Follow the Science: Proven Strategies for Reducing Unconscious Bias

Navigating the Hidden Landscape and Addressing Unconscious Biases in Professional Neutrality with David Hoffman & Helen Winter

Unconscious bias – a set of attitudes and stereotypes that we are unaware of – is ubiquitous and its effects can be pernicious. Some of these attitudes – regarding race, gender, class, sexual orientation, and other characteristics – may be the opposite of what we consciously believe but can nonetheless affect our behavior. Biases are particularly problematic for those who are required to be impartial, such as mediators, arbitrators, and judges, and also for lawyers and many other professionals who have an ethical duty to act in an unbiased manner. Fortunately, unconscious bias (sometimes called “implicit bias”) is also malleable.

In this presentation on unconscious bias, David Hoffman and Helen Winter provide a “user’s guide” to peer-reviewed social psychology research on bias-reduction strategies, with suggestions for how this research can be implemented in everyday life.

Hoffman is the John H. Watson, Jr. Lecturer on Law at Harvard Law School, where he teaches three courses: Mediation; Legal Profession: Collaborative Law; and Diversity and Dispute Resolution. He trains mediators with the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School. Hoffman is an attorney, mediator, arbitrator, and founding member of Boston Law Collaborative, LLC, where he handles cases involving family, business, employment, and other disputes. He is past chair of the American Bar Association Section of Dispute Resolution. Hoffman has published three books including Bringing Peace into the Room (with co-editor Daniel Bowling) and more than 100 articles on law and dispute resolution. Prior to founding Boston Law Collaborative in 2003, Hoffman was a litigation partner at the Boston firm Hill & Barlow where he practiced for 17 years. Before that he served as a law clerk for Judge Stephen G. Breyer on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit. He has received a number of awards for his work as a mediator, including the Lifetime Achievement Award of the American College of Civil Trial Mediators and the D’Alemberte-Raven Award for service in dispute resolution from the ABA.

Winter is a Graduate Research Fellow at the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School. Winter is a mediator and founder of the charitable organization R3SOLUTE based in Berlin. R3SOLUTE empowers refugees and locals to manage and prevent conflicts in their communities through dialogue work and peer mediation. Winter holds a law degree with a focus on International Public Law from Heidelberg University, and an LL.M. with a specialization in Dispute Resolution from Pepperdine University’s Straus Institute. She is pursuing a Ph.D. at European University Viadrina in Germany.

Hoffman and Winter’s conclusions as presented here on unconscious bias, can also be found in their recent Harvard Negotiation Law Review article, which can be found here.


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