5 Strategies for Mastering the Psychological Game: Dealing With Unconscious Bias

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As a diverse professional, you must never forget that you are a value-added player no matter what the situation is. You bring to the table a unique set of qualities that no one else can offer.

Too often, women, people of color, and other diverse professionals are taught to dim their own light in order not to make others feel bad. By remaining in the box that others put you in, however, you do yourself a disservice.

The default perception of diverse professionals is that they are average or below-average performers because they generally don’t fit the mold of most people who have advanced into leadership positions at a given company. The first step in thriving at work is protecting yourself from allowing others’ negative assumptions to dominate your thinking and affect your performance. The next step is getting others to see that you really are a winner.

You can challenge the assumptions that people make and the expectations they have about your abilities and performance through the way you carry yourself and behave. Here are five strategies you can use to deal with the conscious and unconscious biases of the people around you:

1. Be Active in Employee Resource Groups

In order to counteract the effect of any negative stereotyping that may be occurring in your work environment, it’s important to create systems of support that combat isolation, burnout, and loneliness.

As a diverse professional in a white-male-dominated space, you may not always feel the most comfortable and included. When you’re in the minority, it’s particularly important to build supportive relationships with those who share an aspect of your identity. If your company has an employee resource group (ERG) option, consider joining. An ERG is a group of employees who share a common aspect of identity and want to associate with others similar to themselves — e.g., a women’s network, a Black employee network, an LGBT employee network, etc.. Through ERGs, you’ll be able to connect with individuals who are familiar with your workplace culture and who have likely had similar experiences navigating biases in your work environment. ERGs can be a great source of support, networking, and informal mentoring.

2. Connect With Successful Diverse Professionals

To build a support network outside of work, connect with other high-performing diverse professionals at other organizations. Consider joining a women’s, minority, or other diverse professional organization in your field that also hosts events in your city. This can be particularly helpful if you are one of very few diverse employees at your company. By staying connected to other diverse people, you can reduce feelings of isolation.

The more you connect with high-achieving diverse people, the more you will be burning into your mind the belief that diverse people are high achievers. This makes you better able to brush off any negative stereotypes thrown at you. Remember: It’s hard to fly like an eagle if you hang out with pigeons.

3. Maintain Perspective in Challenging Times

People may make assumptions and judgments about you before getting to know you. Don’t take it personally. It is vital to stay objective so that you can strategize better. You always want to be thinking a few moves ahead, not reacting emotionally to events.

When you encounter challenges, zoom out and remember your goals. See yourself and your role at the company as part of a bigger whole. You want to remind yourself of the end goal you are working toward in a way that will inspire you to continue moving forward when the going gets tough. A minor setback does not negate how far along you have come. By zooming out and putting things into perspective, you will be better equipped to handle the inevitable frustrations of the daily grind.

4. Address Constructive Feedback Only

Categorize all the feedback you receive as constructive or not. Be honest in your assessment.

When given abstract feedback, ask for concrete examples. Having specific examples in mind gives you a tangible starting point for addressing the feedback, and it also helps confirm that criticism is based on facts rather than conscious or unconscious bias. If the feedback was constructive, determine the best way to follow up.

Depending on the situation, it may be best to request a follow-up meeting after you have had some time to fully process the feedback. Recognize that some people will try to build you up while others try to tear you down. If you determine a piece of feedback was not constructive, don’t internalize it, and be wary of that messenger’s feedback in the future.

5. Develop a Growth Mindset

For a strong mental game, it is important to adopt a growth mindset, as opposed to a fixed mindset.

Those who have fixed mindsets believe their traits, like intelligence and talent, are innate and static. Those with growth mindsets believe traits can be developed through deliberate effort and persistence. When confronted with failure, those with fixed mindsets give up because they believe there is nothing they can do, while those with growth mindsets look for opportunities to learn from the setback and develop themselves for future challenges.

The takeaway here is to believe in your untapped potential and be willing to put in the effort to develop it. Instead of allowing obstacles and setbacks to halt your progress, use them as tools to grow and develop yourself further.

Mastering the psychological game is essential because most diverse professionals are either underprepared for the long road ahead, or they are disillusioned about their odds of success and quit early. No matter what happens, you always need to remember that you are a value-added player. Your career road ahead may be long, and the odds may be challenging, but achieving your vision is definitely possible — as long as you master the psychological game.

Sharon E. Jones is the founder and CEO of Jones Diversity, Inc. Sudheer R. Poluru is a senior associate at Jones Diversity, Inc. Together, Sharon and Sudheer are coauthors of Mastering the Game: Strategies for Career Success.

By Sharon E. Jones and Sudheer R. Poluru