We all like to think of ourselves as fair, grounded and rational human beings – yet, as painful as it may be to admit, our moods, attitudes and decision-making skills are constantly influenced by extraneous factors, like the weather or a lack of sleep.
My point – we are all fundamentally flawed. Our experiences, characteristics and personal preferences can easily creep into the back of our minds and impair our judgement - leaving open the window for discrimination.
These unconscious biases are social stereotypes formed outside of our own awareness, and they often contradict our own conscious values.
But as a leader, it’s your responsibility to ensure these biases - conscious or unconscious - don’t see the light of day. Here are five ways to stop biased behaviour from impacting you and your team:
1) Scratch beyond the surface.
Every day we make dozens of snap judgements about people - painting some as heroes and others as villains without so much as knowing their last name.
As leaders, time is often the one thing we have very little of, so making snap judgments seems like part of the job. But by making quick-fire decisions without trying to understand someone’s perspective or the full context of the situation, you’re opening yourself up to making ill-fated decisions based on instinct and nothing more - when making hiring decisions, this approach can easily lead to a narrow talent pool.
Take the time to understand how your personal situation, behaviours and preferences could influence your decision-making.
For instance, let’s say you have a loud, outgoing, boisterous personality. You will most likely find connecting with people with similar mannerisms significantly easier than someone with a quiet, calculated demeanour – but that in no way indicates one person’s opinion, skills or abilities are any better than the other.
So, when you’re up against a situation where your judgement is required, consider how your own personal preferences might sway your judgement, then look at the cold, hard facts of the situation without the added bias.
2) Let everyone have a voice.
Everyone deserves to have a voice, and they also deserve to have it heard. So, when you’re interacting with people in your team, give everyone the chance to have their say - and listen when they talk.
Studies have found that organisations with diverse teams experience better profitability than those without.
Why? Because a diversity of people leads to a diversity of thought – which leads to better, more original ideas, and the ability to connect with a more diverse customer base. Ignoring other people’s views and thoughts will only hinder creativity.
So, if someone has a different opinion from you, don’t automatically shut them down - people from different backgrounds and with different beliefs, views and experiences from your own are essentially your eyes and ears to the wider world.
3) Speak up.
We all like to joke around every now and then, but if a joke has the ability to make someone feel embarrassed, insulted or even physically threatened, it’s probably not worth saying.
But if someone in your office said something that you didn’t agree with, would you have the courage to call them out on it?
Probably not. You don’t want to come across as being deliberately confrontational and sensitive. But, then again, saying nothing and letting it slide sends the wrong message too.
You don’t have to go so far as lodging a formal complaint with HR to take a stand against inappropriate office behaviour. Rather than staying silent, speak up and challenge people about their actions – as they are essentially disrupting the way people work together. The benefit of a better work environment is well worth the initial awkwardness.
4) Open yourself up to criticism.
On the other end of the spectrum, if someone calls you out on your own behaviour or shows signs of being offended by your actions, don’t miss out on the opportunity to grow as a leader by taking it on board.
Sure – it might be painful at first, but after your pride fizzles away, think carefully about how you could have approached the situation differently and apply these learnings to your future behaviour.
We’re all human, and we all make mistakes, but by regularly reflecting upon your actions and having an open-minded approach to criticism, you will develop better relationships with your colleagues.
5) Stop making assumptions.
When it comes to work, we often have our own preconceptions of what makes a good employee – and in most cases, this is based closely on how we perceive ourselves.
This person probably shows up fifteen minutes early every day, isn’t afraid to take the lead, often works through their lunch breaks, and always wears an outfit that’s pressed to perfection. (They might even have time to crack the odd killer joke or two.)
And while this might seem harmless, these ideas can easily turn into unconscious biases, and impact how we view our existing employees or who we choose to hire.
For instance, these preferences could cause you to overlook a candidate that’s perfect for a new role within your team because they don’t tick all the boxes in your head.
Our unconscious biases could also cause us to make assumptions about people that aren’t accurate. Let’s say there’s a spot for a promotion available in your team – and let’s say one of your team members is a working mother with young children. You might assume that the working mother has enough on her plate, and wouldn’t want to be considered for the promotion – but that’s your perception of her situation, not hers.
While they might not always be able to commit to traditional working hours, we’ve found that working mums are often our best performers from a financial perspective. And New Zealand’s Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, recently gave birth while remaining in office, the second elected world leader in office to do so. Don’t make unfounded assumptions about people’s situations; instead, give everyone an equal chance at new opportunities.
One useful way to eliminate bias from the equation and focus on the facts is by using Pulse. This psychometric tool examines the underlying preferences and drivers that influence how people respond to different situations and demands, such as change, problem-solving, challenges, and collaboration. It provides data-driven insights that identify ways to get the best out of people in your team.
We all have our own individual set of biases – conscious or unconscious – and they can easily lead us astray. But by simply being aware that your own preferences have an impact on how you perceive situations and people, you’ll be far better positioned to avoid letting these influences become a deciding factor.