While walking down a forest trail you probably notice trees growing all around you? How many of them can you identify by species? Is this one an oak or an elm? Is that one a walnut or cherry? You usually cannot tell with just a quick glance. You may need additional information, like the shape and size of a leaf, whether the wood is light or dark in color and is the bark rough or smooth? Having all of this data helps you identify the species.
The same is true with people. From the outside you notice a number of features; that they are short or tall, slender or hefty, have fair or dark skin and have straight, curly or no hair at all. These outside characteristics don’t make the entire person and you cannot judge them by those features alone. First impressions can lead you to make a number of assumptions that are many times totally off base. One might guess that a tall, heavyset person would have a deep, booming voice, but when you hear them speak it’s high pitched and squeaky. You just never know.
If one “judges a book just by its cover,” they might miss out on meeting a truly amazing person. Yet, people perform this type of analysis all the time, and it creates bias, assigns a label and develops a stereotype more often than not. We assume that if one characteristic is present in this type of person then anyone with that feature is the same in all other areas. We look at a person through our own lenses and experiences. We judge them based upon our own culture and how we are brought up. It is human nature to make up stories and fill in the blanks when we don’t have all of the information.
So, what does it take to minimize making these inaccurate assumptions?
- Be aware: Recognize the first impression you create and understand how you might be judged.
- Be curious: Ask questions during a conversation and get a person’s input on specific situations or problems you are experiencing. People enjoy stating opinions, talking about themselves and giving advice. One great question to ask is “What is something I wouldn’t know about you based just on how you look?” Asking this simple question can take a conversation to another level.
- Show empathy: Be aware of any “unconscious bias” that you may have formed over the years. These are shortcuts that our mind takes that allows us to misinterpret things. Each of us have them, all can be hurtful, most are usually totally inaccurate and everyone needs to learn to mitigate their impact.
Unconscious bias happens every day in the workplace. Share this article if you have experienced it (on either end). Contact me here if you’d like to learn how to help your team overcome unconscious bias at work.
Remember, one of our greatest competitive advantages is when we embrace the humanity of our team and align it with our vision . . . it’s what creates an Alignment Partnership!