Are You Aware of Your Bias?

Unconscious BiasAre you biased?  If you say no, you’re just not human.  If you’re reading this, trust me, you’re human.

Recently I put together a short seminar on dealing with unconscious bias.  In researching the topic, I found some interesting information.

First, we are all biased.  It simply means we tend to sort out information and give preference to one piece of data to solve a particular problem.  Also, we as human beings sort out data as we see it.  For example, when we enter a room, the first thing we do is scan up and down and side to side.  Then we notice people.  The first thing we notice is their skin color followed quickly by their gender.  Up to this point, there are no problems.

Unfortunately, when it comes to that sorting and bias, if we’re not careful we can start giving preference unfairly when we’re not aware of our thinking process.  That’s where the conscious bias (what we’re aware of) can be influenced by our unconscious bias (what’s inside us and often has free run of our brains without ever being questioned).

My first wife hated fish.  She had the privilege of visiting some amazing places like Hawaii and Australia and had access to some of the best fish on the planet.  As long as I knew her, I never saw her take a bite of fish, and yet she always told me how much she hated fish.  Our daughter grew up hating fish.  She never took a bite of fish (as far as I could remember).  When she was in her early 20’s, she moved in with us for a couple of years.  I convinced her to try fish.  She loved it.  Her fiancé (and now husband) cooked lots of fish and she ate it.  She even ate calamari, not just the cylinder-shaped ones but the ones with all the tentacles.  An unconscious bias against fish (from her mom) led to a conscious one (from her) until it was challenged and overcome (by me and Chris).

But enough about fish.  Could a host of early experiences be lurking in our subconscious and affect our decision-making?  Absolutely.  Here’s how it works:

Think about your most trusted circle of advisors.  Don’t count family members in this group.  These folks are the ones you can rely on, can relate to, and can be counted upon to never let you down.  Do you have your list?

Now take a good look at them.  I’m willing to bet that most, if not all of them look like you (gender/race/age), think like you (political leaning/religious affiliation), and act like you (sexual orientation/marital status).  If that’s your trusted inner circle, you might be tempted to use them as your yardstick when measuring others.  If they “fit” you, then you trust them, if not, then you discount.  You do this unconsciously.  It’s normal.  Just pay attention to it.

It becomes a problem then when we select only those people or people like them for special projects, promotions, or favors.  We discount those we don’t know and don’t even give them a chance because on the surface we can’t really trust them.

Many years ago, a dentist that I assisted looked past the obvious (an enlisted kid with no motivation) and took the time to push me to attend college and dream bigger.  It’s the reason I have the career I do today.  The dentists I worked for before him and after him saw just the surface and treated me like crap. Had I never met Greg Nelson, I would not be successful today. Don’t let an unconscious bias derail the potential in others around you.

Bias is normal.  It’s the lack of reflection and honesty that makes it dangerous.  This week, make it a point to expand your circle of trust and begin to draw from the wealth and wisdom of others you may have previously ignored.  Everyone wins if that happens!

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

One thought on “Are You Aware of Your Bias?

  1. Great post Mack! I’m glad you had me take the “inner circle” exercise. I actually feel like I have a diverse group. It’s weird, because what you say makes sense. To have your inner circle reflect you and your beliefs. It just didn’t end up that way. Now I need to figure out how I did that. Don’t get me wrong, I still have biases. I just have people around me to get me straight. Take care.

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