Bias is something everyone has based on their experiences and their attitudes associated with those experiences. As a mediation and negotiation specialist focusing on conflict resolution, mediation, and negotiation and as a lifelong learner in this field I want to share with you some insights based on recent research. This article focuses on overall commentary on bias and unconscious bias, steps to address unconscious bias organizationally, addressing unconscious bias and prejudice in mediations and negotiations, and bias reduction strategies you can take to help you in these types of situations in the future.
Bias and unconscious bias
Let’s start with a few definitions.
Bias may be defined as prejudice in favor or against one thing, person, or group compared with another, usually in a way considered to be unfair.
Explicit bias may be defined as attitudes about a group we are aware of; can be (in)visible; can be accessed.
Unconscious or implicit bias may be defined as social stereotyping about certain groups of people that individuals form outside their own conscious awareness. Everyone holds unconscious beliefs about various social and identity groups, and these biases stem from one’s tendency to organized social worlds by categorizing.
Given these definitions unconscious bias develops at an early age and emerges during middle childhood (Dore, 2014). Unconscious bias has real world effects on behavior (Dasgupta, 2004). Unconscious biases are malleable meaning that one can take steps to minimize the impact of unconscious bias (Dasgupta, 2013; Dasgupta & Greenwald, 2013). These articles imply that everyone has unconscious bias, and the ability to minimize the impacts of this bias.
Unconscious bias organizationally
There are many examples of unconscious bias in the legal system, educational system, penal system, and health care. With an internet search it is possible to identify over 30 studies on this topic since 1997.
Organizations can take steps to address unconscious bias. Two initiatives worth considering are to develop and use structured interviews and to develop objective evaluation criteria for hiring (Martell & Guzzo, 1991: Heilman, 2001) and to provide unconscious bias training workshops for all constituents. An organization can develop concrete objective steps for evaluations and promotions to reduce standard stereotypes (Fiske &Taylor, 1991; Heilman, 2001; Bernat & Manis, 1994; Heilman & Haynes, 2005)
Addressing unconscious bias and prejudice in negotiations and mediations
There are a series of scholarly articles on this subject. These articles demonstrate that unconscious bias and prejudice is real, and they offer ideas to address unconscious bias and prejudice. Regarding mediation, Carol Izumi, a law professor at the University of California -San Francisco has found it is impossible to actually conduct mediation without bias, but there are strategies to reduce bias. In theory a mediator should have no conflict of interest, be outcome neutral, and not have prejudice or favoritism towards any party. In reality mediators influence the parties using various types of persuasion, for example with the questions they ask and potentially pushing participants towards favored outcomes. Mediators need to be aware of this and be self-aware regarding their impact on the parties and the process.
The Thomas Meyer resume story where half the sample attorneys were given the same information and then were told the candidate was White and the other half of the sample was told the candidate was Black the White candidate was rated 4.1 on a 5.0 scale and the Black candidate was rated 3.2. Regarding 7 spelling errors the reviewers found 2.9 of the White candidate’s errors and 5.8 of the Black candidate’s errors. So, what can be done to overcome unconscious bias?
Bias reduction strategies in mediations and negotiations
The good news is that implicit biases are amenable to change. It takes intention, attention, and effort.
One must first be aware of and acknowledge one’s own biases. You may appear to be non-prejudiced to yourself. Knowing this you know that you have to be intentional about addressing your own bias.
Monitor yourself and catch yourself reinforcing your stereotypes. Take rigorous (more than one hour) anti-bias training associated with Elimination of Bias. Be intentional. If I encounter “x,” I will do “y.” Be aware that distractions, stress, fatigue, time-pressures, and other circumstances may lead to decision making shortcuts and less thoughtful deliberations.
Actively involve yourself with people of different social groups. Intergroup contact correlates with people of different social groups. Exposure to counter-stereotypical typical examples decreases implicit bias. Exposure to positive examples of social groups by whites showed decreased implicit bias towards Black people, women, gay, and Asian Americans in various studies.
By being intentional, with attention and effort studies have confirmed that individuals reduce bias and become more receptive to looking at problems more broadly. The results are less bias, greater productivity and creativity, and a greater sense of accomplishment.
This is by no means exhaustive, but the following references may assist you in digging deeper into these questions and ideas.
- E-Learning Seminar: What You Don't Know: The Science of Unconscious Bias and What to do About It in the Search and Recruitment Process. Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC).
- Exploring Unconscious Bias in Academic Medicine. Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC).
- Project Implicit. Link to the Implicit Association Test (IAT)
- Proven Strategies for Addressing Unconscious Bias in the Workplace. Includes an overview of unconscious bias and includes case studies to explore the impact of unconscious bias in the workplace. Diversity Best Practices. Sponsored by Cook Ross.
- State of the Science: Implicit Bias Review 2014. Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity.
- The New Science of Unconscious Bias: Workforce & Patient Care Implications. This program explores the scientific basis for this new understanding of human bias and the implications of unconscious bias theory for the health care system both in terms of workforce bias and in terms of threats to clinical objectivity.
- The Science of Equality, Volume 1: Addressing Implicit Bias, Racial Anxiety, and Stereotype Threat in Education and Health Care. Perception Institute.
- Unconscious Bias. Cook Ross. Learn more about unconscious bias. Includes links to learn more about training and thought leadership in unconscious bias.
- Unconscious Bias Training for the Health Professions. Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC).
- Women in Science. This special issue of Nature takes a hard look at the gender gap — from bench to boardroom — and at what is being done to close it.
- The Neuroscience of Unconscious Bias. The American Bar Association Litigation Section.
- Unconscious Bias in Academic Medicine. Proceedings of the 2017 AAMC Diversity and Inclusion Innovation Forum.
13. Carol Izumi, Implicit Bias, and Prejudice in Mediation, 70 SMU L. REV. 681 (2017)
Hopefully, the commentary presented here may assist you in exploring your biases and give you for thought on how you may take actions to improve your understanding and enhance your skills going forward.
About the author
Mike Gregory is a professional speaker, an author, and a mediator. You may contact Mike directly at email@example.com and at (651) 633-5311. Mike has written 12 books (and co-authored two others) including his latest book, The Collaboration Effect: Overcoming Your Conflicts, and The Servant Manager, Business Valuations and the IRS, and Peaceful Resolutions that you may find helpful. [Michael Gregory, ASA, CVA, MBA, Qualified Mediator with the Minnesota Supreme Court]