Decision-Making Bias: What To Be Aware Of In An HR Environment

Decision bias has been demonstrated by experiments and observations in the fields of Psychology and Behavioural Economics, essentially these biases impact negatively on the standard of judgment.  Given that Human Resource practitioners make decisions every day, it’s important to note the biases that we as individuals in the field might exhibit or encounter in others.

Here is a list of some of the more common threats to decision making within an HR environment:

Confirmation bias

Confirmation bias is the tendency to seek confirmation on decisions we have made, this is achieved through taking notice of information which supports our original decision while discounting information which questions the validity of our decision.  I’ve been in discussions where this one has been fairly evident, managers ignoring poor performance review information, ignoring complaints from other managers or employees about a particular employee, ignoring the lack of output from the specific employee.  Why would they do this? The manager hired the person in the first place, none of us like to be wrong, and often we’ll hold on to that belief that we’re right for far too long – ignoring critical information in the process.

One way I’ve found to deal with this is listing the pros and cons of the individual employee with the manager, often I’d call in another manager whom I know the manager I’m working with respects and seek their feedback also on the employee.  In tandem with this approach, I’ll provide the manager a way out – a way to save face, so they can accept that for whatever reason they got the hiring or promotional decision wrong, and we can move onto making it right.

Curse of knowledge

Essentially when you know a lot about a topic (in relation to the specific audience you’re working with), you’ll find your ability to think about the topic from the perspective of someone who knows much less is severely dimensioned.  This is a tough one, and certainly, one that I struggle with myself. The key with this one is to observe body language and to really listen to your audience, and if possible find out as much about your audience as possible beforehand.  Often the knowledge that we have we take for granted, I recall sitting with managers and talking about predictive validity in selection procedures and mentioning structured employment interviews have a P-value of around 0.5, while verbal referees only have a P value of 0.2 at best.  Most managers I’ve worked with have a great deal of on the ground selection experience, few, however, have had the opportunity to delve into university-level statistics, or even understand the terms relating to selection methodologies such as a structured vs. unstructured interview. Countering the ‘curse of knowledge’ isn’t about talking down to people, it’s about stepping back and considering how best to deliver the message in a way that the audience will enjoy.  Also with topics that you are very familiar with, I’d suggest reading up again on the topic, remember what it was like to first encounter this topic area and reflect on what helped you understand it.

False-consensus effect

The false-consensus effect is the bias where we as individuals tend to overestimate the level of agreement that our suggestion or proposal will get from others.  I think we’ve all been tripped up with this one, walking into a team meeting with an amazing idea and given that this idea is so amazing we conclude immediately that others will agree with us – how could they not.  This effect or bias has sunk so sunk or delayed many a good idea, and its one we have to watch out for. One way of dealing with this one is to talk to people individually prior to the meeting or event where your idea or suggestion will be put forward, canvas the team for their thoughts as individuals.  Then you’ll be able to walk into the meeting with greater confidence about the level of agreement that you can expect, and also you’ve given a heads up to participants in the meeting that you’re going to put this idea forward for consideration.

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