Racism / Sexism / Nationalism / Tribalism

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Many people live with an overt or passive bias. Bias based on differences in appearance, gender, origin, preferences, or beliefs is ultimately a form of tribalism. People who we find attractive or who look like us are automatically assumed to have qualities such as intelligence, fairness, and honesty, according to Tony Little, a researcher of psychology at the University of Bath. As negotiators, we frequently encounter bias or fall victim to it whether we realize it or not.


Bias may come in an active form: “You [insert group] always [trait],” for example. More passively, someone may have low expectations of someone “other” and cut off opportunities accordingly. Perhaps the most insidious sort is constant small haranguing. If someone is constantly correcting grammar, form, and style, this is often as a result of bias.


Unscrupulous persons in power will use these flavors of bigotry to maintain power, even if they have themselves been victims of bigotry. In the 21st century, we still hear people in power respond to questions regarding a lack of diversity with responses like, “There are not enough qualified [fill in the identity].” This justification prevents qualified persons from successfully negotiating jobs. Even if not said aloud, it is often thought. Generalizations of this sort seldom have a factual basis. Chances are the speaker wants to hold their position of power, is part of the socioeconomic group that elevated them to the position, and so they themselves are enmeshed in complex psychological reasoning. Unless there is a peer reviewed scientific study, absolute generalizations are not truth-finding without detailed socio-economic rigor. When confronted with a generalization, what does one do?Do not tolerate this and call it out. Focus on the issue of the negotiation. Check your own bias and focus on the content of the person’s character and their negotiation performance. If passive, simply push for more, ask for more opportunity, more freedom in solving the problem. In extreme cases, there may be legal recourse if the behavior violates the law.

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