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 Does Appearance Matter?

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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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Learning Mindsets Enable Employee Development at Work

David Perkins

David Perkins

People adopt differing mindsets when trying to achieve quality results and increase learning at work, according to Harvard’s David Perkins, Michele Rigolizzo, and Marga Biller.

They expanded the distinction between fixed mindset and growth mindset described by Stanford’s Carol Dweck, and assessed with a brief questionnaire.

  • Michele Rigolizzo

    Michele Rigolizzo

    Completion mindset focuses on finishing a routine task with little mental investment.
    Accidental learning occurs with this stance, and employees who experience fear of failure, impersonal work environments, and monotonous tasks usually operate with this mindset.

  • Performance mindset aims to complete a task  without reflecting on how to can re-apply the process in the future.
    Marga Biller

    Marga Biller

    An example is temporarily using a technology but not investing attention to become an expert user.
    Incidental learning is a by-product of this mindset, described by Columbia’s Victoria Marsick and Karen Watkins of University of Georgia.

  • Development mindset seeks to complete a task and to learn applicable approaches when completing similar future tasks.
    An example is leading an effective kickoff meeting to set the tone for productive work sessions.

    Victoria Marsick

    Victoria Marsick

    Intentional learning occurs with active involvement in observing, analyzing, and reflecting on the process.

To move beyond a Completion stance, Perkins and team suggested that organizational leaders  encourage quality work and active reflection on that work to set the expectation of a Development mindset.
In addition, leaders can also implement collaboration and feedback systems with time for reflection on completed tasks.

-*How do you enable team members to adopt a Development Mindset?

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Powerful Questions, Anticipated Regret Can Change Behavior

One of the foundations of psychotherapy and executive coaching is the notion that provocative, well-timed, penetrating questions can provoke insight and initiative behavior change.

David Cooperrider

David Cooperrider

One example of a systematic approach to high-impact questioning is Appreciative Inquiry, developed by Case Western’s David Cooperrider and Diana Whitney, and it has been integrated into interpersonal conversations including counseling, coaching, and therapy.

University of Leeds’s Tracy Sandberg and Mark Conner demonstrated the impact of provocative questions when they asked women about anticipated regret if they ignored a preventive health assessment.

Tracy Sandberg

Tracy Sandberg

More than 4,250 women received an invitation for cervical screening and  information leaflet.
A sub-group also received a Theory of Planned Behavior questionnaire developed by University of Massachusetts’s Icek Ajzen.
Another sub-group received both the questionnaire and additional inquiries about their anticipated regrets if they didn’t participate in the screening.

Icek Ajzen

Icek Ajzen

Attendance rates were higher for those who completed the questionnaire about anticipated behavior, and significantly greater for those who also completed the regret questions.
This may be an example of FoMO – Fear of Missing Out, described by University of Essex’s Andrew K. Przybylski and Valerie Gladwell with Kou Murayama of UCLA and University of Rochester.

Andrew Przybylski

Andrew Przybylski

Likewise, “self- prophecy” questions about intention to cheat were associated with reduced cheating among college students, found University of California, Irvine’s Eric Spangenberg and Carl Obermiller of Seattle University.

The question–behavior effect was further demonstrated in a meta-analytic study by Spangenberg with SUNY’s Ioannis Kareklas, Berna Devezer of University of Idaho, and Washington State University’s David E. Sprott.

Eric Spangenberg

Eric Spangenberg

“When you ask a question, it…creates a spring-loaded intention,” and reminds of social norms and past shortcomings, posited Sprott.
It’s that disconnect between what we should do and what we know we have done that motivates us.”

David Sprott

David Sprott

Norm-reinforcing questions are often effective in encouraging proactive behavior aligned with recognized best practices, such as a Public Service Announcement endorsing pre-school vaccination:  Ninety-five percent of parents get their kids vaccinated before kindergarten.
Will you make sure your child is up to date?

William Miller

William Miller

These pointed questions are an “active ingredient” of  Motivational Interviewing developed by University of New Mexico’s William Miller and Stephen Rollnick of Cardiff University, and have been associated with heightened motivation to reduce alcohol and drug consumption.

These finding point to the power of carefully-designed questions to provoke deeper self-reflection and related behavior change.

-*What questions have you used to encourage behavior change?

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Empathy Paradox:  Similar Adversity Reduces Compassion

Many intuitively believe that people are more empathic toward those who experience difficulties they also encounteredAltruism born of suffering.

Ervin Staub

Ervin Staub

This linkage between challenging life experiences and subsequent empathy was posited by University of Massachusetts’s Ervin Staub and Joanna Vollhardt of Clark University, and confirmed in experiments by Northeastern’s Daniel Lim and David DiSteno.

Daniel Lim

Daniel Lim

However, this connection is more complicated, found Northwestern’s Rachel Ruttan and Loran Nordgren with Mary-Hunter McDonnell of Wharton.

Rachel Ruttan

Rachel Ruttan

The team exposed volunteers to people who expressed dejection in enduring a hardship such as bullying or unemployment.

Participants who recalled similar past hardships remembered them as less distressing than they were originally experienced, and were more likely to harshly judge others in similar circumstances for their difficulties in enduring the situation.

Antonin Scalia

Antonin Scalia

In fact, volunteers who previously coped with severe bullying felt less — not more — compassion for current bullying victims.
Likewise, those who had faced greater difficulty with unemployment had less sympathy for people who were currently jobless.
This confirms the “tough love” approach implied in the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s directive to Americans dismayed with the 2000 election outcome: “Get over it!”

Mary-Hunter McDonnell

Mary-Hunter McDonnell

However, when the the volunteers’ adversity experiences differed from the current suffers’ difficulties, participants were more compassionate.
The “empathy gap” emerged only when survivors of similar hardships showed less understanding for current suffers.

Implicit Discrimination Associated with Meritocratic Beliefs, Low Empathy

Michael Young

Michael Young

Americans more than other nationalities, embrace the idea of meritocracy – that rewards are distributed based on merit, a combination of ability + effort with success, described by University of London’s Michael Young with Sheri Kunovich of Southern Methodist University, and Ohio State’s Kazimierz M. Slomczynski.

Satya Nadella

Satya Nadella

Microsoft’s CEO, Satya Nadella, made headlines when asked his advice for women who are uncomfortable asking for a raise at the 2014 Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing.
He told more than 12,000 women: “It’s not really about asking for a raise, but knowing and having faith that the system will give you the right raise … It’s good karma. It will come back.”

Although his response resulted in widespread criticism, he may have been referring to the social penalty women experience when negotiating for salary increases and promotions.

Hannah Riley Bowles

Hannah Riley Bowles

Harvard’s Hannah Riley Bowles with Linda Babcock and Lei Lai of Carnegie Mellon demonstrated this social penalty when they showed volunteers videos of men and women asking for a raise using identical scripts.
Participants agreed to give both genders a pay increase, but evaluated women as “too aggressive” and not someone they would want to work with.
However, men in these salary negotiation situations were seen as “likable.”

Emilio Castilla

Emilio Castilla

The unequal impact of merit-based compensation on minorities was demonstrated in MIT’s Emilio J. Castilla’s analysis of almost 9,000 employees in support roles at a large service-sector company.
The organization espoused commitment to diversity and had implemented a merit-based compensation system intended to reward high-level performance and equitably reward employees.

Lei Lai

Lei Lai

Despite these egalitarian goals, women, ethnic minorities, and non-U.S.-born employees received smaller increases in compensation compared with white men, despite holding the same jobs, having the same performance score, working in the same units for the same supervisors.

These results illustrated what he called the performance-reward bias – the need for minority groups “to work harder and obtain higher performance scores in order to receive similar salary increases to white men.”

Stephen Benard

Stephen Benard

With his Indiana University colleague, Stephen Benard, Castilla uncovered the paradox of meritocracy” – organizations that espouse meritocratic values awarded a larger monetary reward to male employees compared with equally performing female employees.

Despite their positive intentions and policies, these organizations perpetuated unequal evaluations and rewards across equally performing employee groups.

Eric Luis Uhlmann

Eric Luis Uhlmann

In fact, people who think they are the most objective exhibited greatest evaluation bias, found Northwestern’s Eric Luis Uhlmann and Geoffrey L. Cohen of University of Colorado.
They attributed this finding to overconfidence in objectivity, leading to lack of self-scrutiny and self-assessment of potential and implicit bias.

Corinne Moss-Racusin

Corinne Moss-Racusin

This bias was also demonstrated when volunteers provided significantly more positive evaluations of resumes were attributed to whites and men than identical resumes linked to minority-group members and women, reported by Yale’s Corinne A. Moss-Racusin, John F. Dovidio, Victoria L. Brescoll, Mark J. Graham, and Jo Handelsman.

John Dovidio

John Dovidio

Since egalitarian aspirations and performance management systems do not result in equitable reward distribution, MIT’s Castilla advocated increased transparency and accountability by creating a performance-reward committee to monitor compensation increases and to share information about pay segmented by gender, race, and nationality.
Five years after these changes were introduced in companies Castilla studied, he found that the demographic pay gap had disappeared.

Grit Hein

Grit Hein

Another way to reduce bias is to increase empathy, found Universität Bern’s Grit Hein, Jan B. Engelmann of Tinbergen Institute, and University of Zurich’s Philippe N. Tobler, with Marius C. Vollberg of University College London, in their study of 40 young men of Swiss or Balkan descent.

Participants and two research confederates received an electric charge on the back of the hand.
Next, one of the two confederates was attributed a typical Balkan name or a Swiss name, and was designated a “decision maker.”

Jan B. Engelmann

Jan B. Engelmann

Volunteers were then told they would receive “painful shocks,” but the “decision maker” could prevent this “by giving up money he would otherwise earn.”
Participants received help from the other person 15 times out of 20 trials, and received a shock five times.

Two new confederates, one with a Swiss name and one with a Balkan name, replaced the first two and the participant watched as one of them received the painful electrical pulses.
A brain scan measured the volunteers’s level of empathy for the person receiving the shock.

Philippe Tobler

Philippe Tobler

When the confederate with the Balkan minority name “helped” the participant avoid a shock by “sacrificing” a payoff, the volunteer’s brain scans demonstrated increased empathy for both the specific helper, and for other Balkan people.

The team interpreted this finding to suggest, “…empathy with an out-group member can be learned, and generalizes to other out-group individuals.”

If this trend can be replicated in the workplace by increasing organizational and managerial empathy for members of minority groups during the appraisal process, organizational rewards may be more equitably distributed.

-*How do you reduce bias in appraisal and reward processes?

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