Choosing a Mentor: The Risk of the “Affinity Bias Trap”

In any profession, to include the military, finding the right mentor is key in your self-development. Army Regulation 600-100, Army Profession and Leadership Policy, states that mentorship is “A voluntary and developmental relationship that exists between a person with greater experience and a person with less experience, characterized by mutual trust and respect.” Although this regulation states, “a person,” implying a single mentor, there is a risk of putting all your faith in one person based on their success. This risk is called affinity bias, which is the unconscious bias that we gravitate towards people of similar characteristics at work.

Affinity Bias is the unconscious tendency to get along with others who are like us. It is easy to socialize and spend time with others who are not different. It requires more effort to bridge differences when diversity is present.”

The unfortunate part is that we all have affinity bias, from who we talk to at work, to the people we hang out with on the weekends. These biases can limit your experiences and career opportunities within the Army. For example, a leader may think working as a recruiter is a career-ender, while another may believe it’s an excellent broadening opportunity. The only way to remove these blind spots is to try our hardest to be consciously aware of them. To counter the risk of affinity bias when choosing a mentor, I recommend these three things:

1. Know your own biases to see if you are gravitating towards a certain leader who is similar to yourself.

2. Be aware of your leader’s biases, do they gravitate towards others similar to themselves.

3. Have more than one mentor for different perspectives within your career.

Bottom line, know yourself, know your leaders, and keep your options open because everyone is prone to mistakes, and a single person bias can lead you in the wrong direction.

Assad Raza is an Active Duty Civil Affairs Officer in the United States Army. He holds a B.A. in Psychology from The University of Tampa, a M.A. in Diplomacy w/concentration in International Conflict Management from Norwich University, and is a graduate of The Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation Command and General Staff Officer Course at Fort Benning, Georgia. Follow him on Twitter: @assadraza12

If you want to hear more on biases in recruiting listen to Gail Tolstoi-Miller, CEO & staffing strategist, TED Talk:

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