Category Archives: Behavior Change

Behavior Change

Apologies: Repairing Relationships, Creating Interpersonal Peace

Jennifer Robbennolt

Jennifer Robbennolt

Apologies can resolve legal disputes ranging from personal injury cases to wrongful firings, according to University of Illinois’s Jennifer Robbennolt.

She found that admissions of guilt and remorse give plaintiffs and “wronged” parties a sense of satisfaction, fairness, and forgiveness that enables settlement and are associated with reduced monetary damage awards.

Robbennolt asked more than 550 volunteers to serve as “plaintiffs” in an experimental scenario, then report their reactions to “settlement levers” including:

  • Reservation prices,
  • Aspirations,
  • “Fair” settlement amounts.

Apologies enabled “injured” parties to modify their perceptions of the situation and the “offender,” and to become more willing to participate in settlement discussions.
In addition, apologies changed the values injured parties’ assigned to settlement levers, so there was increased likelihood of settling the “case.”

The type of apologies and situational context affect the likelihood of case settlement.
Apologies that acknowledge responsibility and “blame” are more influential than apologies that express sympathy.
Acknowledging accountability reduces the injured party’s anger, increases willingness to accept a settlement, and moves toward emotional “closure.”

Janelle Barlow

Janelle Barlow

Apologies are a well-known tactic to handle complaints in customer service settings, where “every complaint is a gift,” according to Janelle Barlow of TMI and Claus Møller.

Claus Møller

Claus Møller

They view complaints as valuable feedback that points out a gap between customer requirements and business performance.
In addition, complaints indicate needed changes in products, services, and market focus.

Benjamin Ho

Benjamin Ho

Medical settings have found that apologies averted medical malpractice cases, sped settlement, and reduced financial awards, according to Cornell’s Benjamin Ho.

However, lawyers who participated in other Robbennolt studies expressed concern that admission of guilt may lead to larger settlements.
This worry led to at least thirty-five U.S. states making some apologetic statements inadmissible at trial.

-*How do you determine when apologies are likely to repair a relationship and lead to “closure”?
-*What are the signs that apologies can deepen an interpersonal rupture?


©Kathryn Welds


Writing Power Primer Increases Efficacy in High-Stakes Performance

Adam Galinsky

Adam Galinsky

Power is the central regulator of human interaction…because it creates patterns of deference, reduces conflict, creates division of labor — all things that make our species successful,” wrote Columbia’s Adam Galinsky.

Francesca Gino

Francesca Gino

He evaluated a power-enhancing technique used by Francesca Gino of Harvard Business School when she applied for academic positions at top-tier universities after initial unsuccessful interviews.

Gino wrote a “power prime” to remind herself of a time she felt powerful.
She reviewed this prime before she presented a talk and interviewed for academic roles.
Using this approach, Gino received job offers from four top universities, in contrast to her previously unsuccessful attempts.

David Dubois

David Dubois

Galinsky empirically investigated whether feelings of power are associated with different outcomes in professional interviews, as in Gino’s anecdotal case.

Collaborating with David Dubois of INSEAD, Tilburg University’s Joris Lammers, and Derek Rucker of Northwestern University, they asked job applicants and business school admission candidates to write about a time they felt powerful or powerless.

Joris Lammers

Joris Lammers

Independent judges, who were unaware of the different instructions, rated “applicant’s” written and face-to-face interview performance.
Evaluators assigned highest scores to those who recalled power experiences.

Derek Rucker

Derek Rucker

Judges preferred power-primed applicants, citing their greater persuasiveness and confidence.
These candidates received more offers of job roles and business school admission than those who wrote about powerless experiences or those who wrote about situations unrelated to feelings of power and powerlessness.

Sian Beilock

Sian Beilock

An earlier post highlighted Sian Beilock’s investigation of writing as a coping tool in stressful academic situations.
Her collaborators at University of Chicago, Vanderbilt, and Pace Universities showed that students could manage test anxiety by writing about their concerns to maintain a calm mindset.

Recalling an experience of personal power can influence impressions of persuasiveness, competence, and likeability in professional interviews.
This effect can be enhanced by writing about power experiences to increase confidence and optimism when working toward desired goals.

-*How do you prepare for challenging professional interviews?

-*How effective have your found “power primes” in high-stakes performance situations?


©Kathryn Welds

Women’s Likeability–Competence Dilemma: Overcoming the Backlash Effect

Madeline Heilman

Madeline Heilman

Aaron Wallen

Aaron Wallen

Women face workplace challenges when they “succeed” in traditionally-male roles, found New York University’s Madeline Heilman, Aaron Wallen, Daniella Fuchs and Melinda Tamkins.

Melinda Tamkins

Melinda Tamkins

They found that woman who are recognized as successful in roles dominated by men, are less liked than equally successful men in the same fields.

Tyler Okimoto

Tyler Okimoto

Successful women managers avoided interpersonal hostility, dislike, and undesirability when they conveyed “communal” attributes through behaviors, testimonials of others, or their role as mothers, found Heilman, with University of Queensland’s Tyler Okimoto.

Frank Flynn

Frank Flynn

This competence-likeability disconnect was demonstrated by Stanford’s Frank Flynn in a Harvard Business School case of Silicon Valley venture capitalist and entrepreneur Heidi Roizen, who was seen as competent but disliked.

Heidi Roizen

Heidi Roizen

He and Cameron Anderson of UC Berkeley changed Heidi’s name to “Howard Roizen” for half of the participants who read the case.

Cameron Anderson

Cameron Anderson

These volunteers rated Heidi and “Howard” on perceived competence and likeability.

Heidi was rated as equally highly competent and effective as “Howard,” but she was also evaluated as unlikeable and selfish.
Most participants said they wouldn’t want to hire her or work with her.

Whitney Johnson-Lisa Joy Rosner

Whitney Johnson-Lisa Joy Rosner

Similar negative evaluations of accomplished women was illustrated in social media mentions of Sheryl Sandberg and Anne-Marie Slaughter,

Whitney Johnson, co-founder of Disruptive Advisors and her colleague Lisa Joy Rosner evaluated Brand Passion Index” (BPI) for Sandberg, Slaughter, and Marisa Mayer over 12 months by:

  • Activity (number of media mentions),
  • Sentiment (positive or negative emotional tone),
  • Intensity (strong or weak sentiment).

Public Opinion-Mayer-Sandberg-SlaughterThese competent, well-known women were not liked, and were evaluated with harsh negative attributions based on media coverage and at-a-distance observations:

  • Marissa Mayer, Yahoo’s former CEO, was described as impressive and smart, and annoying, a bully,
  • Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s former COO, was characterized as excellent, successful working mom and bizarre,
  • Anne-Marie Slaughter, former director of Policy Planning at the U.S. State Department, was depicted as an amazing, successful mother and destructive, not a good wife,
Laurie Rudman

Laurie Rudman

The competence-likeability dilemma was demonstrated in hiring behaviour experiments by Rutgers University’s Laurie Rudman and Peter Glick of Lawrence University.

Volunteers made “hiring decisions” for male and female “candidates” competing for a “feminized” managerial role and a “masculinized” managerial role.

Peter Glick

Peter Glick

Applicants were presented as demonstrating:

  • Stereotypically male behaviors (“agentic”)
  • Stereotypically female behaviors (“communal”)
  • Both stereotypically male and female behaviors (“androgynous”).

Women who displayed “masculine” traits were viewed as less socially acceptable  and were not selected for the “feminized” job.
However, this hiring bias did not occur when these women applied for the “male” job.

“Niceness” was not rewarded when competing for jobs:  Both male and female “communal” applicants received low hiring ratings.
Combining niceness with agency improved the “hiring” outcome for “androgynous” female “applicants.”

Rudman and Glick noted that “… women must present themselves as agentic to be hirable, but may therefore be seen as interpersonally deficient.”
They advised women to “temper their agency with niceness.”

Linda Babcock

Linda Babcock

The competence-likeability disconnect is also observed when women negotiate for salary and position, reported by Linda Babcock of Carnegie Mellon.
Her research demonstrated negative evaluations of women who negotiate for salaries using the same script as men.

Deborah Gruenfeld


The likeability-competence dilemma may be mitigated by integrating powerful body language with appeasing behaviors that build relationships and acknowledge others’ authority, suggested Stanford’s Deborah Gruenfeld.

She posited that many women have been socialized to adopt less powerful body language including:

  • Smiling,
  • Nodding,
  • Tilting the head,
  • Applying fleeting eye contact,
  • Speaking in sentence fragments with uncertain, rising intonation at sentence endings.

Some people in decision roles expect women to behave in these ways, and negatively evaluate behaviors that differ from expectations.

Body language is the greatest contributor to split-second judgments (less than 100 milliseconds) of people’s competence, according to Gruenfeld.
She estimated that body language is responsible for about 55% of judgments, whereas self-presentation accounts for 38%, and words for just 7%.

Her earlier work considered body language on assessments of power, and more recently, she investigated gender differences in attributions of competence and likeability.

The likeability-competence conflict may be reduced when women give up physical space  to convey approachability, empathy, and likeability, she noted.

Posing in more powerful positions for as little as two minutes can change levels of testosterone, a marker of dominance, just as holding a submissive posture for the same time can increase cortisol levels, signaling stress, according to Gruenfeld.
She suggested that women practice “the mechanics of powerful body language.”

Alison Fragale

Alison Fragale

Women’s competence-likeability dilemma is not mitigated by achieving workplace success and status.
University of North Carolina’s Alison Fragale, Benson Rosen, Carol Xu, Iryna Merideth found that successful women and men are judged more harshly for mistakes than lower status individuals who make identical errors.

Benson Rosen

Benson Rosen

Fragale’s team found that observers attributed greater intentionality, malevolence, and self-concern to the actions of high status wrongdoers than the identical actions of low status wrongdoers.
Volunteers recommended more severe punishments for higher status individuals.

Iryna Meridith

Iryna Meridith

Wrongdoers who demonstrated concern for others, charitable giving, and interpersonal warmth built goodwill that could protect from subsequent mistakes.

-*How do you convey both likeability and competence?


©Kathryn Welds

Training or Mentorship to Build Leadership Skills?

Peter Harms

Leadership development services are at least a USD $134 billion annual expenditure in the US, leading many to question the estimated and actual Return on Investment (ROI).

Paul Lester

Paul Lester

A six-month study of U.S. Military Academy cadets at West Point provided answers.

University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Peter Harms collaborated with Paul Lester of the U.S. Army Comprehensive Soldier Fitness Directory, U.S. Military Academy’ Sean Hanna, Gretchen Vogelgesang of Federal Management Partners, and University of Washington’s Bruce Avolio to evaluate:

Sean Hanna

– Sean Hanna

  • -Candidates’s readiness to receive candid feedback from multiple sources,
  • Mentoring from a supportive leadership coach,

-Realistic advancement opportunities in the organization.

Bruce Avolio

Participants were randomly assigned to an individual mentorship program or classroom-based group leadership training.

Those who participated in the mentorships were significantly more likely to report increased confidence in assuming a leadership role than those in the classroom training.

The mentoring group’s effectiveness was significantly related to the mentorship coaches’ ability to:

  • Establish a trust-based collaborative relationship,
  • Provide support,
  • Offer candid observational feedback,
  • Advocate for cadets who exercise leadership.

Additionally, participants who reported greatest gains in leadership skills and confidence were:

  • Open to receiving candid feedback from mentors,
  • Willing to receive challenging developmental feedback.

The least expensive approach to leadership development did not produce the greatest results, suggesting the value of individualized leadership coaching

Ted Kaptchuk

Ted Kaptchuk

The powerful effect of individual attention was demonstrated when attention from experts provided a placebo effect for 250 patients with documented symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).

Those who received the most individualized attention in three no-treatment conditions reported the greatest symptom relief even though they received no medical intervention and participants were informed that the “treatment” was a placebo, reported Harvard’s Ted Kaptchuk.

The most important “active ingredient” in leadership development training may be personalized attention, followed by candidates’s willingness to receive candid feedback and to implement recommendations.

 -*How has personalized mentoring helped you develop leadership competencies?

©Kathryn Welds

Self Compassion, not Self-Esteem, Enhances Performance

Juliana Breines

Juliana Breines

Self-compassion is treating one’s own mistakes with the same support and compassion offered to others, and it is more important than self-esteem to develop skills and performance, found University of California, Berkeley’s Juliana Breines and Serena Chen.

Self-compassion enables people to accept their mistakes and shortcomings with kindness.
It also enables equanimity when people are aware of painful thoughts and feelings.
Self-compassion is optimised when people accept responsibility for disappointing performance outcomes, and use this information to improve future performance.

Serena Chen

In Breines and Chen’s research, volunteers considered a personal setback with either:

  • self-compassion or
  • self-esteem enhancement (focusing on one’s positive qualities and accomplishments).

People who practiced a self-compassion tended to view personal shortcomings as changeable, and said they felt more motivated to improve performance by avoiding the same mistake.

Another task induced failure, then provided an opportunity to improve performance in a later challenge.
Participants who viewed their initial test failure with self-compassion devoted 25 per cent more time to preparing for future trials, and scored higher on the second test than those who focused on bolstering their self-esteem.

Self-compassion can enhance performance, suggested Breines and Chen, because it enables more dispassionate assessment of actions, abilities, and opportunities for future improvement.
In contrast, self-esteem-bolstering thoughts may narrow focus to consider only positive characteristics while overlooking opportunities for improvement.

Robert McCrae

Self-compassion measures were related to positive personality characteristics outlined in Robert McCrae and Paul Costa’s five factor model of personality known by the acronym OCEAN:

Paul Costa

  • Openness (curious vs. consistent/cautious)
  • Conscientiousness (organised vs. careless)
  • Extraversion (outgoing vs. reserved)
  • Agreeableness (friendly vs. unkind)
  • Neuroticism (nervous vs. confident)

    in a study by Kristin Neff and Stephanie Rude of University of Texas, and Kristin Kirkpatrick of Eastern Kentucky University.

Kristin Neff

Neff’s team found that higher levels of personal well-being, optimism, initiative, conscientiousness, curiosity, happiness were associated with self-compassion.
Higher self-compassion was also related to lower anxiety and depression.

In contrast, self-criticism, was associated with imagined assessments by others and comparisons with other people.

Mark Baldwin

McGill University’s Mark Baldwin found that participants who imagined an important person providing evaluative feedback experienced more negative self-evaluations, self-criticism, and negative moods.

Compassionate self-appraisals enable people to perform better and experience more positive moods than self-critical evaluations.

-*How have you applied self-compassion to improve performance?

Related Post
Working toward Goals with “Implementation Intentions”

©Kathryn Welds

Working toward Goals with “Implementation Intentions”

People are motivated by goals that enable:

  • Relatedness to others,
  • Competence in skillfully performance,
  • Autonomy in directing effort, according to Columbia’s Heidi Grant Halvorson.

    Heidi Grant Halvorson

    Heidi Grant Halvorson

    Juliana Breines

    • She advocated working toward “better” rather than only on achieving the goal to increase performance.

    This can be accomplished by acknowledging mistakes and practicing self-compassion, suggested by Berkeley’s Juliana Breines and Serena Chen, and University of Texas‘s Kristin Neff.

The Relatedness-Competence-Autonomy model aligns with Daniel Pink’s suggestion that meaningful goals enable two similar features and one different element:

Daniel Pink

  • Autonomy (same): Controlling work content and context,
  • Mastery (like Competence): Improving skill over time through persistence, effort, corrective feedback,
  • Purpose (in contrast to Relatedness): Being part of an inspiring goal.

Halvorson suggested ways to move closer toward goals:

Serena Chen

-Consider the larger context of specific productive actions, 

-Define reasons for doing what needs to be done – the “why,”

-Use “implementation intentions” to prepare responses for challenging situations:

If “x” occurs (specify time, place, circumstance),
then I will respond by doing, thinking, saying “y.”

    • “When I feel anxious, I will focus on inhaling and exhaling slowly for 60 seconds.”
      “When it’s 7 am, I will walk for 10 minutes,”

Kristin Neff

-Apply implementation intention routines (habits) for “strategic automation” to reduce decision-overload that may undermine self-control,

-Focus on something interesting for five minutes to evoke positive feelings,

-Review “small wins” and progress toward goals.

Goal persistence can be increased, reported Stanford’s Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer in a study of employees at seven companies.

Teresa Amabile

Teresa Amabile

They found that “catalysts” and “nourishers” continue movement toward goals:

    • Capitalise on preferred motivational style:
      -“Promotion-focused” (maximise gains, avoid missed opportunities, powered by optimism),
      -“Prevention-focused” (minimise losses, variance, powered by cautious pessimism),
    • Build willpower by committing to one specific, positively-stated behavior change (“walking for 10 minutes a day every day”)
    • Apply “implementation intentions,
    • Focus on a limited number of achievable goals,
    • Enlist “mental contrasting” to think about the satisfaction of achieving the goal.

Carol Dweck

Carol Dweck

Halvorson collaborated with Stanford’s Carol Dweck and quoted Henry Ford: “Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re probably right” to underscore the value of optimistic engagement with goals.

Henry Ford

Henry Ford

They synthesized Dweck’s work on “mindsets” with Halvorson’s recommendations for setting, monitoring, protecting, executing, and celebrating goals.  

An earlier post outlined Dweck’s definitions of mindsets:

• Fixed Mindset:  Belief that personal capabilities are given, fixed, limited to present capacities, associated with fear, anxiety,

• Growth Mindset:  View that personal capabilities can expand based on commitment, effort, practice, instruction, correcting mistakescollaboration.

Peter Gollwitzer

Peter Gollwitzer

Columbia’s Peter Gollwitzer refined “mindsets” by distinguishing the Deliberative Mindset of evaluating which goals to pursue from the Implementation Mindset of planning goal execution.

His team found that the Deliberative Mindset is associated with:

    • Accurate, impartial analysis of goal feasibility and desirability,
    • Open-mindedness.

In contrast, the Implementation Mindset is linked to:

    • Optimistic, partial analysis of goal feasibility and desirability,
    • Closed-mindedness.

Halvorson, Dweck and Gollwitzer translated their research on self-determination and motivation into practical recommendations for goal seekers:

    • Adopt a supportive “mindset,”
    • Practice “self-compassion” when encountering setbacks to achieving goals,
    • Design effective responses to anticipated challenging situations,
    • Use “implementation intentions” and “strategic automation” toward goals,
    • Consider incremental progress toward goals.

-*What approaches help you work toward goals?

Related Posts:

©Kathryn Welds

Costs of Workplace Incivility

Christine Pearson

A single incident of incivility in the workplace can result in significant operational costs, reported Christine Pearson of Thunderbird School of Global Management and Christine Porath of Georgetown University.
They cited consequences of workplace incivility:

  • Decreased work effort due to disengagement,

    Christine Porath

    Christine Porath

  • Less time at work to reduce contact with  offensive co-workers or managers,
  • Decreased work productivity due to ruminating about incivility incidents,
  • Less commitment to the organization,
  • Attrition.

Pier Massimo Forni

P.M. Forni

Additional organizational symptoms include:

  • Increased customer complaints,
  • Accentuated cultural and communications barriers,
  • Reduced confidence in leadership,
  • Less adoption of changed organizational processes,
  • Reduced willingness to accept additional responsibility and make discretionary work efforts.

Workplace incivility behaviors were described as “rude and discourteous, displaying a lack of regard for others,” noted Pearson and Lynne Andersson, then of St. Joseph’s University.
“Uncivil” behaviors were enumerated in The Baltimore Workplace Civility Study by Johns Hopkins’ P.M. Forni and Daniel L. Buccino with David Stevens and Treva Stack of University of Baltimore:

  • Refusing to collaborate on a team project,
  • Shifting blame for an error to a co-worker,
      • Reading another’s mail,
      • Neglecting to say “please,” “thank you”,
      • Taking a co-worker’s food from the office refrigerator without asking.

Respondents classified more extreme unacceptable behaviors as “violent”:

  • Pushing a co-worker during an argument,
  • Yelling at a co-worker,
  • Firing a subordinate during a disagreement,
  • Criticizing a subordinate in public,
  • Using foul language in the workplace.

Gary Namie

Workplace bullying was included in Gary Namie’s Campaign Against Workplace Bullying.
He defined bullying as “the deliberate repeated, hurtful verbal mistreatment of a person (target) by a cruel perpetrator (bully).

His survey of more than 1300 respondents found that:

  • More than one-third of respondents observed bullying in the previous two years,
  • More than 80% of perpetrators were workplace supervisors,
  • Women bullied as frequently as men,
  • Women were targets of bullying 75% of the time,
  • Few bullies were punished, transferred, or terminated from jobs.

Costs of health-related symptoms experienced by bullying targets included:

  • Depression,
  • Sleep loss, anxiety, inability to concentrate, which reduced work productivity,
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) among 31% of women and 21% of men,
  • Frequent rumination about past bullying, leading to inattention, poor concentration, and reduced productivity.

Choosing CivilityWidespread prevalence of workplace incivility was also reported by Forni, who suggested ways to improve workplace interactions and inclusion:

  • Assume that others have positive intentions,
  • Pay attention, listen,
  • Include all co-workers in workplace activities,
  • Avoid complaints,
  • Acknowledge others,
  • Give praise when warranted,
  • Respect others’ opinions, time, space, indirect refusals,
  • Avoid asking personal questions,
  • Be selective in asking for favors,
  • Sincerely apologize when warranted,
  • Provide constructive suggestions for improvement,
  • Maintain personal grooming, health, and work environment,
  • Accept responsibility and blame, if deserved.

More than 95% of respondents in The Baltimore Workplace Civility Study suggested, “Keep stress and fatigue at manageable levels,” a challenging goal for leaders who shape workplace cultures.

Organizationalhange recommendations include:

  • Instituting a grievance process to investigate and address complaints of incivility,
  • Selecting prospective employees with effective interpersonal skills,
  • Offering a clearly-written policy on interpersonal conduct,
  • Adopting flexibility in scheduling, assignments, and work-life issues.

-*How do you handle workplace incivility when you observe or experience it?

©Kathryn Welds

Executive Presence: “Gravitas”, Communication…and Appearance?

Executive Presence is considered essential to effectively perform in leadership roles.

Sylvia Ann Hewlett

Sylvia Ann Hewlett

Professional advancement to executive roles requires demonstrated knowledge, skill, and competence, coupled with less quantifiable “authenticity,” “cultural fit,” and “executive presence.”

Sylvia Ann Hewlett, CEO of Center for Talent Innovation, conducted 18 focus groups and 60 interviews to systematically investigate behavioral and attitudinal aspects of Executive Presence (EP).

Executive Presence accounts for more than a quarter of factors that determine a next promotion, according to participants, and includes three components:Executive Presence

Gravitas” – Authoritative Behavior

    • Confidence, composure,
    • Decisiveness,
    • Integrity,
    • Emotional Intelligence: Self-awareness, self-regulation, interpersonal skills,
    • Personal “brand” reputation,
    • Vision for leadership,


    • Speaking skills:  Voice tone, articulation, grammatical speech conveying competence,
    • Presence”, “bearing”,  “charisma” including assertiveness, humor, humility,
    • Ability to sense audience engagement, emotion, interests,


    • Grooming, posture,
    • Physical attractiveness, normal weight,
    • Professional attire.

Harrison Monarth

Executive presence can be cultivated with Image Management, noted Harrison Monarth.

He advocated self-marketing tactics including:

-Maintaining a compelling personal “brand” to influence others’ perceptions and willingness to collaborate,

-Managing online reputation, and recovering when communications go awry,

-Effectively persuading those who disagree, and gaining followers,

-Demonstrating “Emotional Intelligence” skills of self-awareness, awareness of others (empathic insight).

He focused less on appearance as a contributor to career advancement than Hewlett and Stanford Law School’s Deborah Rhode, who summarized extensive research on Halo Effect.
Rhode and Hewlett acknowledged the impact of appearance and non-verbal behavior on various life opportunities including career advancement.

Deborah Rhode

Rhode estimated that annual world-wide investment in appearance is close to $200 billion in 2010 USD currency, and she contended that bias based on appearance:

  • Is prevalent,
  • Infringes on individuals’ fundamental rights,
  • Compromises merit principles,
  • Reinforces negative stereotypes,
  • Compounds disadvantages facing members of non-dominant races, classes, and gender.

Executive Presence is widely recognized as a prerequisite for leadership roles, yet its components remained loosely-defined until Hewlett’s systematic investigation, Monarth’s consulting-based approach, and Rhode’s legal analysis.

-*Which elements seem most essential to Executive Presence?

See related posts

©Kathryn Welds

Positive Thinking+Mental Contrasting+WOOP Improve Performance

Gabriele Oettingen

Gabriele Oettingen

Positive thinking without an implementation strategy is ineffective wishful thinking, found NYU’s Gabriele Oettingen.
She advocates using “Mental Contrast” by considering obstacles and potential ways to manage them, using a mnemonic WOOP:

  • Wish,
  • Outcome,
  • Obstacle,
  • Plan.
Andreas Kappes

Andreas Kappes

Oettingen and University of London colleague Andreas Kappas reported two less effective approaches to goal engagement:

– Indulging – Thinking about the desired future state without considering ways to overcome obstacles,

– Dwelling – Thinking about the present reality without future goals and ways to achieve them.

People who used these approaches were less committed to their goals than those who used Mental Contrast.
This trend was true even when success probabilities were high in interpersonal relations, academic achievement, professional achievement, health, life management experiences.

Mental Contrast helped people self-regulate and improve performance technique when used with Implementation Intentions (MCII).
However, Mental Contrast alone was less effective when perceived chances of success were low.
This approach led to disengagement from goals.

More effective approaches in this condition were Indulging in the future goal fantasy or Dwelling only in the present reality.

Probability of Success-Mental Contrast-Indulve-Dwelling

Volunteers who spent more time imagining working in a “dream job,” but had lower expectations of success, received fewer job offers and lower starting salaries, found Oettingen and Doris Mayer of University of Hamburg.

The research team differentiated the motivational impact of:

  • Positive expectations for future success->high effort+successful performance,

  • Positive fantasies when the probability of success is low->no increased effort.

Mental Contrast helped people disengage from unfeasible goals like reviving an ended relationship or achieving an unattainable professional identity.
When chances of success are low, people can use Mental Contrast to move on to more feasible goals.

When facing controllable and escapable tasks, people benefitted from Mental Contrast of fantasy vs reality.
However, when facing tasks that cannot be mastered such as terminal illness, Indulging in positive fantasies enabled people to maintain a positive outlook.

Volunteers increased performance when they linked a negative personal attribute (“impulsivity”) with its positive element (“creativity”).

Timur Sevincer

Timur Sevincer

Participants showed greater effort-based creativity than those who were given no information or told that there’s no association between impulsivity and creativity.

This “silver lining theory” increased performance and enabled people to manage perceived negative attributes.

Mental Contrast between a desired future with a present reality also increased physiological activation measured by systolic blood pressure and grip strength.

This energy activation from mental processes can increase performance effort, concluded University of Hamburg’s A. Timur Sevincer and P. Daniel Busatta collaborating with Oettingen.

Philip Daniel Busatta

Philip Daniel Busatta

Coupling Mental Contrast with Implementation Intentions (MCII) helped economically-disadvantaged children convert positive thoughts about future outcomes into effective action, found University of Pennsylvania’s Angela Lee Duckworth, Teri A. Kirby of University of Washington with NYU’s Peter Gollwitzer and Oettingen.

Teri Kirby

Teri Kirby

Volunteers compared a desired future with potential obstacles, and developed if–then implementation intentions to mitigate obstacles.

More than 75 U.S. urban middle school 10 year olds were randomly assigned to learn either MCII or a Positive Thinking strategy as a comparison.

Student volunteers who applied MCII tools to their academic goals significantly improved their report card grades, attendance, and conduct, suggesting the value of Mental Contrast to enhance goal commitment and realization.

Mental Contrast can increase motivation when used with Implementation Intentions.
An exception occurs when there is low probability of achieving goals.
In those cases, Indulging or Dwelling strategies are more effective in maintaining goal motivation.

  • How have you seen Mental Contrast affect your motivation and performance?


©Kathryn Welds

Defining Elusive Elements of “Executive Presence”

Sylvia Ann Hewlett

Sylvia Ann Hewlett

Communication, “Gravitas”, and Appearance were most-frequently cited attributes of Executive Presence in a study by Sylvia Ann Hewlett of the Center for Talent Innovation.

Gavin Dagley

Interviews with 34 professionals, conducted by Perspex Consulting’s Gavin Dagley and Cadeyrn J. Gaskin, formerly of Deakin University, identified more elements than Hewitt’s proposed triad of qualities.

Caderyn Gaskin

Most executives described as having “presence” were men, and five “presence” characteristics were observable during initial contact:

  • Status and reputation, similar to “gravitas” discussed by Hewitt,
  • Physical appearance, also mentioned by Hewitt,
  • Confidence,
  • Communication ability, included in Hewitt’s “presence” triad,
  • Interpersonal engagement skills.

Five additional presence attributes emerge during repeated contacts that lead to evaluations over time:

  • Interpersonal integrity,
  • Values-in-action,
  • Intellect and expertise,
  • Outcome delivery,
  • Coercive power.

These qualities combine in different ways to form four presence “archetypes”:

  • Positive presence, based on favorable impressions of confidence, communication, appearance, and engagement skills plus favorable evaluations of values, intellect, and expertise,
  • Unexpected presence, linked to unfavorable impressions of confidence plus favorable evaluations of intellect, expertise, and values,
  • Unsustainable presence combines favorable impressions of confidence, status, reputation, communication, and engagement skills plus unfavorable evaluations of values and integrity,
  • “Dark presence” is associated with unfavorable perceptions of engagement skills plus unfavorable evaluations of values, integrity, and coercive use of power.

Philippe De Backer

Philippe De Backer

Another typology of executive presence characteristics was identified by Sharon V. Voros and Bain’s Philippe de Backer.
They prioritized elements in order of importance for life outcomes:

  • Focus on long term, strategic drivers,
  • Intellect,
  • Charisma, combining confidence, intensity, commitment, plus demeanor of care, concern and interest in others,
  • Communication skills,
  • Passion,
  • Cultural fit,
  • Poise,
  • Appearance.

Fred Luthans

Fred Luthans

University of Nebraska’s Fred Luthans and Stuart Rosenkrantz with Richard M. Hodgetts of Florida International University investigated the relationship between “executive presence” and career “success.”
They observed nearly 300 managers across levels at large and small mainstream organizations as they:

  • Communicated,
  • Engaged in “traditional management” activities, including planning, decision making, controlling,
  • Managed human resource issues.

Richard Hodgetts

Richard Hodgetts

Communication and interpersonal skills elements of presence, coupled with intentional networking and political acumen enabled managers to rapidly advance in their organizations.

These managers were identified as “successful” leaders because they advanced more rapidly than “effective” managers, measured by participants’ organizational level compared with their organizational tenure.
In contrast, “effective” managers demonstrated greater managerial skill than “successful” managers, but were not promoted as quickly.

“Effective” managers spent most time managing employees’ activities including:

  • Motivating/reinforcing,
  • Managing conflict,
  • Hiring/staffing,
  • Training/developing team members,
  • Communicating by exchanging information,
  • Processing paperwork.

Stuart Rosenkrantz

Stuart Rosenkrantz

Subordinates of “effective” managers reported more:

  • Job satisfaction,
  • Organizational commitment,
  • Performance quality,
  • Performance quantity.

Differences in advancement and subordinate reactions to “successful” and “effective” managers were related to differing managerial behaviors.

Fred Luthans-Effective Managers“Successful” managers spent little time in managerial activities, but invested more effort in networking, socializing, politicking, and interacting with outsiders.
Their networking activities were most strongly related to career advancement but weakly associated with “effectiveness.”

Few managers were both “successful” and “effective”:  Only about 10% were among the top third of both successful managers and effective managers.
This suggests that effective managers who support employee performance may not be advance as rapidly as managers who prioritize their own career over their employees’ careers.

Gender differences in gravitas, communication, and political acumen may explain why men more often are seen as possessing “executive presence.”
Women who aspire to organizational advancement benefit from cultivate both gravitas and proactive networking to complement communication and interpersonal skills.

-*Which behaviors and characteristics are essential to “Executive Presence?”

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©Kathryn Welds