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Understanding Our Own Biases

From the Blog of Phyllis G. Pollack.

From time to time, I have addressed the issue of bias in this blog. It is an important issue because bias is a very subconscious if not unconscious driving force in our lives. It controls much of what we do and how we act, and we do not even realize it most of the time.

Recently, my colleague Maria Simpson, PhD wrote a “Two Minute Training” Tip entitled “Perceiving Bias” (June 14, 2011.) ( Her thesis is that each of us have biases which are inescapable and of which we should be aware. She states her thesis in a very eye-opening way:

“My point of view is that bias is in the eye of the beholder and may be based on assumptions that are incorrect or information that has been misunderstood. But that is just my bias. That is also not to say that there is no bias in the world, but sometimes bias comes out in odd ways. Two examples of that bias appear in today’s New York Times.”

“The first example relates to the court’s decision reversing Prop. 8, the California ballot initiative that outlawed same-sex marriage….”

“Proposition 8 was overturned in court, and that ruling has been appealed based on the claim that the judge who decided the case did not make it known that he was in a same sex relationship himself. Since he would personally be affected by his decision, it is argued that he should have recused himself based on his personal interest in the outcome. Many legal scholars who have read his opinion comment on its sound judicial reasoning and lack of bias.”

“My response is that, if you agree with that logic, then almost no one is neutral enough to have heard the case. A heterosexual in a committed relationship could also be biased, just in the opposite direction. Maybe people not in relationships at all should judge the case. But if they are not in relationships, then maybe they are biased against all relationships of any kind and, therefore, also not neutral….”

“We interpret new experience based on past experience that has created a certain lens or framework through which we understand everything, but sometimes new information is distorted by the old frame. This framework might be an experience such as being the victim of violence, or it might be an ethnic or religious heritage. It might also be a lifetime of being the victim of prejudice and knowing that it is very real and directed at you.”

“Sometimes the old framework still has you focused on the field but cuts out the beautiful tree that has grown up just beyond the frame….”

“… we make decisions every day [and try] to persuade people to a certain course of action, and that decision may be biased. When considering your response, think first of whether you have a bias for or against what is presented and why. Then ask questions that clarify your own thinking and eliminate any misinformation you may be using….”

(Emphases original)

I have quoted Dr. Simpson extensively because I could not put it more succinctly: each of us have biases – this is a given and a fact of life – based on our own life’s experiences. To negotiate effectively, we must be aware of our own biases, question our own biases and eliminate them as best we can. . . !

. . .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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