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How Your Unconscious Bias Could Jeopardize Your Change Project

Emotional intelligence reduces barriers to change and innovation in the workplace

When management committees discuss barriers to change and innovation in the workplace, it’s common to concentrate on tangible obstacles such as costs, resources, and lack of experience to expertise in required disciplines to make change happen. What is far less common is for leadership teams to recognise the damaging effects of unconscious bias, which, if left unchallenged, can be an insurmountable roadblock to your change initiative.

What is unconscious bias?

Unconscious bias is the way that you think naturally, without thinking about thinking. It is dictated by your background and experiences, which then influence your mindset.

We all ‘suffer’ unconscious bias. It causes us to have negative thoughts about people and situations, and to stereotype. For example:

  • A person who has been mugged by a black teenager may view all black teenagers as being hoodlums
  • Someone who has been raised in a house where the father made all the decisions may assume that women should not be leaders
  • An employee who has seen a largescale technological change project fail may be resistant to another change program, fearful for his or her job as a result

Our unconscious bias can lead to making poor business decisions or acting in ways that affect others negatively.

Challenge unconscious bias to tackle barriers to change and innovation in the workplace

As a leader, it in incumbent on you to be unbiased. If you show unconscious bias in your actions, you cannot expect your people to do otherwise. The first step to eliminating unconscious bias in the workplace is therefore to recognise it within yourself, and then to challenge it in others.

Breaking unconscious bias is a challenge for all leaders

Through much of a working life, there will be uncertainty – especially when an employer is undertaking a program of change. It is difficult for people to remain open-minded about change. They become fearful and turn to self-protection. This is when unconscious bias is at its most potent. The leadership challenge is to break through these unconscious biases and help people rise above them.

As a leader, you have an opportunity to shape your organization’s culture, eliminate habitual responses and replace them with informed, conscious decisions and actions. Here are the steps to do so:

Realise your own unconscious biases

On a personal and organizational level, it is essential that you realise you are biased. On a personal basis, become self-aware by taking an emotional intelligence appraisal and using it as a tool to better lead others, as you become emotionally equipped to:

  • Empathize and communicate effectively
  • Develop emotional maturity and manage the stress change creates
  • Manage relationships with employees and between colleagues
  • Help others to manage their emotional responses
  • Manage resistance to change

Learn to tackle workplace conflict

Concentrate on positives, support individual and organizational goals, and address conflict in the workplace by removing unconscious bias and taking a carefronting rather than confronting approach to a breakdown in communication.

Practice inclusivity

Learn to appreciate diversity and the benefits it can bring to your organization. By understanding diversity – and that it will bring differences in approach, new ideas, and may cause conflict – you will benefit from the positive behaviors that you had not before experienced.

Encourage openness and listen to feedback

It is not only individuals that suffer unconscious bias. Your processes, practices and systems may do, too. Break these by encouraging open and honest debate. Listen to feedback, and let it inform your decision-making.

Keep unconscious bias in check by constant review

Unconscious bias is a constantly evolving phenomenon, informed by new learning and experience. It is therefore essential to keep unconscious bias under review, to ensure that it doesn’t creep back into your personal organizational subconscious thinking.

Develop the skills, strategies and techniques that will drive your organization’s change leadership capabilities. To discover how improving your emotional intelligence could help you and your organization produce lasting change, contact Forward Focus today.

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