Perception Biases

June 22, 2021

Perception is reality – or so the sales idiom goes. Turns out that phrase is best left in a sales conference room when discussing a Client’s perspective. Perception biases are subtle and require careful attention to avoid them. lists 16 biases ranging in origin from a candidate’s physical appearance to their personality. Even so, a leadership team can govern themselves simply to avoid perception biases.

An easy place to start is to create an interview infrastructure with as much objectivity and opportunity for checks and balances as possible. Ignore the candidate’s name, address, and gender. Conduct preliminary interviews by phone. These steps will circumvent any biases based on physical appearance (there are many!) as well as cultural biases (like name bias).

Leaders – listen to your own self-talk. Self-talk is a much-lauded method of keeping one’s self-focused and motivated. But like any other voice heard often, it’s easy to dismiss. Tune in carefully. Are you distracted during the interview by a nervous twitch the candidate has? Does the twitch truly convey a lack of ability, or does it convey just how important the interview is to the candidate? The answer will be found in the person’s qualifications, and by comparing notes with a colleague also present at the interview, or who has possibly interviewed the person separately. Comparing notes will also keep the evaluation of the interviews individual, and avoid comparing one great interview, to the next really good interview. The second interview needs to stand on its own merit, not be downgraded simply because of ‘the act it had to follow.

If leaders don’t have the opportunity to compare notes with a colleague, either temporarily or otherwise, they could consider recording their observations between interviews, much as a doctor or lawyer notates their cases. This will give them time to literally record valuable information and insights that will guide their thinking objectively and not require them to struggle to read their own hastily-written notes or remember which candidate gave that perfect answer to the most important question.

Obviously, the best antithesis to bias is objectivity. Perception biases don’t end once a candidate has been chosen and hired. Leaders can collaborate in creating and maintaining the most objective infrastructure possible for evaluating employees- potential and current. This creates a system of checks and balances ascertaining that each level or department has its needs met, and it is done so with the focus on skills, attributes, contributions, and ability instead of height, weight, age, cultural background, or common interests.

Not many leaders intentionally let such simple and obvious biases sway their judgment. But again, perception biases are subtle. They are formed almost subconsciously in the moment, not intentionally in the decision-making. It is said the best spellers don’t know how to spell every word- they simply know when they’ve made a mistake. And so, it is with leaders. They may not be aware of a bias- but they intentionally work to be and stay objective.

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