Nationality, gender, culture, race, educational background, physique, age and political views flood our workplace cultures with subtle and sometimes not so subtle biases that can influence decision-making and relationships.
Biases can impede potential and limit opportunities for others who are thought of as not fitting in our world. It makes life at work challenging and shades the values and talents others may have.
For this reason in building a positive culture, its leaders need to take a close look at these biases and guide the workforce in ways to circumvent judgments so they can recognize and bring obscured talents into view.
The brain has a built-in negativity bias—designed for our own survival— that makes it easy for us to pre-judge people or situations, causing us to make assumptions about them. That is, we evolve and respond more to the negative. So when we meet or observe people, our brain jumps impulsively to rescue us, “They are different, will they hurt or harm?” “Can they be trusted?”
In an effort to protect us, our brain keeps inventory about our cultural and social environment that we often encounter. Because we often need to make quick decisions and may lack some information in this process, our unconscious biases come to our rescue.
Banaji and Greenwald explains how these habitual thought patterns can lead to errors in perception, recall, reasoning and decisions, acting as blindspots that influence our behavior toward members of other social groups. What’s more we often remain oblivious to their influence.
This can hinder the building of a positive workplace culture and lead to exclusion along with everything that identifies with it.
Even when companies embrace the idea of diversity, they have difficulty bringing the required mindset and culture into the company. How can businesses and groups capitalize on their diversity? For that matter, what can organizations do to handle biases and make sure that the right people get on board and stay with the company?
These questions have one thing in common: they are trying to go beyond fixing problems and into promoting excellence.
It is precisely because of this perspective that the business world needs to turn to the branch of psychology that deals with human flourishing and human strengths, namely positive psychology (Donaldson & Ko, 2010;Seligman & Csíkszentmihályi, 2000).
Unless there is scholarly research, alternatives tend to become a fad.
Our brain swerves towards the negative. Positive psychology primes individuals and businesses to focus on the positive.
There are ways based on research in positive psychology for companies to promote positive workplace cultures. Here are some focus areas to consider:
Awareness. Identify some of your own hidden biases. Harvard offers an Implicit Association Test (IAT) that measures the strengths of biases in association between certain concepts. Knowing that you have a negativity bias toward others will help you recognize when you’re dwelling on it in a situation.
- Challenge any stereotypes
- Consider assumptions first in yourself and then in your team.
- Extend the discussion to other groups who may reveal something you’ve missed.
Author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie movingly relates that:
“The problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.”
2. Separation. Remove yourself from the temptation to generalize people. When we think, we build thoughts that become physical substances in our brains that are conveniently packaged in ways to make it easier to remember and communicate. And our biases tend to create a stereotype.
For example, we often categorize people by their ethnicity, physique or genders, etc. We are prone to talk about Americans, Canadians, Russians, Afro-Americans, Hispanics, Jews, fat and skinny people, male, female etc.
However in considering the whole person that makes up their diverse experiences, talents, gifts, backgrounds and ambitions, these descriptive biases may be null.
- Examine ways you may be personally harboring biases in the workplace.
- How are you mentally grouping others based on ethnicity, age, persona or gender?
- Examine ways your policies and procedures may be undermining efforts to nurture diversity and inclusion.
- Remove any stereotypical images or messages and choose positive, inclusive alternatives.
3. Positive Communication. According to Professor Kim Cameron,
“Positive communication occurs when affirmative and supportive language replaces negative and critical language. Supportive communication builds and strengthens relationships even when behavior must be corrected or negative feedback must be provided.”
From his research these communicative techniques were established; the first three are critical:
- Congruent: Maintain congruence among words, thoughts and feelings (authentic and sincere)
- Descriptive: remain objective non- evaluative (judgmental or labeling) and problem not person focused;
- Validating: communicating that the others’ perspective is worthwhile
- Conjunctive: connected directly to the preceding message
- Specific: refer to an actual example or behavior
- Owned statement: take personal responsibility for the message
- Active listening and Appropriate response types: reflective, probing, deflecting, and advising
Build a positive climate through acts of compassion, collective forgiveness and gratitude so that people are cared for, supported, and can flourish.
Neuroscientist Dr. Caroline Leaf tells us the brain is plastic and can be changed moment by moment by how we direct our thinking, in other words, the choices we make.
With increasing demands in the workplace and a greater need for knowledge-based work, innovation, and creativity, organizations need to find ways to handle biases and seamlessly enable diversity and inclusion.
Because of positive psychology’s focus on flourishing, and its transform-good-into-great angle, it is relevant to any conversation on the factors that contribute to solid organizational performance.
Positive psychology can show those in management roles how to handle biases, use and develop human capital. It can also guide organizational policy and enable workers to make their best contributions. Positive psychology has been, and will continue to be a blessing to the workplace.
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