Overcoming Projection Bias In The Workplace

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Overcoming Projection Bias In The Workplace

Projecting our thoughts, beliefs, feelings, or traits onto others can greatly influence how we perceive people and situations. Unfortunately, this tendency often leads us to form incorrect or misguided understandings of those we interact with and the circumstances we encounter. Notably, this bias can impact not only our personal lives but also our professional environments. Overcoming projection bias in the workplace will help you ensure more accurate perceptions of the people you work with and situations you encounter.

In the workplace, this bias manifests in various ways, generating different consequences for employee relationships, decision-making processes, motivation, and the work environment.

What is projection bias

The projection bias is a cognitive bias that is produced by the assumption that other people are like us. It is the tendency to attribute our own thoughts, feelings, or traits to others.

Projection bias is different from projection understood as a strategy to plan our future or to understand other people’s perspectives. It is unconscious and can be understood as a defence mechanism that protects us from unpleasant or unwanted information about ourselves or others.

What Forms Projection Bias Can Take At Work

Projection Can Be Positive And Negative

Examples of positive projections

Assuming that work colleagues are as honest and trustworthy as one perceives oneself to be.

For example, this can make a person to share sensitive information without thinking that these will be exposed. This person assumes that their work colleagues will handle sensitive information with the same level of confidentiality and integrity as they would. Consequently, they do not take precautions or consider potential risks.

Projecting one’s own motivation and dedication onto others, assuming they share the same work ethic.

Someone delegates an important task or responsibility to a colleague, assuming that they will complete it diligently and with the same level of dedication and reliability as the person themselves. This assumption may lead to neglecting proper follow-up or oversight, potentially resulting in subpar performance or incomplete deliverables.

Assuming that others are as talented and capable in a specific skill or area of expertise as oneself.

Someone who beliefs this may, for example, delegate complex or specialized tasks without considering whether their colleagues have the necessary knowledge or experience to handle them effectively. This assumption can lead to inefficiencies, errors, or delays if the assigned individuals lack the required expertise.

Another possible consequence of this assumption is underestimating training or guidance needs. They assume that colleagues can quickly grasp concepts or execute tasks without sufficient support or instruction. 

Furthermore, if individuals assume that others possess the same level of skill and expertise as themselves, they may be less inclined to collaborate or share knowledge in their area of expertise. They might underestimate the value of collaborative problem-solving or knowledge exchange, missing out on opportunities for innovation and growth. This can create silos within the organization and limit overall progress and success.

Examples of negative projections

Believing that others are as dishonest or untrustworthy as one perceives oneself to be.

When individuals believe that others in the workplace are as dishonest as they perceive themselves to be, they may refrain from collaborating or sharing information. They may be reluctant to contribute ideas, provide feedback, or engage in teamwork, assuming that their colleagues will exploit their contributions or use the information against them.

Or, they may justify their negative behaviours, such as constantly being late or using work time for personal matters, with thoughts like “Others are also late” or “Others frequently use working time for personal matters”.

Assuming that others lack competence or skills in a particular area, based on one’s own shortcomings or limited perspective.

As a result, they dismiss alternative viewpoints or ideas without giving them proper consideration. This assumption can lead to a narrow-minded approach, overlooking valuable insights and hindering innovative problem-solving.

This assumption can also lead to a reluctance to seek help or collaborate with colleagues who might possess the expertise they lack. This attitude can hinder personal and professional growth and limit the collective capabilities of a team or organization.

Projection Biases Related To Leadership

Projection bias can significantly impact a leader’s ability to adapt their leadership style to the unique traits and needs of their employees. For instance, an employer who favors a directive leadership style may project their own approach onto all employees, disregarding the varying levels of experience and capabilities within the team.

The employer assumes that this approach will work with all his/her employees, that all employees require the same level of direction and control, that employees are not capable of making decisions or contributing meaningfully to the decision-making process. 

An effective leader understands the importance of flexibility and tailoring their leadership approach to each individual, considering factors such as experience, skills, competencies, and the nature of the tasks assigned. By failing to recognize and adapt to these differences, leaders limit the potential contributions of their employees and hinder their growth. Learn more about leadership styles in one of my previous blog post HERE

It can also lead to demotivation among employees who are eager to contribute more but are not given the opportunity. Moreover, the leader may miss out on valuable ideas and perspectives from their team members, stifling innovation and creative problem-solving. By persistently employing a directive leadership style when it is not necessary, the leader inadvertently stunts the professional development and potential growth of their employees, ultimately impeding their ability to bring enhanced value to the business.

Projection Biases Related To Decision Process

Let’s talk about some specific examples.

So, for instance an extroverted person who prefers direct communication and is expansive may perceive their more introverted co-workers, who tend to be more indirect and restrained in their communication, as lacking confidence or being indecisive.

If this person happens to be the employer or the leader, they might undervalue the contributions of the introverted employee and overlook their unique strengths and abilities. This bias based on projection can hinder the employee’s growth and limit their opportunities for leadership roles within the organization.

The assumptions that stay underneath this projections are:

  • The extrovert style is ideal or is better than the introverted co-workers’ style.
  • The extroverted person assumes that their own direct and expansive communication style reflects confidence and decisiveness. Conversely, they assume that the introverted co-workers’ indirect and restrained communication style indicates a lack of confidence or indecisiveness.
  • The extroverted person may assume that their own communication style and approach hold more value or are more effective, leading them to undervalue the contributions of the introverted co-workers.
  • The extroverted person may assume that their preferred communication style is a prerequisite for effective leadership roles within the organization, overlooking the potential leadership capabilities of introverted employees.

Another example, in the context of the hiring process, projection bias occurs when the person responsible for selecting candidates and making hiring decisions projects their own traits onto the applicants. They assume that if the candidates possess similar qualities to themselves, they will behave or achieve similar results. 

Embracing a broader perspective and considering the specific requirements of the organization can lead to a more inclusive and effective hiring process.

Projection Biases Related To Feedback

A manager who excels in technical skills may project their bias onto employees, giving more positive feedback to those who possess similar technical abilities. This bias can overlook other valuable skills and contributions, such as interpersonal skills or creativity.

A manager who tends to make quick decisions may project this bias onto employees, giving feedback that discourages thorough analysis or careful consideration. This bias can stifle critical thinking and discourage employees from taking the time to make informed decisions.

A colleague who prefers written communication may project this bias onto others, giving feedback that undervalues the contributions of those who prefer face-to-face or verbal exchanges. This bias can hinder effective collaboration and overlook the benefits of diverse communication styles.

A team member who values quantity over quality may project this bias onto colleagues, giving feedback that emphasizes high output without considering the importance of attention to detail or quality standards. This bias can lead to a culture that values quantity at the expense of overall excellence.

Other Types Of Projection Biases In The Workplace

Overestimating how much work colleagues or clients will like your ideas or proposals, without considering their needs or feedback.

Assuming that co-workers or employees will prioritize the same tasks or goals as we do, without clarifying their expectations or motivations.

Dismissing alternative solutions or opinions from others, because they do not align with our own logic or experience.

How We Can Overcome Projection Bias In The Workplace

Let’s look at some strategies that can help anyone to recognized and eliminate projection biases.

Being aware of projection biases and its effects

Preventing projection biases begins with being aware of their existence and understanding their potential impact. This allows us to recognize the tendency to attribute our own thoughts, feelings, and characteristics onto others. 

We can learn more about this type of cognitive bias through books, training materials and similar resources. The more we know about it, the more prepared we’ll be to identify and eliminate it. 

Seeking feedback from others who have different perspectives or experiences

Preventing projection biases can be facilitated by actively seeking feedback from people who possess diverse perspectives or experiences. By inviting input from others with different backgrounds, roles, or expertise, we can gain valuable insights that challenge our preconceived notions and mitigate the influence of projection biases.

This process encourages open dialogue, promotes a broader understanding of diverse viewpoints, and support an environment where multiple perspectives are valued. By intentionally seeking feedback from a diverse range of people, we can broaden our own understanding, enhance decision-making processes, and develop a more inclusive and equitable workplace culture.

Showing empathy

Preventing projection biases can be facilitated by cultivating empathy towards others.

By actively practicing empathy, actively listening, and placing ourselves in the shoes of others, we can develop a deeper understanding and appreciation for other people’s perspectives, experiences, and emotions.

Evaluating our decisions and using self-reflection

Preventing projection biases can be achieved by regularly evaluating our decisions and engaging in self-reflection.

By consciously examining our thoughts, and assumptions, we can become more aware of the potential for projection in our thinking and decision-making processes. Taking the time for self-reflection allows us to critically assess our own perspectives, challenge ingrained biases, and consider alternative viewpoints.

How Projection Bias Can Be Used By Others

Have you ever encountered an employee who always says ‘yes’ to everything their boss says? This type of employee strives to be well-liked by their boss and agrees with nearly everything that is mentioned. They are using this bias to gain favour and take advantage of it. In reality, they may actually disagree with their boss’s decisions or way of thinking, but choose not to express it.

This behaviour can be extended to interactions with co-workers as well. This person may agree with two opposite perspectives or decisions belonging to two colleagues, creating the impression that he supports both.

If you wish to expose this person’s false behaviour, you can ask him/her to provide arguments for why he agrees with your perspective or decision. Alternatively, you can express an idea that you know is incorrect and observe if he supports it.

Furthermore, you can encourage your employees to express diverse ideas and to explain their perspectives. This will demonstrate that you value quality, contribution, and promote open and transparent communication.

Key Points:

1. What is projection bias
2. What forms projection bias can take at work
3. How we can overcome projection biases
4. How projection bias can be used by others in our disadvantage

Let me know what are your thoughts about this blog post. If you have questions I’ll be happy to answer them at: daniela.tancau@improvework.ro

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