Are we as leaders aware of our biases?

Are we as leaders aware of our biases?

We all have preferences in life. We like some things more than others, we have certain hobbies, we like spending our time with certain people. That’s normal – it’s human.

Conscious or unconscious bias?

Our preferences and personal characteristics can become problematic if they turn into biases, especially in a professional context. Biases can seriously affect others how we seen them. This is important especially in a coaching role or in a leadership role or environment. We all are probably conscious of some biases we have. Biases are often particularly tricky to deal with when they’re unconscious, when we don’t even realize that we are thinking a certain way.

How do we recognize our unconscious biases?

The first step in tackling your unconscious bias is to identify your conscious biases. There are several exercises,  with which you can do this. Start with asking yourself some simple questions or by writing, how do you think others see you? How do you see others etc. Suddenly you recognize quite a lot of biases that you have without “knowing it”. To be more aware of our unconscious biases we can try to figure out how our backgrounds inform our biases, how to connect with people so bias is less of a problem, and what to do when you see unconscious bias in action.

Move on from your biases by identifying their origin stories.

We all have lots of biases. They’re tied up with our identity: who we are affects how we feel about certain issues, and hence how we think of other people. The first step in understanding our own biases, whether they’re conscious or unconscious, is to understand ourselves. In other words, every bias has what you might call an origin story. Moving beyond that bias, helps us understand that story. For example, a HR professional used to favor job applicants with prestigious degrees. Over time, she came to realize there was a very personal reason why. Put simply, when she realized that her own background unconsciously influenced her behavior, she could alter her way of thinking.

The first step in tackling your unconscious bias is to identify your own biases.

Confirmation bias: Our tendency to look for information that confirms what we already believe.
Anchoring bias: Related form of bias in which we just cling to the first idea we hear, so don’t properly take in any subsequent information.
Attribution bias:  If you’re judging yourself by your intentions but others by their results, that’s attribution bias.
In-group bias:  The tendency to prefer people who are like us, while leaving others out.

The second step in tackling your unconscious bias is to cultivate connection.

The big question is: What can we do about it? How can you prevent bias from becoming a problem? How to tackle unconscious bias is cultivate connection.

If you want to move beyond your biases, you need to deploy skills like curiosity and empathy. Curiosity and empathy are just two ways to cultivate connection with the people around you. Opportunities like mentorship and coaching are a vital way to make sure everyone in your team is properly supported.

The third step in tackling your unconscious bias is to choose courage.

It takes courage to properly understand when you are biased. What am I thinking and feeling here? Am I acting sensibly, or am I being reactive? It takes courage to cope when you are the one on the receiving end of bias. Find people within your organization who can relate to your experience and talk to them, someone who can help you work through the stress of dealing with bias. It always takes courage to speak out.

Be courageous for other people, too. Dealing with a situation requires you to be proactive and call out the bias you’ve seen rather than passively accepting that that’s what senior management wants.

How to work with biases unconscious and conscious

We all hold our own set of conscious and unconscious biases, which inevitably influence how we interact with others both at work and in our personal lives—whether in leadership roles, as colleagues, or among friends and family. It is also important to recognize how you treat yourself. The initial step in overcoming the negative effect of these biases is identifying them and understanding where they come from. Then, you need to reach out and cultivate connections with others. Choose to be courageous enough to call out bias when you see it.

Susanne Ehrnrooth
Leadership Developer