Having a bias toward a group of people or persons with certain characteristics or experiences is quite common. A bias might be based on a single experience, experiences over time, lack of experience or one person’s perception (or misperception) of others. While it may seem like a natural phenomenon, biases are learned and can have negative effects on our interactions with others and limit our ability to make sound judgments. Fortunately, with some intention, biases can be unlearned or changed to improve personal and work relationships, enhance decision making and open oneself up to more joy in life.
What is bias? A bias is preference, but often it’s a strong opinion or attitude in favor or against a point of view or group of people. Examples of common biases include opinions formed around physical appearance, race, gender, parental or marital status, disability, age, income, education, and sexual orientation.
There are different types of biases, but in simplest terms a bias is explicit or implicit. A person with an explicit bias is aware of their feelings and expresses it in direct ways, whereas a person with an implicit bias is not mindful of their feelings and their bias operates in indirect ways. For example, a person with an explicit bias toward obese people may say that they prefer to work or socialize with fit people. Whereas, a person with an implicit bias might take a seat far away from an overweight person without even realizing it. In both cases, the prejudice impacts behavior and in worst cases results in intentional or unintentional discrimination.
A bias may seem harmless if it is in favor of a particular group or attribute, for example, holding a belief that a young, single person is well suited for a career that entails travel or that a good public speaker must also be a good leader. It’s important to note, however, that these biases are also based on perception and not fact and will ultimately cloud your decision making when selecting the best person for a role.
We all have biases. If we know them, we can correct them. Challenging your biases is a lifelong journey, but it’s worth the effort to experience more joy and bring more joy to others. Here’s how:
- Through Project Implicit, a non-profit organization whose goal is to provide education about hidden biases, you can take an Implicit Association Test (IAT) from a list of many topics.
- Ask for feedback from others on what they observe – what do others perceive as your biases? Listen to what others say without being defensive. Open and honest conversations with colleagues, neighbors or friends will identify potential blind spots. For further reflection, consider reading “Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People” by psychologists Mahzarin R. Banaji and Anthony G. Greenwald.
- Once you acknowledge your biases, diversity advocate Vernā Myers suggests moving toward, not away from, the groups that make you uncomfortable. Listen to her TED talk on how to walk boldly toward your biases.
- Learn to slow down and manage stress. When we are under pressure, we are more likely to revert to our biases and rush decisions. A daily meditation practice or other self-care exercise can help put you in a better position to be effectively present and open with others.
- Practice active listening and get to know one another. Give people time and attention to voice their thoughts and feelings, and share their personal stories, which in turn will help break down barriers and disrupt your own biased thinking. Offer multiple modes of eliciting feedback.
- Test your assumptions. Seek out information that is contradictory to your views. Don’t only look for different viewpoints; examine sources of information you might not normally follow. Try to disprove your own beliefs.
- Expand your professional networks and social circles in person and on social media. Create diverse project teams and join a variety of forums for the best results and to minimize one-track thinking.
- Use inclusive language. Pay attention to how, what and when you say things, and avoid generalizations. Before communicating about a significant change or opportunity, ask another colleague or friend for their read on tone and appeal of the message.
- Invest time working through biases with a professional coach or counselor.
- Ask yourself how you can be an ally to colleagues and others who experience bias. When you see bias in action, don’t let it slide.
By CBIZ Wellbeing Insights