious biases and the unhelpful behaviours they drive us to display, and instead replace them with inclusive behaviours that make our decisions sound and our relationships strong. This is one area where ignorance really isn’t bliss, and where it really pays to make our unconscious conscious.
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