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06 Apr. 2017 | Comments (0)

Biases – everyone has them.  We carry around implicit biases that impact how we think, feel, and ultimately act. Kept in check or control our biases simply help us unconsciously process millions of bits of information quickly.  But when our biases go unchecked, tolerated, or rationalized by our environment and experiences, then quality of decision making, performance, trust and relationships can suffer.

Consider this research:

  • 99.999996% of information our brain receives is processed unconsciously
  • First impressions are made in 1/10th of one second
  • The average human can only listen for 17 seconds before interrupting or interjecting their own thoughts
  • Less than ½ percent of adults studied said that he/she was more biased than the average person.  We all have bias blind spots.

Lou and I reflected on these research facts and recalled many life and work experiences where bias was both overt and subtle.  Most often, the end results and perceptions were also negative.  For example, we saw:

  • A high end car dealership ignore and refuse to negotiate with an individual of a different race (Lost sale)
  • A retailor belittle a new home buyer because of their dress (Builder took vendor off preferred list)
  • A translator become ineffective because he felt the audience was uneducated (Replaced translator)
  • Leaders listening less to others' advice because their tenure was not as long as the leader (Disengaged new hires)
  • Team members multi-tasking when someone with a different accent spoke (Alienated and mistrust)
  • Individuals not getting credit for supervising others because it was in a different company (Disengagement)

Try this simple but powerful 10 question assessment.  Rate each item below using the scale (1= rarely; 2 = sometimes; and 3 = frequently). 

In my organization, I see or hear people react and interact differently with each other when there is different:

  1. Universities/colleges attended?
  2. Addresses where they live?
  3. Holidays and traditions practiced?
  4. Location, department or shift worked?
  5. Names? (e.g. William, Shaniqua, DeShaun, Catalina, Santiago, Yusof, Abdul, or Shihong)
  6. Accent, tone, or inflection in their voices?  
  7. Physical attributes? (e.g. weight, height, mobility, dexterity, etc.)
  8. Experiences? (e.g. work experience – in and outside the company, international assignments, etc.)
  9. Generation born in?
  10. Dress and appearance?

Biases impact our judgment, choices, and decisions.  They also impact who we interact with, solicit feedback from, and trust.  Subtle bias messages are sent and received daily that bottom line tell others - if they are welcome – if they are valued – if they matter.  Uncontrolled biases can create exclusion, separation, division, and reduced performance.

When trying to mitigate "out of control biases" within an organization, we've learned that it takes much more than just statistics, catchy clichés and/or symbols on the wall. It requires a movement and not a monument. It requires clarity of expectations, accountability, and basic values-based behaviors.  More on this in our next blog.

But, the first step to improvement is awareness.  Are biases in or out of control in your organization?  



  • About the Author:Brian Gareau

    Brian Gareau

    Brian Gareau is a Senior Fellow, Human Capital at The Conference Board. In this role, Brian supports the Human Capital Practice which includes The Conference Board Human Capital Exchange&tra…

    Full Bio | More from Brian Gareau

  • About the Author:Lou Roddy

    Lou Roddy

    Lou started his professional career at Caterpillar Inc., in 1974 as a logistics parts stocker at the Mossville Industrial Engine Division. Lou held several positions inside Caterpillar Inc., including…

    Full Bio | More from Lou Roddy


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