By definition, a workplace investigation should be an unbiased search for the facts of what happened. In reality, people who conduct investigations are susceptible to both conscious and unconscious bias. Better awareness of how your implicit bias could impact a workplace investigation is crucial to furthering your goal of uncovering the facts.
I’m Not Biased!
When asked, most people will adamantly deny that they are biased about anything. Investigators tend to take particular pride in their unbiased approach to investigations. The truth is though that we all have biases – and they can subtly interfere with the outcome of a workplace investigation. Recognizing the fact that you may have implicit biases of which you are unaware is the first step toward ensuring that they do not impact the results of your investigation.
One type of implicit bias is known as “affinity bias.” Whether we are aware of them or not, we all have affinity biases. Affinity bias refers to the tendency to get along with, or relate to, people who are like you. In other words, the more you have in common with someone the more likely it is that you can relate to them. Whether you share the same religious faith, the same social-economic background, or attended the same university, when you have common points of reference it frequently creates an implicit bias. That, in turn, can impact a workplace investigation in several ways. Affinity bias can directly affect how you interact with a complainant or with a witness. The more you connect with an interviewee the more comfortable you are. Consequently, you may be more inclined to view them as honest and consider their statements to be credible. You may also spend more time talking to them because doing so is natural and easy. Conversely, you may rush through an interview with someone with whom you have little in common and may subconsciously view them as less credible.
Another type of implicit bias, confirmation bias, is also something we all do without realizing it. As an investigator, however, it can lead to disastrous results. In simple terms, confirmation bias occurs when you develop a hypothesis and then view the evidence in a light that helps confirm that hypothesis. For example, if you are investigating a claim of sexual harassment in the workplace and the complaint shines a very negative light on the alleged perpetrator, you might unconsciously begin the investigation looking for evidence that he/she engaged in sexual harassment. The job of an investigator, however, is to gather and evaluate all evidence from which an objective conclusion can be reached.
Preventing Implicit Bias in a Workplace Investigation
Both affinity and confirmation bias can negatively impact a workplace investigation. Acknowledging that we all have these biases is the first step in preventing them from interfering with your investigation. In addition, the following tips may help:
- Consider your interviewee prior to the interview. Evaluate the individual for affinity bias. If you appear to have much in common, be aware that this could influence your belief in their credibility. If you have little in common, make a conscious effort to find common ground and to not rush the interview.
- Bring in reinforcements if necessary. If you are concerned that your affinity bias may negatively impact an interview, ask someone else to conduct the interview if possible. Likewise, ask another investigator to review your file whenever possible to reduce the likelihood that your own personal biases are not coloring the evidence.
- Avoid developing an early hypothesis. This is easier said than done; however, try not to develop a theory or hypothesis early on in an investigation because it can lead to confirmation bias.
- Try to disprove your theory. As your investigation develops, make a conscious effort to play devil’s advocate on a regular basis. When you feel the investigation leading you toward a conclusion, try and disprove that conclusion. If you cannot disprove your working theory, you are likely on the right path to reaching the right conclusion.
If you have additional questions or concerns regarding implicit bias, contact Ablin Law by filling out our online contact form or by calling 312.288.2012.