ubbrainAs much as we may like to think of ourselves as enlightened, free thinkers, we all have biases. Those biases include unconscious bias which impacts our decision making and potentially the outcome of negotiations.

Those biases are at work even though we might not realize, or may not want to realize, they exist.

  • One study asked test subjects to rate the performance of various fictional employees who worked the same number of hours and produced the same results. Study participants ranked employees who started working earlier higher than those who began work later in the day.
  • Fictional resumes were sent in response to 1,300 want ads in the Chicago Tribune and Boston Globe for sales, customer service and administrative support positions in 2001 and 2002 as part of a study of unconscious bias. The identical résumés had “African American sounding names,” like Lakisha and Jamal or “very White sounding names,” like Brendan or Emily. Résumés with White sounding names received 50% more callbacks than those with African American names. When these resumes had more observable skills and credentials, the apparently White candidates received 30% more callbacks but there was no significant difference in callbacks for those probably considered to be African Americans.
  • Studies have shown a widespread unconscious belief by those of both sexes that women are bad at math, which may be one reason why there are fewer women working in math related fields.

(If you think you are without bias, take this test to find out. It measures attitudes and beliefs we may be unwilling or unable to report.)

Research into sexism, unconscious bias and negotiations shows that,

  • Men and women tend to negotiate differently based on whether they are negotiating with a man or a woman.
  • Male evaluators tend to be biased against women who negotiate. They don’t necessarily like men who bargain for more, but it’s considered more acceptable for men.
  • Female evaluators tend not to like negotiators in general. They feel unfavorably toward both men and women who ask for more.

Unconscious beliefs and attitudes have been found to be associated with language and certain behaviors such as eye contact, blinking rates and smiles. Biases may not just include members of another race or sex but include certain types of plaintiffs, defendants or cases.

Before negotiating consider your perceptual lens. Assumptions and mental shortcuts could create barriers to achieving a resolution favorable to your client. The unconscious may be a difficult foe for us to overcome, but reason, logic and facts should win the battle over how we conduct ourselves and our negotiations.