Amity Institute Of Training & Development

Not Biased? Think again! Read Time: 6 mins

I sometimes wonder, how can an individual with the best of intentions be biased? Is it a question on his or her intentions in the first place or is it something to do with that moment or with the person on the receiving end? Is it something that the individual is aware and consciously wants to have the same? Is it something that one is not able to control? Or is it something to do with the baggage of the past experiences which has left an impression on his mind to have biases for a said person or situation?

If this concerns you also, do not be too hard on yourself! My first reaction to this notion that we all have biases was, “Certainly not I!” After all, I grew up in a family where diversity and inclusion were part of our basic values. All of us, even the most open-minded and with the best of intentions, are not free from unconscious bias. It is a result of how our brains are developed. Bias often occurs without malevolent intent. Our thoughts and actions are influenced by both our instinctive feelings as well as our rational thought processes. Everyone has biases. It is true. it is deeply ingrained. At about three months, babies develop “a preference for people of the same colour as [their] own parents,” says Mahzarin Banaji, Harvard psychologist and author of Blindspot: The Hidden Biases of Good People. However, she notes, “Ethiopian Jews who moved to Israel and had a mixture of people taking care of the babies showed no preference at all, suggesting that this is very much learned. “For most of us, though, preferences and prejudices become more deeply rooted as we grow older. Having a bias does not make you a bad person, however, and not every bias is negative or hurtful. It is not recognizing biases that can lead to bad decisions at work, in life and relationships.

The Kirwan Institute (for the study of race and ethnicity) at Ohio State University defines these biases as “the attitudes or stereotypes that affect our understanding, decisions and actions unconsciously. These implicit biases we all hold do not necessarily align with our own declared beliefs.” In a work-place environment, unconscious biases can affect hiring and promotion decisions, work assignments, and career tracks, and unfortunately can end up a part of the harassment, hostile work environments, and discrimination lawsuits. These biases can also cause problems and damage relationships, as well as affect the reputations of businesses.

Luckily, there are ways to reduce the impact of these biases. Let us explore together and figure out how we can overcome them.

#1: Experience your experiences through a new filter.

Pretty much all your life experiences can help you gain new perspectives if you are looking for them. Look for situations you do not understand or surprise you and be curious. Think about things that happen and things you hear through the filter of your current challenge or problem. Notice things and compare them to the issues you are contemplating. Consistently and consciously thinking about seeing new perspectives will make all the difference. Once you have a developed a habit of looking at the things, events, and people with a fresh and different perspective, you shall be in habit of being aware of your thoughts when biases creep in and help you to minimise the same.

#2: Listen to people you disagree with:

Shut up and listen. You already have your perspective about the whole world around, which you likely will not change very much if you keep talking. Listen to what others have to say, how they see the world and the situation. Not only will you learn something and gain a new perspective, but you will also build your relationship with the other person at the same time. Listening well also helps you to develop empathy – a rare and great quality to have. As Simon Sinek puts it very crisply and aptly – “Hearing is listening to what is said, listening is hearing what isn’t said.” Listening helps you to broaden your perspective and help you to have a wider view. Listening helps you not to shrink yourself in your world with your fixed set and pet notions, prejudice, and biases.

#3: Read, Read, and Read!

It's not uncommon for people to say that a book has changed their life, but did you know reading a novel can change the brain? Researchers at Emory University's Center for Neuropolicy have found that reading a narrative can cause changes in the brain, not only while participating in the activity but in resting-state connectivity, too. What exactly does that mean?

According to the study, when we read, the connection between the left temporal cortex of the brain - the area associated with language reception — is heightened. What is more, that heightened activity continues for several days following the reading. According to the same study by Emory University, reading not only heightens the connectivity in the temporal cortex, but it also increases activity in the central sulcus of the brain, or region responsible for the primary sensory-motor activity. When we read, neurons in this area of the brain activate to create a sensation of not just reading about the action of the book but experiencing the sensations it is describing. For example, if you are reading a passage from Harry Potter where he is running away from the Dementors, the neurons associated with the physical act of running are activated. A phenomenon known as grounded cognition, reading does not only figuratively put you in someone else's shoes, it does that through the biology of the brain. Empathy as stated above in turn helps you to curb your judgmental streak and minimise the biases.

So, go ahead and read new authors, new genres, new magazines, blogs, and websites. All reading is helpful, but if you only read in your industry or only read your favourite author, or only otherwise monochromatically, you are hampering your perspective-building opportunities.

#4: Knowing the rational reasons:

“Make sure you know the rational reasons why you made a given decision” says Mahzarin Banaji, Harvard psychologist and author. The rational decision allows for an objective approach that is based on scientifically obtained data to reach informed decisions. This reduces the chances of errors, distortions, and assumptions, as well as a manager's emotions, that might have resulted in poor judgments in the past. Rational helps to make us aware and transcend our biases in decision making. It helps to decide based on “What is “rather than “What I feel or think”.

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By: Vaani Gandha

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