Factors Contributing To Bias In Information Gathering And Interpretation

Information Gathering Process

The process of gathering information has seen a remarkable change from the past to the modern time. With the advancement of technology, information gathering has become very smooth, less time consuming and requires minimum effort (Murphy 2016). Despite all this, individuals and organizations are unable to state accurately whether the information gathered is authentic or not.

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The way that information is interpreted has also been a matter of concern and query for many. These flaws in the gathering and interpreting of information further result in imperfect perception. Several factors contribute to the ability to gather and interpret information. The consequent outcome is that the individuals and organizations are unable to make correct judgment and contribute to bias.

The aim of the essay is to identify and discuss the factors that contribute to bias by limiting and distorting perception. The essay will first highlight the process of gathering information, interpreting it and then evaluating its influence in shaping perception. Then, the essay will discuss the factors responsible for the distortions, which will be followed by the steps that individuals and organizations need to take.

Discussion

Many methods and procedures are present in the contemporary world with which information on different things is gathered. Information gathering is specifically an important part of business organizations that use the collected information to stay ahead in the competition. Apart from business organizations, other specific organizations that include scientific, educational and military organizations also utilize advanced skills for gathering information but require hard-core training of the personnel appointed for the task.

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Information is a vital component for any business or other organization because it ensures several positives for the specific organizations. At first, information broadens the scope of knowledge; secondly, it develops skills; third, it reduces uneasiness caused by the indefinite and fourth, it solves problems. Gathering information includes a thorough systematic process that includes analysis of the problem, identification of the sections of gathering information and so on. Information is gathered using different tools and following different methods.

The tools used include data storage devices, data analytics and several others (Hollinger and Sukhatme 2014). The methods include filtering of the information gathered and selecting the appropriate information. The final stage is reviewing and recording the chosen information. The reviewing and recording is done through the tools mentioned above.

The information gathering process happens very quickly and sometimes without much thoughts. However, interpretation of the information gathered is a more complex process and much deliberation is given to it. Interpretation is done by assigning meanings to the experiences using mental frameworks called ‘schemata’ (Dhillon, Syed and Pedron 2016). Schemata are similar to the data storage devices where information is stored and used for interpretation of the new experiences. Individuals possess an overall schema about organizations, the workplaces, and the ways to interpret experiences with seniors and colleagues.

Interpretation of Information

They form this schema even before entering their job life based on the things that people already working, their peers, the university textbooks and the media told them about business organizations. To cite an instance, individuals learned that various symbols and objects such as computing systems, files, financial books and such are linked to being an employee (Baekgaard and Serritzlew 2016). Therefore, it is apparently understood that interpretation of information is much more complicated than gathering of information.

In the contemporary world, information systems are mostly computer-based and thus interpretation becomes even more difficult (Seidel, Recker and Vom Brocke 2013). Many scholars have proposed various theories and models with which information could be properly interpreted. Cognitive approaches are however, the most utilized models of interpreting information (Meissner and Wulf 2013).

Perception is distorted when the information gathered is interpreted in a wrong way. Interpretation thus, is the most important factor that influences perception (Chambers, Swan and Heesacker 2014). Several factors limit and distort perception other than wrong interpretation of information. These factors can be categorized as internal and external factors.

Internal factors are those that reside in an individual’s concern and may include his or her needs and desires, experiences and personality. The needs and desires of an individual influence the way he or she perceives information at a specific time. Variations in perception occur depending on the shifts in his or her desires and needs over time. Perception is also influenced by the kind of personality one has (Greenwood et al. 2015). An example of this could be that an individual who feels secure mostly tends to perceive others as caring and her or himself as accepted, liked and wanted by others. Experience is a vital factor that influences perception in a great way.

Individuals, who have experienced positive things in life, perceive all information as positive. On the other hand, individuals who had bad or negative experiences in the past, tend to perceive all information as negative (Montibeller and Von Winterfeldt 2015). Experiences, which are successful also, result in accurate gathering of information.  

Factors like size, frequency, intensity and status amongst others come under external factors that influence or distort perception. Size is a factor that is difficult to overcome while perceiving anything because the more bigly the size, the more it is perceivable. While going through the newspaper, readers’ attention is attracted towards a full-page advertisement rather than a few lines of classified ads. This shows that size does influence perception as it establishes dominance. Intensity on the other hand, has some similarities with size but it also involves the range of dominance. To give an example, an agitation against any specific organization will be noticed more if large groups of employees are protesting.

Factors Limiting and Distorting Perception

It would go unnoticed if only a single employee protests and no other person is supporting the agitation; it would not have that intensity. Another factor that limits or distorts perception is repetition. When a stimulus is repeated, it is bound to attract attention than the one that is done only once. However, the repeated information is not always mandatory to be the best information and this causes distortions in perception. Status is also an important factor that has the capability to distort or limit perception. The higher status holders of society have the capability to influence the perception of the low status individuals hence resulting in a biased perception. Other factors such as expectations, beliefs, situations and cultural upbringing amongst others also influence, distort and limit perception.

These distortions heavily contribute to bias as has been explained in the above section. These distorted perceptions contribute to different types of biases including personal bias, cognitive bias, racial bias, gender bias, media bias and many such biases. Some American might have a perception that all Russians are their enemies and hence they would perceive them as threats although the truth is different. This leads to cognitive bias (Arons et al. 2013). Similarly, people perceive the Muslim community as terrorist community since all terrorists are Muslims and hence are considered dangerous. This is an example of racial bias (Hall et al. 2015).

Within organizations, biases due to such perception are common and it has been a matter of concern for the managers. When people are stereotyped due to distorted perceptions, they find it difficult to work in the organization and fail to give their hundred percent, which ultimately leads to poor organizational performance. It is thus imperative to state that the above-mentioned factors must be addressed properly to limit the biases.

In order to overcome these biases resulting from distorted perceptions, individuals and organizations must systematically follow various steps.

The first step is to avoid depending on schemas that cannot be changed or that are rigid. Schemas or schemata compel individuals to involve in mindless communication that causes the individuals to overlook any new information. Overlooking new information leads to unconscious bias because then individuals will not be able to accept a new change within the organization (Forbes.com 2018).  It is thus important to stay mindful about new information that might be contradictory to the established perception. However, it is difficult to be mindful as most individuals often unconsciously depend on their schemata. It is important to keep the schemata flexible, as it would prevent individuals from mindless communication.

Types of Biases Created by Distorted Perception

The next step is to be critical of the things that are said by families, friends, peers and the media because at times these socializing forces often negatively influence perception. The negative influence happens especially when individuals are compelled to think emotionally and develop negative patterns about their own self (?migasiewicz, Hasan and Verleger 2017). The media is also a prime contributor of distorted perceptions because it largely presents narrow and sometimes unrealistic information gathered from unauthentic sources. It is important for individuals to demarcate between which information is genuine and which is not.

Within organizations, distorted perceptions about certain employees who come from a different cultural background, often leads to racial bias and cultural bias. The next step therefore is to restrain from the self-fulfilling beliefs. These beliefs are often based on false grounds and trigger behaviors that transform these false beliefs into reality. An example of this could be given where an English-speaking employee is made to work under a non-English speaking manager or team leader. The employee establishes the belief that since the manager or team leader could not speak fluent English; he would not be able to lead the team effectively. This belief prompts the employee to behave disrespectfully with the manager and ultimately leads to chaos within the team (Bennett and Dielmann 2017). Therefore, it is important for organizations to train the employees to keep aside their false beliefs and perceive more accurately.

Next, establishing good working relationships could also help in overcoming biases within organizations. Although many people within organizations seem to have good, positive relationships with their colleagues and senior, not all have the same (Williams et al. 2013). Some might have people who are negative to the extent that their influence poisons the thoughts of the individual. It leads to extremely distorted perceptions. In order to avoid this, individuals must choose their friends and advisors carefully and stay away from negative people. In addition, they must indulge in relationships where they are regularly criticized for their faults and appreciated for their achievements.

Another important step organizations should take to overcome bias is to establish a positive attitude culture in the organization. Having a positive attitude allows people to keep the negative biases from dominating their thoughts. When an organization promotes positive attitude through the behaviors of the senior officials and the leader, it reflects upon the employees as well. Organizations must make continuous efforts to maintain a positive attitude and must not allow personal biases to overwhelm their thoughts and obstruct the perceptual powers.

Overcoming the Biases Created by Distorted Perception

Lastly, introducing programs like diversity management within the organizations would ensure least distorted perceptions and biases (Hbr.org 2018). Perceptions about diverse individuals often cause unease in the organization and make the workplace difficult for those individuals to work in. The diversity management program would allow employees to know each other well and establish a ground where they could communicate without any bias. These programs remarkably aware employees about the differences and help minimize distortions in perceptions and biases.

Conclusion

In the end, it must be added that many factors would compel individuals and organizations to develop biased perceptions against some groups or individuals but it can be overcome. The essay used a systematic approach to explain the gathering and interpretation of information and the reasons behind the inability of people to accurately gather and interpret information. These inaccuracies lead to distorted perceptions, which then contribute to biases. Many factors lead to distortion of perception as has been discussed in the essay – internal and external factors.

The internal factors that included needs and desires of individuals, their personality and experiences contribute largely to biases, which have been clearly explained in the essay. In addition, the external factors including size, intensity, repetition and status have been discussed. The essay then highlighted the steps that organizations and individuals could take to overcome the distorted perceptions and the resulting biases. The first step as discussed in the essay is to prevent over dependence on the schemas that are rigid resulting in mindless communication.

The second step is to analyze critically the things said by families, peers and colleagues followed by the third step involving restraint from self-fulfilling beliefs. The fourth step was to establish good relationships with people and staying away from negative individuals. The other steps discussed in the essay, included introduction of diversity programs and establishing a positive attitude.

References:

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Baekgaard, M. and Serritzlew, S., 2016. Interpreting performance information: Motivated reasoning or unbiased comprehension. Public Administration Review, 76(1), pp.73-82.

Bennett, C.J. and Dielmann, K.M., 2017. Weaving the threat of implicit bias through health administration curricula to overcome gender disparities in the workforce. Journal of Health Administration Education, 34(2), pp.277-294.

Chambers, J.R., Swan, L.K. and Heesacker, M., 2014. Better off than we know: Distorted perceptions of incomes and income inequality in America. Psychological science, 25(2), pp.613-618.

Dhillon, G., Syed, R. and Pedron, C., 2016. Interpreting information security culture: An organizational transformation case study. computers & security, 56, pp.63-69.

Forbes.com 2018. Unconscious Bias In The Workplace: You Can’t Afford To Ignore It.

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