Friday, May 11, 2018

Three “Do Not” to Overcome Unconscious Bias

Do not always follow the conventional wisdom or preconceived opinions, be an independent and critical thinker without being excessively critical.  Blind faith = blind assumptions = unconscious biases.

No one is absolutely objective. We all have biases; some with more; some with less; some of that we are aware of and some of that we are not. Have you ever mislabelled, or over-analyzed others; have you always kept bi-polar thinking to judge “good or bad”? Have you always listen to what being told or taught without the second thought? Have you paid too much attention to trivial or insignificant details, but lost the holistic picture? Etc. With the rapid growth of information and fast-paced changes, it’s important to challenge conventional wisdom and eliminate pre-conceptual assumptions or unconscious bias which is often caused by misperception or mislabeling. Perception is based on one’s thought processes which are influenced by one’s thinking style, cognitive understanding, and knowledge level, therefore, it is subjective. Understand the filters that influence one’s unconscious biases is critical to the choice or the judgment you make. Because when the assumption is wrong, the conclusion will also go wrong. Here are three “Do Not” practices to overcome unconscious bias.


Do not label people only based on physical identity or superficial criteria: The stereotypical thinking or pre-conceived ideas about how things should happen is propagating. Lack of the breadth of knowledge or the depth of understanding is the root cause of poor judgment. Labels can be bad or misleading, but they aren't inherently so. It's when a label carries negative connotations, and drives bipolar thinking that might cause the problems or poor judgment. People misjudge others based on the superficial criteria or wrong standards; people misjudge others based on their own narrow lenses, people misjudge others based on distorted perception such as amplifying small defects but ignoring the big picture. People get de-energized with the negative vibes and the business suffer from lower employee morale and engagement. Often people have an unconscious bias; while themselves are also the victim of the bias. Therefore, it is important to practice, practice, and practice more on how to think deeply and make sound judgments in building a healthy working environment and improving business effectiveness and maturity.

Do not just listen to the one side of the story or see only one side of the coin: Either initiating communication, making decisions, designing products/services or driving changes, always understand two sides of coins. From the top down, the heterogeneous setting is important to eliminate unconscious bias and fill the blind spot. People down the organization need to have the appreciative eyes for the diverse viewpoint and be encouraged to speak up. Because creativity simply cannot blossom without diversity. Business leaders should recognize and reward their outliers and unconventional thinkers because they are the innovation champions who can help to overcome unconscious bias and inspire the culture of learning and creativity. Always listen to the two sides of the story. Everyone has a voice and every voice carries weight. To have this happen reliably requires a bidirectional and reciprocal cycle of questions and answers. If you stand at the right angle to see both sides, you know even they are different, but both hold part of truth in it. At the age of agricultural primitivity or industrial silo, perhaps you only see or understand one side, believe it is right, and then assume the other side must be wrong. But now well live in the hyper-connected digital age with unprecedented technology advance, the abundance of information and digital convenience, it’s important to know how to absorb and update knowledge, as well as how to think independently and objectively. Story-telling is a fundamental building block to a complete understanding of the complex interactions and shape the way we think as teams of people. If the positive and hopeful stories are not told, the negative and dangerous ones will be.


Do not, actually, never stop learning: At today’s business dynamic with the information explosion, digital leaders and professionals have to adapt to a faster learning method for making effective decisions or sound judgments. If you only know two colors - Black and White; then perceptions are filtered into one of those two dimensions. You can only know what you know, but there are more dimensions which you don’t know; there’s known unknown and unknown unknown. The business and the world change so fast, you simply cannot make sound judgments based on the mindset shaped decades ago or knowledge learned many years ago. Seasoned persons in life become aware when some of the long-acquired knowledge is no longer applicable in certain situations. The key is to keep learning and become insightful. A learning mind is always in the search for new things and a new way to learn! Relearn the updated knowledge for gaining the insight on the changing circumstance. Fundamentally, being objective means the open mind to gain the insight and foresight of circumstance.

Be open-minded and insightful. Do not always follow the conventional wisdom or preconceived opinions, be an independent and critical thinker without being excessively critical. Set common principles for looking beyond the surface, and continue to improve your ability to lead with an impartial mind. Acceptance of others as they are, without prejudice or destructive criticism, acceptance of self as an indefatigable spirit. Keep practicing to overcome unconscious bias for making sound judgments and improving professional maturity.

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