Being Conscious of Unconscious Biases

  • Source: Article
  • Article Date: 7/12/2018


We are bombarded with 11 million pieces of information per second, but the brain can only process 40. What happens to the rest? It is processed unconsciously. These unconscious decisions in our minds shape our assumptions and these assumptions, in turn, shape our views of the world.

Whether we know it or not, all of us have our own views of the world, perhaps even stereotypes and unconscious biases we hold personally towards the people we work with. And often, when we try to push our views forward, these biases sometimes cause conflict with others and can be a barrier to excellence. But if we can identify the issues at hand, be they people-, process- or skills-related, we can remove the biases and collaborate more effectively.

As part of an effort to inculcate service excellence mindset among its employees, PETRONAS Group ICT tackled the subject of stereotypes and unconscious biases by using experiential theatre. Otherwise known as immersive or interactive theatre, experiential theatres have proven to be an effective method to engage and expose hidden behaviours and biases.

Performed at the recent Group ICT Forum 2018, actors from an experiential theatre group staged recognisable workplace situations. Members of the audience were invited to join in, improvise and change the situations according to how they felt it should be.

Titled Living The Challenge: Unlocking Unconscious Bias, Building Service Excellence, the session was organised by LeadWomen, a network that promotes female representation at corporate boards. The session was well received by the audience. 

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Sketch 1 – Tech Support

A customer runs into a problem with his laptop. He calls the contact centre but gets turned away when it emerges that the laptop is not company-issued. The customer pleads for some allowance, but tech support refuses to budge.

Audience feedback: Although there is no provision for fixing non-company-issued devices, in the spirit of going above and beyond the call of duty, tech support could go the extra mile and offer to send a personnel to look into the problem.

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Sketch 2 – Ground Level

Two colleagues come out of a town hall meeting and complain about the motivational talk they have just heard. A new staff joins the conversation and says he likes the talk and is inspired by it. The enthusiastic new staff has an idea to improve the company's feedback system. The two seniors try to discourage him by telling him to play by the rules, just do as he is told and keep quiet. Undeterred, the new staff approaches his superior, Amanda, who unfortunately tells him off rudely.

Audience feedback: Superiors could treat their subordinates with greater respect. New staff could also try to make an effort to get to know their superiors better or find an appropriate time before attempting to introduce changes in the workplace. Most managers have 'switches' that can be turned on to get them to be more agreeable to new ideas.

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Sketch 3 – Stuck In The Middle

Two managers, Fred and Amanda, complain about having to deliver results with tight resources and schedules and having to manage and motivate incompetent subordinates. They bump into their boss Halina, who asks if everything is fine. Both suddenly become quiet.

Audience feedback: This partially explains why some managers can appear to be unsupportive. The head could learn to be more aware of her team members' emotions and body language and make an attempt to find out if line managers are telling the truth about how things are going at the company.

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Sketch 4 – Meeting With Client

In a meeting involving herself, her boss, the company's sales manager and a client, Amanda finds herself having to commit to an impossible project deadline. She negotiates a reduction in the project deliverables. After the client leaves, Amanda's boss and the sales manager express their unhappiness with Amanda, who argues that the company is understaffed and should either reduce project deliverables, increase costs or extend the project timeline.

Audience feedback: Amanda's boss could first try to find out why the client wants the project delivered within a short time, and if it can be extended. If it cannot be extended, she could negotiate to meet the client's objectives over several phases, for example, by delivering the first phase with a soft launch, and completing the rest of it in the second phase.

PETRONAS Group ICT encourages its employees to strive for excellence by going above and beyond the call of duty. The skits acted out during the Living The Challenge: Unlocking Unconscious Bias, Building Service Excellence session serve as a reminder that in our quest to deliver service excellence, it is necessary for us to put ourselves in the other person's shoes to determine their needs. Only then can we meet those needs in a manner that will delight the other person.