Think of two people in your workplace, one whose company you enjoy and another person who you dislike. Now imagine a scenario where you have organized an important meeting. Both are late and they give the same reason: their car broke down.  How will you feel about them? 

Chances are, you'll be sympathetic to or neutral about your friend who was late. And you may look unfavorably upon the colleague who you dislike for being late. Their reasons were the same but your response to each may differ based on how you feel about them.

The reason for this response is known as unconscious bias.

Unconscious bias has the power to distort our thinking and decision-making. It’s an unhealthy attribute that each of us should strive to overcome. Read on to learn the secrets behind unconscious biases and effective ways to keep them in check.

Meaning Of Unconscious Bias

We may not want to admit it, but unconscious bias influences our decisions to a great extent. Also known as implicit bias, unconscious bias refers to the underlying feelings or attitudes we have towards other people. It affects the way we interact and understand them. In other words, unconscious bias is a quick opinion or judgment about someone or a situation. Factors such as our background, experiences and surroundings influence our thoughts and impressions.

The most common types of unconscious bias that influence our decision-making are:

  • Affinity Bias: 

Also known as similarity bias, affinity bias refers to the tendency to connect with like-minded people who share similar backgrounds, experiences and interests 

  • Confirmation Bias: 

This is the tendency to draw conclusions about someone or a situation based on one's personal beliefs, prejudices and desires

  • Attribution Bias: 

One of the most common forms of unconscious bias, attribution bias is the tendency to make sense of someone’s behavior and actions based on previous interactions and observations 

  • Contrast Effect: 

This is the tendency to compare two or more people (or situations) that one has come in contact with

  • Groupthink: 

Groupthink occurs when one tries too hard to conform to an existing culture by mimicking others and restraining one's own thoughts and opinions

Examples Of Unconscious Bias

If you’re still unsure of the power and impact of unconscious bias, here are some real-world examples in professional settings:

  • Example 1: 

People tend to look up to people who come from a certain academic and professional background. If they’re from an elite school, there’s an automatic assumption that they have the necessary skills and training for a task or role.

  • Example 2: 

People often rely on first impressions to judge someone’s abilities. Whether it’s during the hiring process or a first client meeting, even the smallest hiccups make people jump to conclusions.

Tackling Unconscious Bias In The Workplace

If biases prevail, then your organization will struggle to embrace diversity. You may end up with echo chambers that minimize creativity and critical thinking. This will eventually affect the business and thwart your workplace success. Here are some simple yet effective practices to deal with unconscious bias in the workplace:

  1. Evaluate A Situation

The first step of tackling unconscious bias is to be aware of how it affects others. If you feel like you were too quick to make a judgment or a decision, take a moment to evaluate the situation. Even if you’ve made a mistake or faced a  situation that was beyond your control, you can make a huge difference by admitting your mistakes. Don’t hesitate to give yourself a second chance and adopt an objective perspective. When in doubt, ask yourself these questions:

  • Is my opinion factually true?

  • What evidence do I have for my opinions? 

  • Have I displayed prejudice in the past?

  1. Encourage Inclusive Practices

Unconscious biases can derail business meetings. If you put in the additional effort you can encourage participation and inclusion. You can start by:

  • Encouraging others to speak up or giving them enough time to finish their train of thought

  • Not debating people you disagree with and focusing on presenting constructive arguments instead

  • Listening actively to improve collaboration and make others feel valued

  1. Show Your Support

Practicing supportive behavior through dialogue and actions can help you monitor yourself and keep your biases in check. Try saying the following to be more supportive:

  • Clarification:

 “I’m still unsure how this happened; am I missing something?”

  • Acknowledgment:

 “I understand that you feel otherwise but please hear me out.”

  • Solution:

 “How would you like to approach this situation?”

If you want to learn how to make well-reasoned arguments and consider multiple perspectives, sign up for Harappa’s Thinking Critically course. You’ll learn how to carefully consider the information before reaching decisions. The Mental Models framework in particular will help you evaluate information and think through situations. Challenge your biases and walk the path of excellence by thinking critically.

Explore topics such as Critical ThinkingTypes of ThinkingExamples of Critical Thinking & How to Improve Your Critical Thinking from Harappa Diaries and enhance the ability to think clearly and rationally.

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