How To Change Pre-learned Biases

We all have pre-learned biases that impact what we think, feel, say and do. Some are good and help us work together while negative biases (call them prejudices), create barriers, conflict and threaten the ability for any sport team, family or at-work team to reach its full potential.

Bias Definition

What can we do when the harmony, creativity and success of our team is threatened? Unfortunately we can’t wave a magic wand, and ignoring negative biases only decreases our effectiveness and/or lets a small conflict manifest into a crippling conflict.

While addressing negative biases is the best solution, changing them is often difficult because they are usually rooted in beliefs. And if the emotional discomfort of dealing with negative biases isn’t hard enough, there are many studies and examples that demonstrate that those beliefs don’t have to be (and often are not), valid, logical or even justified. Argh

How To Change A Negative Bias?

The first step in solving a problem is recognizing there is one. Then, investing in a workable, respectful solution is the next challenge.

In my research, experience and training I’ve compiled 13 attributes that support a healthy, productive, collaborative team. The four listed below are agreed to be some of the most important among people in the organizational development field. However, I recently came across research by the late Yehuda Amir who was a professor of Psychology in Bar-Ilan University, Israel and who studied integration and conflict resolution among social groups. Amir’s work has made me add one more attribute to my list which I’ll introduce below.

Amir’s research into prejudices [biases] identified the following 4 cultural and organizational attributes that support collaborative teams and break down negative biases. The first four are:

  1. Team Commitment To Their Objectives And Brand
  2. Supportive Organizational Environment
  3. Clearly Defined Common Goals
  4. Great Leadership

How Does Knowledge Help?

The fifth attribute that Amir believes is important to break down negative biases and build respect is what he calls ‘Knowledge.’ I think this observation is quite cleaver and insightful – and like many great ideas quite obvious when you consider it.

Amir’s research found that working together on a common project is important, BUT it isn’t enough. This extra step [Knowledge] means that team members invest time to learn about each others values, beliefs (perhaps spiritual), and ambitions… no matter what cultural, spiritual or economic backgrounds (for instance), everyone is from.

Example of Personal Bias

  • What if a persons spiritual and cultural background, habits, values and even dress is one the team doesn’t understand and therefore has a negative bias?

Example of Professional Bias

  • What if someone is being undervalued because they are 20 years younger than most people on the team, even though they recently graduated with honors with a relevant degree?

These are just a two possibilities where team members may devalue someone else’s contribution… or a person may feel pressure to devalue their own input if they are a member of a low status minority who are meeting with or working with members of a higher status dominant group.


Thankfully, negative biases and beliefs can be changed… but it’s important to be aware that casual contact, even if frequent is less likely to change attitudes as effectively as intimate contact and ‘Knowledge’ will.

Amir believes that in order to break down biases/prejudices, we have to learn that individual differences do not take away from our personal or professional value; in fact they may give us a different perspective (a strength of a collaborative environment).

Different perspectives and listening without pre-judgment feeds creativity, new ideas and new solutions. This is can be a significant component that helps each team member learn, grow and get as much pride and satisfaction from the overall collaborative team experience as they put into it.

Happy communicating.

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About Bruce Mayhew
Bruce Mayhew is a Leadership Coach, Keynote Speaker and Corporate Trainer who builds strong client and co-worker relationships that give clients a competitive advantage. Our training and development programs include: ■Generational Differences ■Effective Business Email Writing ■Email Etiquette ■Phone Etiquette ■Behaviour Event Interviewing (BEI) ■Mindfulness ■Using Linkedin to Build Client Relationships ■Objective Setting Made Easy

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