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I don't Have a Bias

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I have seen careers setback and even ruined in meetings. The sad part is that you don’t even have to attend or behave badly to be the victim of these career crushers. Here is all it takes:

Gather a group of managers at any level and bring up the names of contributors not in the room (other teams or individuals) and wait for it. Inevitably, someone will bring up an incomplete project, missed deadline, moment of bad behavior or someone's inability to read the crystal ball of your mind and if that person is a key leader. Unfortunately, most of us have contributed to this process which tells me that there is an element of bias, social pressure, or competition that accompanies this common behavior.

bias in the workplace

Want proof? Watch your friends discuss someone who is not present. You may see the same behavior. Then it occurs to you. What if you weren’t here right now? Would I be the person they are discussing so colorfully? The closest I can get to the why of this behavior is Irving Janis's "Group Think."

What is group think?

A term coined by social psychologist Irving Janis (1972), occurs when a group makes faulty decisions because group pressures lead to a deterioration of "mental efficiency, reality testing, and moral judgment." Groups affected by groupthink ignore alternatives and tend to take irrational actions that dehumanize other groups or individuals. A group is especially vulnerable to groupthink when its members are similar in background, when the group is insulated from outside opinions, and when there are no clear rules for decision making.

The other part of the equation is the truth about our biases and personal position in the hierarchy of things. Again according to Janis there are three contributing factors to groupthink.

  1. Overestimation of group power and morality – From my perspective we seem to think that we have the strength of our team and, as we have witnessed, that can be kind of ugly. Just ask a Red Sox fan where the evil empire is. I'm not sure what happens to our common sense at those moments, but clearly it can appear to have "left town."
  2. Closed mindedness - Some of us call it stubborn and some of us call it determined but sometimes it is just plain wrong to lock onto something without the hope of it ever changing. People change, are fluid, and most everyone who shows up for work daily wants to be successful and do the job well.
  3. Pressures toward uniformity - In America we consider ourselves unique, rebels and non-conformists and yet there seems to be more "go along to get along" than ever. It"s either an IPhone or a Droid that makes you cool and the world let"s each other know just how cool we are on Facebook.

What to do?

Most of us would like to think that we are in control of our own destinations. bias in the workplace To know that for all our good work we can have our careers setback so easily is just a little unnerving. So, what do we do? Here is something to think about.

When you talk to friends and colleagues:

  1. Have the moral courage to not participate in the small minded, behind the back discussion of others.
  2. Be able to point out the good points of people to let others know you will not simply go along in the wounding of someone else's character.
  3. When it happens, have the ability to let others know that it makes you worry about what is said when you are not present.

On the job meetings:

  1. Separate incidents from people character and ask the questions that focus the group.
  2. Find a designated angel advocates – this is the person in each group gathering that is responsible for doing the opposite of “The Devil’s Advocate” to balance the discussion.
  3. Acknowledgement that live can be hurt with the group and keep it front of mind.
  4. When it get away from you at a meeting, stop, check the guidelines of the process and remind the group that criticism is best given one-on-one and praise can be given at any time.

This is not easy stuff but picture a world where you didn't have to worry that your life, friendship and careers were in the hands of others. We all deserve the right to make our mistakes and pay for them accordingly. We also deserve the right to build our reputations through our hard earned reputations and good work.

As always, thank you very much for reading and please feel free to share your ideas and give me feedback.

Enjoy the beautiful Maine spring weather.

5 (4)


Ralph Twombly
Priority Learning

In the 20 years since starting Priority Learning, Ralph has facilitated countless learning experiences and has conducted training for thousands of managers and leaders. With over 30 years of leadership development and organizational development background and work, Ralph continues to build relationships with client companies all over the U.S.



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