Power, Confidence Enhance Performance Under Pressure    

Sonia K. Kang

Sonia K. Kang

Role-based power can affect performance in pressure-filled situations, but has less impact on lower pressure environments, according to University of Toronto’s Sonia K. Kang, Adam D. Galinsky of Columbia University, University of California, Berkeley’s Laura J. Kray and Aiwa Shirako of Google.

Kang’s team assigned more than 130 volunteers to same-gender pairs in three negotiations experiments.
Half the participants acted as a “recruiter” (high-power role) or as a “job candidate” (low-power role) in negotiating salary, vacation time, and related benefits.

Adam Galinsky

Adam Galinsky

Volunteers were told that performance either reflected negotiation ability or was unrelated to ability.
Participants in high power roles tended to perform better under pressure when they were told their negotiation performance was an accurate reflection of ability.
Kang attributed this result to participants’ higher expectations for success based on the higher power role.

Job candidates who thought their negotiation performance indicated their skill level performed significantly worse than those who thought that the exercise was a learning experience unrelated to their negotiating capabilities.

Claude Steele

Claude Steele

Results were similar to Claude Steele of Stanford’s findings for stereotype threat and stereotype uplift, in which individuals from marginalized groups perform less effectively than members of higher-power groups, linked to negative self-attributions and expectations.
Low-power negotiators counteracted underperformance when they self-affirmed their performance.

Laura Kray

Laura Kray

Kang and team concluded that “relative power can act as either a toxic brew (stereotype/low-power threat) or a beneficial elixir (stereotype/high-power lift) for performance… (because) performance in high pressure situations is closely related to expectations of behavior and outcome… Self-affirmation is a way to neutralize … threat.

Aiwa Shirako

Aiwa Shirako

In another experiment, 60 male MBA students were paired as the “buyer” or “seller” of a biotechnology plant.
The sellers held a more powerful role in this situation, and were more assertive, reflected by negotiating a higher selling price, when they thought performance reflected ability.
In contrast, buyers performed worse when they thought negotiating performance reflected ability.

Kang’s team extended this scenario with 88 MBA students (33 male pairs and 11 female pairs), who were told the exercise would gauge their negotiating skills.
Before the negotiation, half of the participants wrote for five minutes about their most important negotiating skill, while the remaining half wrote about their least important negotiating skill.

Francesca Gino

Francesca Gino

Buyers who completed the positive self-affirmation performed significantly better in negotiating a lower sale price for the biotechnology plant, effectively reducing the power differences between the buyer and seller.

Based on these findings, Kang, like Harvard’s Francesca Gino, advocates writing self-affirmations rather than simply reflecting on positive self-statements about job skills and positive traits to enhance confidence and performance.

-*How do you mitigate differences in role-based power and confidence when performing under pressure?

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