Bias number 19 is known as the bias blind spot. This is a cognitive bias that affects judgement in relationships to other people.
A bias blind spot recognises that as human beings, we are more able to see in others what we are unable to see and acknowledge in ourselves. In psychological studies, participants consistently rated themselves as less biased that the average person, despite the results of experiments that suggested otherwise.
The cause of a bias blind spot is the combination of other biases and self-deceptions such as self-enhancement. We all want to see ourselves in a positive light, but consider that the word “positive” is subject to interpretation and therefore bias.
Positive does not equal fact. Rather, positive is one of a number of possible perspectives a person can make about themselves, all of which are equally relevant. It constitutes a judgement that is one-sided by omitting neutral and negative judgements. The incompleteness of the judgement renders it inaccurate and rather useless as a result.
The fallacy each of us has to confront when we consider our own thinking is that, as human beings, we are all plagued by biased thinking. The more we try to deny it, the more obvious it becomes that bias governs our thoughts.
And while it is easy to see biased thinking in other people, it is difficult to see biased thinking in oneself, primarily because biases are, in the main, unconscious. It is this fact that renders us blind to our own aberrations of thought.
You might think that introspection helps you to see yourself properly. This is not always true, and in fact, introspection can strengthen biases. The reason for this is simple: we rarely ever see ourselves objectively. Considering that other biases widen a bias blind spot, you dig yourself into an even deeper hole of biased thinking when you believe yourself to be beyond bias.
How does this work? Imagine that, as head of diversity and inclusion, you come to the conclusion that your organisation is biased towards middle-aged white men. Perhaps you work in an industry that has been traditionally dominated by middle-aged white engineers. If the prevailing values system and workplace culture has been established based on the concerns of middle-aged white engineers, of course it is going to be biased towards them.
Why would you expect it to be any different? You may wish it to be different. Perhaps you put programmes into place to combat the bias and widen the cultural environment to make room for other perspectives.
That's fine, as long as you recognise that your own biases will dictate how you believe the culture needs to change. It's not that those people out there are the only ones with a particular point of view.
When you enter any workplace or industry that is dominated by particular types of people, you can and should expect the workplace culture to fit around the needs of those groups of people. The corporate training market, for example, tends to be dominated by middle-aged women. As a result, there is a certain attitude in groups of trainers that rejects input and ideas from people who do not fit in that category.
Now, what’s interesting is that corporate trainers, often delivering training on issues such as unconscious bias, are some of the most biased people themselves. As a trainer, I have seen it in action and it’s unconscious at best, unpleasant at worst.
If you accept that all human beings are biased, you have to acknowledge that this includes you. Of course you will be. Your experiences, and therefore your assumptions, judgements and opinions will be based on those experiences, which will be unique to you. The challenge lies in your being able to see your own biases as merely one view of life in a sea of infinite points of view.
When we get too attached to our own points of view, we can start to believe that our way is the right way, and that everyone else is wrong as a result. Our failure to see our attachment to our point of view puts us in a position of making ourselves right and others wrong. That breeds conflict.
Now, I personally am not a person who avoids conflict. In fact, I like a good old barney because I see it as an opportunity to learn something new about how human beings think. What a boring world it would be if we all thought the same way!
The current trend towards groupthink disturbs me a lot. There is little room for disagreement on certain topics, particularly amongst the chattering classes. Sharing an alternative view either causes people's brains to freeze, unable to compute the conflicting information, or it sends them into tailspins of objection and indignation. This then fuels a desperate search to be with people who think the same way.
This creates echo chambers, each voice continuing to validate the other voice and none of them bothering to challenge the logic in the thinking. Emboldened by the support of assenting votes of confidence, the heroes of the herd venture out to deal with the dissenting lone wolves who dare to be different.
Not only is this the epitome of closed-mindedness, it is downright dangerous. In Scotland, for example, the justice secretary recently insisted that people can be prosecuted for holding private conversations in their own homes that incite hate crime.
What? Who decides if a conversation is of the type to incite hate crime? Where have all the opportunities for debate gone?
Down the echo chamber drain of the thought police, it seems. I’m starting to feel a little like Winston Smith, swimming in the autocratic waters of Oceania.
Rigorous critical thinkers welcome the opportunity to be challenged. People who value truth want to be shown the errors in their assumptions so they can align themselves even more closely with truth. Divergent ways of thinking are welcomed because they support the broadening of mental faculties.
So, what’s the answer? Recognise that you are just biased as me, and I am just as biased as you. Take each word or sentiment with a grain of salt. Recognise that if the sentiment triggers a strong emotional reaction in you, it is your trigger, providing you with an opportunity to examine one of your biases.
In recognising just how pernicious your own biases are, you create an opportunity to stop making other people wrong for theirs. This opens up the possibility for curiosity-imbued communication that paves the way for genuine connection with another human being.
It's not too late to stop the erosion in diversity of thought. In fact, I believe the world is waking up to the dangers of the uni-mind. Perhaps we are on the cusp of a revolution in people's critical thinking faculties. Now, wouldn’t that be brilliant?
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