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You’ve become aware of a bias. Now what?

In last week’s blog post I shared some approaches that I use to spot my own biases. Today, and next week, I’m going to share stories and strategies that have helped me mitigate some of my biases.

Many years ago, my partner told me that he was planning to get a tattoo. Immediately, I felt a reaction in my belly. All the negative stereotypes I held about people with tattoos rose up in my head. I tried not to show this (literal) gut feeling to him. Keeping my face neutral, I asked him what he had in mind. I braced myself. Turned out he had something big in mind: a colorful sleeve of a dragon covering his whole arm.

Inwardly, I panicked. My imagination went right to a few months later, when my Jamaican family would meet him for the first time. I imagined their shocked faces and what they might assume about him. Then I realized what my brain was doing. Now that my bias was now conscious, I took a few steps that helped me to interrupt it.

First, I noticed that I was projecting onto my family the bias that was actually mine. I needed to own it and to unpack the associations and stereotypes in my head. Why did I believe what I did about tattoos and their wearers? Were those beliefs true? Where did they come from?

I started getting curious. I looked around for tattoos to see what was out there. Some were truly beautiful. I saw a young woman at the beach whose body was almost completely covered in tattoos. They told a story; her body was the canvas for a work of art. Of course, there were others that I didn’t like as much.

Then I looked at the people. Did they line up with the stereotypes I held? Turns out lots of people have tattoos. I saw artsy folks and professionals. Young people on their phones and grandparents with strollers. I filed these images away, starting to break some of the old associations that had formed patterns in my head.

None of the above would have happened if I hadn’t decided that I wanted to change my perspective. It was important to me to eliminate the bias because my partner was going to get a large tattoo, and I didn’t want to experience an irrational reaction every time I saw it.

In this case, the stakes weren’t that high. If I didn’t attend to my bias, would it affect our relationship? I doubt it. But, what if I were interviewing people? Would I discount candidates with visible tattoos? What about evaluating employees? Hiring vendors? Selecting consultants to represent my organization? Honestly, I think the answer is yes..

As it happened, my partner spoke with a few artists and had a couple of designs drawn. Then I stopped hearing about it. When I started writing this post, I asked him what his plans were. He shrugged and said he probably won’t bother. All that work on mitigating my tattoo bias, and he’s not going to take advantage of it! Hmmm…maybe I’ll get one.

I’d love to hear how you mitigate your biases. Please share tips in the comments below.


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