Bias Eraser #6: Affect Heuristic Bias

Imagine this scenario. You’ve been preparing for weeks to interview for a sales role at your dream company. You’ve scoured the internet for advice on answering the questions they might ask. You’ve studied their leadership model and organizational values in-depth. And you’ve even tried out their product so you can describe how you would sell it. You have your call with the hiring sales manager, and he just doesn’t seem to be all that engaged in the conversation. You know you nailed the interview, but something felt off.

Two days later, your heart is broken when you receive a notice from the recruiter. They are going to pass. You ask for more feedback, but all you learn is that “you just weren’t a good fit compared to other sales candidates.” Now your dreams are shattered! What went wrong?

Could it be that your hopes have been quashed simply because the hiring manager was having a bad day? Did the company just miss out on hiring a person with a diverse background who could have sold the product to an entirely new client base? It is absolutely possible and as unfair as it seems, you would be one of many who have lost to an unconscious bias known as the Affect Heuristic.

What is the Affect Heuristic Bias?

A heuristic is a type of short-cut that our brains use to make decisions with minimal effort. They are about efficiency. While they help us make judgments or solve problems more easily, they do so at the cost of accuracy.

Affect refers to emotions, feelings, or mood. So the Affect Heuristic occurs when emotions and mood heavily influence mental shortcuts. Research shows that when people are in a better mood, they tend to be optimistic about decisions. But when they are in a negative state of mind, they focus more on risks and the perceived lack of benefits related to a decision.

How does the Affect Heuristic Impact Hiring? 

In the hiring process, the Affect Heuristic can lead people to make biased decisions about the candidate they are interviewing due to the emotions they are feeling during the interaction.

Examples of Affect Heuristic Bias

This might mean that a well-qualified sales candidate gets overlooked, because the interviewer is in a bad mood, focused on the risks of the potential hire and not their positive potential. Conversely, a poor candidate with zero sales potential gets a second look, because the interviewer misses the risk signs when they are having a good day.

The Affect Heuristic is much more than having a good or bad day. Any emotion can create biased decision-making, including perceptions of the candidate’s name, favorite sports team, or voice. Think about how many little things affect human emotion throughout the day and how widespread this bias might be. If a candidate shares your ex’s first name, then you might be unfairly finding faults, while a poster of your favorite football team in the Zoom call background might have you singing another candidate’s praises.

What Can We Do About the Affect Heuristic?

Organizations that are interested in Diversity and Equity should pay close attention to how this bias might unconsciously lead to substandard talent decisions. Today, companies are spending more energy, time, and effort to ensure a fair and equitable process, only to have their good intentions uprooted by someone’s bad day.

As Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google puts it, “a diverse mix of voices leads to a better discussion, decisions, and outcomes for everyone.” Shouldn’t your company have that competitive advantage, too?

How to Reduce Affect Heuristic Bias

Hiring a human is a very human process. We can’t avoid the reality that most interactions between people involve emotion. The way to erase bias is to create systems that ensure the human emotions you experience do not unduly impact decision-making. Two tried and true methods to reducing bias are:

  1. Screening resumes later. While the Affect Heuristic examples in this article focus on the interview, emotions affect all types of decision-making including resume screening. By putting the resume review a little later in the hiring process, we delay any emotionally-based bias from sneaking in too early.
  2. Deploying a structured interview process. Structured interviews are a method of providing all candidates with identical questions. In reference to the Affect Heuristic, they provide an objective mechanism for scoring candidate responses. Even if someone is having that bad day, a structured interview system improves fairness in evaluating each candidate on their potential instead of external factors irrelevant to future job performance.

How We Help Erase the Affect Heuristic Bias

Another strategy for erasing Affect Heuristic bias involves gaining insight into candidates to counterbalance our gut, intuition, and emotions. This approach uses a scientific assessment process early in the hiring process. A talent intelligence system like PerceptionPredict facilitates completely objective talent assessment.

Candidates advance because of their probability of success in the job and not because bad timing or something random about them triggered the wrong emotion.

Further, scientific assessments provide you with data to use alongside your own decision-making, presenting a learning opportunity about how your own bias may be clouding your judgment. It will help you know if a sales candidate really is great or whether something else is misleading you towards that conclusion.

Data Over Emotion

When a person seems unqualified, but the scientific data doesn’t agree, it gives us a chance to question assumptions and challenge conclusions. In this way, objective assessment data helps evaluate success without human bias and serves to build awareness of our own biased tendencies so that we can work towards erasing them.

Organizations that value diversity, equity, and inclusion have an opportunity to build best practices before employees ever join their companies. For more information about erasing bias from your hiring and recruitment processes, check out LinkedIn’s Diversity Recruiting Training, or try out this Podcast. I’m also here to help!

We know you’re as passionate as we are about making the business world a better place by elevating superior talent and superior organizations. Book a demo to learn more about Perception Predict, and let us give you a hand in reaching the individuals who will boost your business.

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