Contrast Bias

What Is The Contrast Bias? How Can Managers Defeat It?

Decision-making is one of the critical skills of a manager. Nonetheless, many problems evade the manager away from objectivity. Biases are one such trouble. They drive the manager away from making the right decision and push them towards an intuitive choice. As a result, the quality of these decisions is impaired – they become more irrational and emotional.

In today’s blog post, we will understand the contrast bias. The contrast bias is typically found when managers perform performance reviews of multiple employees. We will explore the meaning and impact of the contrast bias to identify potential roadmaps for managers to overcome it. So, let’s begin.

What is the contrast bias?

Contrast bias is the tendency to compare candidates against each other. It can make people make mistaken judgments because they are likelier to notice and remember things unique to them. For example, a person who is conducting performance reviews for their team might give lower ratings to everyone because they are focused on the previous candidate, and hence use them as a measurement guide.

This type of thinking can also cause you to judge others harshly based on superficial characteristics, even if you have never met them before. It’s essential to avoid making judgments and be aware when others are doing so and avoid reinforcing those thoughts or opinions.

The contrast bias tends to overweight information that pivots around one candidate. It’s a common psychological phenomenon that can lead to bad decision-making. It happens because it makes decision-making extremely easy by ignoring the grey zone and reducing the choice to a simple matter of black or white.

For managers, overcoming the contrast bias is critical in making sound decisions that benefit their organization. To do this, they must be open-minded and consider all information before deciding. Having a clear goal also helps, as decisions are based on the correct data instead of personal preferences or biases. By defeating the contrast bias, managers can make better decisions that benefit their organization.

The impact of contrast bias on managers

When comparing a candidate or employee to another employee, the contrast effect is a type of bias that can result in some difficulties when it comes to the hiring process because specific candidates can appear to be better or worse than others solely based on who applied for the job at the same time. When recruiters or hiring managers look through several resumes for the same position, contrast bias is frequently used as a filter instead of taking the time.

A manager compares an employee’s performance to other employees rather than the company performance standard. It is known as contrast bias. Instead of being assessed, the contrast effect is an unconscious bias that occurs when two things are judged in comparison to one another. Because we don’t measure accurately, this bias can make you make biased decisions when you meet someone for the first time, for example, during an employment interview.

Why should you escape the contrast bias?

The contrast bias is a cognitive distortion that causes people to overweight the importance of certain factors observed in a pivotal candidate. As a result of this bias, managers compare the performance of candidates against each – by drawing a contrast – instead of giving an objective assessment of the employee solely. It hurts the quality as the performance review no longer assesses the employee’s qualities independently. Instead, it is only rating them against each other. By doing so, the purpose of a performance review is lost.

The impact of contrast bias is visible during the hiring process as well. In this, a candidate may be rated in comparison to the others. This can work in two ways. The first positive contrast effect happens when a candidate is ranked higher than the others because they are better than the previous one. On the other hand, a negative contrast effect occurs when candidates are rated worse because the other candidates were better. In both these scenarios, relative judgment is drawn from a set of candidates instead of an unbiased review.

Want to make your interviews better? Learn these 5 essential interviewer skills for managers!

Ways to overcome the contrast bias

Recognize and understand the bias

When you compare two similar biases, the Contrast Effect occurs. Overcoming unconscious bias in the workplace begins by naming these biases. There is no single way to overcome the contrast bias. However, trainers and managers can help by understanding how this distortion works and how it can impact judgments. Additionally, they should emphasize the importance of giving objective performance reviews that are not biased compared to others. Moreover, they should also educate their team members about the existence and impact of biases.

Set clear expectations and measure against them

To help managers and employees overcome the contrast bias, it is essential to set clear expectations for performance reviews. Managers should describe what they are looking for in an employee’s performance review instead of saying, “good job.” Furthermore, if specific goals need to be met during the review period, these should also be clearly outlined. Finally, reviewers must measure their work against those expectations to avoid biases creeping into their ratings.

You can also check out more effective tips on performance reviews for managers.

Use standardized interviews

Standardized interviews can also help managers overcome the contrast bias during hiring processes. They provide a common framework for reviewing employees and help reduce rating variability. Additionally, standardized interviews can be used to compare performance across groups of employees or teams. This is because it allows for a more holistic review of an employee’s performance.

Use technology to infuse objectivity

Technology can also help managers overcome contrast bias. For example, managers can use performance reviews and skill tests that are automatically generated. This way, there is less room for subjective ratings and preferences to creep in. Furthermore, managers can schedule performance reviews at specific times so they are consistent with other commitments that can affect their decisions. Finally, you can use technology to track employee progress over time and provide feedback on areas where improvement is needed.

Managers can use tools like the AI-based coaching platform Risely to track their efficiency and set learning and development goals.

More about biases

Several biases can affect employee performance reviews. One bias is the contrast bias, which occurs when reviewers rate employees differently based on how different they perceive them to be from themselves. Besides that, many other biases pave the way to our daily decisions, and we rarely realize that. You can read more about the top ten biases that affect managers here.

However, not all is bad about depending upon your mind to make quick decisions. Mental models – based on a mix of information and intuition – are an excellent tool for managers to speed up decision-making and add efficiency to the process. That sounds interesting. Find out more about mental models here.


Managers must be aware of contrast bias and its effects to avoid biases creeping into their ratings. They can overcome this bias and provide more objective feedback to employees with a bit of effort.

The contrast bias is a bias that leads us to make negative judgments in comparison to situations that are contrastable. This bias can be destructive, leading to negative decision-making and a lack of appreciation for positive outcomes. To overcome the contrast bias, managers must be aware of its influence and implement strategies to counteract its destructive effects. Check out our blog for more information on defeating the contrast bias and making better decisions!

Are you letting bias get better of you? Find out now with Risely.

Take the free decision-making self-assessment for managers to find blind spots that cause inefficiency.

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