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Unraveling Conscious and Unconscious Bias Through Personal Connection

This morning, I was clearing out some old emails and found a link to a video from a number of years ago. The video is titled “Millennials Show Us What ‘Old’ Looks Like”. 

I was reminded about what I thought when I first saw it years ago, which is the big picture idea that people judge others based on their own biases and lack of knowledge. It could be based on age, as in the video, or on appearance, or some other shallow reason that has nothing to do with who the person is. We all do it, even when we are conscious of the idea that we generally have more in common with others than differences!

What I’m referring to are the conscious and unconscious biases we all have. For some watching the video it will be hard to hear twenty- and thirty-year-old somethings say they consider people in their forties to be old, but it caused me to think about conscious and unconscious bias in broader contexts including in my professional world. Spoiler alert: in the video they introduce the millennials to “older” people, and they realize some or all their perceptions of age and what is old were wrong. Of course, the biases we all have are about more than just age and can impact your professional and personal network in a negative way.

What crosses your mind when you are at a restaurant and a gentleman at the table next to you has earrings, a woman has a nose ring, or someone has a sleeve of tattoos on their arm? Some of you are thinking “why would they do that to themselves” or “they clearly aren’t on a professional business track.” Others of you are thinking nothing at all because to you it is within the range of norms for people you know or deal with. The difference in perception may be because of your age, how you were raised or something else in your background. But the person you may think has a low-level job may be a doctor, a nurse, an investment advisor, or a highly successful electrician or may own a successful business. This goes back to the adage about what happens if you assume.

What comes into your mind first is unconscious, and we all do have biases, whether we want to admit it. Making assumptions without knowing someone is problematic on many levels. By doing so, you may avoid a person at a social or business event who would be a great connection for you or someone you would connect with on a personal level. And remember, everyone has these biases, and it may cause them to avoid you.

So, what can each of us do about this? I urge you to try to be more open minded and embrace other’s differences. Next time you have an opportunity, start a conversation with the person you usually would avoid. The worst that can happen is they are not interesting or not a good connection. If so, it is easy to say, “nice to have met you” and move on. It is better to waste a few minutes than miss an opportunity.

I always say, “if we were all the same the world would be a boring place.” I believe that to be true. Put this into practice by branching out beyond your comfort zone and see what happens.

As always, this post and others can be found on my blog, Business Law Guy.

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