7 Biases That Drive Your Decisions At Work

February 15, 2019 Tayo Rockson

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One of the things that impacts our ability to connect effectively across cultures is unconscious bias. It affects who we are as individuals and the decisions we make. Since individuals make up systems – and by extension institutions and policies – it is imperative that we commit to being aware of our biases so they don’t limit our thinking. 

Biases compromise:

  • Our worldviews
  • Our attitudes and behaviors
  • Our attention
  • Our comfort level

Each of these areas impacts your drive and desire to connect with others. Listed below are the most common unconscious biases that influence our world today.

Affinity bias: This occurs when we are drawn to people who share similarities with us. For example, they support the same teams, attended the same college, grew up in the same area, or remind us of someone we know and like.

Attribution bias: Attribution refers to how we explain behavior, attach meaning to something, or see cause and effect. For example, if you’re driving and someone with a New Jersey license plate cuts you off, you immediately assume that because the driver is from New Jersey, all New Jersey drivers are careless. Now anytime you see a driver from Jersey, your bias is activated. A leap is made to attach meaning to the intrinsic nature of someone.

Beauty bias: This refers to how we judge people based on their physical appearance. Unconsciously, many of us associate appearances with personalities – you might assume a tall person is a good leader or a beautiful person is more trustworthy.

Conformity bias: This refers to a tendency to behave like those around you. If your team decides to hire a certain candidate, you may go along with their decision, even if you don’t believe the candidate will add value to your division.

Confirmation bias: This refers to the tendency to gather and process information that is consistent with existing beliefs. For example, a hiring manager might think that certain ethnic groups make for bad employees. As a result, they look for evidence that supports this belief to justify their decision not to hire people from that group.

Halo effect: This happens when one characteristic about a person determines how positively you view them. If someone has done a TED talk and you find that impressive, you might immediately overlook all other pieces of information about them. It is similar to affinity and confirmation biases.

Horns effect: This is the direct opposite of Halo effect and it occurs when a characteristic about a person negatively impacts how you view them.

Biases are formed by socialization. Our brain automatically categorizes, evaluates, and compares things based on the information it receives. How can we objectively monitor our programming?

One way is by reflecting on our experiences. The following exercise is called The Power of Three:

Who are your three best friends?

What are their ethnic backgrounds?

What do they believe in?

What do you bond over or argue about?

What are their orientations, religion, genders, etc.?

Any other information you can think of?

Where are the last three places you’ve lived?

What are the characteristics of those places? Suburb, rural, metropolitan?

Describe the socioeconomic makeup of those places.

Who are the last three people you’ve been in relationships with?

What are their ethnic backgrounds?

What do they believe in?

What do you bond over or argue about?

What are their orientations, religion, genders, etc.?

Any other information you can think of?

These questions help to highlight your opinions and preferences. My hope is that you're able to see how some of the decisions you make today are based on your experiences. This exercise also provides insight into who makes up your sphere of influence. Your sphere of influence is anyone in your circle you has the ability to influence or has the ability to influence you – friends, family, significant others, teachers, mentors.

One of the hardest things for us to do is acknowledge our biases. For some, it might feel like a direct attack on character. We need to move past that way of thinking. Acknowledge your biases because it makes you human. If we don’t, we risk dehumanizing our fellow brothers and sisters and building systems based on perpetuations of false stereotypes.

(Tayo will co-present a session entitled “How to Effectively Connect Across Cultures” at WorkHuman 19, in Nashville, March 18-21.)

About the Author

Tayo Rockson

Tayo Rockson is president and CEO at UYD Management.

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