Is Empathy the solution to Unconscious Bias? by Tameeka Leon

Is Empathy the solution to Unconscious Bias?

Have you ever noticed that, in a group of strangers, you find yourself gravitating to the people who look like you or speak the same language as you? In most cases, finding someone with whom you share a common trait helps you feel more at ease.

Understandable. I’m pretty sure we’ve all done it at some point in our adult lives. 

But why? 

Have you ever stopped to consider that question? 

Almost everything we do is a habit, which means that in most cases you have been doing it so long that it is now an unconscious thought or action. As soon as you see someone, you make a judgment and categorize them. We can’t help it. Our brains are always trying to keep us safe, based on our unconscious definition of safety. It has to quickly categorize the people and situations you encounter so that it knows how you should respond. 

This is the basis of unconscious bias. 

According to Vanderbilt University,

Unconscious bias (or implicit bias) is often defined as prejudice or unsupported judgments in favor of or against one thing, person, or group as compared to another, in a way that is usually considered unfair. Many researchers suggest that unconscious bias occurs automatically as the brain makes quick judgments based on past experiences and background. As a result of unconscious biases, certain people benefit and other people are penalized. In contrast, deliberate prejudices are defined as conscious bias (or explicit bias). Although we all have biases, many unconscious biases tend to be exhibited toward minority groups based on factors such as class, gender, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, nationality, religious beliefs, age, disability and more.



I think that sums it up nicely. 

There are several different types of unconscious bias that we should be aware of. I have included them below, as explained by People Goal,

Halo Effect

Horns Effect

Confirmation Bias

Affinity Bias

Attribution Bias

Gender Bias

Contrast Bias

Anchoring Bias

Conformity Bias

Name Bias




 I know. That was a lot, right? But I do believe it was necessary.

So now that you know what it is, how do you stop yourself from doing it? 

Well, it’s unconscious so you can’t stop it automatically or permanently. But you can focus on recognizing your biases and trying to consciously work through them. It will take work, but it is doable.

I truly believe that empathy is one of the best ways to combat unconscious bias.


Teach Yourself to be More Understanding and Empathetic 

Everyone that hasn’t suffered a brain injury or mental illness is capable of empathy. Some of us are in touch with this ability, while others could use a little practice. 

What is empathy? 

Empathy is the concern for the welfare of others. It’s the ability to detect or predict the emotions and thoughts of others. 

It’s easy to see why this would be a handy skill to master. Empathy has an impact on your relationships. This is true for both your personal and professional relationships. Empathy can make your life easier and more fulfilling at home and at work! 

Try these tips to increase your empathy for those around you:


  • Avoid making assumptions. Your view of the world is limited. Your experiences are just your own. Others have lived a different reality. If you’re from a well-off and intact family from the United States, you don’t really have a clue what it’s like to deal with the weight of growing up in an orphanage in Ukraine.
    • If you’ve never lost a job, avoid assuming that you know exactly what that experience feels like.
    • Making assumptions only gets in the way of developing empathy. When you catch yourself making assumptions, question them. Prove your assumptions to be true or false before making any decisions.

  • Ask questions. One way to understand others is to ask questions. Develop a genuine interest in them. Enhancing your communication skills assists your ability to connect with, and to understand, other people. Ask open ended questions.

  • Listening intently is related to asking questions and avoiding assumptions. Seek to understand the emotions that the other person is feeling. Asking questions and then listening to the answers is a pivotal part of creating empathy within yourself.

  • Try to understand a group of people outside of your experience. Suppose you’re a young, Christian, African-American male. You might decide to learn about Hasidic Jews. Or if you’ve never been poor, you might learn about the homeless.
    • Read books and talk to people. Strive to understand what it would be like to be born a part of a particular group.

  • Put yourself in the other person’s shoes. One way to relate better to others is to imagine yourself in the same situation. This can be painful. It’s not enjoyable to imagine that your spouse has died or that you’re completely out of money.
    • Ask yourself, “What would I be thinking and feeling if I were in this situation?” Just asking yourself this question is the biggest step you can take toward being empathetic.

  • Be present. Give your undivided attention to others. You can’t be empathetic if you’re thinking about something else while someone is speaking to you.
    • You’re not as good at hiding your disinterest as you think! You miss most of the information, verbal and non-verbal, communicated to you if you’re not paying attention.

  • Practice having more meaningful conversations. Talking about sports is fine, but it’s not a deep and personal topic. One way to get the ball rolling is to talk about something that’s important to you. The more you share, the more you’re going to receive in return. Be open, and others will be more open with you.

Empathy is an important skill. It can be very difficult. Especially if you're like me and your mind is always trying to think ahead and plan the next 10 things on your to-do list. But it can greatly increase your ability to communicate and connect with others. Being able to understand their feelings and thoughts will boost your rapport with them. Enhance your personal and work relationships with empathy and you’ll benefit in many ways.

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