Negation Bias

Negation bias

Pre-screening, screening, post-screening

Negation bias is a linguistic bias often observed in communication. People tend to use negations (denials) when describing a person’s diverging behaviour from a particular stereotype. Although it might seem harmless, negation helps in maintaining stereotypes. In this bias blog, you will learn more about this bias, its occurrence in recruitment, and how you can overcome this bias.

What is negation bias?

Negation refers to denying the existence of something. To ‘negate’ something, denial terms such as ‘no’, ‘not’ or ‘never’ are used. An example of a negation is saying: ¨he does not talk a lot¨ instead of saying ¨he is quiet¨.

Negations are used to deny stereotypes. When a male nurse is described, people have the tendency to say ¨the nurse is not a woman¨ instead of ¨the nurse is a man.¨ The negation communicates and reinforces the stereotype of nurses typically being female. 

Examples of negation bias in recruitment

Example of negation bias in the interview

During a job interview for a leadership position, a candidate mentions their tendency towards introversion. The interviewer then asks, “Aren’t you too shy to speak up for yourself?” This question suggests that introversion is linked to shyness, thereby reinforcing a stereotype. But if the interviewer were to ask, “Are you comfortable speaking up for yourself?” it would not convey any stereotype.


Example of negation bias in candidate filtering

In recruitment, negation bias can arise when talking about a female candidate for a tech job. For example, saying “Sarah doesn’t lack technical skills” is intended to highlight her skills in technology. However, the use of the negation “doesn’t lack technical skills” subtly reinforces the stereotype that women may not excel in tech roles.  

Consequences in recruitment

There are multiple consequences in recruitment that negation bias can have:

Reduced focus on positive traits: Negation bias may cause recruiters and hiring managers to think more of the traits that are being denied rather than a candidate’s positive qualities

Overlooking stereotyped talent: Negation bias strengthens the connection between certain traits and particular groups, resulting in continuous stereotyping and overlooking talent.

Impact on a candidate’s confidence: Candidates may interpret negations as veiled criticisms. This perception can lead to decreased performance in interviews and reduced motivation.

How to overcome negation bias in recruitment

Overcoming negation bias involves being mindful of language to avoid communicating stereotypes. Here are some actionable steps to overcome negation bias in recruitment:

Awareness: Recognising how negations can reinforce stereotypes is a crucial first step in overcoming negation bias. When interviewers understand its impact, they become more mindful with their words during interviews.

Language choice: Opt for positive language instead of negations when asking questions or describing people. For example, saying a candidate is “smart” has a more positive meaning than saying that the candidate is “not dumb.”

Conduct the interview together: Self-reflection on language use during interviews can be challenging. Therefore, having two interviewers can help in reflecting on the use of negations in interviews.

Standardise interview questions: Use standardised interview questions to structure the interview process, ensuring that each candidate is assessed using the same criteria. This reduces the influence of biases. Learn here more about setting up a structured interview.

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