Press Pause – Mindfulness and Unconscious Bias

03 November 2016

Often when we’re under pressure – whether it’s a major life change, tight deadline or catching up on a mountain of work – we tend to make snap decisions. This means we act without first acknowledging how we feel (stressed, tired, etc.), sitting back to reflect and take in all the facts before making a decision.

How mindfulness can help reduce our own unconscious bias

Some studies suggest that mindfulness can help reduce peoples’ own biases. It does so by helping us to slow down, pause, and focus on our thoughts and feelings. By becoming more self-aware, we can then make intentional choices about how we want to respond to difficult situations, rather than jumping to conclusions and automatically reacting in ways that we sometimes regret.

With the growth of the wellness industry and the 24/7 working culture, mindfulness is becoming increasingly popular and more important in the workplace for employers.

 

Mindfulness and Unconscious Bias in the Workplace

 

There are various definitions of mindfulness. In essence, though, it is simply focusing one’s mind on the present, how we feel, what we’re doing and how we respond. Mindfulness has been proven to reduce stress, and to improve sleeping patterns, clarity of thinking, and staff productivity and morale. Increasingly, more employers recognise the importance of mindfulness to staff wellbeing and productivity.

Recent studies suggest that mindfulness can help reduce our unconscious bias towards others. It can make us more aware of our feelings and prejudices, and so think more rationally and clearly before reacting.

The Harvard Business Review highlighted its impact from a recent study carried out by Adam Lueke and Bryan Gibson, Social Researchers at Central Michigan University in 2014. Their study revealed that a group who listened to a 10-minute mindfulness exercise exhibited less bias in regards to race and age based on their implicit association test (IAT) results than those who didn’t follow the mindfulness exercise.

Pressing the pause button – mindfulness tips to overcome unconscious bias in the workplace

So what can you do in the workplace to practice mindfulness?

Being mindful doesn’t require sitting in a darkened room meditating for 10 minutes. There are simple ways we can practice mindfulness in the workplace. Together they can help support a more inclusive working culture and promote inclusive behaviours:

  • Focus on a single task at a time instead of multi-tasking. This means you’re more likely to give something or someone your full attention, rather than rushing.
  • Turn off/silence any distractions such as e-mails, tablets and mobiles when in a meeting or having an important conversation with a colleague or team member. Focus on what they’re saying, be aware of your own biases and decide how you will respond.
  • Allow yourself breaks to practice being mindful. Get some fresh air, stretch or move around the office.
  • When you begin to feel stressed or agitated, practice a simple meditation technique that focuses on your breathing. Breathe in and out for a minute, concentrating on how you’re sitting and how fast/slow you’re breathing.