How would you react if somebody accused you of being biased? 

Chances are you would counter with actions or statements to show you are not. 

The problem is, we are all biased whether we like it or not – and it’s all thanks to the hardwiring in our brains. 

The revelation that everybody is biased in some way, shape or form was just one of many interesting insights AIM WA Deputy CEO Dr Shaun Ridley FAIM detailed as part of his professional development sundowner titled Our Magnificent and Flawed Brains at Work. 

At the start of the evening, Dr Ridley advised attendees to be slightly sceptical of the messages they were to receive, as most of the corporate statements based on neuroscience and brain development were contextual. 

“There are two ingredients for gaining attention,” Dr Ridley said. “The first is emotion – people need to be energised and motivated to focus their attention. Secondly they need meaning. Seeing the bigger picture provides an overall sense of what is going on here.” 

In addition to detailing the best ways to gain people’s attention, Dr Ridley looked at the concept of multitasking and illustrated that although we can all do it, we are not able to perform all tasks to an optimum level, especially with attention-rich activities. Multitasking can lead to fatigue due to switching between tasks in quick succession. 

“This explains why you feel tired if you’ve had a number of interruptions throughout the day,” Dr Ridley said. 

From one task to another. It makes you far more tired than if we focus on one task in a block and then another task in a block.” Working for or against us? Change is inevitable in all walks of life. In spite of this, humans are not always best-equipped for coping with change, which once again comes down to how our grey matter is hardwired. 

“Our brains are superb at pattern-setting and the whole process of change is quite difficult for us when we try and break those patterns,” Dr Ridley said. Despite the difficulty we experience with change, there are ways we can achieve it in the workplace, though it needs to be done with care and consideration. 

One of the reasons for this is change can increase the amount of stress people experience during their working day, which could lead to resistance. 

On the subject of stress, Dr Ridley drew on research completed by Stanford University Professor Kelly McGonigal. “Professor McGonigal did a really interesting piece of research that asked two questions; would you rate your stress levels as high, medium or low, and to what extent do you believe stress is bad for your health?,” he said. “Those who said they had high stress and it was bad for their health had negative outcomes. 

“However, those people who said they experienced high stress but it would not impact their health negatively saw their health stay the same or improve. “That changes our mindset around stress and the way in which we think about it. In fact, Professor McGonigal has three mindset shifts for us to consider.” 

Dr Ridley said it was the third and final mindset shift that was most fascinating, as it suggested the best way to deal with stress was to help someone else. “Research from Stanford University has found we’re hardwired to do this,” he said. 

“It might not clear our own in-tray, but it helps us to manage stress and tackle our own stresses more easily.” 

Rounding off the evening, Dr Ridley provided four preconditions required for insight to occur. The first was quiet, the second to be inwardly focused, the third to be slightly happy and the last, but perhaps most important – to not think about the issue you want to get insight into. 

“The reason we get those brainwaves on a Sunday morning at the beach is because it’s quiet. You’re inwardly focused, you’re slightly happy and you’re not dwelling on the issue,” Dr Ridley said. “You cannot force insight – all you can do is create an environment to allow insight to occur.”

Chris Thurmott is a Senior Journalist for The West Australian and he writes for a variety of different publications including Leader and National Mining Chronicle.