Article: Types of behavioral biases at the workplace

Life @ Work

Types of behavioral biases at the workplace

Do you have a bias? How can you remove it and make your workplace better? Read on to find out.
Types of behavioral biases at the workplace

It is said that not all minds are alike and hence, we all have some preference when it comes to our choice of a workplace, our colleagues, and friends. The saying “First impression is the last impression” is a very good example of an unconscious biased thought. Unconscious bias not only hampers others but also our decision-making process 

“Though the most common assumption is that biases are bad for our decision making, nudge theory, also known as invisible helping hands, prove it the other way. A nudge is a tool to harness the potential of an existing bias without eliminating the bias.” 

Erasing a prejudice from a person’s mind can be a huge task, but utilizing it to influence the person’s behavior can be a more practical and more natural approach. 

In nudge theory, you indirectly push the person into making the right decision, e.g, while reviewing a resume, removing details like candidate’s name, age and gender help make an unbiased decision, which is just based on their work experience and skills.

Can we say we have a completely unbiased workplace? Probably not.

We are going to find out the kinds of unconscious biases and their repercussions below:

  • Conformity bias

We are social beings and conforming to the group we belong to is our primal instinct. Conformity or very popularly known as herd mentality, where the opinions of a group influence the individual beliefs can be observed in all of us. Conformity might not always be a fruit of herd mentality, but an unconscious following of certain systems and beliefs might be due to ingrained values and beliefs, or just plain ignorance and unwillingness to question things. For example, when an HR tries to put forward a new plan of action, they might have to face many challenges due to conformity bias. However, if they use the same theory to their advantage and get the most influential person in the group, it becomes more natural to spread the word and get it approved.

  • Beauty Bias

Creating a perception of a person looking at their personality is what defines beauty bias. Now, this is not just with respect to the external appearance but an overall first impression that a person makes. We might consider someone with a great persona to make a great role model or choose someone who resonates the previous person who had that role. A great example would be while interviewing people, the first candidate walks in with a tucked in shirt would stand out more than a person wearing casuals. Beauty bias is something which cannot be erased completely. However, we can make sure to not indulge in personal details and look at the experience and contributions of the person towards the organization. 

  • Affinity bias

When we feel we have an affinity with someone we see and have known them in the past, or they remind you of someone you know or like and give them the advantage for that, it is called affinity biases. For example, when a person we share some affinity with says they are nervous about the interview, we would be warmer and offer more words of encouragement. However, if with the other person we do not share a connection would not be treated the same way. You can reverse this by assessing or nudging yourself and identifying your cultural filters and expectations of performance. Affinity bias may also arise out of having common likes and dislikes as we automatically like the other person more when they have similar dislikes and likes. 

  • Halo effect

You recognize a person for the way they present their achievements or excelled in their field of career. Therefore, you are in awe of the personal achievements an all decisions are based on that achievement. This is called halo effect. It is also related to anchoring bias as your thoughts and presumptions about the person are influenced by the person’s representations of his/her achievements and failures. A simple example is how we assume one person who is good at something to excel at other tasks and the one who fails is associated with failure or looked at skeptically. This could be nudged in an organizational context, as we can record all the achievements and shortcomings and visit it again during appraisal to avoid last minutes impressions that usually influence appraisals.  

  • Horn-effect

Horn-effect is the complete opposite of halo effect. You feel an instant dislike towards the person for no particular reason and the thought clouds our better judgment to make the right decision. When we meet a person, who is too soft-spoken or speaks very slowly, they are generalized as unintelligent or not fit for the profile of executive. This effect leads to biases as we associate certain attributes to certain qualities, like in the above case soft-spoken ability is associated with unintelligence. 

  • Similarity Bias

We all like to be surrounded by similar minds who share the same views as ourselves, especially when it comes to fundamental aspects. This is called as similarity bias. And as a result, might hamper the process of hiring. For example, people from same state, caste or religion have an instant connection which blindsides other aspects of the conversation.

  • Contrast effect

Contrast effect happens when people have taken many interviews and spend longer time going through many CV end up comparing resumes and how other people performed compared to the ones you thought to have done exceptionally well For example, when a good sales performer walks in late to work, he might not be questioned but, on the other hand, an agent who is an average performer might get into trouble for coming in late to work.

  • Attribution bias

Attribution bias can be described as the attitude that ‘success belongs to me; failures are others’ doing’, in short, playing the blame game. It is very easy to feel in a competitive environment that others are being noticed with half the efforts, yet get the perks and the praises while your hard works have gone unnoticed. For example, when a person is courteous, we often get suspicious of their intentions.

As mentioned by The Guardian weekly, in a long-term research done by Harvard, all of us have one or another form of prejudice. Hence, it is challenging to uproot biases from scratch. However, we can educate people by the help of online tests like a Black Belt in Diversity and Inclusions which helps you build counter-strategies to tackle biases and smoothen recruiting programs. We need to understand the meaning of diversity and how we can access our companies for culture and diversity. 

The question we need to ask is not "are we biased?" but "what are our biases;" and whether we need to eliminate the bias or nudge to harness it for our benefit. Nudge theory is an interesting finding in the field of behavioral science. It argues that not all biases are bad all the time, and we can nudge them to direct our behavior in the right way. 

A great example is the 401k plan example where the system incorporated automatic withdrawals from the accounts and people contributed on a regular basis as their mental bias found it too hard to cancel the pension plans. Similarly, there are many other biases at play that can be nudged in the same way for our benefit. 

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Topics: Life @ Work, Employee Relations

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