When it comes to giving feedback, we strive to be “unbiased.” But there’s no such thing. As objective as we try to be, we are all biased. We need to be able to recognize these biases and understand the potential impact it can cause if left unchecked.
There are many kinds of unconscious biases in the workplace. Some of the most commonplace biases that creep into the workplace include:
- Recency bias: Tendency to place more weight on new information or events.
- Confirmation bias: Making a judgment about another person and then subconsciously looking for evidence to back up our own opinions of that person.
- Halo effect: Acknowledging a good thing about a person and letting the glow from that “halo” form our opinion of everything else about that person.
- Negativity bias – Tendency to prioritize negative events over positive ones
- Spillover bias – Tendency to place more weight on past performance, failing to take into account recent improvements (or failures)
- Central tendency bias – Tendency of an individual to rate most items on a survey in the middle of a rating scale
Tackling these biases can be challenging because most people are unaware of these biases. And when these biases creep into feedback conversations, there can be detrimental effects to employee motivation and engagement. Luckily with some bias prompts, managers can identify their blindspots and scrutinize their words to ensure fair and accurate performance conversations.
Feedback bias prompts
Is this feedback direct? Is this feedback actionable?
A study by Harvard Business Review found that women tend to receive feedback that is less actionable and less effective than the feedback that is given to men. If women are getting less actionable feedback than their male counterparts, they are less likely to advance to more senior positions. Managers need to be aware of the kind of feedback they are giving to their employees. (For some examples of effective feedback, check out our blog on employee feedback examples).
Is this feedback constructive (behavior-based, effort-based, and forward-looking)?
Constructive feedback is behavior-based, not trait-based. Feedback needs to focus on actions/behaviors, because it allows the receiver to understand what to do or what not to do next time. On the other hand, trait-based feedback is not effective – the receiver can’t do much to change his/her traits.
HR leaders need to ensure that managers are trained on how to give constructive feedback -that is feedback that is behavior based, effort based, and forward looking.
Am I letting past feedback/performance influence my present feedback?
This feedback prompt can help reduce halo effect, spillover bias, and recency bias in feedback conversations. If employees are able to document their feedback (whether it be pen-and-paper or performance management solution), these biases can be mitigated as employees have access to their previous feedback.
Is the feedback written in a neutral language?
Neutral language does not mean that the feedback cannot be negative. It simply means that the grammar does not favor anyone. This also includes the avoidance of positive and negative connotations. We list some examples below:
Does the feedback reflect all of the relevant information available? Do I need further context/information?
Context is important. Understanding the situation and having all the facts is needed before feedback is to be given. Otherwise, the feedback holds little weight. Moreover, it can lead to the erosion of trust in manager-employee relationships which can then impact on employee engagement, motivation, and productivity.
This prompt allows managers to evaluate whether they have all the appropriate information. If not, requesting 360 feedback from peers or asking sufficient questions to better understand the context would be the next step.
Would I give this exact feedback to someone else? Or would I word it differently? Why?
If feedback has to be re-worded depending on the recipient, it is worth investigating. Often times, managers may feel like some employees cannot handle negative feedback. This is a normal fear. We need to remember that giving and receiving feedback is challenging! These are skills that need to be practiced.
We recommend that your company establish a common language around feedback. It is also important to establish a framework for communication. For example, feedback training workshops can help everyone get on the same page when it comes to feedback. It also helps activate the culture of feedback in your workplace.
“It’s important to create an environment that is psychologically safe for colleagues to feel comfortable to share thoughts. It’s important to provide enough tools and frameworks and a common language for effective communication and feedback.” – McKendree Hickory, WWP Podcast #73
Feedback is a significant yet often-overlooked driver of professional growth. Managers have to provide equitable feedback in order to expect equitable outcomes. We hope you find these bias prompts helpful! Let us know if we missed any.