Consequences of decision making and unconscious bias

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Decision-making by leaders should be made with an open mind - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Did you know that we use about 5% of our brain consciously and about 95% subconsciously?

That’s why we can only consciously think about five things (give or take two) at any one time. Think about how you are currently sitting? Are you aware of your breathing? What is the person nearest you doing? Often we refer or think of these things as something we have done instinctively, using our natural gut instinct, rather than it being a more deliberate or conscious act.

So, as we move through our lives we don’t just learn through our conscious brain we also learn through our subconscious. Our brain constantly recognises patterns around us and when our subconscious sees these patterns repeatedly it stows them away as normality. That’s why we can occasionally hear or catch ourselves behaving just like our parents. These are learnt behaviours from our childhood that have been stored in the corners and recesses of our minds.

This learning can be very useful but it can also be more dangerous as it has not been filtered through our conscious brain, so we have not been able to judge it from a value or from a right and wrong perspective. When our company Sampson Hall works with both experienced and new and aspiring leaders these are some very important lessons for them to learn and understand. Some of their thoughts, actions and behaviours may well be derived from this subconscious knowledge and this can be termed as bias. An extreme example may be a leader who does not see the benefit of women in leadership positions as they were brought up in a home where the strong belief was a woman’s place is at home caring for the family. Leaders may be doing the wrong thing as they are deriving thoughts and forming beliefs that result in actions from their unconscious brain. So how do you get a grip of your unconscious bias as a leader? Firstly, you must bring the thought or belief into your conscious mind and then try and understand where that idea or belief has come from. This practice can cause some to feel quite uncomfortable as they realise that their unconscious bias has been having a dramatic impact on some of their decision making over the years.

But it is only when we bring an instinct into the conscious that we can recognise its genesis; where it originated from. We must continually check these beliefs and instincts to ensure such ideas are still relevant and realistic. All leaders should be aware of the current environmental situation and modern culture, both within the business and what is going on locally, nationally and globally, we live in a very different world today than we did even just 10 years ago. Leaders should never be afraid to sense-check their ideas with someone else, especially when that person has a very different outlook or perspective on life to them. Bouncing ideas off someone before going public should instil confidence in any decision making. Again, always make sure the decision or idea that is being implemented or floated is fully relevant to the current situation and today’s modern world.

If you are someone who speaks the plain truth, calls a spade a spade, you will know that your opinions have not always sat well with everyone and as one gets older and learns through experience we often get better at counting to 10 before opening our mouths. This is simply the act of bringing that instinct into our conscious mind. Always challenge your thinking with an open mind.

Remember “if you always do what you have always done you will always get the same result” Albert Einstein or was it Tony Robbins it doesn’t matter who, it is right! Approach your instinct with an open mind and think through both the relevance and the consequences of a decision.

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