Are your unconscious biases being a help or a hindrance?
There’s so much about myself that I don’t know. I realise my brain’s more complex, powerful and capable than any computer and I’m pretty sure it’s processing much, much, more than it lets on – It’s strictly need to know. This itself is good to be aware of. My mind is working on two levels of awareness:
The conscious and unconscious mind
Level 1: Conscious Awareness:
Things I know – and I know I know.
That aeroplane I can hear overhead, these keys I can see and feel as I press them, and the letters that appear on my screen as I type.
Level 2: Unconscious Awareness.
Things I know – without realising it.
Until I become conscious of it, I’m unaware of my wall clock striking. But when I hear it consciously – I pick up the counting of the chimes as if I’ve been listening to it since it started its toll. But that’s just it – I have been listening to it. I just didn’t realise.
Consciously learning something new
I got a new car recently. A Skoda, It’s actually a fine vehicle but its brakes are much more sensitive than my old car, requiring a lighter touch on the pedal.
And for a while, during the journey home from the second-hand car dealer, I hit the brake pedal far too hard, throwing the car into a series of comedy leaps and lurches.
After about half-an-hour, and with a bit of concentration, I’d worked out the optimum pressure to apply. Problem solved! Now of course, I don’t have to think about it. I now know exactly how firmly my foot needs to depress the brake pedal to avoid every minor deceleration becoming an emergency stop. My new – well, second-hand Skoda experience is an example of a curious battle between my Level 1 and Level 2 minds.
For years, my Level 2 unconscious mind has been responsible for operating the brake pedal in my car. I brake like I do so many other things: tying my shoelaces, filling the hot waterbottle for my wife, sniffing when I really should blow my nose – without even thinking about it.
When I climbed into my nearly new Skoda, set off, then applied my foot to the brake pedal, my Level 2 mind imagined it was business as usual.
But it wasn’t. With the first lurch forward, my consciousness was awakened, and my Level 1 mind kicked in and took over. I had to think about how to brake.
The unconscious mind According to Sigmund Freud
According to Freud, the conscious mind is only the tip of the mental iceberg. It’s the unconscious, unseen, Level 2 mind, stretching deep below the surface of our conscious thoughts and perceptions that is all-powerful and mysterious. It acts as our automatic pilot. It’s our unperceived eyes and ears, our guardian angel but it’s also potentially harmful to us.
All the Level 2 perceptions that are picked up and pepper my unconscious mind affect at a profound level – how I think and feel about the world. I don’t realise they’re doing it but they’re creating unconscious biases within me.
So while I consciously believe I’m liberal and tolerant, my Level 2 mind has created illiberal intolerances deep within me towards any number people, places or things.
Unconscious bias training
As a manager, recruiter, spouse, parent, friend…my unconscious judgements and stereotypes mean some of my decisions are inevitably bad for my organisation and damaging to my relationships. Unconscious bias training and one-to-one coaching can evaluate any issues and help plan for a positive change.
I need to awaken my consciousness. I need to put the foot on the brake pedal. Consciously, I need to stop, dig deep and go hunting for my biases. I need to find out a little more about myself because only when I’ve found out about my unconscious biases, can I do something about them.