If you’re a manager, you’re probably responsible for providing your employees with feedback. Often this is done during an annual performance review. It’s a part of your job – but that doesn’t mean that it’s easy.
In fact, providing feedback can be downright scary. It’s really hard to give people feedback when you have negative things to say. You know that the people receiving the feedback might feel unhappy or upset, and they might react badly.
So you probably go out of your way to be fair and accurate. You want to make sure that your feedback is based on facts rather than emotions. But even though you’re trying to be fair, authors Patrick Malone and Zina Sutch believe that certain biases may be influencing you without you even realizing it. They claim that there are four ingrained biases that can make feedback inaccurate:
- Central tendency bias – When asked to rate things, people naturally tend to place most of the items in the middle of the rating scale. (I can see this in action on my Netflix account. For whatever reason, I rate almost all movies as a “3 out of 5.”) This common bias can cause managers to rate most of their employees as average. As a result, low-performing employees don’t get the feedback they need, and high-performing employees are understandably upset.
- Contrast effect – This bias can occur when a manager evaluates a really stellar employee, and then evaluates an average employee right after that. The manager unconsciously compares the stellar employee with the average one, and rates the average employee more negatively than he or she should.
- Confirmation bias – Imagine that you have an employee who underperformed for months and then suddenly improved. Currently, this employee is doing great work. How do you rate this individual? Confirmation bias might lead you to ignore the employee’s recent good work and focus on his or her poor performance. We have a tendency to draw conclusions about people, and then look for evidence that confirms those conclusions. We feel uncomfortable about changing our perceptions, so we tend to ignore new information that might challenge it.
- Overconfidence bias – If you are just as much an expert in a certain field as your employees, your confidence in your own knowledge and abilities might cause you to rate employees (who may use slightly different techniques or processes) too harshly. Even if the employees do good work, the fact that they’re doing it differently than you may make you view them negatively.
These are all common biases, and we all experience them to some extent. But the good news is that it’s fairly easy to overcome them! Simply being aware of these common biases can help you to avoid them.
Malone, P.S., & Sutch, Z. B. (2019). The fear of feedback. Talent Development, 73(2), 30-35.