Unconscious bias is having social stereotypes about certain groups of people and forms outside of conscious awareness. Everyone holds unconscious beliefs about various social and identity groups, because humans like to organize and categorise to make sense of the world. Natural survival of the human species has been determined by our ability to recognise friend or foe, my tribe, not my tribe and is part of our mental DNA.
Certain scenarios can activate unconscious attitudes and beliefs, which lie beneath the surface of our mind. For example, biases may be more prevalent when multi-tasking or working under time pressure. If you are not conscious of it, then recognising it can be difficult.
There is a lot of talk in the world today about unconscious bias, which can be unsettling for many. Although not our intent to offend, we can make judgements and speak in ways that have been ingrained in us. Our expectations of behaviour evolve with time, whether through our upbringing, culture, experiences, media and the social norms of the day. What was ‘acceptable’ ten years ago may not be right now.
“We judge ourselves by our intentions, others judge us by our behaviour.”Stephen Covey
What we have no control over is how others interpret what we say and attach their own meaning to it. Someone can choose to be upset by anything, so it requires both sides being empathic to expectations and intentions. To unintentionally offend is forgivable, whereas to do it intentionally is not. However, the recipient has a responsibility to communicate what has offended them or how they wish to be spoken to. This can be as to which pronoun they prefer.
Types of Unconscious Bias
Jason Strain, FPFS IMC, Chartered Financial Planner for HB&O outlines some common unconscious investor biases that we can all suffer from. However these bias types can equally occur in other aspects of leadership, such as recruitment, reviews and promotion. It can also be in how we view others. Can you align any of these biases to other aspects of your life?
Overconfidence Bias – Being overly optimistic about one’s likelihood of success. For example, investors often falsely believe they can select investments better than others and can outperform the market.
Confirmation Bias – Subtly seeking out and paying more attention to information that supports one’s viewpoint. For example, confirmation bias would be believing that a particular company or sector will do well in the future, and then “finding” information online that agrees.
Recency Bias – Focusing unduly on recent events and using them to judge the future. For example, believing that an investment’s recent stellar performance means it will do well in the future.
Disposition Effect – Holding onto investments that have lost relative value for too long, to avoid the regret of having made a bad decision or selling stocks too early that gain in price. This is related to loss aversion, where as a species we are disproportionately more scarred and influenced by losses we experience compared to the benefits we feel from similar scale gains.
Present Bias – Not taking future needs seriously enough and focusing on the present instead. For example, not putting aside enough for one’s investments to have a comfortable retirement.
Choice Paralysis – Becoming overwhelmed with the complexity of a decision and avoiding it or putting it off. For example, when faced with a complex menu of pension investments, some investors will become paralyzed by the daunting decision. Ironically, the paradox of choice occurs when investors ask for more complexity and a wealth of options, but falter when confronted with them.“
It starts with the value system
An individual’s value system is crucial to judgement. This is not something a person has, but is a summation of who they are. It is a result of their journey to this point. Every event, experience and individual who touches their lives, influences their values. Our value system manifests in several ways and will ultimately impact on the way we make judgements, and the perceptions or biases we have.
The number of judgements you make in a day is enormous. Some can have impact on yourself, other people or the business. How often do you think about the factors involved in the process or how capable you are at making good judgement? The Judgement Index® accurately measures over 35 factors in your decision making process. From the results, you can build on your strengths, improve others, and identify potential bias.
Making better quality judgements
Our capacity for good judgement will impact on the outcomes of what we say and do.
Better quality outcomes = (competent skill sets + competent processes + good information) X > Good Judgement
If you want better quality outcomes, greater good judgement is vital. Poor processes, skills or information can be offset by good judgement. However, far less effective is having good processes, skills and information and poor judgement. Unconscious bias can occur when poor judgement is coupled with lack of or poor information. Do you and your team have the skills, processes, information and judgement needed to avoid inappropriate bias?
Measuring Good Judgement
Good value-based judgement can help you avoid mistakes of unconscious bias.
“Judgement is the ability to combine personal qualities with relevant knowledge and experience to form opinions and make decisions and is the core of exemplary leadership.”Noel Tichy and Warren Bennis ( Judgment: How Winning Leaders Make Great Calls)
Having used the Judgement Index® for over 10 years, I always find it provides insightful and accurate information. Participants are often pleasantly surprised at the strengths they have. However, it can also unmask issues or frustrations which may lead to unconscious bias.
For example, if your moral clarity is strong, those you perceive to be less moral may frustrate you, or if you are very good at following directions, you may have bias about people who are not following the covid regulations. If harmony in the workplace is important to you, then you may begrudge those who cause disharmony. Once you are conscious of potential bias, then you can choose to change it. Even with excellent judgement capabilities, if your mental wellbeing and energy is poor due to stress, then you may not utilise those strengths.
During this pandemic, global Judgement Index® results have highlighted that stress levels and self-criticism have increased. On the other hand, self-care and meaningfulness of work have declined, which has led to an increase in mental clutter, so priorities can get muddled. In this situation, judgement can deteriorate in a downward spiral. This is at a time when there is a glut of fake news and uncertainty, which add to fears and frustrations. When you recognise what is happening to your judgement, you can take steps to improve the situation. Learning about your potential unconscious bias is the first step, wisdom comes from applying that learning.
Also published on Medium.