We are all a combination of our own background, environment and personal experiences and these influence our decision making and our biases. Some of these biases we may be very aware of and can relate directly to your decision. You don’t like marmite so you don’t eat marmite (or vice versa).
Others may not be as obvious and can have an impact on our decisions that we’re not aware of. In 2012 Moss, Racusin et al asked Science faculty staff to evaluate undergraduate applicants for a laboratory position and the results demonstrated subtle biases against female science students. Male applicants were consistently rated as more competent and more hireable than the female ones, despite the only difference being the obviously male or female name.
Given that our biases can be unconscious and are determined by environmental factors, not necessarily that obvious and over which we have no control over (just look at the current adverts for Kinder Eggs), what can we do when making decisions at work?
- Being alert to the fact you may be unconsciously biased is a great starting point, and anything you can do to understand your behaviour style and personality preferences will help.
- Don’t make assumptions. You can’t assume that a particular “look” meant something … you have to ask!
- Gather as much information as you can before making decisions.
- Make sure when you ask someone for their input that you are really listening. Be careful that you aren’t just waiting for your turn to speak and already formulating your response rather than hearing what’s being said.
- Repeat what you have heard to check your understanding and that you haven’t misheard.
- Give yourself time to process the information … there is a reason our grandmothers used to tell us to “sleep on it” if we had a problem.
- Sales and Leadership training will often talk about how buyers make a decision and then find the logical reasons to support their decision. The implication is that the decision to buy is emotional not logical. This is (in my opinion) true with most other decisions too. Make sure that you don’t allow your emotions to make the decision. If you are upset, angry or excited try to step away for a while to allow your emotions to rebalance.
Why does this matter? Ignoring your personal biases leads to less effective decision making, less diversity and a deterioration in business performance and that has to be a worry for us all.
For a first step in understanding yourself and your own biases try our free communication style quiz here