Bias-Spotter Partnerships: Calling Your Team to Action

Sondra Thiederman, Ph.D.

The challenging thing about an unconscious bias is, well, it’s unconscious. Fortunately, though, the conscious mind is not the only tool at our disposal for spotting bias. Another is to keep an eye on the actions and decisions that these inflexible beliefs about categories of people can spawn. This is where “Bias-Spotter Partnerships” come in.inconscious bias

A Partnership of Accountability

A Bias-Spotter Partnership is the pairing of team members for purposes of observing each other’s actions and, ultimately, identifying the biases that might lie behind them.

Not only do the observations of the partner serve to identify manifestations of bias, but the very fact that another person is “on duty” motivates each partner to watch carefully for their own bias-based behaviors. Research, in fact, shows that even just being accountable to another person is a key component of bias awareness and reduction.

A Partnership of Mutual Support and Trust (No “Gotcha!” Allowed)

The Bias-Spotter Partnership strategy is not about setting up a mini¬¬–police state. To the contrary, it is rooted in trust and friendship. In this spirit, these guidelines should be kept in mind.
1. As in any good partnership, both parties must commit to the betterment of the team.

2. Both partners must be willing and able to make all observations in the spirit of mutual support; this is not a “Gotcha!” strategy.

3. Bias Spotter partners need to be extra vigilant when the partner is functioning in a new environment, when they are rushed, or when they are under an unusual amount of stress. It is then that biases are most apt to influence our thinking and our actions.

4. Both team members, too, must commit to seriously considering the accuracy of any observations made by their partner. In order to do this, it is helpful to sit with the feedback for a few days before responding. That break gives our natural defensiveness time to settle down and allows for a clearer perspective and more productive response.

A Partnership That Benefits Us All

Isn’t it lucky that even the most unconscious biases aren’t very good at staying hidden? All biases eventually reveal clues to their existence in the form of our words, decisions, or actions. We may only be favored with a fleeting glimpse out of the corner of our – or our partner’s – eye, but, if we and our partner are vigilant, that glimpse just might be enough to get the healing process started.


© copyright 2017 Sondra Thiederman, Ph.D.
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