Self-Awareness Addresses Unconscious Bias

Everyone has biases. Our unconscious mind works by using shortcuts based on our background, cultural environment, and personal experiences. We make instantaneous decisions about everything around us and, as a result, we have blind spots.


In milliseconds, we judge whether someone is like us and belongs in our “in group.” These tends to be the people that we favor, that line up with our background, cultural environment and personal experiences.


Often times, we make snap judgements when we interact with other people. We may believe others are acting a certain way, and we form opinions and ideas based upon what’s already in our brain. And where does that come from? You guessed it: our own experiences, background, and cultural influence.


Some people refuse to believe that their belief about a person could possibly be wrong, especially when they are treated poorly, for example. They will contend, “Oh, that person treated me this way because of ____ (fill in the blank).” And, at times, their belief may be right. After all, there are certain social cues that make someone believe they are being treated in a certain manner, but the reason that person is being treated in that manner is where the issue lays. Could it be because that person is just having a bad day, because they are just plain ‘ole rude, or is it because they just don’t like that person because of their gender, race, or overall appearance?


The bottom line is, most people immediately assume they are being treated poorly based upon what lays deep within their unconscious.


It does beg the question then: what is the difference between intuition and unconscious bias? Let’s just say they are like fraternal twins - very similar. We should never disregard our intuition. It’s a good thing to be aware. But we must then take the next step of leaning into a deeper understanding of where this feeling or belief is coming from to validate or dismiss it.


If we were questioning possible legal discrimination, we’d need to prove it. In order to do that, we’d test for it by trying to mimic the situation with similarly situated people and circumstances, to see if there was a pattern of treating people with bias against a particular demographic.


But what does one do in everyday life? After all, these snap judgements and decisions, based on unconscious bias, can be very damaging, as they can impact where you work, how you are treated on the job, where you live, and how others interact with you in your community.


Unfortunately, there is no cure for unconscious bias. However, the more we practice self-awareness and self-care, the more we can be aware of our biases and address them head on, to validate or invalidate them, and see patterns.

Start by developing a daily practice that you do the same time every single day. Consider a morning mediation practice. Read positive books (the Bible works for me), recite daily affirmations, do yoga, pray, and journal. Perhaps you could set times throughout your day to slow your mind down enough to recognize these patterns, and admit that you hold biases toward or against certain groups, places, or things. That takes a hefty dose of humility and, like the book Emotional Intelligence says, “watching yourself like a hawk.”


Pay attention to your own social cues. Also, look around you. Does everyone you associate with inside and outside of your personal circle look, act, and think like you? If so, it’s likely you drank the proverbial Kool-Aid, and you likely have blind spots.


It’s important to associate and work with others who are not like you, to notice where your blind spots exists. Here are a few suggestions, especially if you are a leader in an organization or institution:


  1. Don’t be so quick to make decisions. Deliberately slow down in your decision-making process, especially when your decision affects others.

  2. You may need to reconsider the reason why you made the decision. Again, this is where humility and wisdom come in. It takes a true sense of self to practice this.

  3. Question cultural stereotypes. Surround yourself with others who aren’t like you to see these stereotypes. Read leadership and cultural competency books, and watch how others behave.

  4. Monitor each other for unconscious bias. Assemble a team of people who can help you monitor this and meet regularly.


This is serious work and takes daily practice. You must be committed to this practice or else you will drift back into what’s comfortable and familiar. I am committed to this work and will continue to share tips, encouragement and actions steps through my social media posts, and blog writing. But, it's better if you have someone that you trust that can challenge you and encourage you to work on this goal. Start there and agree to meet with one another often.


If you work at an organization and you are interested in changing the culture and climate at your organization, than you should contact me. We’ll work on taking a deeper dive into the above fours steps, and as a result, your organization will become more diverse and inclusive. Contact me to dig deeper.

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© 2019 by Diana Patton