A Timeless Truth
“No matter how smart they are, most people usually only see what they’re already looking for, and that’s all.”
Funny, True Story
I’ll admit, my side hustle is still being an attorney but only for family and friends’ speeding tickets. So a couple of days ago…I accompanied someone for his mild speeding ticket.
The bailiff (a very sweet older gentleman) assumed the man I’m representing was the attorney.
My client replied, “No, I am not an attorney; she is” (pointing in my direction). The bailiff was visibly confused.
I turned around, walked back to where they both were standing and had to convince the bailiff twice that I, in fact, am the attorney.
It didn’t seem to compute with the bailiff. When he finally concluded I wasn’t joking but am indeed who I claim to be, the sweet bailiff gallantly told me how to do my job. (I’ve been practicing law nearly 20 years.)
Moral of the story? Well, there’s two.
- “Girls” do practice law & we do it well
- Unconscious bias exists. It’s alive & well – in all of us, including this sweet bailiff. So sometimes we don’t see, hear or accept what’s obviously before us.
I wish the bailiff well, appreciate his kindness, and am reminded to be vigilant and wary of my own assumptions.
How does this apply to everyday life?
Unconscious bias affects not only us personally but also our team and organizations. It’s one of the most serious challenges to leadership because it impacts hiring decisions, meetings, teamwork, innovation and creativity, and so much more.
Unconscious bias is rarely driven by malice or an intent to favor one group over the other. The opposite is true. Our own biases are typically rooted in our survival instinct, our need to be efficient, and our own limited experiences.
Unconscious Biases’ Root Cause
Did you know we receive approximately 11M bits of information every, single moment and we’re only able to process about 40 bits?
So, our brains being the efficient machines that they are, essentially create a filter — this filter is based on our experience which creates the unconscious bias. This is why we’re often unaware of it when we’re engaging in it.
Learning about bias helps us to become aware of our own biases so that we can begin to curb them.
There are 5 basic biases that typically impact our workplace and lives:
- Affinity Bias: Warming up to people like ourselves
- Halo Effect: Tendency to favor a person because we like them
- Perception Bias: Tendency to form stereotypes and assumptions about groups
- Confirmation Bias: Seeking out information that confirms our own preexisting beliefs
- Group Think: Going along with or adopting a group’s thoughts and opinions in order to fit in
Lately, I’ve been aware of my perceptions and unconscious, self-selected, automatic thinking.
Holding each assumption or immediate conclusion, being curious about it, then taking a 360-degree hard look at it, helps tremendously. Maybe give it a try this week?
The above story really did happen. It was actually fortunate because it helped me better appreciate the dynamic of what was happening. If you’d like to read an excellent book on leadership, which contains a phenomenal chapter on bias, check out the “Exceptional Leaders Playbook,” by Tracy Spears and Wally Schmader. The book is incredibly practical and the inspiration for this email and the statistic cited in it.
P.S. I’m interested to hear what you think about the topic. Hogwash, or truth? Also, if you begin to see the invisible, please share your experiences with me. Thanks so much!
© Kirstin Lowry Sommers