This past week I was fortunate to hear Sybil L. Dunlop speak on Implicit Bias at the Minnesota State Bar Association Alternative Dispute Resolution Section. She gave an excellent presentation and gave us a lot to think about. Doing some more research around this topic I wanted to share some of what I learned from her and additional research that I found helpful. Awareness is key.
Here are some key concepts. We all have bias. We are shaped by our experiences both good and bad. In addition, we are shaped by our culture, education, social media and other sources and experiences that provide us with confirmation of what we believe. We unconsciously trust or dislike others and this can be observed in the brain. These are given. With this as background, we cannot eliminate bias. In fact, studies have shown that those that attempt to do so can actually make the situation worse. Rather than trying to eliminate our biases steps can be taken to make ourselves more tolerant of others. With this in mind here are three things to consider regarding implicit bias.
Pay attention how your bias shapes your environment
Bias is simply part of the human condition. This started with your first interactions after birth. This is not a moral failing. As we grew and our brain observed our environment, we learned what to trust, what to question and what not to trust. These experiences shape us today. Given these experiences where do you live, with whom do you associate, what do you watch, what do you eat, where do you go? All of these impact us with life experiences.
At work ask who do I associate with, ask and interact with? Why? Why not? Who do you trust? Ask yourself some questions. For example, if you needed to confide in someone who would that be? That is someone you can trust. We typically like to associate with others that are like us. That is a comfortable place to be. Once you assess yourself, consider what stereotypes you have assessed about others and pay attention to how you treat and interact with others. To expand your horizons consider taking a proactive step. Consider reaching out to and exposing yourself to others. Reach across differences.
Expose yourself to others and reach out across differences
One of the best ways to address unconscious bias is by exposure. By making the effort to expose yourself to others that are different from you for example by race, age, ethnicity, physical abilities, sexual orientation, class, religious beliefs, nationality, geographic location, marital status, parental status, education, income, work background, military experience, professional orientation and others, it may be possible to see others in a better light. The more we expose ourselves to broader thinking the more we can expand our horizons. Studies show that the more we expose ourselves to others that this leads to less implicit bias. Think of it. The more we begin to see others as people and not as stereotypes the more we tend to trust and accept others that are different than ourselves. Doesn’t this make sense?
When we take an additional step and actually make the effort to move out of our safe zone and into a learning zone this can make us uncomfortable. That is a good thing. Taking a step to learn something new can be trying and hard. On the other hand, you know from experience this can be very rewarding when you begin to learn something new. Think of this in terms of moving, music, sports, or other activities. Now apply this to people.
Last Friday evening middle schoolers from our church attended a Jewish Synagogue to experience services with their mentors from church. After attending and asking questions they meet back at church, had something to eat (they are teenagers after all) and discussed what they saw, heard and experienced. Taking little steps like this along the way can have a very profound impact. Consider what steps you may take to expand your own horizons and those you associate with in various environments.
We have a natural tendency to make sure we are safe. That instills survival. That means when we see or hear something new, our natural tendency is to protect ourselves and put up barriers to protect ourselves. That’s ok. That means within seconds of meeting someone new or experiencing something new we tend to be protective. Again, that is only natural.
Taking this one step further, when we expose ourselves to others that are different and reach across to areas where we feel uncomfortable it can be very hard to truly listen. Based on what we have thought, experienced or heard along the way we may become judgmental and make negative assumptions.
However, having friendships with those that are different than ourselves can make a big difference in reducing prejudice and bias. We cannot eliminate bias, but we can assess and be aware of our biases going forward. That is a major step towards making improvements on how we see and interact with others.
By asking questions rather than assuming, this can overcome misconceptions. The first step to listening is to be present in the moment. Paraphrase, summarize, and ask open ended questions and empathize. Hear what they are saying. Again, don’t judge. Be open to ensure that you understand. Ask to learn. Don’t ask to condemn.
By building connecting relationships, listening actively and educating judiciously it is possible to build bridges of understanding with others. You will always have your biases, but at the same time, by being aware of them, exposing yourself to others and actively listening, you can gain understanding to be a better person. This will help you at work, home and in life as you find ways to collaborate with others going forward. As a promoter of The Collaboration Effect® understanding implicit bias in just one more element towards building collaboration going forward.