Bias Definition Part III: A Reasonable Mistake

Before you decide if there is a bias at play in the clip, take a look at our definition one more time:  A bias is an inflexible, positive or negative, conscious or unconscious belief about a particular category of people.

What do you think? Is there bias depicted in this incident? As I said earlier, this one is tricky. To sort it out, I’ve divided the event into two chapters.

Chapter #1: The speaker made an error about where his colleague was from. Certainly no bias there – this can happen all-too-easily in our multi-cultural society. Although ideally the speaker should have asked rather than assume, his assumption was a matter of slightly poor etiquette, not bias. Fundamentally, the speaker was basing his assumption on the fact that most of his Spanish speaking colleagues were in fact from Mexico – a reasonable, if inaccurate, assumption. Clip_3_snapshot

Having said that, instances of  “slightly poor etiquette” have the power to make others feel slighted and even devalued. Just because this man’s assumption probably did not reflect a bias does not mean there isn’t room for improvement in how he treats his new colleague.

Chapter #2: The other element is the negative reaction of the new employee to having been mistaken as a Mexican. Does that negativity mean that the employee has a bias against people from Mexico?  In other words, does he harbor the inflexible belief that  “All Mexicans are inferior to Argentines” with the corollary of feeling insulted if mistaken for one?

Prepare for one of the hardest things to accept about diagnosing bias: the presence of ambiguity. Is the employee biased? It’s hard to say. Perhaps he just has a strong sense of national identity and, at the same time, thinks folks from Mexico are just fine. He might simply be proud be an Argentine and anxious to be acknowledged as such. Or, he could have a bias.

How can you know? Talk to him. A diverse workplace is all about respect and respect means giving everyone the opportunity to be heard and, in turn, judged fairly. Of course there are behaviors that are inappropriate in the workplace and that cannot be tolerated no matter what the attitude behind them. Most of the time, however, there is room to explore what is really going on. In the course of that exploration, you just might be surprised at what you find.

Click here to preview the entire Is It Bias? training video.

If you’d like to learn how to defeat bias in your workplace, take a look at Dr. Thiederman’s new book, 3 Keys to Defeating Unconscious Bias: Watch, Think, Act.

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