You may have seen us share an interesting article about ‘Unconscious bias and its effect on healthcare leadership’ that mentioned a growing body of scientific evidence in support of the notion of unconscious bias, and how, these have an important impact on our interactions with others. Specifically it says that evidence shows we are more likely to attribute positive characteristics and therefore have better relationships with those who appear to be more similar to us. As a leader this can have a detrimental effect on how we communicate with others and therefore it’s important to understand and then recognise when this happens, subsequently allowing you to take more positive control of such impulses.
So this article got me thinking….. well this doesn’t apply to me, does it? I never show bias, surely? And as I started to think more about it, memories began to resurface…
I was working as a team leader with a very busy team of healthcare insurance specialists. The department was fast paced and demanding with strict service standards and turnaround times. Each member of my team had incredibly demanding workloads and often complex medical claims they had to manage with utmost care, diligence and integrity.
One particular day I had around 11 people in the team come to me, one after another with numerous queries and referrals that they needed my input or authorisation to progress. It was one of those days where interruptions were consistent and plentiful. I had queries from other teams too needing information to deal with other aspects of the business, hospitals wanting updates on when payments were due, consultants wanting to know how much we were going to pay towards a multiple procedure coded operation, a customer wanting to understand why they had paid their excess twice in the last three months and the nursing team wanting an update on the complex cardiac invoice we had received. The phone rang, the emails increased and my manager wanted to know when the monthly stats would be in. It was at this time, another member of my team came over and said “Can I ask a quick question?” to which I snapped “IS IT URGENT?!”
She blushed, apologised and scuttled off.
What had I just done?
I had made an assumption that the query I was about to be asked was trivial and not worth my immediate attention. I’d quickly decided that I had better things to do as well as expecting that the person asking, knew how busy I had been and how many questions I had already been asked that day! So I had, without thought, embarrassed and basically dismissed her importance.
The values I promoted to my team were of respect, integrity, professionalism and flexibility to name but a few and what had I just demonstrated? It certainly wasn’t respect, professionalism or flexibility and therefore integrity was thrown right out of the window.
So what can we do as leaders?
- Take a moment each day to think about your unconscious bias impulses. Becoming aware of it is the first step to reducing it.
- Cast aside what you think you know about someone. Park your subconscious assumptions and mind-reads and reign in the temptation to express off-the-cuff negative communication.
- Do things to help you counteract any bias that may occur. If you are inundated with queries all day long and it’s disruptive (and therefore unconscious bias more likely to come into play) think about another way to manage this. In my own situation I decided to set up a designated ‘question time’ each afternoon and asked my team to hold their queries until this time, unless it was urgent. When they did bring their queries, no matter how busy I was, I’d stop, listen and give them my full attention and support.
- Be open to feedback. Even if you don’t agree with it, listen, seek to understand and learn from it.
- Treat people with compassion and respect. If someone wants your help, it must be because they recognise you have a skill or knowledge that they can learn from. What a compliment! So smile and take the time to listen.
p.s we’ll be including this topic as part of our leadership & motivation two-day workshop on 26th & 27th June. If you’d like to learn more, come along!