Category Archives: Business Communication

Business Communication

Transference in Everyday Life Biases Memory, Emotions

-*Ever catch yourself re-enacting scenarios from your past, but with different people?

Sigmund Freud

Sigmund Freud

 Sigmund Freud described this experience as “transference,” redirecting feelings toward one person onto a different individual in the present.

The current recipient of feelings may have different characteristics, motivations, and behaviors than the original person, but something about the present individual triggers a repeat of earlier feelings and actions.

Susan Andersen

Susan Andersen

NYU’s Susan Andersen and Alana Baum demonstrated transference in lab studies when they asked volunteers for descriptions of important people in their lives for whom they had positive feelings or negative feelings.
To contrast the results, Andersen and Baum also presented descriptions of other people’s significant others.

Later, Anderson and Baum described a person seated next door, using either the emotionally-positive or emotionally-negative descriptions of someone from the volunteer’s life or someone else’s life.

Participants more accurately recalled the stranger next door’s description when it resembled their own significant other.
Recall was enhanced because the salient features of the significant other’s description were memorable when assigned to a new person, suggesting transference.

In addition, biased inference and memory is based on “accessibility” and distinctiveness of the earlier triggering memory, according to Anderson’s collaborators Steve W. Cole and Noah Glassman.

Transference is an outgrowth of attachment to others in the past, according to Queens College’s Claudia Chloe Brumbaugh and R. Chris Fraley University of Illinois.

R. Chris Fraley

R. Chris Fraley

In their research , participants learned about two potential dating partners:  One description resembled a romantic partner from the person’s past, whereas another description matched another participant’s former partner.

These volunteers reported feeling both less avoidant and more anxious toward potential dating partners described as similar to previous significant others.
Brumbaugh and Fraley noted that participants “applied attachment representations of past partners” to any potential future partner, but to a greater extent when the new partner was described as resembling an important past partner.

Susan Fiske

Susan Fiske

Earlier, Princeton’s Susan Fiske described this transfer of affective responses to a new individual as schema-triggered affect.
Andersen used this framework and a socio-cognitive explanation in a paper with Berkeley’s Serena Chen.

Serena Chen

Serena Chen

People modify views of themselves and others in transference situations, found Katrina Hinkley and Andersen.
Volunteers also demonstrated biased recall of details about a new person when a representation of an earlier significant other was activated.
Participants’ list of the new person’s attributes changed on re-test to include elements of the self when the participant had been with the former significant person.

Michael Kraus

Michael Kraus

Transference occurs even when a target person possesses an attribute incompatible with the significant other’s characteristics, found University of Illinois’s Michael W. Kraus with Berkeley’s Chen, Victoria A. Lee, and Laura D. Straus.

Participants demonstrated transference in biased memories and judgments about a person they perceived as similar to a former significant other.

This effect was manipulated to elicit positive impressions even when the target was from an ethnic out-group, suggesting ways to reduce stigma and discrimination by evoking positive transference from past experiences to present actors.

Baum and Anderson demonstrated that transient mood during a current transference experience is related to one’s positive or negative interpersonal role with the significant other, and whether this role is consistent with the new person’s role.

They observed that participants’ transient mood was more positive when the target of their transference resembled their own significant other and occupied a similar role to the original person.

These findings suggest that transference in the workplace can be problematic when employees react to one another as they responded to others from the past, introducing unconscious emotional elements to work situations.

-*How do you manage transference reactions in work and social situations?

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Ask for What You Want: You Have More Influence Than You Think

Most people underestimate the likelihood that requests for help will be granted, particularly after experiencing previous refusals, according to Stanford’s Daniel Newark and Francis Flynn with Vanessa Lake Bohns of University of Waterloo.

Francis Flynn

Help-seekers were more likely to believe that a previous refusal would be followed by another refusal to a similar request. 
However, help-seekers underestimated the compliance rate of potential helpers who had previously refused assistance.
This suggests that most people agree with a subsequent request, often to reduce discomfort of rejecting others’ overtures for help.

Vanessa Bohns

Vanessa Bohns

Participants estimated they would need to ask 10 people to have three agree to lend their mobile phones for brief calls.
In fact, these volunteers needed to ask only six people for help, 40% fewer than expected.
Most people have a pessimistic bias about the likelihood that others will provide assistance, they concluded.

Volunteers requested two favors of strangers:  Complete a brief survey and take a letter to a nearby post office.
Help seekers predicted that people who refused the first request to complete the survey would be less likely to take the letter to the post office.

More people agreed to the second request than to the first request, showing that after people refused a request, they were more likely to agree the second time.
Requestors tended to “anchor” on the first refusal, and hesitate to make a second request.
However, this finding suggests that requestors have a greater chance of success after initial refusal, and that this is the time to muster resilience and persistence.

Requestors and potential help-seekers analyzed requests using different criteria: Requestors focused on the magnitude of the “ask,” whereas potential helpers considered the inconvenience costs of saying “yes” compare with the interpersonal and self-image costs of saying “no.”

Requestors benefit from expanding the pool of those they ask, not just those who reliably and consistently agree.
These individuals are typically overburdened by requests, and those who are more selective in their assistance are underutilized and may be willing to assist.

Potential helpers underestimated help-seekers’ discomfort and embarrassment in asking for assistance, in previous studies by the team.
This may result in less willingness to help underutilized formal support programs.
The most effective way to increase help-seeking is to encourage helpers to focus on reducing help-seekers’ subjective discomfort in asking rather than advocating the practical benefits of asking for help.

Mahdi Roghanizad

Mahdi Roghanizad

Bohns extended this focus on the impact of interpersonal discomfort in deciding whether to commit an unethical act in research with University of Waterloo colleagues Mahdi Roghanizad and Amy Xu.

People who observed the unethical act but didn’t participate (“instigators”) underestimated their influence over those who committed the asocial acts.

Volunteers enlisted people they didn’t know to tell a small untruth or to commit a small act of vandalism after predicting the ease of enlisting others in these acts.
In related investigations, online participants responded to hypothetical vignettes about buying alcohol for children, and taking office supplies home for personal use.

Bystanders underestimated their impact on others when they suggested engaging in unethical acts.
Further, interpersonal discomfort caused participants to commit the asocial act to avoid conflict.

These results suggest that most people inaccurately estimate their influence, particularly in situations that can evoke interpersonal discomfort.
At the same time, Bohns and Flynn reported that employees’ systematically underestimate their influence over others in the workplace.
Most employees expect their efforts to be futile.

This pessimistic bias can limit employees’ willingness to:

  • Lead business transformation initiatives,
  • Recognize personal contributions to others’ performance issues,
  • Voice concerns about unethical workplace practices.

This underestimation bias may be mitigated by five variables:

  • Comparative judgments,
  • Objectifying an influence target,
  • Actual degree of personal influence compared to perceived influence,
  • Means of influence, ranging across incentives, suggestions, reinforcements, punishments,
  • Organizational culture. 

These findings suggest asking for what you want, even after rejection.
In addition, you have more influence over others than you expect.

-*How do you assess your likelihood of getting what you want when you ask?

-*How likely are others to influence you by evoking social discomfort to increase your compliance?

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How Accurate are Personality Judgments Based on Physical Appearance?

Appearance, including facial expression, posture, and clothing provide important visual communications to observers.

Laura Naumann

Laura Naumann

Simine Vazire

Simine Vazire

To evaluate observers’ accuracy in judging personality traits based on the appearance of people they didn’t know, Sonoma State University’s Laura Naumann, with Simine Vazire of Washington University in St. Louis, University of Cambridge’s Peter Rentfrow, and Samuel Gosling of University of Texas at Austin asked volunteers to rate 10 personality traits.

Peter Rentfrow

Peter Rentfrow

These characteristics included Big Five Personality Traits –  Openness to Experience, Conscientiousness Extraversion, Agreeableness, Neuroticism, proposed by Paul Costa and Robert McCrae of the U.S. National Institutes of Health .

In addition, participants assessed likability, self-esteem, loneliness, religiosity, and political orientation) of people pictured full-body photographs.

Samuel Gosling

Samuel Gosling

These measures were compared with ratings by the photographed person and people acquainted with the individual.

Paul Costa

Paul Costa

Observers’ judgments were accurate when they rated extraversion, self-esteem, and religiosity among people photographed in a “standardized” pose, and were correct for more personality traits when judging photographs in spontaneous poses and facial expressions.
This suggests that candid photographs provide more accurate cues to some personality characteristics than planned poses.

Robert McCrae

Robert McCrae

Static cues such as clothing style, and dynamic cues including facial expression and posture provided “cue validity” that enabled observers to make accurate judgments of personality characteristics by “cue utilization.”

John Irving

John Irving

These findings confirmed that observers make accurate inferences about some personality characterics based on visual cues, validating novelist John Irving’s assertion through his narrator, John Wheelwright, in A Prayer for Owen Meany: “Things often are as they appear. First impressions matter.

-*How accurate are your judgments of personality traits in people you don’t already know?
-*How accurate are other people’s inferences about your personality traits?

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Inferring, Predicting Others’ Thoughts, Intentions, Behavior

Developing accurate inferences about others’ expectations and likely actions is essential for successful social interactions.

Demis Hassabis

Demis Hassabis

The brain’s process to develop predictions about others’ thoughts and behaviors was investigated by University College London’s Demis Hassabis, with R. Nathan Spreng of Cornell University, Vrije Universiteit’s Andrei A. Rusu, Harvard’s Clifford A. Robbins and Daniel Schacter, and Raymond A. Mar of York University.

R. Nathan Spreng

R. Nathan Spreng

Volunteers read about four fictional protagonists’ personality traits (Agreeableness, Extraversion), then imagined each character’s behaviors in different situations.
Each volunteer then participated in fMRI brain scans.

Andrei Rusu

Andrei Rusu

Medial prefrontal cortex activity in the brain was associated with accurate inferences about protagonists’ personality characteristics and behaviors, demonstrating that “brain activity can reveal whom someone is thinking about.

Clifford Robbins

Clifford Robbins

Lateral temporal cingulate cortex activity occurred when participants accurately determined protagonists’ degree of agreeableness, whereas activity in the posterior cingulate cortex activity was associated with correct judgments of protagonists’ degree of extraversion.

Daniel Schachter

Daniel Schachter

Brain regions responsible for processing inferences of personality traits and behaviors are functionally coupled with areas that differentiate people’s identities, found Hassabis’s group.

Raymond Mar

Raymond Mar

This means that specific brain regions “code” inferred personality traits in others and synthesize these characteristics into “personality models” that represent individuals and their likely behavior in new situations.

Matthew Hertenstein

Matthew Hertenstein

People can even infer others’ emotional intentions through unseen touchreported Matthew Hertenstein with DePauw University colleagues Brittany Bulleit and Ariane Jaskolka, UC Berkeley’s Dacher Keltner and Betsy App of University of Denver.

Brittany Bulleit-Ariane Jaskolka

Brittany Bulleit-Ariane Jaskolka

Two hundred volunteers in the United States and Spain accurately perceived anger, fear, disgust, love, gratitude, and sympathy conveyed by unseen touch, but not happiness, sadness, surprise, embarrassment, envy, or pride.

Dacher Keltner

Observers also accurately identified emotions conveyed by participants’ “tactile displays” when they touched paired volunteers.

Betsy App

Betsy App

Gian Gonzaga of UCLA collaborated with Keltner and University of Wisconsin’s Daniel Ward to investigate male-female communication pairs’ ability to infer and detect emotion

Gian Gonzaga

Gian Gonzaga

Guided by Keltner’s “approach/inhibition theory of power,” the researchers attributed high power to one volunteer in a communication pair, then compared communications when both people were in an equal-power condition between women and men.

Participants endowed with high power showed behavioral disinhibition, and made less accurate judgments of the communication partner’s emotion.
In contrast, individuals in the low-power role demonstrated more behavioral inhibition and reported greater self-consciousness and anxiety.

Men in engaged in power behaviors even when participants were attributed equal power, and
this behavior was less apparent when both participants were men.
This finding confirms the continuing existence of power differentials between women and men and he team confirmed gender-related “emotion blindness” when male-female pairs misinterpreted each other’s attempts to convey specific emotions. 

Male pairs accurately detected anger, but men did not understand women’s attempts to convey anger in male-female pairs.
Likewise, women did not accurately detect men’s attempts to convey compassion, but female pairs accurately perceived expressions of happiness.

Sympathy was accurately communicated only when at least one woman was in the volunteer pair, demonstrating gender-related limitations to accurate empathy and emotionally intelligent interpersonal inferences.

-*How do you develop accurate inferences about others’ opinions and likely behaviors?
-*How do you revise your models of others’ personalities?

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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 provide plaintiffs and “wronged” parties a sense of satisfaction, fairness, and forgiveness that enable settlement and reduce monetary damage awards.

Robbbenolt asked more than 550 volunteers to serve as “plaintiffs” in an experimental scenario, then to 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 only sympathy.
Acknowledging accountability reduces the injured party’s anger, increases willingness to accept a settlement, and moves toward tangible and 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 have averted medical malpractice cases, sped settlement, and reduced financial awards, according to Cornell’s Benjamin Ho.

Although volunteer plaintiffs in Robbenholt’s study responded favorably to apologies, another of her studies demonstrated that lawyers express concern that apologies are an admission of guilt that can be used to leverage bigger settlements.
The power of apology has been acknowledged in at least thirty-five U.S. states, where statutes make 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?

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“Feminine Charm” as Negotiation Tactic

Charlotte Brontë

Charlotte Brontë

Jane Austen

Jane Austen

“Feminine charm” was one of the only negotiation tactics available to women for centuries, and has been portrayed in novels by Charlotte Brontë, Jane Austen, and George Eliot.

When former United States Secretary of State Madeleine Albright conceded to interviewer Bill Maher that she has used “charm” in challenging negotiations with heads of state, University of California, Berkeley’s Laura Kray and Alex Van Zant with Connson Locke of London School of Economics sought to define the component of “feminine charm” in negotiation situations.

George Eliot

George Eliot

Madeleine Albright

Madeleine Albright

Their investigation led to an operational definition of “feminine charm” as characterized by:

  • -Friendliness (concern for the other person) coupled with
  • -Flirtation (concern for self and self-presentation).

Like ingratiation, “the aim of feminine charm is to make an interaction partner feel good to gain compliance toward broader interaction goal,” according to Kray, Van Zant, and Locke.

Laura Kray

Laura Kray

Alex Van Zant

Alex Van Zant

They found that “feminine charm” (friendliness plus flirtation) created positive impressions that partially buffered the social penalties or “backlash” against negotiating, identified by Harvard’s Hannah Riley Bowles and her colleagues.

Connson Locke

Connson Locke

Hannah Riley Bowles

Hannah Riley Bowles

Women who were perceived as flirtatious achieved superior economic deals in their negotiations compared with women who were seen as friendly, validating suggestions by Stanford’s Deborah Gruenfeld and Carnegie Mellon’s Linda Babcock, that women achieve better negotiation outcomes when they combine power tactics with warmth.

Deborah Gruenfeld

Deborah Gruenfeld

Linda Babcock

Linda Babcock

Their findings expose “a financial risk associated with female friendliness:…the resulting division of resources may be unfavorable if she is perceived as ‘too nice’.”

-*How do you mitigate the “financial risk associated with female friendliness”?

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Writing Power Primer Increases Efficacy in High-Stakes Performance

Adam Galinsky

Adam Galinsky

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

Francesca Gino

Francesca Gino

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

Gino wrote a “power prime” by recalling and summarizing 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 interview attempts.

David Dubois

David Dubois

Based on this anecdotal evidence, Galinsky investigated whether changes in feelings of power are associated with different outcomes in professional interviews, with collaborators David Dubois of INSEAD, Tilburg University’s Joris Lammers, and Derek Rucker of Northwestern University.

Joris Lammers

Joris Lammers

They asked job applicants and business school admission candidates to recall and write about a time they felt powerful or powerless.
Independent judges, who were unaware of the power manipulation, rated the written and face-to-face interview performance of applicants.
They assigned highest ratings to those who recalled power experiences.

Derek Rucker

Derek Rucker

Judges power-primed applicants were preferred because they seemed more persuasive and confident than other applicants.
These candidates were offered job roles and business school admission more frequently than those who wrote about powerless experiences or those who considered neither powerful nor powerless situations.

The undermining impact of recalled powerlessness was also significant:  Only 26 percent of those who wrote about a time in which they lacked power were selected for roles and admission, considerably less than the expected average of 47 percent.

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 contain them and to maintain a calm mindset.

These findings suggest that merely recalling an experience of personal power can favorably influence impressions of persuasiveness and perhaps competence and likeability in professional interviews.
This effect can be enhanced by writing about power experiences to increase confidence and positive outlook 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?

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