Are your biases carved in stone?

Sep 2, 2018 | Business

The Set Up

I recently found myself stuck in a conference room listening to a speaker who seemed… past his prime. He came in to this professional event dressed flamboyantly: pink jacket, plaid shirt, polka-dot tie. He boisterously announced that he’d like to kick things off by going around the room and shaking each person’s hand. He launched some cowboy music and started making his rounds.

When he finally made it back to the podium, he said we were going to get back to business. But first: haiku. Yep. He read us poems.

Finally, he launched a PowerPoint presentation that had a slide or two about building T-shaped teams with both breadth and depth of knowledge in order to prevent our biases from having too much influence in our decisions. At last! Some content!

Nope. Next were slides about lake-effect snow and his favorite cafe in Geneva, followed by an old photo of the lab where he worked in Scotland during college, and the church where he was married in Denmark. By the time he started his show-and-tell presentation with real-life examples of his award-winning metalwork, I was looking for the door.

The Sting

Then he got me! His next slide was a question:

What is your current bias toward me?

He had us write down our biases, both positive and negative, and pass them forward. He then read them out loud. Laughing all the while!

Dr. Steve Thompson is crazy like a fox. He made his point. Yes, we all have biases. I liked the fact that he seemed a world-traveling intellectual. I think that bias enabled me cut him a bit of slack.

But our biases become a problem when we don’t notice their impact on our decisions.

  • How would I have treated him if he was my new boss?
  • What if he had walked into my showroom?
  • If somebody had hired him to work in my department, how would I assume he needed to be managed?

Maybe some of my assumptions would prove useful, but probably not all. It’s important to be aware when my biases are running the show so I can get back in the director’s chair with my whole self.

Stay tuned for a series of posts describing a few common biases – along with practical suggestions to avoid getting stung by them!