Subjectivity

Subjectivity in qualitative research consists of the qualities within the researcher that influences the investigation.  For example, my upcoming research project on Asian American college students is colored by my own college experience years ago [I’m Asian by the way].  The term subjectivity typically has a negative connotation, especially in the work place.  Most people prefer to say that decision making was made objectively, using analyses, tools, processes, scorecards, etc.  Whether doing research, or evaluating someone or something at work, subjectivity is at play, no matter how hard we deny it.  It can’t be helped, we’re only human. 

I’ve run many sourcing projects using weighted scorecards to try to reach an “objective” decision.  One must remember though, it is humans that fill out those scorecards about the suppliers.  And humans are subjective.  So rather than trying to pretend one is not subjective, as Peshkin (1988) suggests, we should be aware of how and why we are subjective so that as we produce something (whether we are writing a performance review or writing a research paper), we can take it into account as well as control it to some extent.

How can you tell if you’re being subjective? Pay attention to what feelings and emotions arise.  Be aware of your personal history that may lead you to favor or dislike someone or something.  Are stereotypes or prejudices at play? Are personal preferences being triggered? When you say “I like…” or “I dislike”… can you explain the specific reasons why?

Subjectivity doesn’t have to be a bad thing.  It’s a part of you that you contribute to your work.  Be aware and use it to your advantage, but if you feel too strongly about someone or something, maybe it makes sense to take a step back to avoid any conflicts of interest.  Don’t let a tool or process mask who you are.

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