Check Your Bias at the Door: How to Avoid Bias In Your Investigations – Dean Benard
Anyone who has attended a course or workshop on investigations will have likely heard the instructor emphasize the importance of being unbiased in your investigations. However, despite this sound advice, bias still finds a way to creep into some investigations. The result can be catastrophic for everyone.
There is no shortage of cases where allegations of bias have been made against the investigator, the investigation process, or the organization responsible for the investigation. The challenge with this issue is that in many cases people already believe the organization or the investigators are biased. This might be based on people’s knowledge of actual cases where bias has been proven, or just an impression held by some that there is systemic bias within the organizations responsible for conducting investigations. This creates a need on the part of investigators and the organizations they represent to not only ensure their investigations are in fact unbiased, but they are seen as unbiased.
We all have biases that are rooted in our past experiences and influenced by those around us. Our exposure to various media, such as television, newspapers, and social media, leads us to hold certain perspectives. In addition, we are influenced by our own demographics including race, gender, religion, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, and more. These influences cause us, often without being aware of it, to have biases that affect how we view the world. These views, or unconscious biases, have the potential to influence our decisions and can lead to an unfair process.
Because of the role investigators play and the importance of fairness and neutrality, we must start by identifying our own biases and recognizing how they can negatively influence our investigative work. The following are a few important considerations and steps you can take to ensure you check your bias at the door:
- Seek to identify your own unconscious biases. Consider some of the free online tools you can use that will help you assess your implicit social attitudes. One such testing process may be found at https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/
- Consider your language, and exercise mindfulness about what you say and how you speak
- Don’t be afraid to challenge your own assumptions and ask yourself if you would think the same way or make the same decision if the circumstances involved different people with different backgrounds
- Be accountable and hold others accountable when unconscious bias arises
- Don’t generalize people or situations
- Be empathetic to others’ situations and backgrounds
Once you have your personal biases under control consider how you manage the investigation process. Some things to ensure you do are:
- Explain the process to complainants, respondents, and witnesses at the outset of your dealings with them. This way they understand what will happen and there will be no surprises – surprises are often met with skepticism.
- Give the people you interview the opportunity to ask questions about the process so as to allay any concerns they might have
- Remember you are no one’s advocate, and you must make that clear to the parties involved in the matter you are investigating. Your mantra should be that you are a neutral, impartial, gatherer of facts.
- Be open minded and avoid making conclusions until all the facts have been gathered, as premature conclusions can affect your judgment. Remember that you are in search of the truth and remind people that you have no stake in the outcome of the investigation.
- Be careful what you document in your notes by ensuring they reflect objective observations and not subjective interpretations on your part.
- Ensure reports are written in a neutral language and that they reflect all of the relevant information available, regardless of whether that information supports or refutes a particular position.
- Document your investigative activities, such as your attempts to locate or contact people, email communications, or conversations with any legal counsel or other outside parties.
- Document things you would have normally done, but did not, and the reason why. For example, a person you would have interviewed, but did not, should be listed as a potential witness with the reason why you did not interview them.
By looking at our own behaviour, and following the considerations outlined above, we can make great strides toward overcoming the concern of bias in our investigations and we can earn the confidence of ALL the people who rely on the important work we do.
In addition to providing investigation, mediation, and coaching services, Benard + Associates also provides comprehensive courses on all aspects of investigations. We will customize courses for your organization. Please visit our website for more information www.benardinc.com.