After the Webinar: Implicit Bias. Q&A with Dr. Kimberly Miller

Webinar presenter Dr. Kimberly Miller  answered a number of your questions after her presentation, "Implicit Bias: What You Don't Know Can Hurt You." Here are a few of her responses.

Audience Question: Addressing implicit bias particularly in a group setting can make one pretty vulnerable especially in rigid group settings, do you have any tips for addressing this issue? 

Dr. Kimberly Miller: Well, you really have a good point, having any level of a difficult conversation is very hard to do when there is not a certain level of safety. You have to consider how safe you feel in having the conversation and how open the other person is to the challenge. To me, that has a lot to do with the quality of the relationship or the trust, that exists between you two, or the team. So, I would say before you have a conversation like that, make sure you develop some level of a relationship. If you are not the person that has a strong relationship with that person, find somebody who does who can have a conversation with that person. None of us want to feel we're a bad person, that we're stereotyping people or treating people bad, again because most of this happens outside of our own awareness because that is how our brain works. But I wouldn't have a conversation with somebody where there wasn't a level of safety and trust, because that has a very high potential of going poorly and the worst thing you want to do is have a conversation about this sort of a provocative topic in a place where you don't have a safe relationship. So, if you can develop a relationship first I would encourage you to do that or work to create more safety and trust within the team. Or if it needs to be a one on one conversation and you're not the person to do it, I would find someone who has a strong relationship with that person, who has influence, where there is trust and have them do the conversation.


Audience Question: It seems like being aware of your own biases that might be connected to emotional intelligence, are we interpreting that right? 

Dr. Kimberly Miller: Well, I would say it's somewhat related to that but I think there's a lot of people that would be considered socially or emotionally intelligent, that also don't realize they have bias. To me, I think just like I said with empathy and ethics and character those are perishable skills. I think social and emotional intelligence is a perishable skill too. We can have emotional/social intelligence as a strength or gift but are we intentionally using it? Are we intentionally trying to find ways to be more emotionally/socially intelligent? It is important to challenge yourself because though I think there's been some information about implicit bias for a long time, some people who might be emotionally/socially intelligent, may not necessarily stay on top of their biases or are even aware they have any. Again, not because they don't want to, but so much of this is automatic, our brain categorization. Or again we get stressed out, burned out, tired, exhausted, and we don't have time to push ourselves at that moment into the system 2 processing, we're just trying to survive during the day. So, I think it's a good question, I do think it's related but I don't think it would be a perfect correlation, I think it's up to us to always find ways to challenge ourselves to be more aware.


Audience Question: You talked about how being tired and hungry can influence us negatively, should we reconsider how we think of our overtime policies regarding the maximum numbers of overtime hours in order to keep hour justice professional from reaching those exhaustion points which could correlate to implicit bias?  

Dr. Kimberly Miller: Here is the challenge of what I'm going to say, I would love to tell you, I would love to tell everyone to change your overtime policies and not make people work so much. But here's the reality in the justice profession, all of you have to do more with less, all of you are having a hard time hiring, recruiting, retaining high-quality employees. So, I would love to say, yes, don't ask people to work a lot of overtime and that should be just the policy but for so many organizations that is not realistic.

So, what I'd say is do your best if you can modify it. I don't necessarily like the idea of mandatory overtime but here is something to think about – if certain people do overtime all the time and they will whether they admit it or not will get crispy around the edges. They are more likely to be mistake prone, not only in small things but potentially big things because when you're exhausted your brain does not work as well, period. You do not have the capacity to slow down, to think through things, you do not also have the emotional control that you normally have.

So, think about for yourself. You are crispy around the edges, you are burned out, you are exhausted, you are tired and you are angry. What level of emotional control do you have if a difficult employee says something to drive you crazy? Well, probably none. You will probably respond in an angry tone, you're probably not going to be patient, you're not going to be curious, you're not going to show your best character, etcetera.

So, if certain people are burning themselves out all the time on overtime, you might want to think about spreading that around or putting a cap on how much overtime people can have. I see the tendency in the young professionals to want to work more because they are eager, driven, passionate, in debt or whatever, but soon they are going to be crispy and they might make a really big mistake. However, if they get rest, time off and take care of themselves, they are more likely than not have their brain function in a more aware place, a more emotional control place and in a less biased place. So, I would say, do what you can, have conversations in your organizations to think about because the other thing that I'm doing, actually I'm doing a webinar for Justice Clearinghouse in December on this. Overtime can also lead to burn out and sometimes compassion fatigue which again affects our character how we show up and the decisions we make. So, I would say do what you can but I understand the reality that not all of you can make a ton of changes to that.


Audience Question: How do you repair a professional relationship where a personal bias may have slipped out? Is it appropriate to apologize? How do you walk that back? How do you fix it?  

Dr. Kimberly Miller: I would say think through that more first before you have a conversation and figure out what was going on with you. Maybe it was a bias, but was there something else going on? Were you tired? Were you burned out? Were you not in a good mental place because maybe something was going on in your personal life? Did you truly have previous negative interactions with this person that lead to that biased association? What is it? Because before you have that conversation, I'd like you to think more about what are all the things that were at play because usually, for us, it's more than one thing.

Then I would say figure out or assess the quality of your current relationship. Ask yourself will this person be okay if I approach them? Or do I need to sort of build a little bit of a foreground first with them? Start by saying hello to them, start talking to them, or work to rebuild the relationship. If you decide, “No, no I'm pretty okay, I should just go have a conversation.” Then, I would go up and say, “You know what? I've been thinking about this a lot and how we interacted and what happened in that circumstance – and here’s something I realized about myself, I put you in a box, I realized now, unfairly. It wasn't truly my intention to do that, I was not trying to stereotype you or negatively look at you. But I realized that was sort of a snap judgment.” And if other things were going on you could say, “You know what I was burnt out, I was stressed out, I was not in a good place mentally and I realized that I did that and I'm sorry.” And say, “I really truly apologize and I like to figure a way to start over.” And I would say, “What are your thoughts about that? Are you willing to forgive me? Are you willing to start again and how might we do that?”

And again, number one, I would encourage you to remember that your awareness in changing your behavior is first and foremost for you, for you to improve who you are. Unfortunately, not everyone will forgive you for your mistakes, whether they are about bias or not. Not everybody is going to be forgiving. Your work is to reflect, challenge yourself, be more aware of your bias and do something about it and sometimes apologizing and owning it. And if they don't forgive you that's really sad and unfortunate but don't let that make you angry and resentful, just say you know what, I'll do better next time, and that is the best thing you can do. So, again I applaud you and I appreciate you asking that question and you being willing to own that and work to heal it because that's the best any of us can ever do in life.


Click Here to Watch a Recording of "Implicit Bias: What You Don't Know Can Hurt You."


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