Unconscious bias is a problem for many organizations aiming to become more inclusive because it is unconscious, as the name suggests, and they’re hard to pinpoint. People, including leaders, have their biases, which come out even when aiming for diversity, perhaps even more then. Today’s guest is Sejal Thakkar, Chief Culture Officer at Nobody Studios, and has a great TEDx Talk about The Pain, Paradox, and Power of Bias. In this episode, she joins Dr. Diane Hamilton to discuss how biases manifest in the workplace even as organizations work towards inclusivity. They are looking at equity from the wrong lens. Join in for an insightful discussion on how to foster an inclusive workplace culture that truly empowers employees. Plus, they discuss dealing with harassment and discrimination and the importance of language.
I’m so glad you joined us because we have Sejal Thakkar here. She is the Chief Culture Officer at Nobody Studios and the Chief Civility Officer at TrainXtra. We are going to talk about bias success and so many issues that deal with your cultural environment at work. I am so excited to have her join us.
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Understanding How Unconscious Bias Impacts Workplace Culture With Sejal Thakkar
I am here with Sejal Thakkar, the Chief Culture Officer at Nobody Studios and the Chief Civility Officer at TrainXtra. She is not your average employment law attorney. She has an interesting background and has a great TEDx Talk about pain, paradox, and the power of bias, which is very interesting to me. I am so excited to have you here, Sejal, welcome.
Thank you so much, Diane. I’m looking forward to our conversation. I’m excited to talk to you about all of these fun topics that we have lined up.
It’s going to be fun. I know that some of your work ties into some of the work I do with perception. I want to get a little backstory. I know you tell a bit of it in your TEDx Talk that you gave. For those who are not familiar with your work, can you give me your backstory of how you reached this level?
I have an Employment Law background. I have been licensed in California since 2003. For the most part, I represented management for the majority of my career in cases that dealt with harassment and discrimination. It’s the majority of my litigation career because I stopped litigating cases in 2012 when my son was born. I have been dealing with Employment Law in the workplace and specifically focused on harassment, discrimination, bullying, and those types of cases. As a part of my career, what I have learned is that first of all, we need to be more proactive about how we address these issues when they are starting to happen and not allow them to continue.
I felt like there were a lot of gaps in what organizations were doing to address workplace culture in the right way and to create a culture where people with their psychological safety and feel like they belong. I found my passion in that area. I started my own company in November of 2017 called TrainXtra, where I wanted to focus on the education piece of it. I know that we both have a huge passion for education. That’s where I’m at. It’s educating, teaching people about those gaps, and helping to move the needle in the right direction.
You touch on so many interesting aspects of the things that we deal with in the workplace. Discrimination is a huge one, even harassment. I see so much and I see many people who don’t want to even deal with going to HR or being the one who has to be the person under the microscope, where you are the person who told on the other person. A lot of people let it go.
The statistics show that 3 out of 4 people when they are dealing with harassment or discrimination themselves, don’t report it. That was a huge gap that I identified early on that bystanders, people seeing it happening to other people, weren’t given the skills, language or tools how to intervene in these situations. In a lot of the work that I’m doing with companies, I’m talking about, “Let’s teach and empower all of your employees so that they know what to do when this situation is happening and not allow it to go on.” It is doing a 180-degree turn to the way that we have been approaching it in a lot of companies.
A lot of companies that don’t say anything, there is this fear of retaliation. Retaliation continues to be the number one claim file the corporate states. We want to change that. We want to create cultures where people are more comfortable taking a bit of risk with each other to say, “Diane, you made that joke but I want you to know it made me feel uncomfortable.” Know that your proper response would be to say, “Thank you so much. I didn’t realize that and I will do my best not to do it again.” We are not even there yet. What we are trying to get to is get to the point where people can have these conversations. We are more focused on solving problems rather than escalating them.
I have worked in a company and there were a lot of people who get overlooked, that people of color who could have been so much more in the company. It was unfortunate that they didn’t get more opportunities. Later, they started to make opportunities because they were of color, not the people who maybe are the best people of color. All it took was a certain female or they were Black or whatever it was. They would have problems with some of these people who they had put into higher-level positions. They picked them because they were female.
They didn’t want to do the right thing to train them. They always had this fear that they had to let people stay in positions, maybe who weren’t the best for those positions because they didn’t want retaliation for other issues. How do you avoid getting in that situation? We want to empower people who haven’t had these opportunities, yet you don’t want to put anybody who maybe is not qualified.We have to be intentional to be inclusive. Click To Tweet
You hit on so many points there. Where the problem is, is that we are looking at equity from the wrong lens. If you can think about basic equity, how do we achieve fairness in a diverse landscape? We know we are going to have diversity. Every company is going to have different diversity within their organization. Each organization needs to look at its policies, procedures, system and say, “Are we giving equity to our people? Which means everyone has equal access to opportunity and success at our organization.”
Even if you were to say in that situation where they put somebody of color in a position they didn’t belong, you can even take out people of color. If you put anybody in a leadership position that isn’t qualified for it, they are going to fail. Looking at how we support individuals, not put them in that position because of their race, religion. Let’s focus more on leadership development. At Nobody Studios, we talked about this but I accepted a position as Chief Culture Officer. One of the main focus areas is how do we develop each person who comes onto our teams so that they are a leader and properly developed?
As an attorney, I saw this over and over again, these people were not qualified or properly trained to be a leader but they were there because of some reason, whether it was because of what you described, they were a person of color, their gender or because they met their numbers, or they had the technical skill but they had zero development and training on how to do a good job of the positions that were being put into.
I see that quite a bit. It’s funny because I’m going to be speaking for Hacking HR soon. The topic is how to create a world-class learning culture in an organization in my aspect since my main focus is on curiosity with my assessments that I have created for the perception of curiosity. When you look at what it takes to develop that sense, we want learning organizations to develop these people, you have to look at, in my opinion, what holds them back. A lot of it is the curiosity aspect. I had Amy Edmondson on the show who talks a lot about psychological safety and all the things that we were talking about.
Between her work and Francesca Gino, both of them from Harvard, I’m seeing a lot of problems with organizations thinking they develop curiosity. The leaders think they are but yet the employees don’t see it that way. It’s going back to the perception of what we think we are developing isn’t being developed sometimes. It could have to do with our perceptions and our biases. You have this confirmation bias. You keep telling yourself what you want to keep hearing. You keep focusing on what you think it is.
It’s multi-dimensional. If we are talking about an organization and they are saying, “What are some of the things that are red flags about creating that psychological safety or not?” There are lots of organizations that truly want to do something but they don’t know how. Amy is a perfect example. You read her stuff, it’s not that complicated. Look at within your organization, what are the in-group out-group dynamics? These are going to be different from organization to organization. If you know that you’ve got us versus them in certain categories that are there, that’s going to shape the employee experience.
It’s going to shape the engagement and the opportunity that’s available to certain people. We’ve got to deal with that rather than saying, “You’ve got to look at that specific factor. You’ve got to look at things like power dynamics.” That’s going to win in a degree and it’s going to shape, if there’s a hierarchy and there are things that are going on in that, that’s going to influence the employee contributions and so forth. There are many things that organizations can do.
I’m curious to see if this is what you are seeing too is that, a lot of companies are afraid because it seems like this huge mountain in front of them that they’ve got to go over. It is a huge mountain but there are little things that you can start doing every day. I try to keep them out. I’m like, “Let’s do this step by step. Have you looked at this? What are the in-group out-group dynamics? What is this?” We can coach organizations better so that we can be a better culture.
It’s interesting because it brings up a point. I discussed how the dynamics have changed due to Zoom. I’m thinking if it was Tamara Eckles, she was on a Forbes summit I watched. I used to work on the board as part of this group with the Forbes School of Business when I was an MBA Program Chair there. Tamara had a point. She was saying that with Zoom, everybody’s got a different amount of voice than it used to be in the office when maybe somebody talked over you. Your square is as important as the next square sometimes. Do you think that the dynamics have changed because we are connecting that everybody is working in this unique way?
First of all, people feel included in these conversations. Is their voice being heard? Are they being seen? This is important because organizations are creating new norms, new practices. The degree to which we let these behaviors, we have to be intentional to be inclusive. Something like a round-robin approach, you have to instill these practices and make that your normal culture going forward. If you still have people that are on the team that is saying, for example, “This person is late. This person is always running behind,” you are going to set up these new practices as we move forward.
It’s super important to get feedback from your employees on what’s working for them, what’s not working for them. Being even more proactive in intervening and behaviors that might be happening during these Zoom calls that we don’t want them to happen. You see somebody interrupting somebody or somebody talking to somebody, we want to deal with those and make sure that we are giving guidance to the employees so that we create better practices as we move forward.
I was on a Zoom call and something happened and I had to pause and say, “I need to think about how I’m going to deal with the situation because if we are in front of each other, it would have been handled differently. We are on Zoom, I need to reevaluate my approach and how I’m going to respond to this individual.” I had to take that major pause I put myself on a 24-hour timeout.
You could turn people’s microphones off and you can’t do that in an office. “You are talking. I don’t want to hear that.” Click, you can turn them off. I don’t know if anybody is doing that but that’s a scary thought though that we have this control. I love that you keep using the word proactive because I teach so many courses where I have them read Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. The very first habit was being proactive, as I recall. We aren’t proactive enough. I taught this course. It was so fun. It was foresight in technology years ago.
It was all about being proactive and thinking about the end in mind and working backward. We see that there are so many things that could happen that we never thought could happen and they have happened. Where is bias in all of this? Do you think people are more open to recognizing things than they were in the past? Is it no different or is it worse? Since you did your TEDx Talk, I’m curious if you HAve changed your mind at all about what you think about bias?
People are more open. That could be the world that I’m living in. I have seen a major shift. I always liked to see positive on this. The good news is that I also see a lot of organizations that look at their institution for institutional bias. They Are looking at policies and procedures. That’s a significant change from what I was seeing before. Before it was like, “We will offer the training for a day or whatever. That’s the only effort we are putting into this bias conversation.” I’m seeing that people are doing more which is great.
It was so important because as I started doing this training, and this was while I was working at UCSF Medical Center in San Francisco, I started doing unconscious bias training and attending these seminars. That was the first time that I’ve got my exposure to the bias conversation. That pissed me off because I’m like, “I’m a practicing attorney. I have been litigating for all these years. You think that I should have known this information a long time ago.” It should have been something that we were taught in law school. It was such an important discussion.
Right away, I was like, “I want to educate as many people as I can on this bias conversation.” When I started doing the training, I started observing certain things. There was a negative connotation associated with the word bias itself. I was losing people. They weren’t paying attention. I changed the terminology in some of my training. Instead of calling it hidden bias, I would call it hidden beliefs. I made that change from bias to belief. All of a sudden, I was getting a different reaction from people.
People were open to learning more about how our brain works and how it’s normal and how there’s all this information. Breaking it down in a way to say, “We can choose better behaviors and actions.” It’s not your fault if you have these biases. It’s only your fault when you don’t do the work to figure out what they are, and then they end up harming somebody. It’s not that you are always going to harm somebody but in those situations where it does, that’s where it leads to prejudice and rage, and all the other stuff. That’s what led to me saying, “I’m talking a lot about it. I’m training it. What else could I do?”
I said, “TEDx seems like the next best stage to be on to raise more awareness about that conversation.” It’s wonderful to see people wanting to learn this information and giving them the foundation. We’ve got to empower them and then everyone’s got to do their work. We can’t change their thoughts, idea, perceptions or biases. All we can do is share knowledge and empower them with that information.
When Dr. Maja Zelihic and I wrote our book on perception, we were looking at it as a process. We use an acronym to remember it, it’s EPIC. Evaluate, Predict, Interpret, and Correlate to come up with your conclusions. What we looked at underneath when we did all those factor analyses and to create our assessment were all these different ways that things connected like IQ and EQ for Emotional Quotient and CQ for Cultural Quotient and CQ for Curiosity Quotient.
We are all combining when we look at how we perceive things. A lot of people think that they have to agree on everything. It’s not that you have to agree. You have to be more empathetic in some ways. I had Daniel Goleman on the show and we talked about empathy and different parts of emotional intelligence. It was challenging for me to try to sell a book on curiosity like a book on emotional intelligence.Look at how we support individuals and not put them in that position because of their race, religion, etc. Let's focus more on leadership development. Click To Tweet
The people who need this stuff see the words believe works better for certain people than bias. When I was setting up my website, my website guy said, “Behavior sometimes is a word that people don’t like, too.” I haven’t been able to come up with a great word to explain whatever it is that I’m working with our behaviors. It’s like soft skills. People don’t want to hear that anymore. Do you find that people get turned off by more words than bias?
I have been changing vocabulary in my own work as I see things happening. I’m even trying to figure out a way that I could change the word diversity. I have never seen a negative reaction the minute that word comes out. I’m like, “What can I say here?”
It’s a problem when they get to be hackneyed so much. You get a value proposition, a tribe or certain expressions. I hear so much that I can’t hear that word again.
That’s the reason why I changed the bias to belief, because I was like, “I’m not getting this reaction anymore. I’m not taking it anymore.” I replaced it with the word belief. That issue went away and I was like, “How can I help other people do the same thing?” We have to reframe a lot of this stuff because we know that these biases have happened because of the media and politics, and use that bias in ways that lead people to believe like, “That’s a bad thing.” We all know it’s not. It could be if you don’t know about it and now you are treating people differently. That’s not what common knowledge and language are anymore. Recognizing that we have to. I did a presentation to an HR group where we did like, “What are the ten new words of 2021?”
What are they? Give me a few.
I don’t even know if I can remember.
That’s why it’s just a few.
Microaggressions, for example. That people were saying microaggressions, we are hearing so many different variations of that word microaggressions itself. People are saying, instead of using microaggressions, you use subtle acts of exclusion.
To me, it’s getting so complicated.
The people are so sick of hearing that word, too. That was one of them. We were talking about how it’s very confusing when you are saying Latinx. What does that X stand for? Different things. We are talking about how our vocabulary is changed after 2020 like a White privilege. Certain words you hear are like, “Don’t White supremacy.” Your reaction is, “I don’t want to go there.” We need to talk about those issues.
How do we still have that conversation and be able to inspire change in a positive way that’s going to lead to long-lasting change because we could say certain words and it’s going to get the attention right away? Is that truly going to lead to long-lasting change? We need both. We need to raise the attention. Sometimes we have to use certain words to get attention but how do we create and inspire change? That’s where a lot of people are struggling. Ask if you don’t know and you are not sure what a term means anymore. It’s okay. We are all learning every single day.
Everything is an acronym and abbreviation. It gets so complicated sometimes. It depends on which industry. In my work with curiosity, it was looking at what keeps it from happening. A lot of it is fear. You don’t want to look stupid by asking the question. That’s something we need to focus on. Find out what it is before you can solve any issues. Many people were afraid to ask questions in the past. It will be interesting to see how that changes generationally because, in my generation, we went in the Mad Men culture where you don’t ask anything. Do you think it’s getting any better with younger generations?
Yes. I am being intentional about making sure that I get some younger generation perspectives into my mind and the work I’m doing. I’m being very intentional about developing relationships with the younger generations and listening to their needs and wants and figuring out how they’re thinking, which is different even the way that I think or some of the older. That’s one of the things like an example for Nobody Studios, I’m talking to somebody to bring them onto our team because I want that voice. I’m trying to get all of that. You see that happening.
How many people did they see left their work environment? It was over four million. I have seen it on LinkedIn. I’m not on Facebook or Twitter anymore but I have friends who do. It’s all about we want our workplaces to change because our purpose, what we are driven by is different and we are not going to tolerate it. That’s the general perspective. People have reset after 2020.
Where are they going? Are they starting their own companies? I was in a restaurant and I have had this happen so many times where they say, “We don’t have people because nobody will work. They quit.” I’m thinking, “If they are leaving, how are they living? Where are they going?”
It’s a lot of starting your own business. You’ve got people that are creative and there are different ways that they could be creative using the internet. People are doing all kinds of things. I saw somebody that had been in the restaurant industry for many years on LinkedIn creating social media content and doing well. People are making money in different ways. They are still making money in different ways and being empowered to be having their own business. I had to think long and hard about taking on this position with Nobody Studios because I love being on my own. I would love to do it in the way that I want and then follow my passion as well.
It’s different though. I’ve got cousins that went to a wedding in Chicago. All my cousins are there. They are probably in their late 20s, early 30s. It was so refreshing to hear their conversations about how they are approaching the future, being present and making sure that it’s not, “Let’s work the grind but we are going to take time off. We are going to go off the grid.” It’s important to our mental well-being. We need to support that more. There might be a lot of gratification from social media but if we can figure out how to support them in other ways as well, that’s what we can do.
Everybody I’m talking to seems extra burned out because of all the, we call them Zoom meetings like you would call a Q-tip occasion, even though it’s a swab. You have this word you use for virtual meetings. Everybody is doing meetings, and then they are expecting them to do their work after all these meetings or before all these meetings. Everybody is burned out. It’s good to hear that there is going to be another hackneyed expression of work-life balance. Everybody is sick of that.
The last one I heard was work-life blending. That’s the new one that I heard.
That means no life, only working at your home.
It’s figuring out the right blend for you. I’m sure you are in this category, too. We love what we do.It's not your fault if you have these biases. It's only your fault when you don't do the work to figure out what they are and then they end up harming somebody. Click To Tweet
We never stop working.
It doesn’t feel like work though. This is a part of who I am. It brings me joy to do this. For some people, it’s like, “I need to turn the computer off and be off for like 20 hours or 10 hours.” Everybody is different. The hardest part for me in my journey is figuring out the right blend. On some days it’s different but I’m finally there now. I realized I do need the completely off-the-grid time. I don’t need it that much, but I do need it. I’m scheduling time into my calendar to say, “This weekend, all day, Saturday, you are completely off the grid.” Having it on my calendar makes a huge difference.
I have such sympathy for people who are homeschooling and everything else during all of this. I can’t even imagine that blend. You talk about so many things that are so important in terms of workplace cultures. Is there any one last piece of advice you have for leaders who are struggling with their workplace culture and maybe don’t know where to go next?
At this point, stop looking for the perfect formula for what is the best workplace culture. It’s going to be different across the board. The best solution that leaders can do is look at how do we enable flexibility and empower our people so that they can be a part of the solution to figure out what’s best for them and then their teams. This is going to help the whole work-life blending thing that we’re talking about. Well-being is another area that we need to shine more light on and accept our employees as a whole person with everything and how do we support their wellness including all the different aspects of them.
This has been such a great talk. A lot of people are going to want to know how to find you and follow you. Is there any link or anything you would like to share?
The best place to follow me and learn about what I’m doing and where I’m speaking all that stuff would be LinkedIn. If you are on LinkedIn, join me there if you want to learn about the stuff that I’m doing at Nobody Studios, which are lots of exciting companies coming out of our studio. We are going to be doing our first crowdfunding campaign. We are going to be the first venture studio that’s going to open up where retail investors can invest and be a part of our journey. If you want to find out about Nobody Studios, go to their website, NobodyStudios.com. If you want to find out about the facilitation and workshops that I operate, you can go to my website, which is TrainXtra.com.
This has been so much fun. Thank you so much, Sejal. This has been such an interesting conversation. I truly enjoyed it.
It’s my honor. I’m humbled and grateful for this opportunity. Thank you so much.
You are welcome.
I get so many great guests on the show. Sometimes I want to take a little bit of time to talk about some of the research I do. I’m going to talk to you about perception and some of the work I did with Dr. Maja Zelihic, who is also one of the people I have worked with at the Forbes School of Business. She has been great in this process of researching how perceptions process in our mind, our opinions, and our version of the truth, our biases and how we live.
What’s in a rose? Would it smell as sweet by any other name? All that we read about, we looked at what can we do with the perception in the workplace to discuss it. We looked at it as a combination of IQ, EQ, and CQ for Cultural Quotient, CQ for Curiosity Quotient. We thought, “This is something that they are not talking about enough in the workplace.” We talk about perception reality. To what extent are our perceptions true? They are just our perceptions. What is a reality to us may not be the reality to them? There is a truth to some extent but what’s real and all that? We start to get into this analysis paralysis for thinking about it.
We thought, “If we are thinking like this, we need to showcase what others have done to try and look at this.” The world is changing. We have seen The World Is Flat by Thomas Friedman’s great book. We know that what we used to think is the reality of everything that we thought we could do, now it’s different. We are becoming more connected. We know that there are a lot more issues with the global tragedies. As companies are trying to do work in a global dot-com industry, it’s a lot different of how we look at things than when I originally got into the workplace or when Maja got into it.
We are looking at some of our belief systems of what shape us both consciously and unconsciously. If we know that, we can be more responsive and respond to this multicultural, multilanguage world in which we are living. If we can monitor our perceptions and guide them towards where we want to go or don’t want to go and understand what other people believe, maybe not necessarily agree with everything that they believe in, we can understand it and see where they are coming from.
In that way, we manage our perceptions and we can build empathy which is a big part of emotional intelligence. Maybe you can’t walk a mile in my shoes but we can have a better appreciation for what it would be like to do that. We looked at what was available in terms of assessments out there of how can we test, validate and do all these things with that. We came up with a Perception Power Index which goes along with the book, The Power of Perception.
Those are the things that we are going to talk about. We come into this world with this predisposition to how we view and interpret things. Imagine if you are born where you are now compared to if you were born somewhere else. We know that with twins that are different if they were separated at birth, there is a different upbringing. We have this cultural impact on how our behaviors, our beliefs, and everything that we relate to is impacted by our social, ethnic and age group, everything.
We are seeing that there is a lot more conflict in the world. A lot of it is because we don’t understand each other that well. Something that we don’t even think about is acceptable or questionable here in the United States might be something very questionable in another culture. If you are wearing a miniskirt in Brazil is a lot different than if you are wearing that in Saudi Arabia, for example. We have to appreciate where other people are coming from and see maybe we are allowing our culture and society to dictate what we are thinking and perceiving.
I have had Joe Lurie on the show. He’s got a great book, Perception and Deception: A Mind-Opening Journey Across Cultures, where he writes about all the different perceptions of things that he’s found in different cultures, and maybe eye contact in Western cultures is maybe candor and confident. You go to Africa, they don’t want to do that because of eye contact with a person of authority, you’ve got to worry about respect. There are a lot of different issues when you are talking about Western culture versus other cultures. In Asian cultures, they might use a calculator to negotiate the price of things but you might not want to do that in some other areas because it may seem disrespectful.
Looking at different areas is fascinating even how certain hand gestures mean one thing. A-OK in one language may be insulting in another culture. A lot of studies look at Western culture versus other cultures. That is worth reviewing. Now we know that there’s a lot of stereotyping going on. We are trying to get away from that. We are trying to get away from biases. We have biases, Beau Lotto talked about that on my show. I hope you read to that episode about how you need it. You can’t live without some bias to give you some decision-making ability but we have to pay attention to unconscious bias. We’ve got to be careful that we don’t come across as arrogant or condescending.
Saying something, “Keep it simple, stupid,” mean one thing in one language. We have that as a saying, and it’s not meant to be insulting but if you tell it to somebody else, it could be very insulting. These are the things that we were looking at when we decided we needed to look at cultural quotients and IQ and CQ, and our drive, motivation, knowledge, cognition or metacognition, and all those things to look at how we come up with these actions or behaviors. Do we have to adapt to customs or should they adapt to ours? Should we be more tolerant of differences? Change is a big thing that we teach in business classes and being proactive about it is also important.
We know that we have these teams where there are in groupers or out groupers and we want to try and get people to get along well. I know I have had Amy Edmondson talking about teams and teaming, and how people get along. A lot of it collaboration is about having the curiosity to ask questions and learn from each other. We want to look at the path that we are on that’s similar but also understand the path that we are on that’s not so similar.We can't change people’s thoughts, idea, perceptions, or biases. All we can do share knowledge and empower them with that information. Click To Tweet
Some of the things impact that sometimes are things like spirituality, whether you are religious or not, it can be different but some people have this impact of how important their spirituality or their religion is to them, where other people might be agnostic or atheist. That could completely shape your whole perception of the situation at hand where you might accidentally insult someone without even realizing how important something is to them.
I don’t think a lot of people give a lot of thought to the differences of how much strength that that can have in their ideas and things that they question or don’t question. It can have a big impact because we inherit a lot of beliefs from our family. We personalize our beliefs. We take things that work for us and maybe don’t work for us, and we make something around what works in our situation. That can make us think we are right and they are wrong and vice versa. That is a problem in the business world if we don’t examine what is shaping what these people are coming up with or not coming up with.
Having personalized beliefs are fine but we have to recognize that even though Stephen Covey says, “Spiritual renewal is one of the habits that are central to effective leadership,” we have to look at what’s your greater purpose. What do they think is their greater purpose? What are our values or our ethical principles and what are theirs? What will our legacy be and what is theirs? Those are the things that we researched in terms of how people use their religion and spirituality in that.
It was also fun to look at gender to see the differences in how people look at paintings. There was a comment we put in the book, two strangers, a man and woman were visiting an art gallery and found themselves standing next to one another staring at a painting of an old country estate replete with an elderly man sitting in a rocking chair on a front porch of a mansion and with various barns and outbuildings and serving as background. The woman without prompting commented, “What a beautiful painting, so serene and peaceful. A beautiful blend of man and nature.”
The man commented in response, “That barn looks like it’s in dire need of a paint job.” We both looked at the same thing but we see different aspects. There’s not that one is right, one is wrong. It could be the opposite way round. It could be the man saying the great thing, the woman’s saying the opposite. We don’t want to stereotype necessarily but it’s interesting to see that men and women do see things a bit differently. There are psychological differences. These have been documented including differences in their brains.
We hear gender bias and we know studies show women are viewed differently, treated differently, paid differently. We know there is a predominance in the number of men compared to women in executive positions. Those are the things that are important to leaders to recognize that we have to know the origins of all this and why we see things through these different lenses. We know that men’s brain is structurally different than the female brain. That’s a fascinating thing to look at in itself. We are not going to exactly see things in the same way.
There is a book New York Times’ Bestseller called The Female Brain. It’s Dr. Louann Brizendine. She’s a neuropsychiatrist, I believe. She also later wrote The Male Brain. She guides you through how the brains of each gender differ and how they shape our behaviors from the time we are infants all the way into adulthood. Women’s perceptions of behaviors are different amends mostly she says due to hormones. We do have different hormones. We know that women have more estrogen, progesterone, even though we have testosterone not as much as men.
It goes all the way back to some of these hormones, it’s how we are influenced by them. I talked to Tom Peters on the show. That’s a great show if you get a chance to look at it. He talked about the female brain and he recalled an article, it was from Duke University Basketball Coach Mike Krzyzewski. It was the Sunday Times Magazine section. He described how that coach often referred to as Coach K would bring his wife to all the team meetings and he said the reason was that she would see what was going on in the player’s life that he didn’t notice.
She would notice a smell of problem of a girlfriend 100 miles away or some distraction. He didn’t think men psychologically saw those things. He found it fascinating as an observation. There are differences. If we pretend like we are not different, that doesn’t work. We get uncomfortable. If we look at that as one thing is better than another, that’s also uncomfortable. It’s important to recognize that these things are part of us that we are intended to be different. We are not intended to be exactly the same. Wouldn’t life be super boring if it was that way?
That would be something that you talk about in the workplace of what we can get. We know that the percentage of women in the workplace is increasing. We know that the rate of women occupying key roles in the workplace is on the rise. We know that women are being hired into leadership roles more often than they were as CEOs at an increasing rate. We would like to see it higher. We know that women are bringing different perceptions into the workplace, and then those are different aspirations.
It is an interesting thing to look at that how genetically we are wired differently right from birth. These differences are spawning this ground for this history of beliefs and stereotypes of how we are taught to view each other. We are carving a different road for ourselves, the women versus the men. That’s important to know that we are evolving. When we are doing that, we are impacted by our intelligence in this process.
If we look at intelligence, we talked about IQ and EQ. If we are thinking of intelligence is what we know and how we apply what we know, we know that we need to be able to use our intelligence to understand how to relate with one another. We know that our intelligence evolves in different ways and our perceptions evolve in different ways. There is this perceptual intelligence of fluid versus crystallized intelligence that comes about.
There’s some great work by Raymond Cattell who talked about that. If you ever get a chance to read some of his work, there are all these different types of what we learn, and how it changes over time is a very important thing to look at. Also, Howard Gardner’s very heavily cited in the area of types of intelligence. Used to be, we thought we had one kind. He studied all these different types of abilities that we have.
You could have naturalistic intelligence, music intelligence, logical and mathematical intelligence, existential intelligence, body, kinesthetic, verbal, linguistic, interpersonal, visual, spatial intelligence, interpersonal intelligence. The list goes on and on. To say if somebody is smart is a hard thing to do because there are these different types of ways of being smart. How do you value that intelligence? What’s important in your culture for that type of intelligence? That was interesting to us as we went through all the different ways that we grow, learn and apply what we know.
We also looked at emotions as in emotional intelligence in that aspect as well. I had written my Doctoral dissertation on emotional intelligence and that’s such a huge area. It was so great to have Daniel Goleman on the show to talk about emotional intelligence. If you haven’t read that episode, I highly recommend it. Emotions play a big part in how we make decisions. If you want to talk about empathy, it is a big part of emotional intelligence. If we have empathy, sometimes that ties into the curiosity that we are asking questions to learn more about each other.
Our emotions can be different across cultures. If you have different studies between Japanese and American subjects, they found facial expressions and non-verbal behaviors vary significantly between them. I had Paul Ekman on the show. The TV show Lie to Me was based on his work. There are certain expressions that we all make that are the same, whether you are blind or not. I thought that was fascinating.
My father was born blind. It’s interesting what things we have similar, and then other things that are completely different. It’s conceptually different based on the way you grow up and the influences around you of how you respond to your emotions. Your emotions can make you perceive failure differently either. Some of us have the fight or flight response. Some of us will run from it or some of us will run to it. Most of us have that sense that failure is not our favorite thing. Our perception of failure can influence how much we explore things and ask questions.
It gets back into curiosity again. I tell a story in my talks and Maja and I write one in the book about different experiences where sometimes you are in a sales presentation where you get your rear-end handed to you and you might be on a call with your partner and your partner thinks it’s the worst thing in the world where you might think it’s the best thing because you have learned everything you need to know now, to fix your next presentation.
If you don’t learn these things, sometimes your perception will get you down and you will quit. You have to learn from failure. If you don’t, you are going to end up being the glass-half-empty person and you won’t move forward, and you will stay where you are and move backward. That’s what we are trying to avoid by understanding perception. The other thing that we looked at when we were looking at perception was whether, again, if it’s your reality or not. Looking at some of the perception experts, especially Beau Lotto, I love his Ted Talks.
I know he was on the show and he talked about a lot of great things on the show but if you are wanting to know perception versus reality, I would look at some of that because it’s fascinating. Talking about perception, you need to talk about collaboration because collaboration is a required skillset in the workplace. If you are being hindered by your perceptions, there are so many variables.
Think of the questions we ask ourselves, “Does this project intrigue us? Does it motivate us? Do we like our teammates? Do we like our leader? Do we like the role that we have been given?” You look at all this and if you are getting mixed reasons for why you like something or don’t like something, a lot of it could be your perception of it.Stop looking for the perfect formula for what is the best workplace culture. It's going to be different across the board. Click To Tweet
When we talk about collaboration, I always think about Amy Edmondson’s Ted Talk because that ties into how they’ve got the Chilean miners out in that disaster. These people were able to work together and collaborate because they maybe had different perceptions but they knew that it was like life or death literally in this case to help people get out from under that rock.
Understanding that perception is critical to collaboration and to get people to work together, and being innovative and creative is interesting because we are talking about how much we have problems. Gallup says, “We are losing $500 billion a year on engagement.” We know that people want to be collaborative. If we don’t have this ability to get along, that’s going to be huge. We want people to be creative and see things differently. In the Dead Poets Society movie, Robin Williams had the students get on top of their desks to look at life differently.
He said, “To make life extraordinary, you have to make a difference. You must see things differently.” That’s a key point that a lot of people always are looking at things from their vantage point. They don’t get on top of their desk. They don’t look at things from another way. I know I have done a lot of training classes where we have given Legos and we have had people build things as teams in collaborative ways. It’s fun to see them get ideas from each other and go, “I would have never looked at it that way.” If you maybe aren’t a big fan of teams, sometimes it’s helpful to get on a team with people who are completely different from you are.
If everybody thinks the same way, life is boring. It helps to look at things from a critical thinking standpoint to do research. “How did these people do this? How have they made it successful? What facts support their argument? What’s the source of their information and how did they come to that conclusion?” We are back to curiosity again. Those are the questions we need to ask ourselves. I don’t think we get enough of that. There are a lot of people who want to take things at face value based on what they have always known and what supports the values that they have always had.
That’s common for people. You watch the same either CNN or Fox or whatever that supports your values because it makes you comfortable. It is important to get curious and get outside. Our perception suggests we know something but our curiosity proves that we don’t. We need to know what we don’t know. A lot of people aren’t asking enough questions. That’s the thing that in the book Cracking the Curiosity Code is a huge part of changing the culture in organizations.
I often talk a lot about that to groups. If we can ask more questions, we can get better at decision-making. Decision-making can be challenging. I love a quote by Deepak Chopra, where he says, “If you obsess over, whether you are making the right decision, you are basically assuming that the universe will reward you for one thing and punish you for another.” If you think about that, you always think you have the right or the wrong thing. It’s not necessarily the case. There are shades of gray, not everything is black and white. That’s what I find particularly fascinating in the research that we did.
For trying to fix all the things in work. We are trying to fix engagement. I mentioned before that you are losing $500 billion a year according to Gallup. When people are financially invested, they want to return but when people are emotionally invested, they want to contribute. What we need to do is get people emotionally invested at work and contribute. Part of that is to ask questions and to understand each other better. If you are asking questions again, we are back to empathy, which is a big part of emotional intelligence. We are getting that perception of the other person’s ideas.
We are seeing it not just from our own standpoint but from theirs. To improve those because some of the questions that we need to ask to improve engagement or like, “Do my employees feel their growth in their work? Are they being recognized for their work? Do they trust the companies on the right track?” Those are some of the things that lead to great communication. I had Kevin Kruse on the show and he has a great book and information about engagement.
That’s helpful. All this is so that we can be better leaders and better employees. We have to sometimes suspend our beliefs, be agile and look in some of the words that we hear a lot about vulnerability. Brené Brown has made a lifelong career out of that. A lot of people don’t feel comfortable doing that. That’s what led to our interest in maybe looking at what the perception process is and how can we manage our perceptions. Creating an assessment would be important and an epic decision of how can we help people understand what they go through.
What does the process look like? We found it’s about evaluating, predicting, interpreting, and reshaping or correlating one’s perceptions. The EPIC acronym we came up with is Evaluation, Prediction, Interpretation and Correlation. Those are the things that if you take the Perception Power Index that you will find out, how are you doing in those areas? What could you do to improve your EPIC process?
It’s very similar if you have taken the Curiosity Code Index is very simple. You get your results right away and you can find out a lot more about how well you go through this process and what kinds of things are holding you back because if you get a baseline of, “This is how I am at this,” then you know how to move forward.
Let’s look at some of these because evaluation, you are going to examine, assess, and do a lot of these different things that you can recognize if you are open to thoughts or ideas that you look at it from your own perspective of your self-awareness. I think this one is more of that respect. If you apply this element of emotional intelligence, this self-awareness, then you are going to get along better and you are going to be more aware of how you come across to other people because that’s a lot of problems. I have seen a lot of people who don’t recognize body language, issues, tone or if they are typing in all caps.
There are all these different things they can do of how they come across and they don’t realize it. They could predict how the other person is going to act in a way that’s another part of emotional intelligence is their interpersonal awareness of, are they able to understand the other person where they are coming from? What their perception is and their capabilities, abilities and how they make decisions? That is very challenging to predict what other people are going to do.
If you don’t look into what they are doing and have empathy and ask questions and have that sense of emotional intelligence, it’s only then that you can make your interpretation. In your interpretation, you have to consider how all of this impacts their decision of how the curiosity comes into this, you are making assumptions and you are looking at how their fear is impacting them.
A lot of this ties back into their culture of how they were raised. We know that behavior and different things are rewarded or not rewarded in certain systems. We need to look at that. How did their culture shape them? How did the company culture shape them? It’s about assessing and understanding your own emotions for the EPIC part.
The I part is more about putting it collectively together to interpret what you know. You end with your conclusions. Your Correlation is your final C of the EPIC process because now that you have all this, you can come up with your solutions and conclusions after researching your facts. This is the critical thinking aspect of it all. We know that there are so many great ideas that come out.
If you don’t go to the part where you end it with coming up with the idea of taking what you have learned in this group setting and changing a bit of your behavior so you can have a win-win situation, you haven’t come to any conclusion that’s going to be good for everybody. Those are some of the main points that we make in what we are talking about in this EPIC process, in this power of perception.
This would be something critical to share. You can take the Perception Power Index at DrDianeHamilton.com. All of the assessments are there. You can take the Curiosity Code Index. You could take the Perception Power Index. You can even take a DiSC and emotional intelligence test. A lot of that is all there. If you don’t see it in the dropdown menus at the top, there are more menus at the bottom. I hope you contact me if you have any questions. I hope that this helps you understand perception a little better.
I would like to thank Sejal for being my guest. We get so many great guests on this show. If you have missed any past episodes, please go to DrDianeHamilton.com. I hope you join us for the next episode of Take The Lead Radio.
- The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People
- The World Is Flat
- Book – The Power of Perception
- Perception and Deception: A Mind-Opening Journey Across Cultures
- The Female Brain
- The Male Brain
- Amy Edmondson – Previous Episode
- Daniel Goleman – Previous Episode
- Joe Lurie – Previous Episode
- Beau Lotto – Previous Episode
- Tom Peters – Previous Episode
- Paul Ekman – Previous Episode
- Cracking the Curiosity Code
- Kevin Kruse – Previous Episode
- Perception Power Index
- Curiosity Code Index
- TEDx Talk – The Pain, Power, and Paradox of Bias
- Hacking HR
- Francesca Gino – Past Episode
- LinkedIn – Sejal Thakkar
- Ted Talks – Beau Lotto
- Ted Talk – Amy Edmondson
About Sejal Thakkar
Sejal Thakkar is the Chief Culture Officer at Nobody Studios and the Chief Civility Officer at TrainXtra. Sejal is not your average employment law attorney! Her more than seventeen years of experience advising clients regarding sound, standard employment practices uncovered a need – and personal passion – for bringing more proactive, relevant, and impactful workplace training programs to her clients and their teams. Her highly experiential customized workshops tailored to bring the courtroom to the training room in an interactive, engaging environment that favors human stories over compliance checklists.
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