What Is The Halo Effect?
Many times, the first impression that someone makes on us overshadows everything else. We tend to stick to that one…
February 1, 2021 | 6 mins read
Many times, the first impression that someone makes on us overshadows everything else. We tend to stick to that one positive trait—skills or physical appearance—instead of focusing on who they really are. This is known as the halo effect. This halo creates an overall impression that we attribute to a person based on a single trait or characteristic.
There are many fallacies associated with a halo effect, which may be positive or negative. Find out the meaning of the halo effect and how it affects you personally and professionally.
Developed in 1920 by American psychologist Edward Thorndike, the halo effect is a psychological term—and cognitive bias—that reflects our propensity to form opinions about someone based on first impressions, mostly physical appearance. If we find someone attractive, we’re more likely to think that they’re good-natured.
Here are some key characteristics of halo effect:
A single opinion can create an overall impression overshadowing objective thinking.
Our opinions of a person are significantly based on first impressions alone.
It can be both positive or negative—we may form positive or negative opinions about a person when we meet them
Halo effect is apparent in many aspects of our lives—personal relationships and work
It’s prevalent in consumer behavior such as products with high ratings and high costs are considered high-quality
Experts suggest that the underlying factor that forms the halo bias is attractiveness. Our impression of someone as attractive—or not so attractive—determines our opinions of them. It’s a subjective form of assessment where the only way we can understand something is by molding it in ways that are familiar to us.
So, when you meet someone for the first time, you notice how they look, how they’re dressed and how they carry themselves. These physical attributes help create an image of that person. So, first impressions carry a lot of weight in the context of the halo bias. Next time you find yourself assessing someone based on their looks, maybe you can take a step back and think objectively!
A halo effect is most visible in a professional setting. Creating a space for yourself at the workplace is not easy. You have to continuously build your skills, showcase your abilities and maintain relationships. In a high-competition environment, it’s simpler to rely on first impressions or the personal opinions of someone.
You may not even realize your understanding of someone is solely based on how they speak or look.
Here are some common traits that form the halo bias and are examples of a halo effect:
Corporate etiquette comprises professional attire, maintaining decorum and respecting boundaries. We assign a lot of weight to how people dress, behave and interact at the workplace. Sharp dressing is associated with professionalism, a firm handshake—rather than high-fives—is widely-accepted and formal greetings go a long way. So, any person who exhibits the former qualities may be treated with more respect. Whether intentionally or unintentionally, we’re inclined to believe that someone who’s sharply dressed exhibits better leadership qualities than someone wearing a Rolling Stones t-shirt.
How someone communicates with their peers, juniors or senior management reflects how well they’re received at work. If your coworker is eloquent—with excellent oration—they may even get more opportunities at work. Many people believe that confidence can help you move past your flaws. The halo effect sheds light on how people tend to portray themselves in public. Someone who’s a smooth talker may simply be diverting attention from their mistakes.
Maintaining good relationships at work is something everyone is encouraged to do. Lasting relationships help you achieve collective goals with more dexterity. So, if someone’s good at taking initiative, they may be the top choice for managerial roles. This doesn’t mean that they’re good at managing people, but better at showing that they are. The Halo effect explains our reliance on what we see and what we choose to see.
Positive feedback in one sphere influences other spheres. This can be favorable at the workplace. If your manager likes your work ethic, there’s a high chance that you’ll be given more opportunities. This is a positive result of the halo effect. But there may be situations where an error in judgment leads your manager to form a negative opinion of you. Even if it was a single, one-off incident, it can impair your image and credibility at work. So, feedback plays a significant role in the context of the halo effect psychology.
A personal bias reflects our views of the world—how we perceive things, judge and understand them. Personal bias is one of the most important attributes of the halo effect. We understand people based on our existing knowledge. This is how we find that it’s easier to fit people in predefined categories. Typically, someone who’s tall is considered more assertive and believable. Similarly, a person who has better command over language is considered well-spoken or even refined. In most cases, these observations come from a biased perspective.
Recognizing that you’re biased towards particular traits or attributes can help you build awareness of a halo effect. It’s important to understand where the bias stems from—for which you may have to dig deeper. But for now, let’s look at some ways to address a halo effect at work:
Thinking critically means to evaluate and process information before concluding. Making decisions in haste can mean that you’ve overlooked critical information. So, thinking about why you’re leaning towards one particular option can be a good beginning. You can make a pros and cons list, rely on historical data or trends and talk to other stakeholders before you decide something—or someone.
It’s often a collective effort at the workplace that helps you achieve organizational goals. Keeping that in mind, before you form an opinion about someone, say, a new team member or project lead, you may want to approach the situation from different directions. Talking to people will give you more perspective on who’ll be a better fit for the role. You can consider parameters or metrics to track an individual’s abilities and skills. This is an objective and fair way to decide who gets the role.
Just because someone missed a day of work doesn’t mean they’re not punctual or serious about their job. Forming opinions based on isolated incidents isn’t fair to anyone. We may judge our coworkers based on how they dress or speak. It’s important to take a step back from these situations and try to assess them objectively. Otherwise, they can lead to significant errors in judgment. You may end up firing a hardworking employee simply because they didn’t say “good morning” that one time.
Similar to checking yourself, another good way to address the halo effect is to understand your biases. Getting to the bottom of your bias means looking back. This requires introspection and self-reflection. If you find yourself judging someone, think about why you feel that way. Maybe it has something to do with past experiences or cultural norms. This can help you become a better judge of character in the long run.
Instead of focusing on how you feel about someone, look at their work history, past records and progress. Relying on facts will help you make better decisions, which will be favorable for your team and organization. If your team member sends the wrong email, it doesn’t mean that they’re bad at their job. A mistake can be corrected and there should be room for improvement. Thinking empathetically and giving people a chance to show how capable they are will be helpful for team building.
You can overcome your bias by building awareness. Identification is an effective process that can help you think objectively. Trusting people with their skills is a better strategy than giving in to first impressions.
Learn more about some of the concepts discussed above and how to think objectively with Harappa’s Thinking Critically course. You’ll learn how to ask the right questions before making decisions. Navigate your workplace like a pro and avoid jumping to conclusions.