How unknown biases destroy relationships


As you may already know, Joseph Luft and Harrington Ingham introduced their concept of “the unknown unknowns” in 1955. That is, ignorance of one’s ignorance. This is is probably what Mark Twain had in mind when observing, ” It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.” FYI, Luft and Ingham devised what they named the “Johari Window Model.” Click here to learn more about it.

For present purposes, I think it is very important to recognize what our specific knowledge needs are, relevant to the given situation. Ignorance of unknown unknowns can result in bad decisions and the worst of these can do serious damage.

Biases, for example.

The word “barbarians” was coined in ancient Greece and its original meaning was “non-Greeks.”

More recently, when natives of Cape Cod noticed that many of those who spent a summer or a month there each year were retiring to vacation homes that had been winterized. What to call them? One of the natives came up with “year-’round summer people.”

It is human nature to be attracted to people who resemble us, preferably in several ways. That explains most of the worst hiring decisions in business.

A version of this bias is especially obvious when a leader surrounds himself with people who tell him what he wants to hear, not what he needs to know.

One of my a dear friends was a world-renowned expert on ADD and ADHD. Although limited by both, he earned several degrees (including an M.D.) and served on the faculty of Harvard Medical School before establishing a medical center. Once asked what he did, he replied, “I unwrap gifts.”

Although it sometimes takes a while, we need to learn as much as we can about people — “unwrap” what is best about them —  before making any value judgments. We cannot manage (if not eliminate) biases until we first recognize them.

To learn much more about all this, I highly recommend The Leader’s Guide to Unconscious Bias: How to Reframe Bias, Cultivate Connection, and Create High-performance Teams co-authored by Pamela Fuller and Mark Murphy with Anne Chow. It will be published by Simon & Schuster next month.


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