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The so-called "human elements" of prejudice and bias influence how information is perceived (or distorted) and how decisions are made (by deviating from the objective). These "human factors" frequently rob people of common sense and the ability to make decisions based on subjective assessments. The quality of judgment and decision-making can be greatly enhanced by being able to identify these "noises" when you analyze the situation and make decisions. Thesis: No one possesses perfect perception, despite everyone's greatest attempts to collect and interpret information effectively. Instead, a number of limitations restrict human ability to acquire, analyze, and make reliable decisions. The present paper is devoted to the discussion of the factors that limit and distort people’s perception and contribute to development of bias and prejudice. Secondly, the research investigates what can individuals and organizations do to overcome this?
Bias and prejudice in decision-making
Whatever the sphere is concerned, psychologists offer to divide the concepts of "bias" and "prejudice". Bias is an attitude formed in relation to a particular social or ethnic group. Its formation can be either conscious or unconscious. Prejudice is a more complex mental condition. It includes an evaluation component, which involves "reasoning" about the attitude to a particular social factor or information, the evaluation of their properties, unjustified condemnation (negative emotions) or unjustified admiration of the received information (positive character) (Ross, Greene & House, 1977).
Prejudice is expressed in a cautious, suspicious attitude, distrust, lack of friendliness, openness, and avoidance of establishing business contacts. T. Nelson believes that prejudice means not only negative emotions to some facts or events, but also a preference to one’s own information. In human behavior, prejudice can be noticeable through a large social distance between partners in communication, closed poses, dominance, avoidance of eye contact and touch. The source of prejudice, as a rule, is a stereotype, as a generalized idea of someone or something (Ross, Greene & House, 1977). A biased attitude is often directed to people different from the majority or to the information that the person refuses to perceive (Gray, Gray, Wegner, 2007).
In Latin, the terms "prejudice" and "bias" were denoted by one word, as there were no linguistic and semantic differences between them. Prejudice is manifested in a negative assessment of the personality, behavior, norms and values of another culture. A person with prejudices openly expresses his negative attitude towards people and surrounding, undeservingly condemns them. In his book The Nature of Prejudice, G. Allport defined prejudice as "antipathy (a sharply negative feeling) based on erroneous and rigid generalization. Prejudice can be felt and expressed. It can be directed against the group as a whole or against the individual, since he is a member of this group "( Waytz, Gray, Epley, Wegner, 2010). Prejudice is an intense negative feeling based on the generalization of the prejudice carrier relative to the group to which the person belongs - an object, or a target. Prejudice is an affective component of the intergroup setup. In addition, the presence of a negative prejudice is determined not so much by negative feelings as by the absence of positive ones. There are two degrees of prejudice: a) obvious forms of prejudice, manifested in strong negative emotions; B) hidden, veiled forms of prejudice, based on the absence of positive feelings towards other groups. Both forms of bias and prejudice prevent people from analyzing information correctly and making correct and wise decisions (Fiske, 2003).
Factors of bias and perception at the workplace
Unfortunately, bias is presented in each sphere of life, including the workplace. It affects relations within the team and the ability to employees to perceive information correctly and make correct judgments. There are several factors that influence perception and bias in the workplace. These factors can shape and sometimes distort the view of people. The first important factor is personal one. Each employee has his own set of personal characteristics, including personality, life experiences, values, faith, age, gender, culture, attitudes, motives, goals and expectations (Pronin, 2007). These features influence the way, in which he or she interprets the world and perceives information. In addition, people see those same personal characteristics in others and use them in order to form perceptions. The next factor, influencing perception of the world and information, is the context in which the observation occurs (Pronin, 2007). If to take all the three factors into consideration, it is easy to see how perceptions of the same differ in different people. In the workplace, the perceptions that people have about each other and about the information and tasks, can considerably affect the way in which an organization works (Pronin, 2007). Moreover, the type of organizational culture and organizational behavior within the company can have affect on perceptions and development of bias in the work team.
Among the major factors, contributing perception distorting, there are the secondary ones. They are also very important and should be considered while analyzing the reasons of bias in the workplace or within the organization.
Frequently used shortcuts in judging others means that people always perceive and interpret the actions of others as burdensome. As a result, people develop techniques that make the tasks more manageable (Bazerman, 2005).
Selective Perception. In the process of communication, people receive great amount of information, however, human mind cannot assimilate everything and elaborates only what is seen by eyes. This problem is widely spread at work, when the employer may require the employees to perform the tasks, which have been unnoticed (Ross, Lepper & Hubbard, 1975). Therefore, it is impossible to observe and perceive everything what is going on around, because of selective perception. Selective perception is often used by people to support their viewpoint and ignore and opinions of others, because people tend to ignore information that makes them feel uncomfortable or threatens their viewpoint. Therefore, this problem may lead to conflicts at the workplace, when people are unlikely to hear significant information. Selective perception allows people "speed-read" others, however, leads to the risk of drawing a mistaken picture (Waller, Huber & Glick, 1995).
Stereotype. This factor plays an important role in communication. Moreover, it is vital, when people perceive information and make judgments. Stereotypes are generalizations about a group of people or things. As usual people tend to judge and make decisions, based on stereotypes. It is often met in organizations, when employees from the team accept a newcomer and judge him on the basis of the stereotype, formed about him from the information known. As a result, people make wrong decisions and judgments, since stereotypes reduce information about others to a workable level, and they are efficient for compiling and using information. Stereo types can be precise, and when they are precise, they can be helpful perceptual guidelines (Snyder, Tanke & Berscheid, 1977). However, in most situations, stereotypes are inaccurate and lead to distorted perceptions. One of the brightest examples of stereotype is attractiveness. People tend to assume that attractive people are kind and sociable and have a range of positive attributes. When attractive newcomer appears in the company, he is more likely to be positively accepted by the colleagues rather than less attractive one. Moreover, in organizations, the most frequently used stereotypes are based on gender, age and nationality (Bazerman, 2005). From a perceptual point of view, if people expect to see these stereotypes, they will perceive them, although, they are always accurate.
Sources of perception distorting
Distorting of perception is a common mistake, made by all people, despite the age and type of profession. Although, people are always trying to make correct judgments, they are not saved against mistakes and distorted perception. There are major factors or sources of information distorting. The first factor or source is allowing early known information about someone or something to make judgments (John & Robins, 1994). When people made decisions of judgments, based on previously received facts, their perception of the situation becomes wrong. The second source is lack of information, sufficient to make the right decision. Simply speaking, lack of desire to know more and go deep into details, can lead to making wrong judgments. Thirdly, seeing what people expect or want to see without making proper investigation, is another source of perception distorting. Thus, when the fact is not double-checked and verified, judgments become distorted. Finally, allowing person’s own characteristics to affect what she or he sees in others and the way of making judgments, influences the way people perceive the world. In the workplace, this factor is one of the most frequently met reasons of conflicts. The reason is that people tend to perceive information and others based on their own characteristics. It is difficult for them to realize that someone in the team is different and accept these differences. If the features of the person do not coincide with the general characteristics, the perception of him will be distorted. As a result, it will be difficult to keep peace within the working team.
Ways to overcome distorted perception and bias
Unfortunately, such problems as distorted perception and bias in the process of making decisions and judgments are frequently met; therefore, they make communication between people more difficult. Correct and properly perceived information and facts are the pledge of successful and productive work of the organization, as employees are interested correct judgments of their workers. There are several important tactics to be considered in order to overcome the problem of distorted perception at work and among individuals.
The first important rule that people may use is to avoid overlooking external causes of other’s behavior. In other words, it is necessary to analyze the reasons of particular behavior of employees within the organization in order to make decisions and conclusions. Prior of analyzing the person and general situation, it is recommended ask oneself how you could have behaved in a particular situation. There is no need to make conclusions and decisions unless the situation is evaluated correctly. Good managers in organizations need to make such judgment properly so that they can decide what aspects are to be changed; working conditions or development of employees (Greenberg, 2005).
The second golden rule in the process of dealing with distorted perception is identification and confronting stereotypes. Although it is quite natural for people to rely on stereotypes, flawed perceptions are resulted from excessive use of stereotypes, which prevent people to see information as it is. For this reason, it is advisable to identify the stereotypes one holds. Doing so will help the person become more aware of them, taking a huge step toward minimizing their impact on behavior and judgment-making process (Greenberg, 2005).
It is important to be objective in the process of making judgments; therefore, one of the ways to overcome bias and distorted perception is evaluate people on the basis of objective factors. The more objective the information is use to judge others, the less distorted the judgments will be. Therefore, if managers want to evaluate employees correctly, objectivity is the best way to perceive people and their actions (Greenberg, 2005). It is necessary to remember that working in a team is a difficult task, so employees can behave differently in different conditions.
Finally, making rash judgments should be avoided, as it is natural for people to make quick decisions and judgments about the person. In order to evaluate the person and her actions, time is needed. Managers are people, who must take their time to evaluate the person and analyze information about her. Otherwise, it is hard to make objective and correct judgment of the employees and their work. This time may be taken to collect opinions of other employees about their coworker and make correct judgment.
Bias, prejudice and distorted perceptions are the companions of each person in life, since despite our ability to make right decisions and interpret information correctly; our stereotypes and personal attributes prevent us from making right judgments. There are quite many factors, contributing to it, with which people face in everyday life and at work in organizations. The most widely-spread reasons of distorted perceptions are stereotypes, selective perception and prejudice. Moreover, people tend to judge others and events subjectively, instead of making objective conclusions. It also affects the process of perception negatively.
In order to overcome these barriers in interpersonal communication and at work, there are several significant ways, which presuppose avoiding making rush judgments and subjective opinions. However, the most effective way to improve perception and avoid bias, is get rid of stereotypes. They make life of the person harder and prevent her from making correct decisions and judgments about people. These ways are very important for managers of organizations, whose primary task is to make proper and objective judgments about employees and evaluate their behavior, character, features and actions correctly. It will make the process of internal communication smoother and minimize distorted perceptions and bias.
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