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The Unconscious Bias

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Manuj Desai, Technology Leader & Author

I was recently asked to author an article on how leaders should manage their high performers. I wanted to step back and author a generic article which just doesn't talk about organizations but in general creates a message for parents, teachers, organizations; relating to wherever there are two or more individuals getting different attention based on their capability to handle themselves.

Just because some are very capable, can handle any work or pains that come their way; it does not mean they deserve all the pain or they should bear the grunt of the under performances.

Unconscious bias has been highlighted for years, and exists in mythological stories in terms of examples or actions or morals that we can learn. We hear about them all the time in corporate worlds or schools or colleges or families where based on capabilities of individuals siblings get different responses from either family members or parents. The outcome of such bias leads to demotivation & vengeance which further gets more biased reactions. This eventually becomes a chain reaction leading individuals to depression which is what I like to call 'the mood to quit'.

Individuals move at different pace and speed in life. This is really fine. The question to leaders is how we keep the balance; in the case of parents and teachers how does one ensure that the preference of enabling does not depend on bias.

Can we coach ourselves to re-align our thoughts where the bias does not build up to a level where our judgments put unnecessary blinders on our decisions and we cannot think beyond what bias tells us to think. Yes our mind is completely coachable however it really takes a good effort to coach your brain to ignore the bias while making decisions.

Let me walk you through an example.

When an elevator door is shutting on you; do you put your hand in the door, or press the desired button again? Have you observed? There is a fair chance that one ‘automatically’ reacts by putting hand or foot or body between the closing doors. We all know it’s risky, but somehow we still end up doing the same. I feel all of us understand that it's ok, if one elevator gets missed, there will be another coming in a matter of minutes if not seconds. We still try to react to the situation. This becomes a judgment call of looking like we are left behind; which is normally not the case.

In the above scenario, if one tries to coach the mind that no matter what happens I will not put my hand or leg but try reaching for the elevator button every time I see an elevator closing on me; it is possible.

Just because some are very capable, can handle any work or pains that come their way; it does not mean they deserve all the pain or they should bear the grunt of the under performances.

Similarly when bias is getting built in your mind, one can coach the brain to not get influenced by the bias. One of the bigger challenges with us as leaders is to be self-aware that we are taking a judgment or decision based on a bias. The situation is quite similar to being under the influence of an addiction. Even if one is not addicted to a vice, if under influence of something one should be self-aware and refrain from doing certain actions like driving a car or machinery. As humans, most of us are aware of this and most of the logical thinkers follow these principles. If one somehow cannot follow these principles there are tools and techniques available which can help with this coaching too.

In the end we only need to answer one simple question. Are we self-aware and do we understand that there are various biases which influence us and if so, are we willing to coach ourselves? Solutions are easy, if we know and agree on the problem statement.

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