Over the past couple of years, I have had conversations with leaders that would go something like this:
Leader: The workforce is changing significantly and leaders are not responding well.
Me: What do you mean the workforce is changing? In what way?
Leader: The younger generation of workers are no longer tolerant of mocking/rude comments, off-color jokes, subtle discriminatory practices, and hostile, derogatory attitudes particularly from their managers. Previous generations put up with disrespectful behavior even though they did not like it. Today’s young people are willing to speak out.
Me: Isn’t this a good thing? Don’t you want to promote a safe and inclusive environment?
Leader: Absolutely! However, many long-term managers and leaders are completely unaware that what they are saying/doing is inappropriate and potentially hurtful. How do we help them become more aware?
We have thoughts about people we don’t know we have. Researchers have referred to it as implicit bias – the attitudes, stereotypes, and assumptions that we are not aware of. This isn’t surprising, really. Although it is the source of everything we see and experience, the world inside our head is invisible. And not only is this world invisible, it operates at the speed of light. We are in a 3-D, living color reality – at all times, instantly.
While the term implicit bias may be relatively new, the fact that we have thoughts we don’t know we have is as old as humanity itself. Much of our thinking is invisible to us yet that thinking is creating the very experience of reality we are having at every moment. We can’t escape this fact but we can understand it. This has been the centerpiece of our work at Insight Principles.
All of our programs attempt to shine a light on the world inside your mind. We point out that the principles of Mind, Consciousness, and Thought make it possible for you to think and for that thinking to come alive and show up to you as a reality. And, your experience of reality is unique to you. No one consistently thinks exactly the same thing at exactly the same time as you do. We refer to this phenomenon as separate realities. When you understand the inside-out nature of experience and the fact of separate realities, you are not immune from implicit bias. You are, however, better equipped to deal with it. Here’s an example:
A leader had attended an Insight Principles program more than a year ago when he shared an incident that made him grateful for what he had learned. The leader, I’ll call him Ben, was thrilled to be adding a new member to his team. Barb was bright and talented and had skills that would fill current gaps on his team. She would be the only woman on the 7 member team and Ben thought this was a plus.
Barb had been on board for 6 weeks and Ben thought the transition was going well. At the beginning of one of their weekly team meetings, Ben did some good-hearted (he thought) teasing of Barb about a mistake she had made in an earlier meeting that day. She mispronounced the acronym of one of their programs and everyone chuckled.
Ben teased her about her faux pas and then the rest of the team piled on. The teasing went on for most of the meeting. Ben described what happened next:
As the meeting progressed, I noticed that Barb got very quiet. When the meeting was over she left without saying anything. Two things from my Insight Principles program came to mind – “You feel your thinking” and “Separate Realities.” Clearly something happened to Barb’s state. I’m not sure before the program I would have noticed.
I visited her in her office and asked her to share what she experienced. She told me that as a woman in a male-majority business she wanted to fit in. She wanted to be seen as an equal. In her mind, my teasing and the team’s ganging up created a “me against the team”. She felt ostracized.
Because I remembered that everyone thinks differently and that people’s thinking will lead to their feelings, I kept listening. I did not get defensive but stayed curious. Barb shared more about her experience in her prior company. She was able to tell me how I could best support her in the future. I could tell her that my intention was never to be hurtful and she got that. I was also able to say something about what I had learned about how our thinking shows up in our feelings. Our interaction was a learning experience for both of us. I think there is more trust now.
We never gave Ben any specific how-to’s to handle a situation like this. Ben had his own insights about the inside-out nature of experience which led him to see two critical implications. In other words, he realized that if experience is created from inside our mind with our thinking, then our feelings must be coming from our thinking. And secondly, people are going to think differently – often viewing the same event uniquely. Armed with his knowledge, he intuitively knew how to handle the incident with Barb.
You are going to have biases and many of them will be invisible. Realizing how your mind works may allow you to pause before you speak or at least listen and learn from others
Listening and learning from another human being is one of the ultimate forms of R-E-S-P-E-C-T.