Biased? Who, me?

At the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles, there are two entrance doors to the exhibits, marked Prejudiced and Unprejudiced.
Try to walk through the Unprejudiced door, and you will find that you can’t. All of us are prejudiced in some way.

Implicit Bias
When we hear a news story about a shooter or a fraudster, the first thing many of us think is, “Was it one of ours?” “What was the race, ethnicity, age, the home town?” We want to know if this person fit into our preconceived notions about “others” or will this reflect badly on ourselves.

The term implicit bias refers to unconscious biases we don’t even realize we hold. Many negotiators are meticulous in their language and actions to make no differentiation among clients or opponents which could reflect bias. And yet, these unconscious concepts can get in the way of settlement.

Perception, Stereotypes, Behavior
You may perceive people of certain groups to be less honest, smart, or cooperative than people in other groups. These perceptions are often based on stereotypes you have absorbed from family, education or other socialization, or from media. You may generalize about people in a certain group based on limited personal experience.

Biased perception and stereotyping can alter your behavior. You may be more or less willing to accommodate, disclose information, or collaborate depending on whether others are from your own or a different group.  You may make lowball offers or outrageous demands because of a preconceived notion of how your negotiating opponent will react.

A Neutral Setting Helps
One way to circumvent the impediments to settlement caused by implicit bias is to use the services of professional neutral. Part of my job as mediator is to guide the parties to negotiate based on the relevant law and facts rather than bias.

Facts can include information about a party’s past behavior. Also important is a person’s family situation and how external threats, such as an insecure employment or immigration status, could affect their bargaining position. Facts do not include assumptions based on factors such as sex or ethnicity.

Timely settlement saves all parties time and money. One way the mediator helps parties reach settlement is to avoid the influence of implicit biases on the negotiation.