Recently, we published an article that touched upon unconscious bias and ways to prevent these biases during a workplace investigation. Here, we’ll take a deeper look at 12 types of unconscious bias in order to better understand how they may impede your workplace investigations.

When a workplace complaint prompts an investigation, the goal of the investigation is to uncover what took place. To do that, the investigator must conduct an objective search for facts, which typically includes interviewing witnesses that may have information relating to the complaint. If you are conducting a workplace investigation you would never intentionally allow your own personal bias to interfere with an interview; however, the reality is that your unconscious biases could unknowingly creep in and impede your investigation.

Understanding Unconscious Bias

Most of us are aware of our conscious biases. If you have a child, for example, you probably openly admit that you are biased when it comes to your child’s intelligence and accomplishments. You may not, however, be cognizant of your unconscious, or implicit, biases. These are the subconscious attitudes and stereotypes that create a lens through which you view individual people or groups. Although you may not realize it, these unconscious biases can directly impact how you interact with people and analyze information during a workplace investigation.

Types of Unconscious Bias

To avoid being influenced by unconscious bias, you must first be aware of its existence. The following are common types of unconscious bias:

  • Affinity Bias – this refers to the natural tendency we all have to feel a connection with people who are similar to us. As an investigator, affinity bias can cause you to find someone to be more credible than they really are.
  • Confirmation Bias – occurs when you reach a conclusion about someone or something based on your personal beliefs or experiences instead of using objective facts. During an investigation, it can cause you to ask questions or look for evidence that “confirms” your initial belief.
  • Attribution Bias – causes an investigator to view – and judge – a person’s behavior in light of previous interactions or observations instead of through an objective lens.
  • Conformity Bias – think of this as the grown-up version of school age peer pressure. It can cause an investigator to adopt the views or beliefs of the majority instead of making an unbiased assessment of the testimony or evidence.
  • Gender Bias – as the name implies, this refers to an unconscious preference for one gender over the other. It may not even be your own gender. Nevertheless, it can cause you to be biased for or against a witness during an interview.
  • Age Bias – be careful that you do not let preconceived notions about a person’s age interfere in an investigation. For example, you may think that an older person is more truthful or that a younger person is more observant when, in fact, it could be the other way around.
  • Name Bias – usually this occurs when there is a subconscious preference for people with Anglo names. In an investigation it could cause you to view someone with a non-Anglo name in a negative light without cause.
  • Beauty Bias – most of us prefer not to admit that this exists; however, studies show that it does indeed occur. We tend to view attractive people in a more positive light. Consequently, they may be viewed as more credible or believable during an interview.
  • Height Bias – this unconscious bias may cause you to view someone who is taller, or shorter, than average in a different light. Studies show that taller people are viewed as more competent – a bias that could interfere with an investigation.
  • The Halo Effect – when you learn that someone did something impressive, it is easy to fall victim to the “halo effect.” You may attribute more credibility to anything that person says because you have unconsciously put them on a pedestal.
  • The Horns Effect – the converse of the Halo Effect is the Horns Effect. After learning something negative about an individual, you may unintentionally discredit any information they provide during an investigation.
  • Contrast Effect – this refers to the tendency to “compare and contrast” when conducting interviews. A particularly well-spoken witness may seem more credible if you just interviewed another witness who doesn’t communicate well. Be sure to judge each witness individually instead of by comparison with other witnesses.

What is the best way to stay objective? By acknowledging that you may be influenced by unconscious bias. If you are aware of them, then you can keep the various types of unconscious bias in check to make sure they don’t impede your investigation in any way.

For help in truly understanding unconscious bias in workplace investigations, contact Ablin Law by filling out our online contact form or by calling 312.288.2012.

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