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Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Keep an Open Mind: Checking Our Biases At the Door

Marian R. Aubry, ISA CAPP
By Marian R. Aubry, ISA CAPP

At conference, a young woman pursuing a career as an appraiser confided in me. She said that she was having a difficult time convincing potential clients that, although she was young, she was competent and qualified. She had worked in internships and was passionate about the subject even before she ever considered completing an advanced degree in it (which she since had, she told me). She was articulate, obviously bright, and more than competent. I pointed out that she was already doing many things that help garner respect from colleagues and clients, such as getting involved with an organization that regards superior education and ethical conduct as the high water marks of the appraisal profession. I recommended that she continue to focus on proficiency and assured her that she would soon gain attention as an industry professional who is smart, reliable and consistent. I urged her to take all the jobs that came her way – big, small, unusual and the seemingly difficult jobs – and she would soon find herself gaining confidence, as well as clients.

Considering her youth as the determining factor for her competency was certainly unfair. Seniors, if they own up to an inconvenient truth, know that being older doesn’t automatically make you wiser. And yet, “ageism” exists on both sides of the life line, as I had an individual at conference suggest to me that I might not be aware of the market in some currently popular art form because of my age. Really? I’m sure my young colleague meant no harm, and, although it was less than subtle and mostly short-sighted, it got me thinking about the biases we sometimes unwittingly hold. First impressions are not always the right impressions.

There is no question that we conveniently rely on first impressions. Is there anyone who can deny being totally surprised by the powerful voice that came from a middle-aged woman in sensible laced shoes, a matronly dress, and that “Bette Davis” hairdo? Probably not those who knew Susan Boyle well.  

Researchers often talk about ‘availability bias,’ which refers to the practice of obtaining data from the most obvious sources. This often means that we come to conclusions without digging as deep as we should, or without looking at something from a new angle. However, removing a bias also removes our reasons for not getting to know something on a deeper level. When we look beyond the most obvious answer or our preconceived notions, we might find a whole new way to think about something or someone. Of all people, appraisers should be committed to being un-biased and open minded, a truth that extends beyond the items that we appraise.

Fine Art appraisers are not any more dedicated than ARC appraisers, and ARC appraisers do not practice a more complicated discipline than Fine Art appraisers. Yet biases exist among us as professionals. I know I’ve heard them come up at conference on occasion. Perhaps you have too.
One way we can get to know one another better is by sharing (who said sharing is caring?). As a mentor, I have been sharing some of the software apps that I use with my new mentee. He was so happy to discover these tools. Because he is much younger, I had assumed that his skills would be beyond mine when it came to technology. Clearly, my assumption was incorrect. And he, in turn, has used his background in business to teach me new ways that I can save time and money by being more efficient.

Mentoring is definitely a two-way street. There is no end to what we can accomplish when we share with one another. As ISA appraisers, we are all seeking greater proficiency and professionalism, no matter what we appraise, or what stage we are in our career… or even in life, for that matter. Perhaps we all need to remind ourselves to check our biases at the door. I urge you to get to know your fellow appraisers on a deeper level. You may be surprised by what you find.

Learn more about the ISA Mentor Program.

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