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Bias, bars and business cards

Image: Jerry's Burger Bar - Cape Town

My first business card is at the bottom of the post. Yes, I know it says nothing about what I do, but it has the important information about me right? You know my name, you know my number and you know where to mail me. You can call me, write to me, or cyber stalk me...

Chances are that if you have one of these, we’ve met somewhere, I explained what I do, and you asked for my card.

And yet, the responses I’ve had to such a small piece of paper is legion. “Ooh, I love the fact that it doesn’t limit you”, “What a nice clear card.”, “It doesn’t say what you do”, and “Such a beautiful card”.

My personal favourite happened at a smart corporate event I attended. It smacked of preconceived ideas, bias, stereotypes and judgement: “It doesn’t say anything, it’s the kind of card you hand out in a bar.” said suit attired man.

Huh? It is? I wouldn’t know. I haven’t been to a bar in a while and generally just wrote my number on a serviette with a lipstick kiss… Ok, it is more than a while, way before the time of cell phones!

What I do know is that our bias limits us and our interactions with other people. The more preconceived our ideas of what things or people should be like and look like, the smaller we make our worlds. We also make it more difficult for people to engage authentically with us because consciously or subconsciously, they already feel that they have to jump through hoops and do backflips just to be accepted or approved of.

Have you ever thought about how your own biases and judgements surface when someone hands you a business card?

  • What are your preconceived ideas about what business cards should look like?

  • Do you prefer functional and informative or well designed and beautiful?

  • Do you care if it is a paper or digital card?

  • Are you impressed by titles and does that change your perception of the person and your interaction with them?

  • Will you recognise the difference between personal preference and prejudice when you look at a card someone hands you?

  • What are the thoughts that go through your head when you look at someone’s business card?

  • How many assumptions are you making about the person, their business or their capabilities simply by looking at the details on the card?

Had the (nice) middle-aged executive at the audit firm asked a question or made a neutral comment like “Interesting choice for someone in conflict resolution” instead of a judgement about the value of the card, - and possibly me - it would have opened up a discussion about values, waste, interests and the freedom of choosing for yourself what you like on a card or not.

Instead the interaction left me wondering about bias, preconceived ideas and inappropriate comments.

Ps. Currently I have no card and receive no inappropriate comments.

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