Managing performance attribution bias

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Last updated October 18, 2022

what is performance attribution bias?

bias are usually unconscious
When it comes to decision making, performance attribution bias causes some people to be perceived as “naturally talented”; whereas, others are presumed to have received help or “gotten lucky.”
People on the receiving end of these biases (most often women and people from underrepresented groups) are less likely to receive credit for their ideas, are interrupted more often during team interactions, and have less influence on teams.
Performance attribution bias can also occur in the context of government initiatives like affirmative action in the US or positive action in the UK.
People affected by this bias have a harder time being perceived as professionals who will consistently demonstrate success and high performance.
We can also apply this implicit bias against ourselves, which leads to us having:
  • Less confidence or less willingness to “sit at the table,” volunteer for stretch assignments, or apply for promotions
  • A feeling of “impostor syndrome”—a collection of internal feelings of inadequacy that persist despite evident success and competence
When people apply performance attribution biases unconsciously toward others, it leads to:
  • People not getting the same credit for accomplishments
  • Having ideas “stolen”
  • Reduced influence in groups (interrupted/talked over)
  • More blame for failures
  • Mistakes being remembered longer
When a man and a woman work together on a task, studies find that women are given less credit for a successful outcome, viewed as having made smaller contributions to it, and blamed more for failure.

reducing bias in a team

Don’t make assumptions about your team members’ willingness to take on new or additional responsibilities and projects before you’ve spoken to them.
  • Sent out the agenda beforehand so people could contribute
  • Gave others a chance to speak
  • Rotated the housework of note-taking
Set ground rules and norms for meeting dynamics:
  • Rotate the housework of taking meeting notes
  • No interruptions—in fact, interrupt the interrupters
  • Ensure everyone has the opportunity to answer questions, speak up, and contribute new ideas

8 Ways to Speak Up

Paraphrase or repeat back what they said:
By restating what the other person said, you make sure you understand what they said and it gives the other person the opportunity to reflect on what they said. Tone of voice is important. You’re not trying to ridicule, just trying to understand and clarify.
So, you’re saying that all people on welfare are just lazy and looking for a free ride?
Ask for more information:
This strategy is a great way to help you understand why they said what they said. And again, it gives the person another chance to reflect on what they said. After saying it again, they might realize their statement doesn't make sense or is unfounded. Being genuine is important. Shaming or using sarcasm can backfire.
I’m wondering what led you to believe this about..........................?
Play dumb:
Another way to get them to reflect on what they said—especially good for responding to jokes. You can ask them why race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, nationality, disability, etc. is relevant to the story, or ask them to explain the meaning of a specific slur or derogatory term.
Why does their race, gender, sexual orientation, etc. matter? Did I miss something? What do you mean by ...............?
Challenge the stereotype:
Offer another side of the story by challenging the assumption or stereotype. Use your personal experiences and knowledge to show how the stereotype presented isn't valid.
That’s interesting. In high school, I knew several African-Americans who weren’t into sports at all. We geeked out in Science Club on our Odyssey of the
Highlight commonalities:
Comments based on bias and prejudice create an “us vs. them” situation. Highlighting the ways in which the person making the comment is the same as the subject of the comment can help dial down the “otherness.”
Yes, Jameel is Muslim, but did you know he’s also a huge gamer? You like to play xbox games too, right?
Express your feelings:
Tell the person how you feel and why. Then offer a more appropriate alternative.
When I heard you say “That’s so gay,” I was angry because it’s insulting and hurtful to gay people. I know you didn’t mean it that way. Using “ridiculous,” “irrational,” “asinine,” “absurd,”etc. might be a better way to make your point.
Share your own process:
Without sounding self-righteous, talk about how you used to think the same but you've changed. Explain what made you change your views.
I used to use the term ‘Retarded’ for things or situations I thought were stupid. But then I realized that using the term can be really hurtful towards people with mental disabilities. Now I say ‘ridiculous.’
Say Ouch:
Sometimes when the comment is directed at you personally you want to respond immediately but can't think of a good response. Saying "ouch!" can stop the person making the comment and lets them know that what they said was hurtful. It's a safe, simple strategy that can work well in casual, peer-to-peer situations.