Tester's Guide to Managing Biases with Lina Zubyte

For our third TestBash Netherlands talk, we were joined by @linazu for her TestBash stage debut to explore biases and how we can manage them :grin:

If you’ve got questions for Lina about the talk, add them here :point_down:

Remember to :heart: questions that you like to show appreciation for others.

Access the Session at 11:15 AM here:

Do you have any good ways to help others recognise their own bias?


Have you ever experienced backlash from raising bias issues? How do you deal with that?


Managing Biases remotely…

Because you’re missing a lot of ‘communication’ remotely, how can you still keep this sharp within your team / organisation because it seems the lack of real communication/feedback is also introducing more room for biases… Do you have tips/lessons learned in these months?

I like the example in your talk with your CEO. Can you talk about how did you get your message through?

How do you deal with the frustration of people ignoring or not listening to problems you point out in a calm way?

Some additional resources from @linazu

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Step 1. Admit that you’re biased.
We are so quick to notice biases in other people, yet it’s not a binary. It’s not that one person is biased and another is not. We all are. It’s a multi-dimensional journey. The tricky part with biases is that we don’t even realise that we are, it’s so “normal” to us. We need to start by admitting that there’s room to grow and we need to search for cues.
Some of the obvious cues I’d mention is: defensive behaviours, excuses, or feeling uncomfortable. When you start to say “Hey, listen to me… you’re not listening”… As Kate Murphy says “Listening is not about agreeing, it’s about hearing.” Catch yourself in a moment when you’re in a fight-or-fly mode, dig deeper then.

Ways to recognize biases

  1. Take a test on Project Implicit: https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/takeatest.html
    This gives a great wake up call to many people. These tests created by Harvard University measure reaction time, so you cannot really rig or outsmart it. They reveal certain preferences. This test can be a great starter to revealing some uncomfortable truths about ourselves.
  2. Ask for feedback & listen to it
    This may seem like a straightforward one, yet to ask for a constructive feedback (not just a positive boost) and manage to take it is a huge skill and art. It needs safe space, asking people we trust to provide us their observations of our behaviours can be very powerful. We have to be ready to hear it, though.
  3. Observe yourself & your practices
    We all go on “autopilot” in our lives. We need to slow down, question our ways, see if there’s something we may be missing. Getting a fresh perspective from someone else also could help. Hearing different people’s thoughts and then reviewing our own ways.

Step 2. Expose yourself to knowledge
Getting to know your biases is a continuous journey. You may recognise one bias today, another tomorrow, and one more may never be recognised. We have to aim for continuous learning, continuous improvement, and continuous lookout. For that various talks, books can help us out. A couple book recommendations on biases I’d have are:

  • Thinking, Fast & Slow by Daniel Kahneman
  • Technically Wrong by Sara Wachter-Boettcher
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I have definitely had quite difficult situations of backlash after raising certain issues which were caused by prejudices. It’s extremely challenging. This is why people’s skills in my opinion are the hardest skills ever. Some ways I dealt with those situations before:

  • Pick your battles.

We need to measure how painful and how risky certain behaviours are. If we raise every single thing, it may be annoying & overwhelming for others, and sometimes unnecessary. If you see it caused a huge pain for a person and they went to an attack mode, it may be better to let that conversation go at least for a while. As the mantra I saw somewhere says:

People are doing things to either show love, or cry out for love.

Calmness, steady reaction to their aggression/backlash, can be the best way to react, too. Don’t fuel the burning fire with more gasoline as the saying goes.

  • Treat them patiently.

Change takes time. Understanding that you’ve been mistaken is something that none of us like. We may get into a fighter mode, we may feel ashamed, embarrassed, angry. Sometimes we need time to digest what was said. Step by step. We need to remember that even if you are at a certain point in your journey, others are on different journeys. We constantly realise things and grow. Question is if it’s the right time for that learning.

  • Seed connection.

If we trust each other, we can listen to each other more deeply. We need a safe space to talk about difficult situations. If a person does not feel safe, they may burst out and try to defend themselves. Let’s seed more connection. As I like to say: if there’s someone in the team that you have the most friction with, that’s the number 1 person you should invite for a lunch date to (can be a virtual one as well ;).

Book recommendation

Book that I bought when once I was in a super difficult conversation and had no clue how to tackle it:
Crucial Conversations : Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High | Patterson, Kerry , Grenny, Joseph, McMillan, Ron

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I joined a new team back in May, my main tip would be to create connection. At home we may work too much, we need some informal gatherings that we’re missing in these times. We don’t meet people when going to get a cup of tea. I’ve seen some useful resources to building a connection which then creates a safer space, more trust, and easier environment to manage biases:

  • Fun standups - ideas for different playful standups: https://funstandups.com (you can add yours, too!)
  • Brightful free online icebreaker games: https://www.brightful.me/play/
  • Have farewell/introduction remote calls, lunches, sundown calls at least once in a week to keep the connection going. Try not to talk about work.
  • Play various games to get to know each other more. For example, every team member chooses a song, and other members need to guess who chose which song.
  • If your organisation supports, create a mental health group - a chat where anyone could share their struggles with remote working and their mental health.

If we have a connected team, then everyone feels safe to share that maybe they are having a hard day, that they may not be ready for feedback, or need support.

When giving feedback, we need to be well prepared on its phrasing. Usually this structure helps a lot:
When [this happened/you did that], it made me feel [emotion].
Basically, use facts, and try to locate an emotion on what that made you feel. This we cannot deny. We can then only value vulnerability and see how we could improve our connection.
In this particular CEO situation, I used data (use facts, data when giving feedback - do not assign people qualities, instead say what behaviours/actions of theirs took place) and my feelings. It sounded like this:
When in the last all hands you gave an update for service quality of three months and said that it’s very bad, I was extremely surprised and even shocked. Based on my knowledge it has improved. I am confused, could you help me understand the why?
Then we unraveled that the data used was from way too small of a timeframe, this led into a longer constructive conversation on how we could avoid that and collaborate in the future.

The best way is to keep communicating in the calm way. If we react to frustration with frustration, that will lead into even more frustration. The easiest change (which is not easy at all) is changing ourselves, if we can even influence others - that’s a huge win. Even if a person may look like ignore or are not listening, it does not mean that they did not hear you. Listening is not about agreeing or immediately changing. It takes time.
I usually point out the issues, may remind people again, and I try (which is hard!) not to get frustrated at them. Sometimes little moments of magic happen which surprise me. For example, once I told about a bug I noticed - the developer said “heh, never will fix that”. To my biggest surprise after a few months, it got mentioned again, and the very same developer not only created a bug card themselves, but fixed the bug within an hour! This is an example of a priming effect and how change may take time, people do hear us, even if it’s unconscious. Not always they react as immediate as we want them to, but we have to keep being kind and understand their why, their needs, and how we could align our needs and theirs to reach a compromise.

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It seems like many examples above are not merely a result of personal bias (I think the concept of bias is not appropriate here), but rather a matter of (un)succesfull communication between colleagues. Improve your professional relationships and you will see better collaboration and understanding as a result.

Absolutely. If you mean prejudice against certain group as “personal bias” - this is not what the examples display. It’s more cognitive biases that lead to communication problems in these mentioned situations. For example, the CEO example from the talk, was about a person from a leadership team communicating about 3 months of quality using recent analytics data from last 2 hours (this is so called recency bias - tendency to use recent information to decide about longer timeframe). Cognitive biases are not just “personal biases”, they are thinking errors which we need to learn to recognize, admit, and communicate in order to improve professional relationships.

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