Interrogative Self-Talk Enhance Performance More Than Self-Bolstering Pep Talks

-*Do affirmative self-statements actually help people perform better?

Joanne Wood

Joanne Wood

It depends, found University of Waterloo’s Joanne Wood  and John W. Lee with Wei Qi “Elaine” (Xun) Perunovic of University of New Brunswick confirmed that  people often use positive self-statements and believe them to be effective.

However, two experiments demonstrate that the value of positive self-statements depends on the individual’s level of self-esteem.

Participants with low self-esteem who repeated a positive self-statement (“I’m a lovable person”) felt worse than people who used no positive self-statement.
They also felt worse than the comparison group when they focused on how the statement was only true.

William Swann

William Swann

Wood’s teamed referred to William Swann’s Self-Verification Theory, which suggests that people prefer that others see them as they see themselves as an explanation of these results.

Swann, of University of Texas at Austin posited that if someone has low self-esteem, a positive self-statement is inconsistent with the person’s experience and self-assessment.
As a result, it would not have “the ring of truth”, and would not have the intended bolstering effect on self-confidence and self-esteem.

This view was validated when participants with high self-esteem felt better when they repeated the positive self-statement statement and when they focused on how it was true.

Ibrahim Senay

Ibrahim Senay

Ibrahim Senay of Istanbul Sehir Universitesi, Penn’s Dolores Albarracin, and Kenji Noguchi of the University of Southern Mississippi investigated the relative impact of “declarative” self-talk, such as “positive thinking” or affirmations (“I will prevail!”) espoused by Maxwell Maltz, Norman Vincent Peale, Napoleon Hill, Dale Carnegie, and Anthony Robbins.
They compared this well-known self-improvement practice with “interrogative” self-talk, such as introspective self-inquiry (“Can I prevail?”).

Dolores Albarracín

Dolores Albarracín

Half the participants spent one minute asking themselves whether they would complete a series of anagrams before that actually began to work on the anagrams, whereas the other half to told themselves that they would complete the task.
Surprisingly to advocates of self-affirmation, the self-questioning group solved significantly more anagrams than the self-affirming group.

Kenji Noguchi

Kenji Noguchi

The researchers extended and replicated the finding by asking one group of volunteers to write “Will I” 20 times before attempting to solve the anagrams.
Another group wrote “I will” 20 times, and the third group wrote “Will” 20 times.
Those were “primed” with the self-questioning “Will I” solved nearly twice as many anagrams as people in the other groups.

Ibrahim Senay-Dolores Albarracín-Kenji Noguchi diagramAlbarracin suggested that “asking questions forces you to define if you really want something…even in the presence of obstacles,” so is more effective than possibly unrealistically-positive self-affirmations.
The researchers suggest that interrogative self-talk, like interrogative discussions in behavioral counseling, persuasive messages in advertising, editorials, or legal settings, and culturally “polite” behavioral requests, may elicit more intrinsically-motivated action and goal-directed behavior.

Mark Lepper

Mark Lepper

Routinely predictable extrinsic rewards can extinguish intrinsic motivation, found Stanford’s Mark Lepper and David Greene collaborated with Richard Nisbett of University of Michigan.

Richard Nisbett

Richard Nisbett

In fact, interrogative self-talk may counteract suppressors to intrinsic motivation and seems to be a learnable practice that may be transferred or “generalized” from individualized learning in counseling settings.

 

Robert Burnkrant

Robert Burnkrant

This form of inquiry can be persuasive because it focuses the listener’s attention to the argument itself if the question isn’t especially relevant to the listener, or to the message’s source if is more pertinent, reported Rohini Ahluwalia of University of Minnesota, Ohio State’s Robert Burnkrant, and Southern Methodist University’s Daniel Howard.

Min Basadur

Min Basadur

Subjunctive interrogative self-talk, rather than its rhetorical counterpart, can ignite innovation and creativity in organizational settings.
Min Basadur suggested that asking oneself and other How Might We (HMW) ….? enables innovators to defer judgment and  create more options without self-conscious limitations.

Tim Brown

Tim Brown

Embracing the uncertainty of “might” enables innovators to propose ideas “that might work or might not — either way, it’s OK. And the ‘we’ part says we’re going to do it together and build on each other’s ideas,” said Ideo’s CEO, Tim Brown.

This type of self-interrogatory, sometimes presented in group innovation “sprints” at Google Ventures, IDEO, Frog Design or other thought-leading organizations has been effectively been combined with structured innovative problem-solving:  

  • Understand by analyzing problems and requirements through process evaluation,
  • Diverge by applying constraints to “think differently,”
  • Decide by selecting solution to develop,
  • Prototype by “storyboarding” the user experience, process, obstacles,
  • Validate by testing prototypes with potential solution users.

-*Under what circumstances have you found ‘interrogative’ self-talk to enhance performance more than affirmative self-talk?

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Are You Enabling a Bad Leader?

Responsibility for ineffective and unethical leadership is held by many parties, not just leaders themselves.

Barbara Kellerman

Barbara Kellerman

Harvard’s Barbara Kellerman argued that followers – and certainly Executive Board members –  can precipitate, enable and collaborate in bad leadership.

She studied followership of incompetent, corrupt, and evil leadership in public and business settings.
Kellerman concluded that both followers and uninvolved bystanders who do not object enable bad leaders to continue their practices.

John Darley

John Darley

Supporting her contention is experimental demonstration of  the powerful impact of “Bystander Apathy” by New York University’s John Darley and Bibb Latané of Columbia.

Bibb Latane

Bibb Latane

Because followers have less power and status than leaders, complacent observership can be the norm when organizations don’t establish processes to report ineffective and unethical leadership practices with protections against negative repercussions.

Given the challenges of challenging bad leadership practices, followers can increase chances of understanding organizational culture and leadership practices by conducting pre-employment “due diligence”  before accepting a role,

Questions to evaluate “fit” with a leader include:

  • How do you prefer to communicate with your direct reports?
  • How do you mentor, coach, and develop your direct reports?
  • How would you describe your work style?
  • How do you manage conflict within the team?
  • How will you measure success in this role after a year?
  • What are your three most important values?
  • How do your direct reports describe your management style?
  • How are you and your team perceived in the organizations?
  • To what extent do you involve your team members in decisions?
  • How do you support work-life balance for team members?

These queries can’t guard against unexpected circumstances like managers rapidly moving to a new group or restructurings that result in an unevaluated new manager, role, or group.
However, they may provide additional guidance to potential “warning signs” of “misemployment,” and reduce responsibility for complicity in enabling poor management styles.

-*What questions have you found most effective in assessing work style “fit” and compatibility with a potential manager?
-*What “bad leader” roles have you observed in your organzation?

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Facades of Conformity and Surface Acting: Stress for Women, Minorities

David Wagner

David Wagner

When employees mask their true feelings in work situations, they may engage in “surface acting” — or displaying appropriate, but unfelt facial expressions, verbal interactions, and body language.

Christopher Barnes

Christopher Barnes

Surface acting at work was associated with emotional exhaustion, work-to-family conflict, and insomnia outside of work for more than 70 volunteers in a high stress public service occupation, according to Singapore Management University’s David T. Wagner, Christopher M. Barnes of University of Washington and Brent A. Scott of Michigan State University.

Arlie Hochschild

Arlie Hochschild

Emotional labor” is Arlie Hochshild’s earlier term for “surface acting” in customer service interactions, in which employees present prescribed verbalizations and emotions, even when they are not genuinely felt.

She contrasted “surface acting” with “deep acting” in which the person:

  • Exhibits the emotion actually felt,
  •                              Uses past emotional experiences to elicit real emotion and empathic connection with others, in a form of “organizational method acting.
Christina Maslach

Christina Maslach

Surface acting can lead to occupational “burnout,” characterized by emotional exhaustion and detachment from others and reduced workplace performance, noted University of California Berkeley’s Christina Maslach and Susan Jackson.

In addition, Recipients of “surface acting” usually detect that it’s an inauthentic display, according to University of Tampere Veikko Surakka and Jari K Hietanen of University of Helsinki.

Celeste Brotheridge

Celeste Brotheridge

By contrast, deep acting has been associated with a greater sense of personal accomplishment in research by University of Regina’s Celeste Brotheridge and Alicia Grandey of Penn State.

Patricia Hewlin

Patricia Hewlin

Surface Acting can also take a toll, resulting in generalized stress and reduced quality of life outside of work, according to Georgetown’s Patricia Hewlin, and supported by separate findings by University of Lethbridge’s Karen H. Hunter, Andrew A. Luchak of University of Alberta and Athabasca University’s Kay Devine.

They identified stress-inducing behaviors including:

Even people not performing customer-facing roles may encounter situations in which they must behave in “appropriate” ways inconsistent with their true feelings, and experience similar stress spillover from “surface acting” at work.

-*How do you prevent “burnout” when workplace settings seem to require “surface acting”?

-*In what organizational contexts have you observed “Facades of Conformity” and their consequences?

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Restructuring Cognitive Errors at Work

Charles Manz

Charles Manz

Arizona State University’s Charles C. Manz and Chris P. Neck translated concepts from therapeutic cognitive restructuring to managerial development and employee relations, using ideas from Aaron Beck‘s Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Albert Ellis‘s Rational-Emotive Therapy (RET), and David Burns’ synthesis of these approaches, “Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy.”

Chris Neck

Chris Neck

Manz and Neck adapted these therapeutic concepts to business organizations and managerial relationships, while retaining key concepts including identifying cognitive errors, and developing disputation strategies, followed by replacement self-statements.

Aaron Beck

Aaron Beck

They outlined a five-step self-management process they called Integrative Thought Self-Leadership Procedure, drawing on CBT, RET and “Feeling Good”:

  1. Observe and Record thoughts,
  2. Analyze thoughts,
  3. Develop new thoughts,
  4. Substitute new thoughts,
  5. Monitor and Maintain new, productive thoughts.

-*What practices do you use to develop and apply productive thought patterns under pressure?

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Action vs Visualization to Improve Performance

Richard Wiseman

Richard Wiseman

University of Hertfordshire psychology researcher and magician Richard Wiseman refuted the popular belief that visualizing desired outcomes achieves results more effectively than direct action.

Lien Pham

Lien Pham

In fact, students who visualized the outcome of a high grade actually received poorer outcomes that those who visualized a better process to achieve a higher grade in research by Orange Coast College’s Lien Pham.

Gabriele Oettingen

Gabriele Oettingen

Similarly, Gabriele Oettingen of New York University asked students to record the duration of fantasies about leaving college and starting a “dream job”.
She found that students who spent more time imagining these positive outcomes, but had lower expectations of actually achieving these goals received fewer job offers and lower starting salaries.

From these studies, Wiseman argued that action rather than imagined rehearsal, fantasy or visualization leads to successful performance outcomes.

Napoleon Bonaparte

This principle was implied by Napoleon Bonaparte more than two centuries ago as he anticipated battle: On s’engage et puis on voit, translated as “You commit yourself and then you see.”

In the 1880s, William James, brother of novelist Henry James and considered “The Father of American Psychology,” asserted that action precedes emotional experience: “You do not run from a bear because you are afraid of it, but rather become afraid of the bear because you run from it.”

William James

This notion contrasts popular concepts, which led to numerous books encouraging people to change their thinking to change their behaviors and feelings.

Since the 1970s, research has focused on whether changing behavior can change feelings.
To test this relationship, James Laird of Clark University asked volunteers to create an angry facial expression by drawing down their eyebrows and clenching their teeth and to create a happy facial expression by drawing back the corners of the mouth.

James Laird

Participants reported feeling significantly happier when they forced their faces into smiles, and much angrier when they were clenching their teeth.

Acting ‘as-if’” and “faking it until you make it” are examples of initiating behaviors to drive emotional and attitudinal change.

Wiseman offered ten actions – not just thoughts – that can lead to feeling better and improved performance.

David Neal

David Neal

INCREASE:

  • Happiness: Smile as widely as possible, extend eyebrow muscles slightly upward, and hold for 20 seconds
  • Willpower: Tense muscles –  Make a fist, contract biceps or press thumb and first finger together
  • Health Eating: Eat with the non-dominant hand to increase “mindful” awareness of eating, based on research by University of Southern California’s David Neal, Wendy Wood, Mengju Wu and David Kurlander of Duke University.
  • David Neal

    David Neal

    Persistence: Sit up straight, cross your arms, from research by Ron Friedman of University of Rochester.
    He found that volunteers who sat with erect posture and crossed arms persisted nearly twice as long to solve challenging problems  as volunteers who didn’t assume this posture

  • Confidence: Adopt expanded chest posture
    Sit down, lean back, look up, and interlock hands behind your head.
    Stand up, place feet flat on the floor, push shoulders back, and chest forward.
  • Negotiation Effectiveness: Use soft chairs
    Joshua Ackerman

    Joshua Ackerman

    University of Michigan’s Joshua Ackerman of  conducted simulated negotiations for a used car, and found that volunteers who sat on soft chairs were more flexible in their negotiations and likely to pay higher prices than those who sat on firm chairs.

  • Persuasion: Nod
    Gary Wells of Iowa State University reported that when volunteers nodded their heads, they were more easily able to learn and retain information with which they didn’t agree or that wasn’t true.
  • Love: Open up
    Robert Epstein

    Robert Epstein

    Cambridge Centre for Behavioral Studies’s Robert Epstein found that eye contact, self-disclosure, sharing vulnerability increase perceived liking, loving, and closeness.

DECREASE:

  • Procrastination: Start for Five Minutes
    Do the task for five minutes, and ask yourself if you want to stop or continue at the end of the time.
    Often, it is easy to continue after 5 minutes.
    If not, stop and begin again for 5 minutes several hours later.
  • Guilt: Wash your hands
    Chen-Bo Zhong

    Chen-Bo Zhong

    Chen-Bo Zhong of the University of Toronto found that volunteers who carried out a perceived immoral act, then cleaned their hands with an antiseptic wipe felt significantly less guilty than others who didn’t wash.

Kim Silverman

Kim Silverman

If magic seems more appealing that intentional action, Wiseman’s psychologist-magician colleague, Kim Silverman of Apple, and the Academy of Magical Arts, notes that ma that magic can change the way we think about our lives:

-Things that seem impossible may be possible,

-Things that are separated and broken may be rejoined,

-There is always a way,

-We can get free from something that holds us back,

-When we feel trapped by a problem, it is just an illusion.

He asserts that magic provides a change of perspective from negative thoughts, and provides a broader perspective because “things may not be as they appear.”

These varied streams of research support intentional action over contemplation and magic to improve mood and initiate positive behavior changes.

-*How can the metaphors of perceptual illusion accelerate problem-solving in complex situations?

-*What counterarguments would you offer to Wiseman?

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When Appearance Matters for Career Development

Linda Jackson

Linda Jackson

Numerous social science studies link perceived attractiveness with perceived competence and likeability, including a meta-analysis by Michigan State University’s Linda JacksonJohn E. Hunter and Carole N. Hodge.
They found that physically attractive people are perceived as more intellectually competent, based on their research on “status generalization” theory and “implicit personality” theory.

Women who wore cosmetics were rated more highly for attractiveness, competence, likability and trustworthiness when viewed for as little as 250 milliseconds.
However, when raters looked at the faces for a longer period of time, ratings for likability and trustworthiness changed based on specific makeup looks even though volunteers accurately distinguished between judgments of facial trustworthiness and attractiveness.

Nancy Etcoff

Cosmetics differentially affected automatic and deliberative judgments, found Massachusetts General Hospital’s Nancy Etcoff and Lauren E. Haley collaborating with Shannon Stock of Dana Farber Cancer Institute and Boston University’s David M. House as well as Sarah A. Vickery of Procter & Gamble.

Sarah Vickery

Sarah Vickery

Attractiveness was significantly related to positive judgments of competence, but had a less systematic effect on perceived social warmth.
Integrating these findings, the team concluded that attractiveness “rivets attention, and impels actions that help ensure the survival of our genes.”

Although most people recognize the bias inherent in assumptions that attractive people are competent and that unattractive people are not, this correlation is important in impression management in the workplace, as well as in the political arena.

-*Where have you seen appearance exert an influence in workplace credibility, decision-making and role advancement?

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How Much Positive Feedback Counterbalances Criticism?

Sandra Mashihi

Sandra Mashihi

Does 360-degree feedback do more harm than good”?
Envisia’s Kenneth Nowack and Sandra Mashihi provided “evidence-based answers” to 15 questions about applying 360-degree feedback.

Kenneth Nowack

Kenneth Nowack

Sometimes this feedback is more detrimental than helpful:  “Poorly-designed 360-degree feedback assessments and interventions can increase disengagement and contribute to poor individual and team performance,” they found.

Specifically, individuals can “experience strong discouragement and frustration” when feedback is not as affirming as anticipated.
In addition, negatively-perceived information may be discounted and disregarded.

John Gottman

John Gottman

The ratio of positive to negative feedback may determine whether it is incorporated and used.
University of Washington’s John Gottman and Pepper Schwartz found that well-functioning marriages have a 5:1 ratio of positive to negative feedback.

A positive-negative ratio of 3:1 in 360-feedback sessions encouraged enhanced individual and team performance, individual workplace engagement, effectiveness, and emotional “flourishing,” according to University of North Carolina’s Barbara Frederickson and Marcial Losada of University of Michigan.

Barbara Fredrickson

Barbara Fredrickson

Proportions of negative feedback and interactions that exceed these ratios can interfere with insight and motivation and diminish willingness to engage in work-related practice and performance effectiveness.
Fredrickson suggested that this 3:1 ratio of positive to negative feedback is a “tipping point.”

Naomi Eisenberger

Naomi Eisenberger

In fact, when people are overloaded with negative feedback, the same same neurophysiologic pathways associated with physical pain are triggered, reported UCLA’s Naomi Eisenberger and Matthew Lieberman collaborated with Kipling Williams of Macquarie University.

Zhansheng Chen

Zhansheng Chen

Under these circumstances, volunteers reported higher levels of physical pain and demonstrated diminished performance on a cognitively-demanding task, according to University of Hong Kong’s Zhansheng Chen, Williams and Julie Fitness of Macquarie University, and University of New South Wales’s Nicola C. Newton.

Anyone providing evaluations or 360-degree feedback may consider “titrating” negative (“constructive”) feedback to remain within ratios that allow recipients to assimilate and execute recommendations.

-*What ratios of positive to negative feedback do you apply in helping others improve performance?

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