If I were to ask this question of a random sampling of leaders and employees, how do you think they’d answer?
Most likely, everyone would present themselves as an open-minded, thoughtful human being, unswayed by their bias. (Except for that weird guy from the third floor. But he’s probably a sociopath.)
The reality is that people don’t like to think of themselves as closed-minded, or at the very least, they know better than to admit it. That’s because companies work like hell to hammer home the fact that inclusion, respect, diversity, love, peace, unicorns and rainbows are an integral part of a successful workplace. And it IS important to be inclusive and respectful.
But deep down, we all kind of suck at it.
I don’t mean we’re all assholes and racists or anything. I just mean that we fool ourselves into thinking we’ve got control over our natural biases. And not just the big ones (gender, race, age, etc.) – I’m talking about white-collar, blue-collar, where you went to school, the shoes you wear, what music you listen to…that kind of stuff. Even the most well-intentioned, self-aware person has inherent biases. [For an eye-opening revelation about your own biases, take the Project Implicit test from Harvard. It’s free. And a little spooky.]
All those little biases add up to a pretty significant impact on our decision-making.
Don’t believe me? Look at your hiring practices. Many organizations have some sort of diversity initiative in place – whether it’s monitoring and reporting, or a specific process to ensure a certain candidate pool mix. Hopefully, these programs ARE making a difference for your organization on a macrolevel.
Now look at the teams around you. Look at YOUR team.
Is everyone just a little too…the same?
Do you all like the same things? Have similar backgrounds? Make decisions the same way?
Did you even realize it when you hired them?
BOOM. That’s bias in action, baby.
If you want to be closer to the level of open-mindedness you claim to have, you have to be aware you’re not perfect and be proactive in your approach to make a difference. Here are a few things you can try, either as a leader or an employee:
- Hiring practices: When hiring, consider taking off names, addresses and school names off the resume. Just look at whether the person meets the required education level and has the right experience. (Bias exists for peers just as much as hiring managers!)
- Job design: Question whether the education level you’re requiring for a job even makes sense. A college degree does not magically make you a better employee and mean you can do the job. I’m not saying it’s NOT a good thing, but question your implicit assumption it’s required for success.
- Teams: Challenge your need to like everyone you work with. I mean, it’s nice and all…but a lot of times we like people because they’re just like us. Same can be boring and stifle innovation. Build and/or join a team with people who will challenge your thinking.
- Silos: Go learn more about the people who do work that is wildly different from yours. If you’re in a corporate office, do some ridealongs with the field folks. If you’re in the field, shadow the corporate people. Understanding of the unknown helps breaks down bias and assumptions.
- Ideas: What happens who you propose an idea and someone questions it? Do you defend it to the death? Do you think the other person is an idiot because they don’t agree? Do you assume they don’t like it because they don’t have your background? All of the above? To be truly open-minded, you have to be open to the fact that you DON’T know everything…even about the topic you’re supposedly THE expert in. Listen and learn.
These are just a few ideas on how you can set up an environment that encourages open-mindedness through behavior, not intention.
Give one or two of them a shot. After all, you’re open-minded….