One of our biggest challenges as human beings is that we make decisions based on incomplete or often completely wrong information.
It’s not that we aren’t clever, or that we don’t care, or that we are trying to do anything other than the right thing; it’s just that every single one of us is laden with untested assumptions in the form of unconscious biases.
Overtly, we aim to be open-minded towards people and ideas, but in practicality, we base our actions on whether or not someone or something ‘feels’ right.
That sort of illogical feeling can distort facts, present false equivalencies and prevent healthy, objective exploration of ideas.
In such a world; where quality of character, strength of contribution, originality of ideas and sincerity of effort are abstractly linked to unconscious feelings about age, gender, ethnicity, orientation or any number of other criteria, absolutely no one wins.
We struggle with unity, with cohesion, and with buy in to ideas; we struggle to produce products and services that deeply reflect our customers’ needs; and we are always one misstep away from a reputational crisis.
Yet while this may appear a perpetual stalemate, a workable solution to it is actually pretty simple. Expose your people to other people’s truths, and their attitudes change.
Perhaps it would be naïve to suggest we can overturn entrenched prejudices or change baked-in points of view overnight. We can however start chipping away at them straight away.
Much more than that, we can undim a thousand tiny light bulbs with the smallest amount of contextual information.
We don’t know each other.
We don’t know each other’s thoughts, so we cannot know each others’ motivations.
Worse than that, we’ve built an internal narrative about who other people are, based on information gathered from any number of sources, except for the only one that matters: themselves.
And we haven’t explored it any more than that, because we don’t know we’re wrong and we don’t see that being wrong, deeply matters.
Overcoming unconscious bias first requires that you recognise it exists and that we (you, me, all of us) are guilty of it. If you’ve ever used the word ‘typical’ in reference to a person or a thing, there it is.
Beyond that, curiosity and honest conversation are potent tools for breaking down the flimsy structures of our unconscious compartmentalisation because without facts, there are no supporting walls to keep them steady.
If you get to know someone, it’s nearly impossible for them to continue being a member of a category.
It’s a rare thing for the solution to a thorny problem to be so pleasant.