Outsmarting Prejudice

Whether subtle or serious, prejudice gone awry can have harmful consequences.

I recently learned about a simple strategy for disrupting prejudice, which involves appealing to the power of your reasoning skills. I learned about this strategy from a TED Talk I watched, titled Can Prejudice ever be a good thing?.

The speaker, Paul Bloom, starts his talk by introducing the concept of prejudice as a naturally occurring process. He presents a quote by the great philosopher William Hazlitt in his essay, On Prejudice:

“Without the aid of prejudice and custom, I should not be able to find my way across the room; nor know how to conduct myself in any circumstances, nor what to feel in any relation of life.”

William Hazlitt (1778–1830), On Prejudice

In other words, if I can’t prejudge my experience with something, how can I anticipate any consequences of my future actions? How can I learn from a mistake, or from something that harmed me? Our ability to prejudge things, then, is necessary for our survival. The problem comes when our tendency to prejudge something – or someone – goes awry. 

To demonstrate the idea of prejudice gone awry, Dr. Bloom presents the results from a 2015 study on racial bias, in which the researchers found that products sold on Ebay, such as baseball cards, received higher bids when the images in their ads showed the baseball cards being held by White hands, compared to ads where the same products were held by Black hands. 

To demonstrate a more serious, even life-threatening consequence of prejudice gone awry, Dr. Bloom presents the findings from a study done at Stanford University, again on racial bias. In this study, researchers found that individuals who identify as Black, who were found guilty of the murder of a White person, were more likely to be given the death penalty if they appeared more “prototypically Black”. 

“It turns out, holding everything else constant, you are considerably more likely to be executed if you look like the man on the right than the man on the left, and this is in large part because the man on the right looks more prototypically black, more prototypically African-American, and this apparently influences people’s decisions over what to do about him.”
-Dr. Paul Bloom

Whether subtle or serious, you can see that prejudice gone awry can have harmful consequences. Dr. Bloom presents two ways to disable the effects of prejudice.

So what does Dr. Bloom mean when he says you can break the habit of prejudging others by appealing to the power of reason?

The first strategy is to appeal to the power of your empathy. This strategy is described in detail in our article titled, The Power of Empathy.

The second strategy presented by Dr. Bloom involves appealing to the power of your reason.

Dr. Bloom argues that although you may have heard the phrases, “love thy neighbour” or “love thy enemy”, these goal are not realistic. Do we really love these people? Many people don’t even like their neighbour, let alone love them, but that doesn’t mean you want to cause them harm. You feel a certain obligation to treat them and their property with respect, because you understand that their life and their property are as important to them as yours is to you. You use reason to guide your behaviour toward others, not love. 

You can bind yourself to certain rules that will disable you from prejudging an individual based on irrelevant characteristics.

You can bind yourself to certain rules that will disable you from prejudging an individual based on irrelevant characteristics. One example of this is when orchestras audition their new musicians behind a screen or curtain. They do this because the only information that is relevant to their decision-making is the individuals’ ability to play their instrument. 

Another meaningful example presented by Dr. Bloom of how to bind yourself is when representatives of a country sign a constitution. A nation can decide that no matter how much one citizen, or a group of citizens may want to discriminate against individuals based on their protected characteristics (age, race, sex, religion, etc.), the nation has bound itself from those options.  

What steps can your organization take to bind itself from even accidentally prejudging a person based on irrelevant information?

The Power of Empathy

I recently watched a mind-blowing TED Talk on the topic of prejudice. What I found so moving was the way the speaker, Paul Bloom, explained prejudice in such simple terms, and what’s more, how he prescribes two simple life hacks for dismantling your own prejudiced thinking. 

One of the life hacks Dr. Bloom talks about is appealing to the power of empathy. The truth is, when presented facts and statistics about an issue, we are less likely to do something to help, such as donate or volunteer. However, when we’re presented with a story about a real person’s experience with tragedy or hardship, something inside us drives us to act – our empathy. That’s why the stories in movies, TV shows, and books are so compelling; and that’s why you see commercials for UNICEF on television telling the story of a specific child suffering from starvation, rather than numbers and statistics. Advertisers understand the power of empathy. 

Because you too understand the power of empathy, you can now harness this power and use it to strategically rewire your thinking about groups of people you are not familiar or comfortable with.

Dr. Bloom presents a famous example of this rewiring process when he talks about the influence of the book Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Although the book is now known in large part for its offensive use of stereotypes, another big impact it had was that it gave readers a view into the perspectives of individuals who were enslaved in the US during the 1800’s. By putting readers into the shoes of an individual suffering in slavery, the book gave many people a sense of empathy that they didn’t have before. In fact, this book is believed to have significantly fuelled the movement toward the abolition of slavery in 1862.

Appealing to the power of your empathy can be as simple (and enjoyable) as reading a book, going to an event, or watching a movie about a culture of people that you don’t understand. Think of a group of people outside your comfort zone, and ask yourself, how will I learn more about this culture?

What resources will I use to appeal to the power of my own empathy?

What makes you frustrated? Wish you could address it?


There are four ways we express ourselves:

  1. Passive (people can read my mind)
  2. Aggressive (the superior being)
  3. Passive-aggressive (the stamp collector)
  4. Assertive (rights & responsibilities)

The manifesto says:

Every Human Being has the right to be treated with respect and express opinions or feelings, so the question becomes…

How can I express what I need to express, without offending?

How can I translate what I want to say into what I can safely say?

It’s not only possible to address frustrating situations – it’s encouraged.

From *quick draw responses* to *holding that difficult conversation with someone*, we have communication strategies for you, based on credible research.

Contact us if your team could use more

Open and Honest Communication

Avoiding Sexual Harassment in 2019

Confused about sexual harassment
Listen to the article

Are you aware of common behaviors that could be considered sexual harassment?

Sexual harassment involves any behavior, that is sexual in nature,  and can reasonably be understood as unwelcome  or unwanted.

Here are a few behaviors to avoid:

  1. Rating another person on an attractiveness scale (“They’re a 10”).  By doing so, you are actually discussing a person’s physical appearance with romantic undertones, which adds up to comments of a sexual nature.

  2. Discussing the nature of one’s personal life with references to sexual activity; you are referring to (personal) sexual activity while in the work context.

  3. Sharing sexually inappropriate photos/videos/emails with colleagues; content of a sexual nature has entered what should be a neutral, sex-free environment for work or study.

  4. Using terms of endearment such as honey, dear, or sweetie. Terms of endearment denote affection toward another person. This affection can reasonably be perceived as romantic in nature, and even sexual. Even though the person may mean nothing to you, it is the impact the behavior has on others that matters.

Remember!

Harassment is always about the IMPACT of your behavior and not about your INTENT.

As soon as comments/actions of a sexual nature become unwelcome by someone in the work context, the behavior falls into the sexual harassment bucket.

Following some basic communication rules will help you to avoid walking on eggshells.

Learn more about developing your capacity to think impact and avoid harassment by going to our website!

The ‘reasonable person’ debate: Is harassing behavior in the eye of the beholder?

In a 2013 article, researchers who study the impact of the law on human lives (Wiener, Gervais, Allen, & Marquez cited below) specifically explored the impact of people’s individual perspectives on their ability to consider the reasonable person’s perspective when judging potentially harassing behavior.

What do we mean by the reasonable person? The reasonable person is, according to Merriam-Webster, “a fictional person with an ordinary degree of reason, prudence, care, foresight, or intelligence whose conduct, conclusion, or expectation in relation to a particular circumstance or fact is used as an objective standard by which to measure or determine something (as the existence of negligence).” The reasonable person‘s point of view is considered when an issue of unwanted behavior occurs in a work environment, in order to help determine whether the act should reasonably be considered offensive.

In reading this article, I learned that there is something called the self-reference effect, where humans tend to reach judgments about outside situations by placing themselves inside the role of the ‘experiencer’ in the situation. As humans, we do this naturally – perhaps as an instinctive survival mechanism. However, in theory, this idea would debunk the whole reasonable person test we use to objectively judge issues. How can we consider the reasonable person’s perspective if we are putting our own emotions and values into that role any way? Isn’t that just our perspective then?

The answer is yes. We have a tendency to put ourselves into the shoes of others when predicting how another person experiences something. But that does not mean it’s impossible for us to consider the reasonable-ness of workplace behavior.  After all, we are held to certain expectations and standards in a work environment are we not?Perhaps a helpful way to think about the reasonable person is to instead consider a prudent, or careful, or responsible, or professional point of view.  

Would a prudent/careful/responsible/professional person consider the behavior unwelcome in a work environment?

 

The first step is knowing where the legal boundaries exist in your context.

Do you (and your team) know what legally defines harassing behavior?

 

Wiener, R. L., Gervais, S. J., Allen, J., & Marquez, A. (2013). Eye of the beholder: Effects of perspective and sexual objectification on harassment judgments. Psychology, Public Policy, and Law19(2), 206.