Decision making is a normal part of business. And we all aspire to make relevant and fair decisions. But stereotypes can thwart how we analyze situations and though we might not realize, influence our choices. The good news is that we can do something about it! Here are some tips to protect yourself as far as possible against decision-making bias.
1/ Be humble. Recognize that you are affected by stereotypes
We all have them. That isn’t a problem in itself, what matters is that you’re aware they exist. To do that, set yourself a simple challenge: when you are face to face with a person displaying certain visible “characteristics” (gender, age, appearance, supposed origin etc.), ask yourself if you would behave in the exact same way with someone who looks different. Would you ask the same questions? Would you assume the person had the same “qualities”? Would you use the same tone when you spoke to them?
For example: if you are speaking to a young woman in her thirties, you should resist the temptation to ask about her family situation, if you acknowledge that you wouldn’t ask that same question so easily – if at all – to a man of the same age!
2/ Question your opinions. Ask yourself why you have them
If you check your own views and other preconceptions you can prevent stereotypes from doing the “thinking” and “deciding” for you. Before you’re the next person to say that “women get tougher” as they rise through the ranks of a business, why don’t you take a little time to check if that’s actually true, and if men who rise through the ranks aren’t just as tough?
To challenge your opinions, research lots of different sources: look for information in various places and listen to what a range of people tell you so you can get a variety of viewpoints on the same subject.
3/ Increase your knowledge of other people; look beyond first impressions
You are dealing with a new employee and you have a feeling you will get along well, or you might presume you’re going to come to blows. Her clothes or the sound of her voice, or even her facial expressions might make you think of another specific kind of person that you have met before, and there it is! An opportunity like that is the perfect time to start questioning your perceptions, thoughts and beliefs.
The only way to shake off these “first impressions” is to get to interact with them! Learn how to get to know people before you pigeonhole them (or judge them). Find out what you have in common, it might be something you didn’t expect, and then allow yourself to be surprised by their uniqueness. No one is a caricature of themselves!
4/ Stay motivated, and look after yourself
Fatigue, irritation, bad moods, etc. can all influence our thought processes. We need to be able to accept that it simply isn’t possible to be on top form all the time, so it’s a good idea to know how to postpone making a decision if you feel that you’re not fully available to talk about something that is important to someone (evoking tension/conflict, talking about professional development).
A good “tip” is to be aware of your limits: for example, observe how you feel before a discussion with an employee or when entering a meeting. You can then look back over your notes with the knowledge that you had “slept badly the night before” or that you were “preoccupied by personal concerns”, all of which could influence your perception and lead you to overreact.
5/ Take time to become aware of your emotions
There are goals in business that can sometimes put pressure on you to be efficient and responsive, and that doesn’t leave you with a lot of free time at work. In many companies, efficiency is still analyzed in terms of employee agility, but it is important to know how to take a step back and become aware of how you are feeling. Decision-making has psychological and emotional effects on yourself and on other people: some will be pleased, while others will be disappointed. Taking into account the “human” aspect of professional choices is another way of escaping stereotypes.
Before sending an important email, for example, you could write it, save it as a draft and read it again the next day when your head is clearer. Taking a little distance allows you to see the difference between the feelings you were experiencing when you wrote the message, and those you have when you read it again. Procrastination isn’t a bad thing! It is a normal mental defense mechanism that helps us to listen to our emotions, so that we make the right decisions at the right time. Give your brain a rest: the best ideas sometimes come during a coffee break!
Marcos Fernandes, for the EVE webmagazine. Translated from French by Ruth Simpson