Avoiding Central Tendency Bias

Dec 2, 2020

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If you're ever given a question on a scale of one to five, you're probably going to pick a three or a four - regardless of the subject.

This is central tendency bias.

People are afraid to give too strong of an opinion for better or for worse. This leads to common mediocre responses. Middle of the pack thinking makes it much more difficult to learn.

It's one thing for people to be neutral on surveys about your favorite streaming service. When it comes to rating your team though, this can be a problem.

We need more choice

Life doesn't happen on a 1-5 scale. How can we be expected to rate ourselves or others this way, especially when the outcome can be so important? Your role, responsibilities, and salary can very well depend on a handful of these questions.

People are complicated. We change over time. We learn, grow, and act differently. Rating people should be a more complicated task. It needs to take variability into account and look at longer time horizons.

At least give more than five options!

Strongly disagree, disagree, neutral, agree, and strongly agree are not enough.

Encourage honesty

Employees are afraid to rate themselves outside of the "expected" range. Similarly, they'll rate teammates towards the middle. This is unhelpful.

Managers rely on this information to help employees grow. If responses are always neutral in nature, it's difficult to provide feedback, both positive and negative.

Employees should encouraged to give theirĀ open and honest interpretations of performance. Ask for their thoughts many times throughout the year to capture their feelings in the moment. Don't try to sway them from feeling extreme levels of positivity or negativity. Use questions and answers that force more of a range of responses.

Collect this information over time and in the end you'll have the most accurate representation of their feelings. Not only that but you'll have more actionable information to work with.

Prevent bias to encourage growth

In the end, what we're really trying to do is help employees develop. They want to get better at managing. They want to improve their skills. They want to contribute to a positive corporate culture.

You can help them get there by taking a more mindful approach to collecting their thoughts. Use different question types, promote honesty, and do this in an ongoing fashion. In the end, you'll have a happier team.

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