OK – I’m about to reveal my dirty little secret: I sometimes speed on the freeway. I know, I know, dangerous, irresponsible, and, frankly, stupid. Just to spare my reputation, I’ll point out here that I’m not talking here about 90 in a 70 MPH zone, but must admit, I’ve been known to hit 80 if I’m at risk for being late to an appointment.
I’m a rational person so one day I asked myself: “Is speeding worth it?” Is it worth the ticket (and increased insurance premiums) or – more important – is it worth the risk of injury to myself or others? Of course, it’s not. Not only is speeding dangerous, studies show that under most circumstances it fails to get us to our destination more than a minute or two earlier. Take my case — going 80 in a 70 MPH Zone. That extra ten miles of speed, if driven consistently for ten miles, gets me to my destination a scant one minute earlier than if I’d stuck to the speed limit.
One minute! Hardly worth the risk and the ticket and that pesky increase in my insurance bill. In other words, the benefit of my penchant for going fast is miniscule at best. Has learning that fact motivated me to slow down? You bet it has. Why? Because the illusion of there being a significant benefit in speeding has dissolved. No point, no benefit, might as well put my foot on the brake.
My awareness of how that loss of benefit improved my behavior got me thinking. I wondered what other bad habits might weaken if, as with speeding, we faced up to the fact that there was little point in maintaining that behavior or – as in the example I’m about to site – in that way of thinking.
Take biases, for example. We cling to those inflexible beliefs about particular categories of people because we think that the generalities they produce enable us to make smarter decisions about what people who are different from us are like, what they need, what they’re good at, and how they are apt to behave in the future. In short, we hang onto our biases because we think they benefit us.
If we can show that biases minimally benefit us in our decision making, might that make us more likely to squelch them in our thinking? Sure, once in a while a specific bias might by chance apply to an individual, but not always and not often. And that’s where our solution to defeating them comes in. If we become aware that our biases provide no benefit, we are more willing to let them go. Take a look at this activity. In my experience, it comes close to doing the trick.
The Purpose: To demonstrate to the learner in a very individual and personal way that biases are not the source of the knowledge they crave.
Process: Give the group or individual this task: Recall a time when you jumped to conclusions about what someone was like based on the group to which they belonged only to see, as you got to know them better, that you were completely wrong.
- Explain that having a bias (that is, that first assumption) doesn’t make them bad people. It’s what they do about the bias that matters.
- Share an example of your own when your initial assumption turned out to be inaccurate.
- Avoid forcing anyone to share their example with the group as a whole. It’s the internal awareness that counts.
- Point out that these inflexible beliefs are not as reliable as they thought – biases do not make us smarter.
Give that activity a try and feel free to contact my office at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions at all.
The material in this post reflects the ideas expressed in Dr. Thiederman’s book 3 Keys to Defeating Unconscious Bias and in the training videos Defeating Unconscious Bias: 5 Strategies and Gateways to Inclusion: Turning Tense Moments into Productive Conversations.
Sondra Thiederman can be contacted for virtual facilitation, and panel participation by clicking here or calling 619-583-4478. For additional information, go to this link to learn more about what Dr. Thiederman has to offer.
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