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May 30

I Once Was Blind: 3 Ways That Unconscious Bias Can Be An Eye-Opener

Ah, the deceptive blind spot. Each of us is plagued by a few, which serve as big barriers to clear communications and a workplace culture of trust. That is, unless we actively arrange for those blind spots to be revealed to us, and follow up by taking ownership. As we’ve learned through exploring the topic, this can be accomplished through Active Listening.

Often when we assume we’re listening to a boss or colleague, we’re running the risk of misunderstanding what we hear. As the workplace becomes more diverse, this problem with listening becomes more prevalent, as we each perceive and interpret the world differently. Since our observations are rooted in our past experiences, they can be summed up as Unconscious Bias. And if you’re thinking this doesn’t apply to you, take a closer look. We ALL have our own unconscious biases, in quite the same way we’re all physically composed of unique DNA. But when you think of your life’s experiences as your memory’s DNA, you can begin to recognize these biases and manage them to work to your advantage.

Here’s what I mean: During our lives, we’ve acquired countless experiences that form who we are today. These memories help establish the beliefs and patterns that drive our behaviors. But since we cannot recall most of our memories, we don’t realize the effect they’ve had on us. Acknowledging this, let’s look at how the words “unconscious bias” reach deep and wide into our lives.

The Basis of Bias

Your social location. Think of it as your personal “terroir”, like that of a successful vineyard. Factors such as soil type, altitude, temperature fluctuations and angle to the sun all combine to give wine grapes their terroir. A person’s terroir is comprised of one’s ethnicity, social class, birth order and geographic upbringing.

My experiences as a Jewish female, the first born to a middle-class family in Brooklyn, NY, when compared with the experiences of a Jewish female who is the youngest child in a middle-class family in Cairo, would fit us with very different lenses through which to experience the world, despite any intrinsic parallels. Compare my experience with that of a male equivalent from anywhere, and there’s sure to be an even wider contrast between our world views. Once you understand the extent to which everyone’s outlook on life is in contrast, you can use unconscious bias to your advantage, and begin to better understand others who are “not like you”. Here are three practical ways to start your journey:

1. Acknowledge and be sensitive to your biases to gauge how you see the world compared with others. For example, when two State Troopers walk down the aisle of your commuter train, take into account that people of different terroir have different internal responses. Some feel an increased sense of security, while others feel threatened, distrustful, or even hateful.

2. Make a conscious effort to put yourself into other people’s shoes. Start by utilizing your social skills: Get to know your colleagues and actively listen as they speak. This will give you a sense of how they see the world. Remember to always ask open-ended questions so you’re not putting your words into their mouths.

3. Widen your own lens to make your worldview include that of others. Watching news networks other than your favorite, and consuming movies or TV in different genres or generational target can accomplish this in a rewarding manner. Apply this approach to your social circles and professional network as well. Instead of chatting it up with your friends at a networking event or a company function (which is the greatest sin of networking), intentionally introduce yourself to someone who looks different from you. As they speak, be curious. Accept that they believe their truth, even if it doesn’t jibe with your worldview. Tune your ear and adjust your conversational patterns to be inclusive, not exclusive.

Stay tuned-in as I continue this article thread on eliminating blind spots. For starters, you’ll find out why, unbeknownst to you, you lie to yourself!

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