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Wonky Thinking & Misfits

In our latest podcast (episode 24), we look at how the way we think affects our relationships with colleagues and team members and consider how we can generate a more positive, inclusive and collaborative team environment.

Unconscious bias

Here at noodle, we have been running unconscious bias workshops for a number of years, to help people to be their best selves, and to get the best out of each other at work. But, nevertheless, it has been our experience that, in many workplace environments, unconscious bias workshops just don’t work.

Why is this?

No follow-through

We have discovered that there is little point in starting something if there isn’t any follow-through. Yes, you can temporarily raise people’s awareness on an individual level, but if systemic patterns of policy procedure just keep reinforcing the old ways and not challenging pre-existing biases, you are already undermining your workshops before you’ve even begun.

‘Lightbulb’ moments

But the workshops themselves can be challenging, revelatory and even fun. They allow people to say the unsayable, which can inspire some memorable ‘lightbulb’ moments. Some people can even be resistant to the idea that bias actually exists until they find themselves in a situation where they are compelled to examine their own. And there have been times, in our workshops, where someone has said something like, “I know what my own biases are, and I try to deal with them, but I don’t see the bosses making any effort to do the same. They always hire people who sound the same and look the same, just like them.”

Working hard to fit ‘the mould’

But the managers’ response is often that their attempts to hire people who don’t fit ‘the mould’ often fail because those people don’t want the job. It would certainly be a challenge, for instance, to be the first woman to work in a company’s all-male IT department, or the first black person to work alongside a group of white investment bankers. It’s asking quite a lot for people to take that step. Maybe the recruitment process has to make the idea of taking that step a little more attractive.

We have certainly found that people in minority groups often have to work harder to get the job in the first place, then constantly have to keep proving themselves over and again, even to the point of certain metaphors being used against them in performance reviews. We had a colleague from Kenya who told us that she had been considering changing her name to something more western-sounding, just to prevent awkward pronunciation problems with prospective employers. In fact, data* suggests that people with ‘western’-sounding names are four times more likely to get an interview, even with global companies.

Sense of belonging

So, why does bias happen? Well, it is part of the human condition that we all want to connect, to feel safe and trusted as part of the group. Nobody wants to be sitting in the cold, outside the cave, whilst everybody else is gathered in friendship around the fire. We all strive for a sense of belonging, but the danger in this is that we can end up being part of a tribe of people who are just like us, closing the door on anyone who is different in some way. But in so doing, we can miss out on the benefits of having friends and colleagues with diverse perspectives, which can be great for problem-solving and thinking ‘out of the box’.

It can be a self-perpetuating error for a manager to take the easy option to always hand the projects to the people he/she knows and trusts best, but this means that those who are less understood (maybe they are a different gender, or are from another culture) will always be overlooked. But by always making decisions based on unconscious bias, this manager is diminishing the capabilities of the team and refusing to see that there are other options which could be more beneficial in the long run.

But the opposite applies as well. I’m sure most of us know someone who would not be in the position they now occupy if a person in a position above them had not taken a chance on them at some stage.

Slow down and think things through

Sometimes the best thing you can do is to slow down and think things through. To consider all of your options carefully, rather than quickly making the easy decision. There is a book called Thinking, Fast and Slow, by Daniel Kahneman, which expands on this idea of taking more time, unpacking your thought processes and taking a more rounded view of your options. Looking at whether you have incorporated some unconscious bias into your decision-making.

Different types of bias

There are many types of bias.

Anchoring bias can happen where marketing/advertising will quote a price, which will fix itself in your mind as a benchmark, then slash it to a lower one, encouraging you to take advantage whilst you can.

Hindsight bias is where you look at a situation after it has happened and justify your decision-making after the fact. Even if you were wrong.

Halo and horns bias; the halo is where you instantly warm to somebody because they remind you, for whatever reason, of someone else you already like, whilst the horns will make you feel dislike for someone you don’t even know, for the same reason.

Positive vibes and harmful negativity

In our workshops, one of our exercises is to ask people to think about someone whom they like to work with. To imagine that they are about to have a meeting, and to think about what words they would use to describe them. How would they feel if this meeting was to last an hour or longer? We see the little smiles creeping across their faces as they imagine spending time with someone they genuinely like. And then we turn the tables, this time describing a situation where they have to spend this time with someone they are not close to. The facial expressions and body language tell their own story. But consider the harmful effect this negativity might have on the person you are meeting with. You would already be in a bad place before you have even begun.

Bias-related noodles

A number of our noodles touch on the bias-related topics we have discussed today. Conceptual Positions, Perceptual Positions, Twisted Thinking, Six Hats, Capability In Teams, Delegating Decisions and Perceived Weirdness.

Find out more about how to build diverse and inclusive teams at theaccidentalmanager And follow us on Instagram for daily snippets at noodle_space

Don’t forget to subscribe, share and leave a review, and join the chat at

*More data on the harmful effects of bias on a marginalised group can be found in Joan C Williams’ book Bias Interrupted.

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