Posted by Andrew Hyland, Recruitment & Resourcing Manager at Macmillan Cancer Support on 4th November 2014. Our unconscious bias can override our ability to make rational decisions. When it comes to business, bias-based decisions and behaviour can limit creativity and opportunity, as well as lead to discrimination – all of which can have a significant impact on performance, productivity and the bottom line of a business. One of the major contributing factors to bias decision-making is the first impressions formed by people within the first few minutes of meeting them a factor which all of us are susceptible to; rapid categorisation. These thought patterns, assumptions and interpretations – or biases have built up over time and help us to process information quickly and efficiently. From a survival standpoint, bias is a positive and necessary trait. We as humans tend to cast people as heroes or villains through visual or social identity, gender and ethnicity. It can be something as simple as what someone wears that can have a powerful impact on what people think about them. The truth is unconscious bias affects every area of our lives. Unconsciously, we tend to like people who look like us, think like us and come from backgrounds similar to ours. Everyone likes to think he or she is open-minded and objective, but research has shown that the beliefs and values gained from family, culture and a lifetime of experiences heavily influence how we view and evaluate both others and ourselves. Once we have categorised ourselves as part of a group and have identified with that group we then tend to compare that group with other groups. If our self-esteem is to be maintained our group needs to compare favourably with other groups. This is critical to understanding bias, because once two groups identify themselves as rivals they are forced to compete in order for the members to maintain their self-esteem. Competition and hostility between groups is thus not only a matter of competing for resources like jobs but also the result of competing identities. A great starting point for managing your own unconscious bias is to first of all accept that you are likely to be biased in some respects and that this will affect your actions and decisions. However, you shouldn't feel guilty for this and instead accept responsibility for monitoring your own behaviours and commit consciously to being fair and respectful to everyone you come into contact with. Practice empathy. Imagine yourself in someone else’s shoes and always ask: “Would I think this scenario is fair?” Be an accessible, open communicator. If people feel they can talk to you about sensitive issues, you’ll prevent bias situations from escalating. Andrew is currently running a training programme on this topic at Macmillan Cancer Support