September 14, 2018

Implicit Bias: Can Unconscious Assumptions Affect Your Daily Interactions?

by Kwame Christian, Director, American Negotiation Institute

Most people don’t look forward to implicit bias training. Why? Because most trainings can be summarized like this: “I am racist. You are racist. We live in a racist society. Good luck!” The trainings often focus only on awareness and not on problem-solving, which causes people to feel frustrated and annoyed.

Something needs to change. In addition to focusing on the reality of bias, these trainings must also provide practical solutions to making difficult conversations easier between people of different races, genders and beliefs. This will, ideally, allow people to recognize these biases in their own lives and turn toward positive change.

What is the simple key to success in these conversations?

In my TED Talk, Finding Confidence in Conflict, I shared the conflict management framework called Compassionate Curiosity. It has 3 steps:

1. Acknowledge Emotions
2. Get Curious (with compassion)
3. Joint Problem Solving

This framework can be utilized internally before difficult conversations to make sure your heart and mind are aligned and externally during the difficult conversation to put you in a position to get what you want and need without jeopardizing relationships.

Compassionate Curiosity is a powerful tool that we can use to address our own implicit biases before and during the conversation.

First, you need to acknowledge the biases that could be at play within the conversation, either for you or your conversational counterpart. Implicit biases are usually not something you are consciously aware of, so taking the time to evaluate your actions and instinctive attitudes is important.

Second, you need to get curious about the origins of your biases and investigate how they impact the way you navigate these conversations. It’s important to engage in this process with compassion so you don’t vilify yourself. Self-vilification leads to shame and shame leads to withdrawal.

Lastly, you need to prepare by creating strategies to break through the biases before you address the substantive issues at play in the conversation. Once you’ve completed this process of preparation you will be ready to engage in the conversation.

Think of it as the conflict before the conflict. If you fail to recognize the first conflict you will struggle in the second conflict. This small tweak can work wonders when it comes to having difficult conversations with people with different backgrounds.