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Implicit Bias: What It Means for Mediation

  • Posted by: Ellen Kandell
Many of us are aware of the destructive patterns of bias and discrimination that we have inherited from earlier generations. And on a broad spectrum, many of us have every intention of disengaging from those destructive behaviors and building an increasingly egalitarian world. However, those good intentions may not be enough to reverse the damage of institutionalized discrimination and prejudice that plagues our society. That, it seems, will take some more intentional effort.

The first aspect of implicit bias to understand is that it does not refer to overt, conscious, or deliberate forms of discrimination. We do not choose our implicit biases nor necessarily choose consciously to act on them. In fact, bias in itself is not evil; on the contrary, it stems from basic survival instinct, but becomes distorted and destructive in our social realities. When it comes to implicit bias, we only begin to have a choice when we become aware and admit to ourselves that we might have them. Then we can choose the challenge of exploring our own blindspots, and work on choosing which kinds of bias we want to use, and which kinds we want to leave behind.

No one knows exactly how or why implicit biases form, but messages around us – even if we feel consciously critical of them – can influence our unconscious responses. And we are bombarded with advertisements and cultural messages every day that tell us what it looks like to be respectable or dangerous, smart or successful. Many cultural messages reinforce prejudicial ideas. An implicit bias may also take root from an isolated experience that the individual has had, especially if it reaffirms a broader stereotype.

In mediation, the notion of implicit bias has serious consequences. Effective mediators are committed to exploring what their own implicit biases might be, considering that they could be detrimental to their position as a neutral third party in a dispute. It’s important for professionals who consider themselves to have a reflective, impartial view – whether in dispute resolution, facilitation, or any leadership position – to be aware of the function of implicit bias, and willing to unwrap how they might be harboring or expressing their own.

Ellen F. Kandell is a certified professional mediator and attorney with over 30 years of public and private sector experience. She is one of eight Maryland mediators featured on a statewide demonstration video of good mediation practice. Ellen is certified by the International Mediation Institute.  She provides mediation, group facilitation and training to diverse clients in Washington, DC and the US. Get in touch with her via email, and follow her on LinkedIn, and Twitter.
Author: Ellen Kandell

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