Biases are cognitive shortcuts that our brain leans on to make sense of the world. Snakes are dangerous, dog people are good people, and people who smile more are happier. These statements are generally true, but there will be a number of exceptions. When rating others in performance evaluations or multirater feedback, we are susceptible to a number of cognitive biases that could impact how we rate people. Research tells us that simply being aware of these biases will help us combat them. Below, we are lay out a number of biases, with examples, for you to consider as you evaluate others.
Recency Bias: The recency bias involves allowing a recent event to influence your rating of a person. Typically, it is a negative event that overshadows strengths, though it can operate in both directions (e.g., a positive event masking a negative event).
Example. Eduardo recently bungled a big presentation in front of senior leaders. When you rate his competency, that is the only event that you can think of, and you forgot the dozens of other successes that he has had in this regard.
How to overcome. Make sure you are considering the correct timeframe (typically the past year) and try to think of examples across that timeframe that support or are contrary to recent experience.
Leniency Bias: The leniency bias involves overemphasizing the positive and only giving positive ratings. This is partially driven by being afraid to give balanced feedback, or being worried about a person’s reaction. Sometimes, this involves rewarding effort over results.
Example. Judy is rating Lisa on a 360 evaluation. Lisa has been struggling in hitting her productivity numbers, but Judy knows that she has had a lot of turnover recently and that she has also had issues with sick kids at home. As such, Judy rates her higher than her actual results would have suggested.
How to overcome. Be aware of this tendency, and do not be afraid to use the entire rating scale. If you catch yourself giving too many high answers in the row, lean back and consider the nuances in behaviors that could help a person development. Also, remind yourself that feedback is not just to make a person feel good, but rather to help them develop.
Halo/Horns Bias: The halo bias involves giving universally positive feedback if a person is good at a subset of behaviors, while the horns bias involves giving universally negative feedback if a person is bad at a subset of behaviors.
Example. Merigold is extremely shy and struggles to communicate when she is on stage. She rarely speaks up in meetings as well, though she continuously exceeds her objectives and can think strategically. But, because the shyness looms so larger, her manager Martin gives her a lower score on all of the competencies since the shyness overcomes his evaluation of her. Conversely, Martin rates Cheryl high, as she is typically the first to share ideas and tends to take the lead, even though she is a bit lower than Merigold on some other metrics.
How to overcome. Do not rate people quickly, or you are more likley to succumb to this bias. Carefully read each question and recognize that no person is universally good or bad, but rather that everyone has nuances. Additionally, do not rate items that you do not have insight into.
Like Me Bias: The like me/similar to me bias is the tendency to rate people higher who have similarities to you. This could be similarities such as background or upbringing as well as common interests.
Example. Ted plays fantasy football with three of the people on his team, and he gets to know them through engaging in conversations about football. When he evaluates them, he feels more positively about them because of their common interest, and he tends to rate them higher.
How to overcome. Be aware of this bias and be objective. Identify specific events or behaviors that would justify your scores before giving a higher rating.
Primacy Bias: The primacy bias occurs when information learned early in a relationship holds more weight than information learned later. A good, or bad, early experience could impact ratings in the expected direction.
Example. The first time you met Jim, he was kind of rude and curt with you. A few days later, he offered to buy you lunch, but you wondered what he wanted from it.
How to overcome. Acknowledge what you first impression was like and give that person the benefit of the doubt (if it was negative). Pay attention to recent behaviors as well as that first impression.