How to Deal with Unconscious Bias in the Workplace

I hope it’s clear by now that when it comes to bias, it’s not something we can eliminate entirely, nor should we try to, because it’s an essential aspect of how we go about making decisions in our daily lives. But it’s also true that bias can get in the way of making good talent management decisions. What’s a good HR professional to do? The good news is that there are plenty of things you can do, and in the process make your talent management efforts more efficient and effective. Here are some practices Howard Ross has identified that will help anyone become more aware of their biases and make more conscious decisions:

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Be More Mindful

Psychologist Carl Jung famously said, “We cannot change anything until we accept it. Condemnation does not liberate, it oppresses!” So the first and most important thing to remember is this: We all have our biases, and that’s okay. However, that doesn’t excuse poor behavior based on them. Get used to really shining a light on yourself in the moment, reflecting on why you’re reacting or behaving in certain ways or patterns. You have to get used to watching yourself in action and observe what’s really going on with ourselves.

Dive into Discomfort

We all like to avoid situations and conversations that cause discomfort and tension, and who wants to talk openly about our biases? But that’s exactly what we have to make ourselves do if we’re going to get a better handle on our biases for better decision-making. Get brave and create a safe space for these discussions in your workplace.

Engage with the “Others”

There are few remedies better for negative biases (especially stereotypes) than spending time mingling with and getting to know people you consider to be “others.” That old phrase birds of a feather flock together is all too true, and you’ve got to make a conscious effort to spend time with people outside your normal flock and comfort zones to debunk some of your inaccurate stereotypes and unconscious biases.

Consciously Engage in Positive Stereotyping

The non-dominant social groups in your workplace are probably being stereotyped quite a lot. Again, it’s a natural thing to do, but not necessarily a good thing depending on what those stereotypes include. Pay particular attention to making sure you get positive images and coverage of your non-dominant groups into annual reports, posters, websites, and anywhere else you can think of. It’s one of the most effective ways of countering unconscious negative biases in the workplace.

PAUSE for Constructive Uncertainty

Everyone craves certainty, so much so that we often blindside ourselves and our decisions by convincing ourselves we’re right about something. You can halt unconscious biases from wreaking havoc in the workplace (and your life for that matter) when you PAUSE before making a decision. Here’s what the acronym means:

  • Pay attention to what’s happening behind the judgments you make. This is taking the “be more mindful” point mentioned above as seriously as possible. You have to slow down to see what’s really going on.
  • Acknowledge your own judgments, interpretations, and reactions. Note and own whatever reaction you’ve had to something.
  • Understand other possible judgments, interpretations, and reactions. Make yourself think of how else you could have reacted or interpreted a situation and how those other possibilities might be just as valid.
  • Search for the most productive, empowering, constructive way to deal with a situation. In general, what can you do that will open up a relationship (rather than shut it down) in order to gain more information before making a final judgment?
  • Execute your action plan. Be consistent in doing what makes the most sense.

You’ll notice that your approach is important – it’s not about trying to eliminate biases altogether, for that would be a fool’s errand. It’s about taking the time to become aware of your biases and making sure they don’t derail your talent management efforts.

February 15, 2016   Updated :November 16, 2016   bias, talent management, unconscious biase   

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