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Just Like Me

From the Blog of Phyllis G. Pollack.

As a lawyer licensed in California, I am required to take a certain number of continuing education courses, one of which is the elimination of bias. So, I took a one-hour on-line course – courtesy of – taught by Professor David Hriciki, Mercer University School of Law. The written materials include a 78 page discussion, entitled “Bias, Prejudice and Related Unprofessionalism in the Legal Profession” by Professor Hriciki (2004).(Bias ) Although it runs the gamut in discussing bias in various forms – the written material focuses mainly on minorities and women-providing some very interesting statistics about the latter including that in 1989 when asked by the State Bar of California Women in Law Committee “. . .88% of the respondents reported a “subtle, pervasive gender bias in the profession and 2/3 believed they did not have as much opportunity for advancement as did male lawyers.” (Id. at 22). (But more on this in a later blog!)

But what struck me is what the author identified as the “root” cause of any bias or discrimination; “the simple human need to be with those who are most like us.” (Id. at 43). As the author explains:

“. . .much exclusion comes from the simple and understandable human desire to be with those who are like we are. Men are, generally, more comfortable having lunch with other men; older women with older women, and so on. . . . (Id.).

Professor Hricik explains the best way to combat this:

“. . . one of the broadest and perhaps most effective means to challenge bias and prejudice is to challenge your assumptions (“CYA”). Prejudice means prejudging and is often subtle and unintended. It can take the form of assuming that the minority is the secretary, not the partner (citation omitted). It can take more subtle form. By focusing attention in on whether you are assuming something about the minority before you, you may recognize that subtle bias and prejudice are impacting your world view.” (Id. at 43-44).

What should we do? “. . .first, admit there is a problem – identify your own stereotypes and assumptions. Be aware of your words and actions.” (Id. at 44). Simply put, treat everyone with respect, courtesy and dignity, regardless of who they are or appear to be. Be consistently respectful. (Id.)

As the author notes:

“Observe and respect others’ comfort zones, personal distance and tenor of their language and match it as much as possible. Watch others’ reactions; note how they treat you and others as a clue to how they would like to be treated. If unsure of how to act in a particular situation, ask. . . . Take anger and upsets seriously, and apologize if you unintentionally offend someone. Respect others’ differences and wishes. And again, be flexible.” (Id.)

Obviously, following the wisdom in these words will go a long way to resolving disputes. By treating people with courtesy, dignity, and respect and treating them as they would like to be treated, they will respond favorably which is the first step towards settling anything.

Just as important, diversity leads to thinking “outside the box”:

“. . . Heterogeneous working groups offer more creative solutions to problems than homogenous working groups. They also show greater inclination for critical thinking and are likely to avoid problems associated with “group think” where members mindlessly conform to group precepts. Ethnicity provides the necessary heterogeneous perspective sufficient to trigger “kaleidoscope thinking” by providing a variety of perspectives and to combat “group think.” (Id. at 27).

So, challenge your assumptions, be respectful of the other person, listen – really listen – to her different and diverse perspective. Through “kaleidoscope thinking”, an “outside the box” solution may just be found!

. . .Just something to think about.


Phyllis Pollack

Phyllis Pollack with PGP Mediation uses a facilitative, interest-based approach. Her preferred mediation style is facilitative in the belief that the best and most durable resolutions are those achieved by the parties themselves. The parties generally know the business issues and priorities, personalities and obstacles to a successful resolution as… MORE >

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