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Perception Bias In the Workplace

Perception Bias in the Workplace

Perception Bias in the Workplace

Perception bias happens whenever people wrongly evaluate an individual, based on a distorted belief about the general group to which the individual belongs.

All cases of colour, gender, class or race prejudice are examples of "perception bias".

Why does Perception bias occur?

Perception bias happens because we form our beliefs based upon our own experience; and then we judge people or things by reference to our beliefs.

When our beliefs are rational, they help us to make sense of reality, and cause us to make good decisions.

For example you believe: "Fires are hot and can burn me".

So, whenever you come close to a fire, that belief causes you to reason; "All fires are hot and can burn me. This is a fire, so, I will keep away from it and not let it burn me".

This is an example of a rational decision.

But sometimes our beliefs are NOT rational.

People can (and do) form unreasonable beliefs based upon faulty generalisations and then use them to make bad decisions, or to act irrationally.

Perception bias can cause people to unfairly act in favour of certain classes of people, as well as causing people to unfairly discriminate against other classes of people or things.

For example:

  • "All Germans are rigid in their thinking. This candidate is German, so he would be too rigid in his thinking: So, we will not hire him".
  • "German engineering is good: This is a German branded car, therefore it is well made, so we will buy it".

"Perception bias" is the term used whenever people use their irrational beliefs, causing them to justify wrong decisions or actions.

Is Perception bias harmful?

Perception bias causes people to make irrational, nonsensical decisions, so it is harmful to organisations, teams and individuals.

Perception bias is harmful to organisations because, for example; it causes selection interviews to become inefficient; people who are good candidates are unfairly ignored, and people who are NOT good candidates are unfairly accepted.

How to identify perception bias at work

Perception bias is insidious because most people do not consciously examine their subconscious beliefs, nor question where they came from.

But as a general principle, whenever we say to ourselves: "All members of a class of humanity has, (or lacks) a particular intellectual, moral, or behavioural characteristic or ability", then we are probably setting up a false belief which, if used as the basis of a work decision, would lead us into the trap of "Perception bias".

Examples of perception bias at work are:

  • All young people are immature, this person is the youngest candidate, so we will discount her for the project team.
  • All military people are self-disciplined: This job requires self-discipline: Harry is ex-Army: So we will put him on the team.

Perception bias is most dangerous whenever it is used to upgrade or downgrade individuals, or groups, based upon our over-generalised beliefs about certain ages, genders, skin colour, countries of origin, or religions.

How to eliminate perception bias.

Whenever selection judgements are being made, the criteria against which the candidates are being judged should be written out and made explicit.

These criteria can be tested to see whether or not they are objective, rational, and appropriate to the situation, or whether they are subjective, irrational, and inappropriate, in which case they would cause perception bias and must be discarded.

About the Author: Chris Farmer


Chris Farmer is the founder of the Corporate Coach Group and has many years’ experience in training leaders and managers, in both the public and private sectors, to achieve their organisational goals, especially during tough economic times. He is also well aware of the disciplines and problems associated with running a business.

Over the years, Chris has designed and delivered thousands of training programmes and has coached and motivated many management teams, groups and individuals. His training programmes are both structured and clear, designed to help delegates organise their thinking and, wherever necessary, to improve their techniques and skills.

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