You have probably come across the Conscious Competence Learning Model Matrix at some point moving from unconscious incompetence, conscious incompetence, unconscious competence to conscious competence.  In other words, you move from not knowing what you don’t know right to knowing what you do know.

I personally think unconscious bias follows this competency model.  You only have to be reminded of popular TV shows such as Benny Hill, Love thy Neighbour and Are You Being Served? and what was seen as acceptable adverts to realise that back in the 70’s, we really didn’t know a thing about bias in our language, our home or within the workplace.

Although we’ve moved away from TV classics such as Butterflies, The Professionals and Ab Fab to reality TV such as Big Brother and Strictly Come Dancing, I’d love to say that having come through the decades we’ve learnt our lesson; but we’ve not.  For many of us we’re still at conscious incompetence – we may have learnt about the protected characters within diversity and use inclusive language, but we don’t always act or think inclusively.

In coaching ‘awareness’ is always the first step to change.  Once you are aware of an attitude, thought or behaviour you then move into ‘choice’; being able to choose if you want to think, feel or behave differently.  The same steps apply to understanding your own unconscious bias.

The four simple steps to uncovering and dealing with your unconscious bias are to:

1. Acknowledge the bias
2. Make a conscious effort to keep an open mind
3. Build relationships
4. Ask yourself questions – don’t just rely on your gut instincts

Test out your inner thinking by creating a two-sided list, one side labelled ‘people I am curious about’ and the other side labelled ‘people I do not tolerate’.  Take time to fill in as many stereotypes as you can think of from gender, religion, size, height to even colour of hair.  In some ways the more curious and honest your list is, the more inner insight you will reveal.

Once you’ve got your list you’ve moved some of your unconscious (implicit) thinking into the conscious (explicit) arena and you can then decide what to do about it.  Research has shown that if we have a bias against a particular group of people it is often because we don’t know enough about them.  So a simple step is find more about your bias group by:

  • Researching famous people in that group
  • Look around your extended circle of friends or colleagues to see if there is a social network that you’ve been avoiding
  • Is there a food that is associated with this group, and if so, try it out and expand your taste buds as well as your social awareness?

The more you explore what biases you have then the more options are available for you to think and behave differently.  As the rise of hate crime increases and intolerances of others is on the rise this is an opportune time to reflect on your own personal unconscious bias.