Team Building & Staffing

Geekend: Familiar Faces Can Be Friendly (Or Dangerous)

Studies show we pick our friends -- and employees -- based on visible and invisible similarities.

rely on these types of heuristic judgments to make quick decisions, like whether to go left or right in a sport or when to yell and when to make a joke at a business meeting. But they can get us into serious trouble, too.

Remember those long-haired women who like floppy-eared dogs? They also think floppy-eared dogs are smarter than other dogs. More worrisome, managers tend to hire people who look just like them as well. This (admittedly old but unchallenged to my knowledge) study from the late 1990s showed that managers were far more likely to hire people of their same race and gender. We can only speculate that the same impulse (or heuristic) that makes long-haired women think floppy-eared dogs are smarter could act on them when they interview women with similar hair. The advice to not hire people "just like you" is still common in the business literature, which suggests an ongoing problem with how we hire.

It only stands to reason that if we pick dogs who look like us, and friends who look like us, we're going to pick co-workers who look like us. But obviously this is a real problem. It means a general lack of skillsets and mindsets in the work place. It is an insidious form of racism, sexism, and even ageism that prevents success.

And heck, it isn't all that much fun having these biases for friends, either. Is this what we want our friends to look like?

Or do we want friends of different types, shapes, and sizes with different ideas of fun?

Fortunately, we can overcome these types of heuristics with conscious effort. Once we know about these tendencies, we can begin to make some active choices to eliminate bias.

At the same time, as much as it's important to watch out for these tendencies in hiring and important social settings, we can also have a little fun with this. How about turning this information into an app that pairs us with friends nearby with similar genetic construction?

And it's just nice to know that we're drawn together by invisible forces that bind us without us even knowing it. We're meant to be friends with our friends. It's in our nature. That's cool.

Do your friends look like you? Do you think you might share similar genes? Would you want to know who you're predisposed to becoming friends with? Do you find yourself hiring people like you? What strategies do you use to overcome this tendency? Tell us below, and share a picture of you and your look-a-like (or not so look-a-like) friends or pets.

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