Communication Skills: Are You Biased?

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As a teacher of Communication Skills, one of the important topics I discuss with my students is Bias in our communication and how to avoid it.

Whenever we speak, we convey something about ourselves to the world. Our utterances reflect our age, our likes and dislikes, our education, and even our worldview.

For example, “Hey Dude, Wassup man?” shows an influence of American English. “This candidate could not speak a sentence in English!” reflects an Anglophile, who thinks English is culturally superior to the mother tongue.

“She is so slow in housework”, is a statement that supports gender discrimination. “I think people of that community are so lazy and backward”, is the view of someone who is not able to overcome regional or ethnic bias.

“Nowadays, they just want money, without doing any work”, shows an inclination to suppress people who are economically disadvantaged.

Are you shocked or surprised? Yes, people still talk like this!

Bias in daily life

Biased speech could be harmless but most of the time, this is a judgmental way of talking and behaving. Moreover, such remarks are directed at people who look different, in terms of their complexion or facial features, who practice ways of living which are quite unfamiliar to ours.

Biased speech might precipitate into sexist remarks and if unchecked, progresses into sexual and physical abuse, racist rants, regional and ethnic discrimination, linguistic mocking, and body shaming to list some instances.

Bias in Advertisements

There have several debates over the years on this but no strict measures have been taken to end the bias in advertisements.

Let us consider the language of advertisements in print, electronic and social media platforms. The cultural and social norms of a society including its’ biases are tacitly incorporated into advertisements.

These advertisements are catchy, with great visual appeal and are widely used to sell products, but they also act as vehicles to convey biased views, either consciously or unconsciously.

The advertisements for complexion creams (both male and female) that promote fairness and equate it with beauty, advertisements for cars and colognes which depict women as objects of male gratification, those which portray people of certain races in a subservient manner, are examples of biased messages.

Bias in Language

Language plays an important part in establishing the social-power structure and hierarchy.

Our speech reflects the views we assimilate from our environment. Our speech helps to perpetuate and further entrench biases. Biased remarks demean and dehumanise people, rob people of their dignity and self-respect, promote cruelty and
brutalization.

The biases we express could be the result of conscious and systematic training or just unconscious habits such as ‘casual racism’.

Prevention of Bias

The governance, social systems and redressal mechanisms must sanction legal assistance to victims of biased speech and acts. The laws must protect the victims of discrimination in all sectors and fields including educational institutions, organised and unorganised sectors, children and those who are unable to voice their grievances due to various reasons.

Sensitivity training

Apart from making sure that the rights and safety of people are ensured, there must be significant effort to sensitise people about human rights.
Reflection by people of all age groups, broadcasting messages in mass media and social media, conducting seminars and small group sensitising programmes can help in creating awareness.

Retired professionals, homemakers, elders of the family and any volunteers can play a significant role in reorienting our biased outlooks and language.

In most cultures, there are mainstream ways of thinking and doing, and other marginal ways, but no culture should condone, ignore, promote, or accept biased views, biased language and speech and biased behaviour.

Cultures evolve over time. It is not a sign of weakness to admit new ways of thinking. The traditional ways can be adjusted to accept the otherness that we encounter.

The next time you encounter a biased remark, please call it out, that is, tell the other person – it is not acceptable to talk or behave in a biased manner.

(The author is a Professor in Communications and visiting faculty at
Xavier University, Bhubaneswar
)

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