How To Avoid The Consequences Of Unconscious Biases

Have you ever taken a swim in the ocean and been stung by the tentacle of a jellyfish, yet you never saw the tentacle? Unintended consequences of unconscious biases are similar to that tentacle: You don’t see it coming, and the sting is often unpleasant. Unconscious biases shape your viewpoint and can lead your team in the wrong direction.

This happened to a client of mine who had a plumbing problem at his home. His unconscious bias led the plumber astray, and had he allowed the repairman to consider all options without influencing him, the problem could have been fixed more quickly and for less cost. This is a good example of how biases involuntarily affect the way we think, act, behave and make decisions and have a larger influence on us than we realize, thus influencing the thinking and behaviors of those around us.

Most are aware of many unconscious biases, such as gender bias, ageism bias, beauty bias, and confirmation bias. Yet there are some that are even more subtle that need to be addressed.

Let’s take a deep dive into exploring some different biases.

Halo Effect Bias: Hinders Hiring

The halo effect was a term coined by the psychologist Edward Thorndike. When you are under the influence of this bias, you develop an overall positive impression of another person based upon one of their qualities or traits, overlooking the negative. When hiring, it is crucial to check in with yourself: If you are drawn to this candidate, are you under the halo effect bias? I had a client come to me after interviewing two individuals for a management position and he really liked one quite a bit. I suggested he have the two candidates take the emotional intelligence assessment before making a decision. The results revealed the one he liked scored poorly on competencies necessary to be a good manager, especially interpersonal skills.

When hiring, it is a good idea to have a diverse interviewing team to help avoid the halo effect bias. Be open to hearing the negative aspects someone on your team points out, and don’t override them. Built into the halo effect is a mechanism in you where you already looked past any negative traits. We all have a shadow side, and a good question to hold for yourself is, “What is the shadow side of this person?” Carl Jung wrote extensively about the shadow side and said, “Everyone carries a shadow, and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is. At all counts, it forms an unconscious snag, thwarting our most well-meant intentions.”

In the fast pace of the business world, decisions often have to be made quickly and should be made by looking at all the data. Anchor bias is when you make a decision based upon the first piece of information you receive. It is called an anchor because you use this information as an anchor to base your decision.

In my example about the plumber, he used the first piece of information to base his decision. As a reminder, just like hearing one side to a story, there is always another side and perspective, and being curious is the stance to take by asking what and how questions to gather more information. When I am coaching, I often take this approach to stretch my clients’ thinking and approach to a challenge. My goal is to push them to a never-before-thought-of answer or solution. The curiosity tool can help you avoid the anchor bias, which can result in a poor long-term decision.

Affect Heuristic Bias: Involves Strong Emotions

When you are stressed and under pressure, you lose mental clarity, which puts you more in the emotional part of the brain. Making decisions under these conditions can wreak havoc in the long term. In my last article, I talked about how when you are triggered, you can react quickly to being poked, which usually is not the best response. Affect heuristic bias is when we experience a strong emotion and make a decision based upon the emotion or respond inappropriately.

Emotions cloud judgment, and these strong emotions can be prompted by a comment made. If you do not react immediately, you often will find yourself caught up in a mental roundabout of what is the best response. This is a clue you are being influenced by strong emotions. To gain greater self-awareness, reflect back on times you’ve felt this strong emotion and see if there is a common thread.

One client continually pounced on her team, resulting in her being asked to receive coaching. We explored what triggered her to lash out and derived a new skill to manage her emotional response in a healthier way. Being aware of your emotions is the heart and soul of emotional intelligence. After being aware, you then need to develop new skills to manage strong emotional responses. Taking an emotional intelligence assessment can reveal your strengths and what needs development to manage your emotions and the emotions of others.

Unconscious biases are a challenge because, by their very nature, we are not aware of them. Observing yourself objectively is not that easy, either. However, you can become curious about yourself, question your own perception and thinking, be open to feedback from others and let go of self-importance in order to find the humor in your unconscious thinking and formulating of opinions. If you find you take a dogmatic position on issues, there might be an unconscious bias happening. It’s all about gaining self-awareness and having a growth mindset.

Originally published on Forbes and featured here with author permission.


Melinda Fouts, Ph.D.
Melinda Fouts, Ph.D.
Melinda Fouts, Ph. D., International Executive Coach, Psychotherapist is a select Columnist & Featured Contributor for BIZCATALYST 360° and a Member of the Forbes Coaches Council (comprised of Top coaches offering insights on leadership development & careers), and founder of Success Starts with You. She was recently chosen to receive the Empowered Woman of the Year Award for 2021 given by the International Association of Top Professionals (IAOTP). She also received the honor as the top international coach of the year in 2020 by the IAOTP. She provides visionary leadership in her field and her many credentials prove she has the ability to empower women worldwide. Her exemplary role as a female professional in a male-dominated industry displays her influence, capability, and proficiency. Inclusion with the International Association of Top Professionals (IAOTP) is an honor in itself, only a few women are chosen for this distinction based on their years of experience, professional accomplishments, academic achievements, leadership abilities, and contributions to their communities. With innovation and compassion, these women empower others to reach their goals, while creating change for future generations. With over 2 decades of professional experience as a business coach and psychotherapist, Dr. Fouts has proven herself as an accomplished professional and expert in the field. As a dynamic, results-driven leader, Dr. Fouts has demonstrated success not only as an Executive Business Coach, but in every role she has held. Prior to executive coaching and leadership development, Melinda has been in private practice as a psychotherapist for over 20 years. She leverages her strengths and insights from her psychology background to help leaders and managers in transition through increased self-awareness. Owner and founder of Success Starts with You, is based upon the premise that you are already successful. Increasing self-awareness to increase emotional intelligence and unlocking blind spots are paramount to continued success. Dr. Fouts leverages her strengths and insights from her psychology background to help leaders and managers in transition through increased self-awareness and discovering their blind spots. It can be lonely at the top and as a thought partner, she makes sure you are not alone. Dr. Fouts’ unique approach from other business coaches is that she helps get rid of thinking and behavioral patterns that tend to keep executives stuck. Her key areas of expertise include but are not limited to: small business consulting, enhancing emotional intelligence, self-awareness, unlocking fullest potential, brainstorming, identifying limitations, challenges, obstacles and optimizing performance. In addition, her successful career as a Psychotherapist and International Executive Business Coach, Dr. Fouts is a sought-after speaker whose key-note address to Women’s Leadership Conferences is Channeling Feminine Power in the Face of Adversity. Her newly released book, Cognitive Enlightenment, was to be presented at the London Book Fair, March 2020, the NY Book Fair, May 2020, and the Frankfurt Book Fair in October 2020 until COVID hit. Melinda received her Ph.D. in Jungian Psychology from Saybrook University and her Masters in Psychology from Pacifica University. Melinda has worked as a consultant with executives and businesses for over 20 years. As a result of her experience and studies, she has developed a unique craft to fine-tune leadership development for peak performance. She lives in Colorado with her big, beautiful dog, Stryder. For more information on Dr. Fouts please visit:

DO YOU HAVE THE "WRITE" STUFF? If you’re ready to share your wisdom of experience, we’re ready to share it with our massive global audience – by giving you the opportunity to become a published Contributor on our award-winning Site with (your own byline). And who knows? – it may be your first step in discovering your “hidden Hemmingway”. LEARN MORE HERE