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Communication and working relationships in sport and fitness
Communication and working relationships in sport and fitness

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4 How does unconscious bias affect relationships?

You have seen how relationships can be built. Apart from shyness what are the barriers that often prevent us from building workplace relationships with others? You might think it is just about active listening and behaviour. However, what you think about another person also has subtle effects. This is particularly so in the initial impressions that form when you first meet new sport and fitness colleagues, athletes, participants or parents. For example, in the smiling gallery story, the early ‘word’ on Pritch before anyone had spoken to him was that he was shy and not aggressive or assertive enough.

The false expectation we often initially have of people, using the limited information we have at the time, is known as unconscious bias and if we are honest with ourselves, we all hold some degree of bias about others. These biases often affect the way we connect with others during our initial interactions with them.

Activity 3 Exploring first impressions and unconscious bias

Timing: Allow about 15 minutes

Business psychologists Binna Kandoler and Nic Sale explain this as an entirely natural process in this insightful short video [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] .

  1. After watching this, identify what type of unconscious bias you may hold in sport and fitness activity or the workplace. You will not be asked to reveal these to others.
  2. What is the salutary closing advice given when meeting or interviewing people to help override any bias you may hold?


  1. It is very useful for you to know and recognise your own biases. For example, in sport an initial impression that body piercings characterise a certain personality trait might exist, e.g. extroverted, creative or aggressive tendencies. Kandoler and Sale explained how the first four minutes of a job interview are often used to reinforce a first impression of a person, with the remaining time spent looking for evidence to confirm the first impressions were correct, known as confirmation bias. We also reject information that does not confirm our biases – first impressions can be difficult to overcome. Any bias is particularly influential when recruiting staff or identifying sporting talent.
  2. The video suggests that deliberately and consciously recognising your bias and putting it to one side can then open up the potential to objectively identify evidence for what a person is really like beyond your initial expectations.

The main thing with bias is to be able to recognise it. In Session 8, you will see that confirmation bias can be particularly evident in our use of social media.

A further point to raise here is that we tend to be drawn to and develop rapport with people similar to ourselves and so have a natural preference for these people. This can affect the relationships we form with people, so knowledge of this is helpful to try and overcome biases in early interactions.