We all have that co-worker who we know too well, they may over-share their health problems, their dating stories or they may fill you in on their weekend plans without you asking. Similarly, we all have that co-worker we know very little about, maybe an introvert, or just simply someone who doesn’t think it’s professional to divulge too much about their personal lives in the work place. But guess what, you probably have a better working relationship with the guy who told you what he ate for breakfast rather than the one who barely said hello to you when you walked in this morning, and why? Because you probably feel you can find common ground easier with the oversharer, but not so much with the undersharer. This is workplace bias, it’s the source of workplace cliques and the reason why collaboration and productivity suffers.
Bias can be easily recognizable, but sometimes bias can go unacknowledged and affect us in unconscious ways. Some of us feel that the best way to combat our bias in the workplace is to ignore the differences among our coworkers, but studies have shown that this actually has a negative effect on productivity and negative impacts on attempts to build cohesion among workers. Ignoring differences can feel like the right thing to do, but this actually causes us to build cliques with those we feel more comfortable around which in turn alienates those who are different.
A common fear is that acknowledging a difference would not be politically correct and could potentially offend a coworker or employee. Recognizing a difference, however, is not the same as treating someone differently because of those differences. Acknowledging differences between coworkers and employees can encourage a more open and honest dialogue, which can in turn reveal the things we have in common with one another and increase our efficiency at work. Understanding how those who work with us differ can help us better understand who is best suited for certain projects and teams, and turn every office into a more well-oiled machine.
The American Library Association (ALA), and the Employers Network for Equality and Inclusion in the UK, have some great information and ideas on how to deal with bias in the workplace. Here is a short list of proactive things you can do to change how bias affects your productivity at work.
- Recognize your bias ‘blind spots’: You may assume that you are treating all your coworkers or employees the same by feigning ignorance to the differences between them. As I’ve mentioned above, this has the opposite of its intended affect and creates divisions rather than unity in the office. Recognize where you may be purposely ignoring differences, start acknowledging them in a healthy, open way, and you will find ways to work with your colleagues more efficiently.
- Keep Communication Open: When you acknowledge your own bias and in turn accept the differences between people in your office, new avenues for productivity and innovation will present themselves to you. Keeping the lines of communication wide open to all your colleagues will also help you find common ground with those who are different, and you’ll be able to work with them as individuals, without any preconceived notions of their background interfering with your judgment.
- Set an Example: Feeling like you should set the example for how others in your office deal with bias will keep you feeling accountable to your new goals. Take pride in ushering in a more open and efficient workplace, and you’ll be rewarded with better decision making, and a more focused group of coworkers.
If you would like to read more about bias in the workplace, please click here.