How many of your ideas have you shared today? How many decisions have you made? Many of us fear making a decision, as it might be the wrong one. Our decision-making is influenced heavily by our unconscious bias – the attitudes and beliefs we don’t know we have. It is an automatic mental shortcut and it happens when we allow our own feelings, stereotypes, or beliefs to impact our judgment or understanding of other people. 

I’d like you to take a look at the unconscious biases that you might have that are possibly limiting your success [see more on HardTalk here].

Bias against yourself can take many forms including: not taking up opportunities, putting things off or not facing up to problems. Bias is keeping us from speaking up, seeking feedback or from being more creative. It can shape our attitudes toward our colleagues in ways that can undermine our own credibility.  

As thoughts create emotions, flawed negative thinking can bring on the feelings associated with anxiety. Anxious individuals are usually dismissive of anything they do well and overly worried about other people and their reactions.

How is bias impacting our work? 

A business mostly thrives when every person is invited to bring their distinct viewpoint to the table. Yet, between a third and a half of your employees are not fulfilling their potential and this could be due to an introverted personality, imposter syndrome or unconscious bias. McKinsey found unconscious biases are holding women back. Women receive less credit and give themselves less credit, which can lead to a ruined self-confidence and to a significant amount of stress.  

Have you ever felt like you’re a fraud? Like you don’t actually deserve your job and accomplishments? Imposter syndrome is probably something we’ve all encountered at some point in our lives. A whole range of career-related factors are negatively impacted by it, resulting in people who suffer from it failing to fulfil their potential. And yet contrary to popular belief, impostor syndrome is not a ‘women’s thing’ and isn’t reserved for the overly accomplished.

My Superpower?

As an introvert I prefer one-on-one conversations to group activities. Meetings with 5+ people can be a real challenge. Does this ring a bell? Before a meeting or a presentation, I will often find myself thinking through what’s going to happen.  

Why is introversion viewed as bad? It’s because people are led to believe that introversion is a problem. In reality, this is just a personality trait. Introverts gain energy while being alone.   

“… 65% of senior corporate executives viewed introversion as a barrier to leadership…” (Grant et al. 2010 “The Hidden Advantages of Quiet Bosses”)

Introverts have just as much to offer as extroverts. Because they are good listeners, they are good in many business roles. In a changing environment, introverts are often more effective leaders. To quote Susan Cain: “Remember: There is zero correlation between being the best talker and having the best ideas.”

Why worrying is costly?  

“If you don’t understand people, you don’t understand business.” – Simon Sinek

Hiding and not sharing our thoughts so that we’re less vulnerable to criticism can lead to Dominant Group – Think. And that can have enormous consequences – individuals are afraid to ask questions or challenge decision-making. A study from the Frankfurt School of Management found that managers who suffer from imposter syndrome are more likely to recruit and promote others of a similar mindset. That can lead to “Similar to Me” bias – managers see something of themselves in the candidate, and therefore choose those that are most like them. It can set this mindset throughout the organisation, which is perhaps not what we’d like to see.  

When you don’t feel psychologically safe within your workplace, a team’s success rate drastically lowers. Our capacity to think logically and reflectively diminishes. That robs us of the freedom to create and add value. Leaders need to build an environment that makes people feel emotionally safe and valued. Psychological safety is vital to success in uncertain environments.  

What do you do when you realise you have a bias, even against yourself? 

A real eye-opener for me was the TEDx talk by Kristen Pressner – “Are you biased? I am”. Kristen explores how we can recognise our own hidden biases – and keep them from limiting us. Her message “Flip it to test it” is tremendously important. Challenging the biases against ourselves can also help us clear out some of the biases we hold toward others. Sometimes the most difficult conversations are those with ourselves. These are the HardTalks. 

Here are some ways to address bias and anxiety: 

  1. Acknowledge your own biases – are you basing your decisions on 30 second judgments? Assess where your biases may be impacting your beliefs.  
  2. Change your perspective: “Flip it to test it” – try using an unconscious bias perspective when considering job promotions or how you interact in teams.  
  3. View failure as a growth opportunity – look at your achievements, consider the concrete evidence of how much you’ve done and learned – and talk about it. 
  4. Actively work to be thoughtful and present in the moment, instead of bringing baggage or distraction from another experience or task.  
  5. Learn about different personality types – this will help you to get to know your team members and understand how to work with them better. It is important to understand other people’s value and appreciate their working styles.  

What leaders can do?  

  1. Focus on people – give your team a voice and be open to feedback. Take the time to listen to their feelings and opinions and act on them when it makes business sense.  
  2. Promote a safe environment – when conducting group discussions, you may find that some team members will dominate the discussion. Develop a practice where everyone gets the chance to voice their perspective or ideas.  
  3. Use language that is inclusive and clear – lack of clarity can cause confusion and create openings for bias to rise. 
  4. Show appreciation and look for opportunities to publicly acknowledge accomplishments.  

Bias and worrying keep us from thriving. But if we accept it as a challenge to address, not a personal failing, we make it possible to move forward in any new direction we choose. Vulnerability has an invaluable superpower – it allows us to build trust between people. When people feel safe enough to risk sharing their ideas, groups thrive. In order to fully use the diversity of its employees, organisations need to be flexible. Otherwise the result is overlooked talent, fewer ideas put forward and reduced problem-solving abilities. Skills that businesses cannot afford to lose.  

Let’s change things! Choose to behave differently. What if you are missing an opportunity to see the world differently? 

Rafaela Rafailova is an HR professional, committed to supporting companies by linking people strategies to business strategies. Her expertise includes talent acquisition and talent management, leadership and employee relations. Rafaela’s recruitment experience covers human resources, management, sales, and business support and office administration, among others. She is also a member of the Chartered Management Institute (CMI) and also holds a Master in Business (Human Resources) and a Bachelor in Business Economics. A diversity and equal opportunity advocate by day, a reader by night, she also tries in vain to catch up on all those travel TV shows. Find her on Twitter here: @R_RafailovaMCMI


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