After reviewing resumes and conducting initial phone interviews, you are now conducting in-person evaluations to hire for a management position in your organization. On paper, each candidate has remarkable experience and talent, however, during the interview one of the candidates reveals they grew up in the same city and frequented the same favorite restaurant as you. While another candidate interviewed better, suddenly, this candidate stands out in your mind as superior. This is an example of unconscious bias.
The fact is, we all have unconscious biases. However, it is important to note that most unconscious biases do not come from a place of bad intent. Rather, they are patterns formed in our brains through years of various influences that we often have no control over. From birth, our brains begin absorbing copious amounts information and processing it in a specific way based on our culture, up-bringing, life experiences, etc. It then categorizes this information into familiar patterns. Although we do not consciously do it, we make judgements and decisions about people based on these patterns which can include gender, ethnicity, disability, body size, appearance, profession, and more.
Our biases affect us and our decision-making processes in several ways:
- Our perception. How we see people and perceive reality.
- Our attitudes. How we react towards certain people.
- Our behaviors. How receptive or friendly we are (or are not) toward certain people.
- Our attention. Which aspects of a person we pay most attention to.
- Our listening skills. How much we actively listen to what certain people say.
- Our micro-affirmations. How much or how little we comfort certain people in certain situations.
The great news is that we have the power to make an impact. Anytime we become aware of an unconscious bias, we can consciously decide what we want to believe going forward. The first step is understanding and identifying types of bias we encounter daily:
- Beauty bias. Favorable treatment of individuals based on physical appearance or attractiveness. Research has reveals this around a variety of physical attributes. For example, while 60% of CEOs in the US are over six feet tall, only 15% of the total population is over six feet tall. And while 36% of US CEOs are over 6.2 feet, only 4% of the US population is over 6.2 feet tall. This data suggests some bias exists when it comes to height and perceived effectiveness as a leader.
- Affinity bias. An unconscious tendency to favor people who are like us or have common experiences. When we share a common experience or similarity—attending the same college or growing up in the same town— we may feel warmer toward that person than we do a team member who doesn’t share the common experience.
- Halo effect. When we attribute one great trait about a person to all other traits about a person. For instance, because a person is an exemplary physician or an honored professor, or perhaps they attended an Ivy League university, we may overlook or make excuses for the individual’s mistakes, errors, or actions.
- Horns effect. When we base our opinion of a person solely on one negative trait. For instance, a new employee makes a mistake as they learn a new system and, instead of affording them a second chance, we make assumptions about their overall potential.
- Confirmation bias. The tendency to search for, interpret, favor, or recall information in a way that backs up our own beliefs, values, or opinions. We do this because we want to believe we are right and that we’ve made the right assessment of a person.
Source: Adapted from Social Talent.com website: https://www.socialtalent.com/blog/recruitment/9-types-of-bias
So, now that we know some of the types of unconscious bias that creep into our everyday lives, how can we begin to overcome them?
- Shift unconscious to conscious. Learn to identify how these biases affect your words and behavior, make an informed choice about how you want to show up in the world, and work to change the patterns you wish to eliminate.
- Expand your perspectives. In our blog about mental models, we discussed expanding perspectives. Some of these tips are also useful tips for in overcoming unconscious bias. Listen and learn from people with vastly different backgrounds, cultures, and life experiences, and read books and articles from a variety of sources.
- Slow down your thinking and judgment process. Identify blind spots and take time to seek out differing points of view. Think about the full context of the situation and base your decisions on a broad range of information.
Ultimately, to manage and shift your own unconscious bias, you must be willing to identify, in the moment, your actions and reactions. By becoming attuned to and mindful of your own hidden biases and the way they manifest in your words and actions you can change your thought patterns and overcome unconscious bias.