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We all hold biases and if we are not careful will make decisions based on them. While we might fundamentally believe in equality, our brains train us to separate people, things and situations into categories and groups. So, how do we recognize where we hold bias and start to rewire those instinctual responses? There three approaches, which when used in unison, can help us to defeat personal biases for good. 

The first step is to really look at the areas where you might hold biases. Take yourself on a little walk around your town or take some time on a lunch break at work to just look at the people around you. When you look at a person you don’t know well, do you make assumptions about them based on their ethnicity, age, clothing, size or any other visual cues? Does your opinion change if you discover they have an accent or what they do for a living? Remember that biases do not always skew negative. You could also inadvertently believe one group or characteristic is superior in some way or deserves an advantage. 

Next, when you’re discovering your biases, you should also look around to see how diverse the spaces that you exist in really are. If you find that you have a lot in common with everyone that you encounter on a daily basis, that might mean you have more biases that you realize. Biases are fed by the unfamiliar. So you need to recognize where there might be gaps in your personal experiences.

The second area of examination is the choices that you make and the actions that you perform on a daily basis. It is not possible to stop every time you are about to make a choice in your life to assess whether or not it is the right one. But, you can take the time to look at your position and your daily life as a whole to see where you might have influence and where your biases might come out. This could happen in your job, in your community, in any leadership role, or even within your own home and family. 

When you’re taking a look at your life in this way, concentrate on why you currently make the decisions that you do about things like who you hang out with, what businesses you frequent or how you approach others (especially in conflict situations). Again, if you find that there is not much diversity in your circles, you will want to look more closely at why that is. If you are in any sort of power position, especially one where you are able to open up opportunities to others, look at how you are choosing your candidates and what factors might be influencing your decisions.

Relatedly, researchers have emphasized the importance of critical thinking to helping us to do away with biased understandings of reality. This makes sense: if biased thinking involves uncritical thinking and the use of mental shortcuts, critical thinking will serve as a useful antidote. How do we achieve critical thinking?  Reflection is key. Essentially, biased-driven thinking involves jumping to conclusions. Critical thinking, on the other hand, involves ruminating on observations, opinions, and judgments before reaching conclusions.

Once you are aware of the biases that you hold and the situations where your bias might negatively affect someone else, the third step is one that requires consistent attention and practice. When you enter into any situation where you feel that a bias might have been triggered, you need to use critical thinking skills, cultural sensitivity and your own common sense to act is a way that truly promotes equality and makes you an ally rather than someone who discriminates, excludes or negatively affects the life of someone else. You will find the more you open up your circles and treat everyone equally, the easier this becomes. But this is not a change that will happen overnight.

This video for Ted Talks by Dunshaw Hockett gives a deeper look into how we can address our own implicit biases and the benefits of focusing on this type of bias when seeking change: 

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