Self-Distancing Pronouns Use Can Increase Self-Management

Ethan Kross

Ethan Kross

Despite years of popular guidance to use self-statements for difficult conversations with partners, spouses, and bosses, research argues for using self-distancing alternatives to manage stress and increase self-control.

Emma Bruehlman-Senecal

Emma Bruehlman-Senecal

University of Michigan’s Ethan Kross, Jiyoung Park, Aleah Burson, Adrienne Dougherty, Holly Shablack, and Ryan Bremner with Emma Bruehlman-Senecal and Ozlem Ayduk of University of California, Berkeley, plus Michigan State’s Jason Moser studied more than 580 people’s ability to self-regulate reactions to social stress by using different ways of referring to the self during introspection.

LeBron James

LeBron James

One example of variations in self-reference is LeBron James’ statement, One thing I didn’t want to do was make an emotional decision. I wanted to do what’s best for LeBron James and to do what makes LeBron James happy.”

The team demonstrated that using non-first-person pronouns (such as “he” or “she”)  and one’s own name (rather than “I”) during introspection enhanced self-distancing, or focusing on the self from a distant perspective.

Stephen Hayes

Stephen Hayes

Distancing, also called “decentering” or “self as context,” allows people to observe and accept their feelings, according to University of Nevada’s Steven Hayes, Jason Luoma, Akihiko Masuda and Jason Lillis collaborating with Frank Bond of University of London.

Ozlem Ayduk

Ozlem Ayduk

Self-distancing verbalizations were associated with less distress and less maladaptive “post-event processing  (reviewing performance) when delivering a speech without sufficient time to prepare, and when seeking to make a good first impression on others.
Post-event processing can lead to increased social anxiety, noted Temple University’s Faith Brozovich and Richard Heimberg.

Faith Brozovich

Faith Brozovich

They found that participantsexperienced less global negative affect and shame after delivering a speech without sufficient preparation time, and engaged in less post-event processing.

Adrienne Dougherty

People who talked about themselves with non-first person pronouns also performed better in speaking and impression-formation social tasks, according to ratings by observers.

Participants who used self-distancing language appraised future stressors as less threatening, and they more effectively reconstrued experiences for greater coping, insight, and closure, in another study by Kross and Ayduk.

Ryan Bremner

Ryan Bremner

People with elevated scores on measures of depression or bipolar disorder experienced less distress when applying a self-distanced visual perspective as they contemplated emotional experiences, noted Kross and Ayduk, collaborating with San Francisco State University’s David Gard, Patricia Deldin of University of Michigan, and Jessica Clifton of University of Vermont.

David Gard

Using second-person pronouns (“you”) seems to be a self-distancing strategy when people reflect on situations that involve self-control, noted University of North Carolina’s Ethan Zell, Amy Beth Warriner of McMaster University and University of Illinois’s Dolores Albarracín.

Ethan Zell

These findings demonstrate that small changes in self-referencing words during introspection significantly increase self-regulation of thoughts, feelings, and behavior during social stress experiences.

Self-distancing references may help people manage depression and anger about past and anticipated social anxiety.

Dolores Albarracín

-*What impact do you experience when you use “self-distancing language”?

-*How do you react when you hear others using “self-distancing language,” like referring to “you” when speaking about their own experience?

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Gender-Neutral Language Associated with Greater Gender Wage Parity

Lucas van der Velde

Lucas van der Velde

Nations that use gender-neutral languages have a smaller Gender Wage Gap (GWG) than countries with clear gender differentions in their languages, reported University of Warsaw’s Lucas van der Velde, Joanna Tyrowicz, and Joanna Siwinska.

Gender-Neutral Language

Gender-Neutral Language

The team evaluated Yale linguists Benjamin Whorf and Edward Sapir’s hypothesis that linguistic categories influence perception, thinking, and behavior by examining data from the World Atlas of Linguistic Structures to determine whether the primary language spoken in a given country had a “sex-based gender system” of grammar rules like gender-specific noun and pronouns.

Benjamin Whorf

Benjamin Whorf

For example, French language links specific nouns to genders, whereas English generally uses different pronouns for men and women (“his” and “hers”) — despite the increasing use of “they” to indicate an individual of either gender, not a group of people.
In contrast, Mandarin and Finnish languages “have no system of gender identification.”

The researchers analyzed whether the primary language contained expressions that celebrate one gender while disparaging another, and compared these findings with estimates for Gender Wage Disparities (GWD) in more than 50 countries from 117 studies published between 2005 and 2014.

Benjamin Whorf

The gender wage gap may be driven by some deep societal features stemming from such basic social codes as language,” they concluded, supporting the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis.

Katarzyna Bojarska

Katarzyna Bojarska

Gender cues are implicitly and unconsciously used to decode a message’s full meaning in addition to its semantic content, suggested University of Gdańsk’s Katarzyna Bojarska.

She argued that when gender is not clearly specified, unconscious cognitive processing attempts to plausibly reconstruct missing gender information with non-semantic cues.

Gender Neutral Occupational Titles

Gender Neutral Occupational Titles

These findings suggest that countries that favor policies to reduce disparate earnings by gender can enable this goal by providing early training to set children’s expectations of gender equality, particularly in countries using a gendered language,

-*To what extent has your workplace adopted gender-inclusive language?

-*How does your organization’s use of gendered language relate to its wage parity practices?

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Jessica Salerno

Jessica Salerno

Men who expressed anger were more likely to influence their peers, found Arizona State University’s Jessica Salerno and Liana Peter-Hagene of University of Illinois in their study of computer-mediated mock jury proceedings.
In contrast, women who expressed anger were seen as less influential, reinforcing trends reported in a previous blog post.

Liana Peter-Hagene

Liana Peter-Hagene

More than 200 U.S. jury-eligible volunteers reviewed opening arguments and closing statements, eyewitness testimonies, crime scene photographs, and an image of the alleged weapon in a homicide.

Participants rendered individual verdict choices, then exchanged instant messages by computer, with “peers” who were said to be deliberating their verdict decisions.

In fact, “peer” messages were scripted, with four of the fictional jurors agreeing with the participant’s verdict, and one disagreeing.
The dissenting participant had a male user name or a female user name or a gender-neutral name.

Victoria Brescoll

Victoria Brescoll

Half of the dissenting messages contained no emotion, anger, or fear, and these communications had no influence on participants’ opinions.

However, participants’ confidence in their verdict decision significantly dropped when a single “male dissenter” sent angry messages, characterized by “shouting” in all capital letters.
Confidence in the verdict decision dropped even when the vote was shared by the majority of other “jurors,” suggesting the persuasive impact of a single male dissenter’s angry communication.

In contrast, volunteers became more confident in their initial verdict decisions when their vote was echoed by the majority of other participants.

This confidence was not diminished when a single female dissenter responded with angry emotional message, suggesting that “females” anger was less influential.
“Women’s” dissent seemed to reinforce conviction in the shared decision.

Eric Luis Uhlmann

Eric Luis Uhlmann

Male and female evaluators conferred lower status on angry female professionals compared with angry male professionals in research by Previously, Yale University’s Victoria Brescoll and Eric Luis Uhlmann, now of HEC Paris School of Management.
Evaluators assigned lower status to female CEOs as well as to female trainees when they expressed anger.

Kristi Lewis Tyran

Kristi Lewis Tyran

Men who expressed anger in a professional context were conferred higher status than men who expressed sadness.
Likewise, women who expressed anger and sadness were rated less effective than women who shared no emotion, according to Kristi Lewis Tyran of Western Washington University.

Evaluators judged men’s angry reactions more generously, attributing these emotional expressions to understandable external circumstances, such as having external pressure and demands.

These differing judgments of emotional expression by women suggests that women’s anger is more harshly evaluated because their behaviors deviate from expected societal, gender, and cultural norms.

-*What impacts and consequences have you observed for women and men who express anger at work?

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Fewer US Employees Have Workplace Friendships Compared with Other Countries

Workplace friendships positively affect task performance, yet Americans claim fewer friendships at work than employees in other countries.
The result could be competitive disadvantage for U.S. companies in world markets.

Karen Jehn

Karen Jehn

Teams composed of friends outperformed acquaintance groups in decision making and effort tasks, reported University of Melbourne’s Karen A. Jehn and Priti Pradhan Shah of University of Minnesota.

Likewise, workplace friendships and coworker support were associated with greater performance effectiveness in a meta-analytic study of more than 160 groups with nearly 78,000 employees by Penn State’s Dan S. Chiaburu and David A. Harrison of University of Texas.

Even employees’ perceptions of workplace friendship opportunities directly affected job involvement and job satisfaction.

Christine M. Riordan

Christine M. Riordan

These perceptions also indirectly affected organizational commitment and turnover intent among more than 170 employees in a small electric utility, reported Adelphi University’s Christine M. Riordan and Rodger W. Griffith of Ohio University.

Olenka Kacperczyk

Olenka Kacperczyk

However, fewer than one-third of Americans reported having a close friend at work, one indicator of employee engagement according to The Gallup Organization.
More importantly, workplace friendships have significantly declined over the past 3 decades in the U.S, but continue to be strong social connections in Polish and Indian organizations, found MIT’s Olenka Kacperczyk with Jeffrey Sanchez-Burks, and  Wayne E. Baker of University of Michigan in an unpublished working paper.

Jeffrey Sanchez-Burkes

Jeffrey Sanchez-Burkes

They conducted surveys across the U.S., Poland, and India and determined that less than one-third of Americans reported inviting their closest colleagues to their homes, compared with two-thirds of Polish participants and nearly three-quarters Indian employees.

Even more dramatic is the discrepancy between groups for spending longer off-work time with workplace friends:  Just under half of Indian survey volunteers reported going on vacation with closest co-workers, whereas one-quarter of Polish workers and only 6% of Americans said they shared a holiday with colleagues.

Richard Nisbett

Richard Nisbett

Americans were also significantly less concerned with social interactions during work tasks, compared with Mexican and Mexican-American participants, found University of Southern California’s Jeffrey Sanchez-Burks with Richard E. Nisbett and Oscar Ybarra of University of Michigan.

Oscar Ybarra

Oscar Ybarra

After volunteers from each cultural background watched a four-minute video of two people working together, Mexicans and Mexican Americans more accurately recalled social and emotional group content.

Mexicans and Mexican Americans also preferred workgroups with a strong interpersonal orientation, and opined that group work performance could be improved by focusing on socio-emotional elements.

This focus on socio-emotional performance more greatly influenced group task success than the group’s ethnic composition, again suggesting that Americans’ trend toward social disengagement could undermine their productivity.

Robert D. Putnam

Robert D. Putnam

Continuing disengagement from American co-workers was described as ‘bowling alone’ by Harvard’s Robert D. Putnam, who contrasted current social disconnection with previous cohesiveness in after-hours U.S. company bowling leagues.

Adam Grant

Adam Grant

One explanation for national differences is that in the U.S., long-term employment is less secure than in countries with labor protection statues.
As a result, people can’t expect to stay indefinitely in one role, so remain detached to prepare for voluntary or involuntary job changes.
In fact, Wharton’s Adam Grant argued that “We view co-workers as transitory ties, greeting them with arms-length civility while reserving real camaraderie for outside work.”

Some observers attribute interpersonal disengagement to newer models of working, such as telecommuting and working remotely.

Ravi S. Gajendran

Ravi S. Gajendran

However, evidence from more than 45 studies of at least 12,000 employees that “telecommuting had no generally detrimental effects on the quality of workplace relationships,” particularly when people came to an office at least half the time, according to University of Illinois’s Ravi S. Gajendran and David A. Harrison of University of Texas.

Even if workplace relationships don’t become friendships, brief encounters can be high-quality connections characterized by respect, trust and mutual engagement.

Jane Dutton

Jane Dutton

These interactions energize both parties, posited University of Michigan’s Jane E. Dutton, and may address potential decreases in employee engagement and collaborative productivity.

-*To what extent do you have strong workplace friendships?

-*How have you seen workplace friendships affect work quality and productivity

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Lonely People Increase Social Skills, Reduce “Choking” by Reframing Anxiety

Julianne Holt-Lundstad

Julianne Holt-Lundstad

Loneliness increases mortality risk by 26 percent, comparable to health risks of obesity, cigarette smoking, and excessive alcohol use, according to Brigham Young University’s Julianne Holt-Lunstad, Timothy B. Smith, Mark Baker, Tyler Harris, and David Stephenson.
Besides the emotional discomfort of loneliness, loneliness harms people’s health.

Timothy Smith

Timothy Smith

Loneliness and social isolation differ.
Some people report feeling lonely in the presence of others, whereas socially isolated people may not report loneliness.
However, both loneliness and social isolation increased risk for mortality in a meta-analysis of more than 3 million participants in studies of loneliness, social isolation, and living alone.

Megan Knowles

Megan Knowles

Many people assume that individuals are lonely because they are socially isolated and have poor social skills.
However, lonely individuals may not need to acquire social skills to escape loneliness.
Rather, they seem to benefit more from learning to cope with social performance anxiety, found Franklin & Marshall College’s Megan L. Knowles, Gale M. Lucas of University of Southern CaliforniaFlorida State University’s Roy Baumeister, and Wendi L. Gardner of Northwestern.

Gale M. Lucas

Gale M. Lucas

More than 85 volunteers completed a loneliness self-report, then identified emotions on computer-presented faces.
Lonely people out-performed non-lonely people when social sensitivity tasks were described as measures of academic aptitude.

Roy Baumeister

However, lonely participants performed worse when tasks were presented as tests of social aptitude.
These volunteers also reported difficulty forming and maintaining friendships, suggesting that social anxiety leads to “choking” in social “performance” situations.
The result is continued loneliness.

Wendi Gardner

Wendi Gardner

Yet, lonely people may be more socially competent than the non-lonely:  They were more skilled at remembering social information in studies by Northwestern’s Wendi L. Gardner, Cynthia L. Pickett of University of California Davis, and Ohio State University’s Marilynn B. Brewer.
The team assessed social recall by presenting volunteers with a simulated computer chat task that provided brief acceptance or rejection experiences, then a diary containing both social and individual events.

Cynthia L. Pickett

Cynthia L. Pickett

Social anxiety identified by Knowles’ team could be reattributed feelings to an external cause and resulted in increased performance.

They demonstrated this shift when they gave volunteers a non-caffeinated energy beverage, and mentioned that any jitters they might experience resulted from the “caffeine” they’d just consumed.
This explanation provided a plausible but false rationale for anxious feelings.

Alison Wood Brooks

Alison Wood Brooks

previous blog post outlined a similar finding by Harvard’s Alison Wood Brooks, that reframing nervousness as “excitement” helped people perform better on stressful tasks.

An additional coping approach for lonely people is modifying personal mindsets following social loss cues.

Carol Dweck

Carol Dweck

Fixed mindset, suggested Stanford’s Carol Dweck, is a belief that personal capabilities are given, fixedand limited to present capacities.
This perspective is similar to
security-oriented, prevention-focused behaviors of lonely people observed by University of Southern California’s Lucas with Knowles, Gardner, Daniel C. Molden and Valerie E. Jefferis of Northwestern.
This mindset can lead to fear, anxiety, protectiveness and guardedness.

Daniel Molden

Daniel Molden

In contrast, growth mindset is similar to promotion-focused responses like attempts at social engagement.
This developmental mindset holds that personal capabilities can expand based on commitment, effort, practice, instruction, confronting and correcting mistakes.
This perspective enables teamwork, collaboration, and social interaction.

Marilynn Brewer

Marilynn Brewer

Participants received either subtle acceptance cues or rejection cues, which were associated with adopting either a fixed mindset or a growth mindset.
Those who received positive primes were more able to develop a promotion-focused growth mindset, leading to more effective social thoughts, intentions, and behaviors.

People who experience social anxiety and loneliness can reduce self-protective social avoidance by reframing discomfort as “excitement” and by redirecting mindset to embrace learning and new experience.

-*How do you manage loneliness?

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Coping or Complacency? Rationalization Instead of Behavior Change Is Learned Early

Sigmund Freud, Ernest Jones

Rationalization was described by Freud biographer and psychoanalyst Ernest Jones as an unconscious maneuver to provide plausible explanation that manages unacceptable behavior, motives, or feelings.

Gil Diesendruck

This tactic was observed among children as young as ages four to six, by Bar-Ilan University’s Avi Benozio and Gil Diesendruck.
They suggested that these children had already learned to “reframe” disappointing circumstances as a way of reducing uncomfortable cognitive dissonance, described by New School’s Leon Festinger.

Leon Festinger

In Benozio’s and Diesendruck’s experiments, children ages three, four, five and six years old completed assignments in exchange for colorful adhesive stickers that varied in attractiveness and appeal to each age group.

The young participants could invest considerable effort or minimal work in tasks ranging in challenge from reporting current age to closing eyes and counting as far as possible – then counting five more.
The children were permitted to keep these prizes or give them to an unidentified person.

When six year olds invested substantial effort to obtain attractive rewards, they were less likely to relinquish these valued stickers to others.
However, four year olds did not demonstrate this discerning difference in awarding their winnings to others. 

Elliot Aronson

When six year olds applied significant effort to obtaining less desirable rewards, they also distributed fewer to others, but their reasoning differed.
They adjusted their appraisal of the less attractive stickers, indicating that these prizes were more appealing.
Younger children reduced the dissonance using a different strategy: Four year olds discarded stickers rather than more favorably assessing their value.

Aesop

These behavioral differences suggest that these children learn to rationalize by age six and this strategy persists among adults, found Stanford’s Elliot Aronson and the U.S. Army’s Judson Mills.
Their controlled studies validate Aesop‘s observation of “sweet lemons” and “sour grapes” in the well-known fable The Fox and the Grapes.

To mitigate potential errors in inferring preference and rationalization from this type of study, UCLA’s Johanna M. Jarcho and Matthew D. Lieberman with Elliot T. Berkman of University of Oregon conducted fMRIs while participants completed decisions to test attitude change linked to cognitive dissonance.

Joanna Jarcho

Joanna Jarcho

Brain activity significantly increased in the right-inferior frontal gyrus, medial fronto-parietal regions and ventral striatum while decreasing in the anterior insula, suggesting a pattern of rapid reappraisal required in emotional regulation.
Rationalization, then, may be an automatic coping mechanism rather than an unconscious defense mechanism.

Reinhold Niebuhr

Reinhold Niebuhr

Benozio and Diesendruck warned that this adaptive capacity could lead to complacent acceptance instead of working to change negative circumstances, articulated in the well-known Serenity Prayer attributed to Yale’s Reinhold Niebuhr:

…grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.

-*To what extent is rationalization a logical error?
-*Or is rationalization an effective emotional regulation strategy?

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Workplace Incivility is Contagious, Damaging

James Bartlett

James Bartlett

Workplace incivility has numerous well-known consequences including reduced employee engagement and productivity, summarized by North Carolina State University’s James E. Bartlett and Michelle E. Bartlett with Florida Atlantic University’s Thomas G. Reio.

Trevor Foulk

Trevor Foulk

Rudeness in the workplace is also contagious and leads people to be vigilant for subsequent slights, reported University of Florida’s Trevor Foulk, Andrew Woolum, and Amir Erez.
They suggested that low-level workplace hostility enables similar behavior throughout the organization, eroding culture and productivity.

Andrew Woolum

Andrew Woolum

Ninety volunteers practiced negotiation with partners, and those who rated their initial negotiation partner as rude were more likely to be rated as rude by a subsequent partner.

This suggests that people assimilated and conveyed the first partner’s rudeness, and the effect persisted during the week between the first and second negotiations.

Amir Erez

Amir Erez

Foulk’s team presented staged interactions between an apologetic late-arriving participant and the study leader, who responded neutrally or rudely.
Then, volunteers distinguished real words from nonsense words in a timed task.

Participants who observed the leader’s rude response more quickly identified actual rude words than participants who had observed the neutral interaction.
This suggests that observing rude interactions “prime” people’s awareness and sensitivity to future uncivil interactions.

Walter Mischel

Walter Mischel

People who witnessed rudeness were more likely to be rude to others, confirming the powerful impact of observing physical on future behavior, demonstrated more than 50 years ago by Stanford’s Walter Mischel, Dorothea Ross and Sheila Ross.

Mischel's experiment with Bobo doll

Mischel’s experiment with Bobo doll

This priming effect of rudeness was demonstrated in another of study by Foulk’s group.
Volunteers watched a video of a rude workplace interaction, then answered a fictitious customer neutral-toned email.
Their responses were more likely to be hostile than those who viewed a polite interaction before responding.

Rudeness will flavor the way you interpret ambiguous cues,” noted Foulk, who contends that workplace harshness makes employees less likely to give colleagues “the benefit of the doubt.”
The viral spread of even low-level rudeness can reduce collaboration and trust in the workplace.

-*How do you stop the spread of workplace incivility?

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