Sara Taylor discusses her new book, ‘Filter Shift: How Effective People See the World

Most people would not consider themselves biased. But a new book says that nearly everyone has unconscious biases — and they affect how we interact with others, with real consequences. Filter Shift: How Effective People See the World by Sara Taylor notes that one can learn to manage these biases, or filters, by being mindful that they are there and then working on ways to address them.

Critical to the process is the “Platinum Rule,” which is learning to treat people how they not you — would like to be treated, because what works for you may not work for others. Taylor recently shared insights from her book on the [email protected] show, which is part of Wharton Business Radio that airs on SiriusXM channel 111. (Listen to the podcast at the top of this page.)

confirmation bias Unconscious Biases
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Unconscious Biases

An edited transcript of the conversation follows.

[email protected]: When you talk of ‘filter shift,’ what exactly do you mean?

Sara Taylor: This is about how our unconscious [biases] dictate how we’re seeing our interactions. What we need to [recognize] are the filters operating in our unconscious, and eventually [learn] to shift those filters in order to be more effective.

[email protected]: How many people realize they probably have this problem and are able to manage it? You say that to navigate through this problem one could learn along the way.

Taylor: With one of the cultural competence models that we use, we see that between 95% and 99% of us don’t realize that we have a problem. That’s the number of folks that have a significant gap between where they think they are versus where they actually are in their [level of] competence in interacting [with other types of people].

What does that mean? If I think that I’m Wonder Woman when it comes to having interactions with folks that are different from me, in reality, I don’t have that skill. That means I’ve got some huge blind spots, and it might also mean that I’m unintentionally offending others. None of us wants to unintentionally offend others. So, learning how to filter-shift helps us to become more intentional, and match our impact with that good intent.

“Between 95% and 99% of us don’t realize that we have a problem.”

[email protected]: There’s an interesting example in the book involving [a meeting between former Iraqi leader] Saddam Hussein and [former New Mexico governor] Bill Richardson, and how subtle some of these slights could be

Taylor: The key learning in that story is, we’ve got all kinds of great mantras and philosophies that we all live by. But we don’t realize that many times, those mantras perpetuate this ineffectiveness. The one that we talked about with that particular story is the mantra of the Golden Rule: We should treat others as we want to be treated. That is a reflection of one of the ineffective [phases along the] five stages of development.

Why is that ineffective? Because it’s based on just this teeny, tiny assumption that the whole universe wants to be treated the way I want to be treated. That’s not the case. We’ve got to learn how to treat others as they want to be treated, which is the Platinum Rule.

[email protected]: Richardson was sitting at the table, getting ready to meet with Saddam Hussein, and he had his knee crossed over his other leg. That allowed the bottom of his shoe to be seen, which is a big insult in Iraqi culture.

Taylor: Bill Richardson is a very competent, very successful and very effective person. He even had three staff people helping him prepare for that meeting for three months. Yet, it was still over in less than a minute, because it was incredibly offensive, the way he was showing the sole of his shoe.

That would be the equivalent of Saddam Hussein sending a diplomatic emissary to President Clinton, and that diplomatic emissary sitting down in the Oval Office would be flipping off President Clinton. (While Saddam Hussein abruptly left the room, he returned a while later to the meeting, as Richardson noted in a 1996 interview in Fortune magazine.)

The learning there is that we can’t know what every gesture [means]. But, Bill Richardson [could have prepared] from the perspective of Saddam’s filters — how does Saddam look at this meeting? [Instead,] what he did to approach it was to say, “What would I want if I were in Saddam’s shoes?” That’s the Golden Rule, and that’s what tripped him up.

[Richardson] thought, “If I were in Saddam’s shoes, I wouldn’t want the big powerhouse of the world, the United States, coming in and being all uppity and formal with me. I’d want them to be informal.” That’s why he went into that meeting, sat down, leaned back, crossed his legs, and up went the sole of his shoe.

[email protected]: That could similarly play out in boardrooms or negotiation tables and have a negative effect.

Taylor: That’s right. The reality is, lots of us aren’t in situations like that, with a dictator who can just get up and leave a meeting because they’re upset. For the rest of us, we may be in meetings or in other interactions, and we might get a sense afterward that, “Hmm, I don’t know that that went very well.” We don’t have the [other] person telling us [what was amiss]. We don’t have the person getting up and leaving. So, we don’t have those cues from others everyday that we’re not being our most effective [selves].

[email protected]: The word ‘see’ is important to this process. The letters in the word stand for See, Explain, and Evaluate.

Taylor: That’s right. When we observe anything, or when we’re in an interaction, all kinds of thoughts come to our mind: I think he’s this, I think he’s that; I thought this about what he said. What we don’t realize is, the vast majority of those thoughts are coming from our unconscious. That’s the “Explain” and “Evaluate.”

My unconscious takes what I see, what’s objective, and then its job is, “I’ve got to pass up an explanation to that conscious mind. Here’s how I’m going to explain what I think I see.” The unconscious goes even further. It says, “Now I’ve got to place a judgment on it. Here’s the judgment of what I think I see.”

“Learning how to filter and shift helps us to become more intentional, and match our impact with that good intent.”

Those filters are operating, doing all this in my unconscious, but those filters are created by my past experiences. In my interaction with you, my brain is giving me all kinds of explanations and judgments about you. But I have no idea if what my filters are telling me matches what your filters are telling you.

You’ve got it coming from the other side [as well]. Your filters are telling you all kinds of things about me. And then we can get into a misunderstanding. What we don’t realize when we’re in those misunderstandings is, many times those are filter fights.

[email protected]: How often are some of those

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