Is the Halo and Horn Effect influencing your decisions at work?

Tue 17 Sep 2019

The Halo and Horn Effect

If you work in human resources (HR), or in fact any management role where you oversee a team, then the Halo and Horn effect is something you’ve probably encountered on a regular basis. It’s an effect you not only need to be aware of, but one that you need to actively respond to. Not recognising that this effect is taking place can lead to poor decisions based on personal biases rather than what is best for the business. 

What is the Halo and Horn Effect?

It is a cognitive bias that causes you to allow one trait, either good (halo) or bad (horn), to overshadow other traits, behaviors, actions, or beliefs.” (Kennon, 2011)

Put simply, the Halo and Horn Effect is when our first impression of somebody leads us to have a biased positive or negative opinion of their work or company. 

  • Halo effect

A positive first impression of somebody leads us to overlook their negative characteristics or treat them more favourably than others.

  • Horn effect

If our first impression of somebody is negative, then we are more likely to concentrate on only the negative aspects of their character and not treat them as well as we should. 

When can the Horn and Halo Effect happen and why is it dangerous for HR and Project Managers? 

The Halo and Horn effect can arise during many different circumstances in the workplace, these include:

  • Recruitment
  • Assigning tasks
  • Acceptance of lateness and bad attitudes
  • Underperformance and overworking.

As humans, we are predisposed to make a judgement of a situation, of others; to be influenced, however minutely, by our first impressions. Since humans first walked the earth a quick judgement was part of our survival instinct. In today’s society however, this judgement can often work against us in the workplace and affect our ongoing working relationship with somebody and the work they produce. 

The Halo and Horn effect can develop feelings of unfairness, resentment and favouritism within the workplace. It is often recognised by team members, especially if they are receiving more of the Horn side of the effect. 

How can it be avoided?

It can be difficult to avoid the effect. Even though it may be a natural instinct for us to judge people before we know them, understanding what can be done to avoid it can prevent us from making biased, and perhaps catastrophic, mistakes. 

  • Be aware of your own biases

By simply reading this article you have taken a step towards raising your awareness of the effect, and what you can do to counteract it.

  • Structure your process based on performance, not perception

It can be effective to keep an eye on the work being done by various colleagues privately to help your opinions keep independent. 

  • Give everyone an opportunity to shine

Everybody should have the chance to flourish at work, no matter what your personal opinion of them is. Try offering up tasks which individuals can volunteer to take on.

  • Value every idea

No matter who the idea has come from, and your thoughts of them, it should stand on its own merit. 

The Halo and Horn Effect psychology can be combatted. It’s all about being aware of your own judgements and not letting them overtake your decisions. 

Many HR and management and leadership qualifications look at the Halo and Horn Effect and can be a good way of helping you widen your understanding of the effect and how to manage it. 

Our Programme Advisers can offer you advice and information on the Human Resources and Management and Leadership courses we offer at MOL. 

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