Unconscious BiAS

Have you wondered why we take an instant liking or dislike for some people, from the word go? Ever thought why some people begin to speak your native language with you, just on hearing your name or last name? And then there are times when you make business or personal decisions – like whom to go out for dinner with or whom to hire for your company, based on your idea of what’s good or not based on gender, age, looks etc. Ever thought why that happens?

These behaviours and decisions are directed by what is commonly called as Unconscious Bias. Unconscious bias is a stereotype, attitude, belief about certain groups of people, things or place that individuals form, outside their own conscious awareness. Unconscious bias is influenced by one’s upbringing, culture, experiences and many other factors. While unconscious bias is helpful in making many decisions in life, it can also be detrimental due to its negative impact, especially when it comes to workplace performanceresults and culture.

Unconscious bias can manifest as decisions made against or in favour of a person based on their gender, race, nationality, culture, skin colour, age, sexual preferences and many such factors. There are instances where people have hired or promoted men over women simply because they assume men are better than women for a specific job. The same holds good for people belonging to different age groups. Acting based on bias can adversely impact interpersonal relationships, work performance and workplace culture. Imagine choosing to work with a group of people who are ‘like’ you versus those who think differently than you. You would have a workgroup that thinks alike and works alike leading to lack of new ideas thus affecting team performance and growth. If one chooses to make professional decisions based on sexual preferences or sexual orientation of other people, there will be many people who would be left without work and career opportunities and that is not a good thing.

Then there is bias that happens at a conscious level that is referred to as Conscious bias. A person very well knows that they are making a biased decision and yet willingly allow that bias to operate. This can be a dangerous proposition for workplace culture.

Similarly, there are things we do without knowing why we are doing them, simply because they have always been done like that. This is referred to as Collective bias. Many aspects of organisational culture are simply manifestations of collective bias.

Awareness of biases is important to be successful at work and in life in general. One needs to start by introspecting about their hidden and conscious biases. Seeking feedback from others is a great idea to discover unconscious bias. Unconscious bias will not go away totally, but discovery will lead to minimisation and thus improve personal and business results.

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