I really do like being right – most people do. For my two cents, that’s OK; being right about something feels good, it gives us confidence, and is great for our egos. Being wrong, on the other hand, can leave us downcast and discouraged.
This pain of being wrong may be bearable if our error is choosing the wrong victor in the Super Bowl or taking a wrong turn on our way to a business dinner, but what happens when the thing we are wrong about is more deeply rooted?
That’s when the trouble begins.
Take biases, for example, those inflexible beliefs about particular categories of people that we learn from the media, intense experiences, or significant people in our lives. Because they are so deeply rooted, it is a lot harder to accept that the belief just might be wrong.
Let’s say a person has, for example, a bias that says, “All Mexicans are lazy,” or “All white people are racist,” or “All women are overly-emotional.” What happens when that person meets hard-working folks from Mexico, white people who show respect for members of all groups, or women who manage their emotions just fine?
Because this reluctance to accept we have been wrong is so strong, the believer is apt to be blind to the evidence of their mistake. Or, if they can see it, they might fall into the trap of automatically assuming that the counter-bias examples are “exceptions to the rule.”
So the question becomes, how on earth can we help people, and ourselves, overcome this resistance to changing our minds about our biased beliefs? As with most challenging things in life, the process requires taking a step-at-a-time. In this case, that first step is to create an awareness of what it feels like to resist change so we can spot the resistance when it happens and, thereby, have a fighting chance of overcoming it.
To create that awareness, I have developed a simple activity that has proven effective with a wide-variety of groups. Feel free to use this whenever you think appropriate – you will be surprised at the productive discussion – and awareness – it generates.
Purpose: To create in participants an awareness of resistance to changing their beliefs (biases) about groups and, in turn, increase their ability to see and validate evidence that runs counter to their bias.
Visuals: Create an animated slide that includes the following instructions. Design the slide so each line can slide on the screen individually in response to your mouse click.
1. Think of a person whom you very much admire.
2. Think of someone you very much dislike.
3. Think of a quality you dislike about your most admired person.
4. Think of a quality you like about your most disliked person.
1. Tell the group that you will lead them through the steps of an activity. Do not tell them the purpose of the activity.
2. Bring in each of the four steps one by one allowing approximately 20 seconds for them to complete each task.
3. After the final step, ask the group how it felt to undertake tasks #3 and #4. Inevitably, some will say how difficult it was to even consider something bad about their most admired person or good about the disliked person.
4. Follow-up on those comments by asking why they found those last tasks so difficult. Answers might be: “I didn’t want to be wrong,” “I didn’t want anything to weaken how strongly I felt,” “I’ve put so much stake in liking (or disliking) the person, I couldn’t stand the thought that maybe I have said or done things in the past that were misguided.”
5. At that point, point out that, although resisting changing one’s mind about the nature of an individual is not a bias in the sense that we are using it here (“an inflexible belief about a category of people”), the emotions that accompany being asked to change our minds are the same. Explain that, now that they are aware of their resistance to change, they can watch for that same feeling as they go through the process – covered in the rest of the workshop – of defeating bias.
Seem simplistic? Maybe, but, in my experience, this activity, not only immediately involves participants in the topic of unconscious bias, but also, provides them a tool – self-awareness – that they can readily apply as they work toward seeing others more accurately.
copyright 2019 Sondra Thiederman, Ph.D. Feel free to reprint or re-post this article as long as copyright and website information (www.thiederman.com) are attached.