Unconscious biases: know what they are and how to deal with them

Have you ever come across situations where you had all the logical arguments to choose a certain alternative, but your “intuition” pointed in another direction? Well, that “intuition” didn’t come out of nowhere.

Our mind works through associations and does not always work logically with the relevant information available. And that’s why episodes like these – and bad decisions – happen so often.

We are talking about unconscious biases and they are more common than we think. In fact, they influence our daily decisions, as well as being able to cloud our judgment.

What are unconscious biases?

Unconscious biases are generally defined as biases or prejudices of an individual for or against a thing, a person or a group. They arise in view of our judgments, thoughts and ideas related to past experiences stored in the brain. 

Thus, biases occur from a neurological process that takes place in the hippocampus and that, without us realizing it, affect our attitudes. They are basically secret barriers and invisible obstacles. 

In addition, we can understand them as generalizations based on stereotypes of race, class, ethnicity, age, gender, sexual orientation and others. These are deep-rooted prejudices that are difficult to recognize.

the mental patterns

Such beliefs were incorporated without us realizing it, however, they end up dictating our behavior in an almost “natural” way. And that happens all the time. For this, we will use the selection processes for a job vacancy as an example.

When faced with two very similar CVs from a white person and a black person, or from a male candidate and a female candidate, the recruiter will have a “preference”. That is, even if the latter two are more competent for the position, they are more likely to select the white person and the man for the job.

However, this does not mean that he deliberately thought that, because he was male or because he was white, that person would be better to take on the responsibilities of that job. In fact, by making an automatic judgment, he acted “under control” of the built-in biases he carries – just like we all do.

Our attitudes and thoughts are largely guided by systematic mental patterns rather than rational judgments. And this is directly linked to the social exclusion of minority groups and to ethnic-racial, class, gender, sexual orientation and physical disability discrimination. 

How to deal with unconscious biases

It is important to note that we are all “biased”, that is, susceptible to bias, simply because we are human. Completely eliminating these biases is very difficult, after all, they are human nature, but we can certainly minimize their effects.

The first step in reprogramming our mind is to accept that we have such barriers. It is not “wrong” to have them, but to deny them out of pure “self-prejudice”. Don’t be shy about recognizing these patterns.

Assuming biases allows us to be attentive to identify reasoning and situations in our daily lives in which these prejudices are commanding our thinking or posture.

It is a constant exercise in reflection. Do not think that you will be able to change these thoughts overnight, however, it is possible over time to improve the way we deal with them.

The impact on work

As mentioned earlier, such involuntary beliefs affect our routine, however, they have a devastating impact on the work environment. Unconscious biases affect rational judgment and push forward unseen biases.

In this sense, it is essential to implement Diversity and Inclusion programs, for example, and to carry out practices or dynamics that propose reflections on these incorporated beliefs.

In order to have a truly diverse and inclusive job market, we need to do the daily exercise of escaping from easy and automatic thinking. In this way, it is necessary to get out of the comfort zone and always question our first impression of someone. 

In any area of ​​life, it is essential to act with empathy, even if it means doubting your own conclusions to digest opinions and ideas different from yours. And this is not an easy task.

However, betting on diversity and homogeneity is a way to deal with unconscious biases. In this way, it will be possible to prosper in all areas of our lives, after all, we regain control of our judgment.

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