Three groups – not two. That’s a pretty interesting way of looking at it, don’t you think? No longer are dog and cat lovers separate groups who just might have biases (inflexible beliefs) about each other. All of a sudden, through a simple exploration of what they have in common, they, while still staying distinctive, share a third group characterized by its shared love of animals.
This example, and the kinds of biases it may involve, may be superficial, but the principle of identifying common ground can apply to any bias you might have in your workplace. So why, you might be asking, does identifying what we have in common reduce bias? There are three dynamics at work. Each of these is a reflection of what happens when we begin to think of others as part of our own group (“animal lover”) in addition to the distinct cat and dog lover groups.
First, when we think of someone as one of “us” rather than as an “other,” we tend to spend more time with them and, therefore, have experiences that allow us to see them as individuals. Once we see a person as an individual with unique characteristics, it is impossible, by definition, to apply characteristics to them based solely on the group to which they belong.
Second, we tend to bring more neurons to the task of seeing people as individuals when we see them as a member of our group.
Third, once we think of someone as sharing a group identity with ourselves, any characteristic (biased belief) we might have applied to them because of the “other” group to which they belong begins to fade. It simply is no longer pertinent. The individual’s similarity to us – our shared “animal lover” group – becomes more important
Again, nobody is saying that the difference disappears or isn’t valued. We are merely saying that added to that difference is a shared group that allows us to see each other as unique and valued individuals.