- “I don’t think you meant that the way it sounded to me.”
- “Bias interruption.”
- “I’m throwing a flag on the field.”
- “Yo, bias!”
- “Bias alert.”
Some teams like a sentence not a phrase. Many have found it helpful to adopt Daniel Kahneman’s phraseology from the book Thinking, Fast and Slow. If a leader has read the book and if their team is interested in reading it, the leader might choose to adopt his suggestions and teach the team to say things like: “I’d like to invite your System 2 to interrupt your System 1. Slow down and let your System 2 take control.”6
The nice thing about the language around system 1 and system 2 is that it offers an explanation for the bias and how to change it, rather than a judgement of the person who said the biased thing. It also demonstrates an understanding of the energy and effort it takes to interrupt bias. Personally, I love that language. But for some it might sound annoyingly wonky. A leader should let their team choose words that work for them.
The conversations leaders have with their teams to come up with bias interruptions may be difficult. Some may feel that phrases like “bias alert” trivialise the harm that bias does. Others may be irritated that the leader are “wasting so much time on this.” And the leader may feel stuck in the middle. Remind everyone of the goal: to come up with a shorthand phrase that allows for a quick intervention. The quicker the intervention, the more often it is likely to happen; and the more often biases get interrupted, the more the team learns. It’s a little bit like reminding one’s kids to brush their teeth every night. If the parent delivered a long lecture on dental hygiene and how plaque builds up and will give them cavities if they don’t brush, pretty soon the parent would hate saying it as much as they hate hearing it. Just saying “Teeth!” is easier on everyone and just as effective.
If a leader’s team hates the idea of the bias interruptions, the leader can ask them for other suggestions for accomplishing the same thing. The leader must be open to their ideas. But if they come up with an alternative, the leader must hold them to following through with it. And be open to the possibility that there simply may not be enough trust on the team to make this work. Then the leader will have to do more digging to find out why, and figure out how to fix it. Not only is it impossible to interrupt bias if there’s not trust–it’s impossible to collaborate effectively.
Entrepreneur Jason Mayden explains why it’s important both to make it safe to make mistakes, and also safe to point them out. He encourages people to “get beyond the fear of saying the wrong thing because you can’t get to the right thing without first making some mistakes in between.” At the same time, “I should not hide my truth to make you feel comfortable in your bias,”7 says Mayden.
1. Steele, C. (2011). Whistling Vivaldi: And Other Clues to How Stereotypes Affect Us (Issues of Our Time). United Kingdom: W. W. Norton.
2. Fontana, F. (2019, October 12). The reasons women don’t get the feedback they need. Retrieved June 7, 2002, from https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-reasons-women-dont-get-the-feedback-they-need-11570872601
3. Correll, S., & Simard, C. (2016, April 29). Research: Vague feedback is holding women back. Retrieved June 7, 2020, from https://hbr.org/2016/04/research-vague-feedback-is-holding-women-back?mod=article_inline
4. Levin, S. (2016, May 02). Sexual harassment training may have reverse effect, research suggests. Retrieved June 7, 2020, from https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/may/02/sexual-harassment-training-failing-women
5. Duguid, M. M., & Thomas-Hunt, M. C. (2015). Condoning stereotyping? How awareness of stereotyping prevalence impacts expression of stereotypes. Journal of Applied Psychology, 100(2), 343.
6. Kahneman, D. (2011). Thinking, Fast and Slow. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
7. Mayden, J. [@jasonmayden]. (n.d.) #curbsideministries [Instagram hashtag]. Retrieved from https://www.