Our brain usually creates a shortcut based on our prior understanding and experiences that enable us to make a quick judgment on a situation or a person. Unfortunately, the shortcut is very prone to inaccuracies and distortions. Among the distortions are stereotype, selective perception, and halo effect. This article will review these three distortions and their influence on our perception, attitude, and behavior.
In organizational settings, we always make an assessment or judgment about other people. Oftentimes, this assessment has to be done quickly or time bounded. For example, managers should assess their subordinates regularly, or an employer making a judgment about a job seeker that applied for a position that has to be filled quickly. In this process, our perception, attitude, and behavior will play a decisive role which will determine the quality of our judgment.
However, many of our perceptions of others are developed by images of first impressions and small hints that have little supporting evidence (Robbins and Judge, 2016). Stereotype, selective perception, and halo effect can distort our judgment and cripple our decision-making.
Stereotype, Selective Perception, and Halo Effect
Robbins and Judge (2016) define stereotyping as judging a person on the basis of the perception of the group to which the person belongs. This shortcut is a common way we use in making a quick judgment. Some stereotypes are positive, such as the stereotypes that engineers are good at math or Japanese people are more polite, and some stereotypes are negative, such as women are weak at math or Japanese are anime fanatics. Both kinds of stereotypes can be inaccurate and cause problems.
Stereotyping can be a helpful shortcut in making a quick assessment, but we have to be very thoughtful in using it. Ivancevich et al. (2013) stated that placing individuals in certain categories on a shorthand basis of such stereotypes can be productive if we acknowledge the dangers and limitations. People should be careful not to fall into prejudice in which they cling to the stereotype and refuses to change even after being presented with evidence that the stereotype is not accurate.
People should also be thoughtful to recognize the existence of the stereotype, but not take it as absolute truth. Roberson and Kulik (2007) suggest that one of the main principles of stereotypes is to acknowledge the existence of the stereotype and address them in a direct and respectful manner. Adler (2002) stated that stereotype acknowledgment is not the same as stereotype endorsement.
Managers should not rely only on stereotypes in making a judgment. Managers who only rely on stereotypes will not be able to capitalize on diversity management (Ivancevich et al., 2013). Stereotypes can create barriers for a group of people who usually receive negative stereotypes, such as women, older individuals, people of color, and people with disabilities, all while undermining loyalty and job satisfaction.
It is impossible to process all of the details that our senses receive at a single time. We can only process some of them that stand out for us. What we process and perceive is depend on our prior experience and background. In this case, we use selective perception.
Robbins and Judge (2016) stated that selective perception is a person’s tendency to selectively interpret a stimulus based on the person’s interest, background, experience, and attitude. For example, seeing one same plantation, a biologist may see the variety of plant species, while a mechanical engineer may notice the machinery brand that is being used in the plantation.
In an organization, selective perception may cause a distortion in our perception and behavior. When a manager (or an employee) is too focused on one problem or too busy with tasks, he or she will tend to perceive less information (Ivancevich et al., 2013). This condition will force the perceiver to use shortcuts, such as stereotyping, which can lead to a negative judgment or even a harmful situation.
Many researchers suggest that managers’ functional experience selectively channels their perception when they are solving complex problems (Beyer et al., 1997). A manager that has a background in finance is more likely to notice financial problems rather than other kinds of problems. While it may be useful in some situations, selective perception may distort the more important issues that need to be addressed quickly.
The halo effect happens when we conclude an impression about a person on the basis of a single characteristic, such as appearance, sociability, or intelligence (Robbins and Judge, 2016). For example, people tend to make a positive impression and reaction to a physically attractive person (Baker and Churchill, 1977). Although this information can be useful, such as in optimizing ads, it can lead to poor judgment in an organizational setting as it can lead to a harmful bias.
The halo effect may cause the evaluations of job applicants or subordinates’ performance to be biased leading to lower-quality decisions (Ivancevich et al., 2013). We can lose a good candidate for an important job only because we perceive a good-looking applicant as also a competent person for the job just because the applicant is physically attractive.
Another case of the halo effect is when we rate an employee positively across all performance indicators because the employee is so gregarious (Kinicki and Fugate, 2017). This bias may lead to lower quality of the performance evaluation. It can also create disappointment among employees, that those who really work hard are rated less than an employee who is likable. The disappointment may grow bigger and more harmful if this evaluation is followed by a reward for the highest-rated employee.
Conclusion on Stereotype, Selective Perception, and Halo Effect
Stereotype, Selective Perception, and Halo Effect are shortcuts that our brain used to take in simplify complex stimuli that our environment shows us continuously. Although these shortcuts can be helpful in making a quick assessment, they can lead to bias and distortion, which in many cases, it can be very dangerous. The best way to deal with these shortcuts is to acknowledge that these shortcuts exist and address them directly within ourselves first while keeping our minds open for other evidence that may prove that the shortcut took us the wrong way. We can also address it directly to the person we tried to assess in a respectful manner.
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