Feedback – The Halo effect – part 4

In Part 1, I talked about me and how people need to want your feedback. In Part 2, I talked about the sandwich method and that feedback needs to focus on substance, not form. In Part 3, I introduced SMART feedback as that substance. Now, let’s talk about the halo effect.

The halo effect is a predisposition to think positively about something based on external reason, the ways something looks, who is recommending it, etc. For this post, I am going to lump several related effects into this term, just to make it easier to talk about. I will be combining the halo effect, the horn effect (the opposite of the halo effect) and the recency effect into the term “halo” effect to discuss how our preconceptions can affect feedback and how to avoid that.

The halo effect, in this context, gets its name from a tendency in periodic performance reviews of people working to make a favorable impression in the time frame just before the review. The hope is that giving you that favorable impression will color your interpretation of less recent events.

If you are giving periodic reviews, you should avoid this effect as much as possible. The solution is to give timely feedback whenever possible (as in part 3) and keep good notes on any incidents, positive and negative, that occur. Your periodic review should cover the whole period in question. Since you addressed each incident as it occurred, you are really just recapping. You can and should note if you see a pattern of genuine improvement or a pattern of engaging in the halo effect before each review. Similarly, there might be a horn effect going on, where some negative event happens just before the review. This too should not be allowed to color the review.

To an extent, it is human nature to try to engage in halo effect behaviors. People in general want to be liked. If I present myself as friendly, competent, and well meaning, you might give me the benefit of the doubt. People also naturally want to play up their good traits and play down their bad traits. Again, this isn’t deception; this is human nature.

The job of the reviewer is to look at the time period as a whole. Containing your emotional response does not mean losing empathy or compassion. They are also on the scale. But it does mean giving context to the each incident. The halo effect is less of an issue when incidences are addressed quickly as they happen. The review is indeed a review. No new things should be sprung in a review.

The halo effect also occurs in one time only events, like judging. There are two issues to be aware of. One is simply a coloration of the person/object/performance based on who it is. “Master So-and-So always has his stuff together. I am sure this one is very good.” This is the classic halo effect. Maybe he does, maybe he doesn’t. He has to prove it just like anyone else. The other issue is a tendency to evaluate the work in front of you compared to another work. For some competitions, this is what is expected and should be done. But for many, you are judging the object on its own merits, not compared to someone else’s entry or even other entries by the same person. Avoid such comparisons if at all possible. “The stitching wasn’t as good as this other one” Did it meet the criteria? If yes, then it gets scored appropriately.

While dealing with the halo effect feels like it should be cold and emotionless, it doesn’t have to be. The feedback should still be relatable and sincere. Knowing about the halo effect in all of its incarnations is a tool to help ensure your feedback actually is sincere; you are giving feedback about what is actually in front of you, not based on your preconceived notions of who made it or when the incident happened.

More in this series
Feedback and Leadership- Part 1
Feedback – The Sandwich Method – Part 2
Feedback – Being S.M.A.R.T – Part 3
Feedback- Getting the Most out of A&S – Part 5
Feedback – Miscellany & Conclusions – Part 6

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