Category Archives: Career Development

Career Development

How Much Does Appearance Matter?

Linda A. Jackson

Perceived attractiveness was correlated with perceived competence and likeability in a meta-analysis by Michigan State University’s Linda A. Jackson, John E. Hunter, and Carole N. Hodge.
Physically attractive people were seen as more intellectually competent.

Nancy Etcoff

Similarly, women who wore cosmetics were rated more highly on attractiveness, competence, likability and trustworthiness when viewed for as little as 250 milliseconds, found Harvard’s Nancy L. Etcoff, Lauren E. Haley, and David M. House, with Shannon Stock of Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, and Proctor & Gamble’s Sarah A. Vickery.

Models without makeup, with natural, professional, “glamorous” makeup

However, when participants looked at the faces for a longer time, ratings for competence and attractiveness remained the same, but ratings for likability and trustworthiness changed based on specific makeup looks.

Trustworthiness was differentiated from attractiveness, which was seen as linked to competence, but not consistently with social warmth.

Etcoff’s team concluded that cosmetics could influence automatic judgments because attractiveness “rivets attention, and impels actions that help ensure the survival of our genes.”

Most people recognize the bias in assuming that attractive people are competent and that unattractive people are not, yet impression management remains crucial in the workplace and in the political arena.

-*Where have you seen appearance exert an influence in workplace credibility, decision-making and role advancement?

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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 more effective performance in a meta-analytic study of more than 160 groups with nearly 78,000 employees by David A. Harrison of University of Texas and colleagues.

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

Christine M. Riordan

Christine M. Riordan

These perceptions 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.

The discrepancy between groups for spending longer off-work time with workplace friends is dramatic:  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 said that group work performance could be improved by focusing on socio-emotional elements.

Robert D. Putnam

This focus on socio-emotional performance more greatly influenced group task success than the group’s ethnic composition.
This suggesting that Americans’ trend toward social disengagement, described as ‘bowling alone’ by Harvard’s Robert D. Putnam, could undermine their productivity.

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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Attractive Men May Appear More Competent, But May Not Be Hired

Sun Young Lee

Sun Young Lee

Previous blog posts documented bias in favor of attractive people for hiring, venture funding decisions, and positive impressions by others.

In contrast, capable yet less attractive individuals may encounter “workplace attractiveness discrimination,” reported Sun Young Lee of University College London, University of Maryland’s Marko Pitesa, Madan Pillutla of London Business School, and INSEAD’s Stefan Thau.

Marko Pitesa

Marko Pitesa

Their four studies found that people making employment decisions show systematic selection bias based on perceived attractiveness and organizational context.

Differential impact of attractiveness in employment and work task situation was linked to status generalization and interpersonal interdependence, in research by Lee’s team.

Murray Webster

Murray Webster

Status generalization occurs when describes observers associate unrelated characteristics like gender, ethnicity, national origin and attractiveness, with behavioral expectations for performance.

These associations can occur without conscious, logical or evidential basis, and lead to group inequalities, according to University of South Carolina’s Murray Webster and Martha Foschi.

James Driskell

James Driskell

Even irrelevant status characteristics also significantly affected face-to-face interactions in group task studies by Webster and University of South Carolina colleague James Driskell.

Martha Foschi

Martha Fosch

Lee’s team posited that decision makers unconsciously drew on status generalization when they associated attractiveness with competence in male but not in female candidates.
They argued that interpersonal interdependence affects people’s expectations of interpersonal relationships, and their choices of relational action based on perceived attractiveness, according to UCLA’s Harold Kelley and John Thibaut of University of North Carolina.

John Thibault

John Thibault

Lee’s group evaluated these ideas by assigning male and female volunteers to simulated employment selection situations in which participants interviewed and provided “hiring recommendations” for “job candidates.”
Interviewers were in cooperative and competitive situations with these candidates because they would be collaborating for shared team rewards yet competing for recognition, promotions, commissions, and bonuses.

Participants read a scenario describing different types of interdependencies between themselves as decision-makers and the person to be hired, including competitive, cooperative, and no interdependence.

Madan Pillutla

Madan Pillutla

Volunteers evaluated two similar resumes accompanied by photos of an “attractive” applicant and an “unattractive” candidate.
Assessors answered questions about the person’s competence, likely impact on their own success, and their likelihood of recommending the candidate for the position.

When the decision-maker expected to cooperate with the candidate, male candidates perceived as more attractive were also judged as more competent, more likely to enable the evaluator’s career success, and were more frequently recommended for employment.

Stefan Thau

Stefan Thau

However, when decision makers expected to compete with the candidate, they perceived attractive male candidates as less capable.
Evaluators less frequently recommended attractive male candidates for employment, suggesting a systematic bias to preserve the evaluator’s place in the current workplace skill hierarchy.
Attractive and unattractive female candidates were judged as equally competent, but attractive male candidates were rated as much more competent than unattractive male candidates.

Three subsequent studies provided evaluators with candidates’ age, race, education and a manipulated headshot to consider in selecting their competitor or collaborator in a tournament task.
Decision-makers generally preferred attractive male or female candidates unless their personal outcomes were affected by the selection decision.

These studies suggest that attractiveness discrimination is “calculated self-interested behavior” in which men sometimes discriminate in favor and sometimes against attractive males.

-*How do you align with “calculated self-interest behavior” to mitigate bias?

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Plastic Surgery Changes Perceived Personality Traits

Michael J. Reilly

Michael J. Reilly

People often evaluate others using facial profiling making inferences of personality attributes by visual observation, according to Georgetown University Hospital’s Michael J. Reilly, Jaclyn A. Tomsic and Steven P. Davison, collaborating with Stephen J. Fernandez of MedStar Health Research Institute.
This cognitive shortcut can lead to biased impressions and limited opportunities for those unfavorably judged.

Jaclyn A. Tomsic

Jaclyn A. Tomsic

Photographs of 30 women exhibiting “well-matched neutral facial expressions” were split into 6 groups, each with 5 before they had plastic surgery procedures and 5 photographs following surgery.

Procedures included:

  • Chin implant,
  • Eyebrow-lift,
  • Lower blepharoplasty (lower eye lift),
  • Upper blepharoplasty (upper eye lift),
  • Neck-lift,
  • Rhytidectomy (face-lift).

Judges assigned higher scores for likeability, social skills, attractiveness, and femininity following plastic surgery compared with pre-surgery ratings.

Steven Davison

At least 24 raters, unaware that participants had plastic surgery procedures, evaluated each photograph on a 7-point scale for:

  • Aggressiveness,
  • Extroversion,
  • Likeability,
  • Risk-seeking,
  • Social skills,
  • Trustworthiness,
  • Attractiveness.

Michael Reilly-Preoperative-Postoperative photos

These surgical procedures provided cosmetic improvements to eyes and mouth, two regions crucial to expressing and interpreting emotions.

Michael Reilly - Pre-Post 2Judges assigned higher scores for likeability, social skills, attractiveness, and femininity following plastic surgery compared with pre-surgery ratings.

The research team concluded:
“The eyes are highly diagnostic for attractiveness as well as for trustworthiness which may explain why…patients undergoing lower (eyelid surgery) were found to be significantly more attractive and feminine, and had a trend toward improved trustworthiness...

“The corner of the mouth is the diagnostic region for both happy and surprised expressions and plays an important role in the perception of personality traits, such as extroversion.

“A subtle upturn of the mouth and fullness in the cheeks can make a person look more intelligent and socially skilled.

“This appearance may explain why patients undergoing a facelift procedure … are found to be significantly more likeable and socially skilled postoperatively.

Separately, volunteers attributed personality traits to neutral faces when they detected a resemblance to standard emotional expressions, reported Princeton’s Christopher P. Said and Alexander Todorov with Nicu Sebe of University of Trento.

Christopher P. Said

Christopher P. Said

Neutral faces perceived as positive resemble typical facial expressions of happiness, whereas faces seen as negative resemble facial displays of disgust and fear.
Faces viewed as threatening resemble facial expressions of anger.
These trait inferences result from overgeneralization in emotion recognition systems, and may be inaccurate.

Nicu Sebe

Nicu Sebe

Faces that resemble emotional expressions can lead to misattributed personality traits and biased impressions.
These judgments can change for the better when a person’s appearance changes after plastic surgery.

-*To what extent do people’s personality traits seems different following plastic surgery?

-*How often are people treated differently following plastic surgery?

*What are ways to avoid confusing emotional expressions with personality traits?

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Reputation Affects Women’s Promotion, Earnings

Lily Fang

Lily Fang

Sterling Huang

Men gain greater reputation and job performance benefits from professional connections than women with equivalent or better education and job skills, according to INSEAD’s Lily Fang and Sterling Huang of Singapore Management University

Lauren Cohen

Lauren Cohen

Fang and Huang examined U.S. equity analysts’ alumni connections with senior officers or board members of up to eight companies, using an approach pioneered by Harvard’s Lauren Cohen, and Christopher Malloy with Andrea Frazzini, of AQR Capital Management.

Christopher Malloy

They considered analysts’:

  • Year-end earnings per share (EPS) forecasts,
  • Buy – sell stock recommendations from 1993 to 2009,
  • Price impact of their recommendations,
  • Selection to “All America Research Team” (AA) by Institutional Investor magazine during the same period.
    This recognition is based on the institutional investors’ subjective evaluation of each analyst’s industry knowledge, communication, responsiveness, written reports, and related skills.
Andrea Frazzini

Andrea Frazzini

Forecast accuracy is one of the least important selection criteria, so skillful analysts may be overlooked as an “All America” member if they are not visible and well-regarded by decision-makers.

Connections directly contributed to male analysts’ likelihood of being named to the  “All America Research Team” (AA). but not for female analysts.
This suggests that investors subjectively value male analysts’ connections but not those of female analysts.
This difference leads to significant financial consequences for male and female analysts because those awarded the AA title earn around three times more than those without.

About 25% of women and men analysts shared a school tie with a senior officer or board member in the firms they cover, and these connections significantly improved men’s forecast accuracy more than women’s.
These connections also improved the impact of male analysts’ stock recommendations, measured by market reaction to their buy and sell calls.

Female analysts with a connection to a female executive at firms they covered had a highly significant improvement in accuracy ranking, yet male analysts with male connection experienced almost twice as much accuracy improvement.

Herminia Ibarra

Herminia Ibarra

This significantly different impact of similar connections early in women’s and men’s careers could explain gender gaps that exist throughout long-term career trajectories.
This finding supports Herminia Ibarra’s similar results for men and women in an advertising firm, where men capitalized on network ties to improve their positions with employers.

Women capable of executive roles at these Wall Street firms may remain in analytical roles because promotion to General Manager roles depend on subjective evaluations by current decision makers, who are usually men.

Fang and Huang concluded that despite mandated protections against gender discrimination in the U.S, men and women may be evaluated using different subjective criteria, even with the benefit of social connections.
This leads to differential career advancement for women and men.

Ronald Burt

Ronald Burt

These career-related social connections, or social capital, are affected by legitimacy, reputation, and network structures, argued University of Chicago’s Ronald Burt.
He noted that “holes” in a social network are entrepreneurial opportunities to add value, and women should have equal opportunities to fill network holes and increase their possibility of advancement.

However, Burt noted that “entrepreneurial networks linked to early promotion for senior men do not work for women” because women are not accepted as legitimate members of the population of highly promotable candidates.

He explained that women and minorities who succeed despite this disadvantage gain access to social capital by leveraging the network of a legitimate strategic partners.
This economic analysis may explain the powerful advantage of sponsors for women and minorities in the workplace.

-How do you identify and fill “structural holes in social capital networks”?

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Nothing to Lose: Effective Negotiating Even When “Powerless”

Michael Schaerer

Most negotiators prefer to have a “fall back position.”
However, having no alternatives and less power than co-negotiators can improve outcomes, found INSEAD’s Michael Schaerer and Roderick Swaab with Adam Galinsky of Columbia.

Alternatives enable negotiators to gain concessions from co-negotiators because they have a BATNA – Best Alternative To a Negotiated Agreement, defined by Harvard’s Roger Fisher and William Ury.

Roger Fisher

Roger Fisher

Strength of the alternative is important in determining whether it helps or hurts a negotiation.
When an alternative is weak, it can undermine negotiating outcomes more than having no alternative because it establishes an “anchor point” based on competing options.

Anchoring is a frequent cognitive bias characterized by overvaluing one piece of information, according to Hebrew University’s late Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman of Princeton.

William Ury

William Ury

Negotiators usually anchor on the value of alternatives when making a first offer, and people with weak alternatives generally make lower first offers than those with no alternative.
“Lowball” first offers based on few or poor alternatives usually undermine a negotiator’s final outcome.

Professional athletes and their agents provide many anecdotal examples of negotiating better deals when they have no “back up” offers and “nothing to lose” because they can set ambitious anchor points.

Amos Tversky

Amos Tversky

In a separate study of job negotiation, Schaerer and team asked a hundred people whether they would prefer to negotiate a job offer with a weak alternative or without any alternative.
More than 90 percent indicated that they preferred an unattractive alternative offer, confirming the popular assumption that any alternative is  better than no alternative.

Another of Schaerer’s lab studies asked volunteers to imagine they were selling a used music CD by The Rolling Stones.
Participants were randomly assigned to three groups and gave each cohort received different information about their alternatives, ranging from:

  • No offers (no alternative),
  • One offer at USD $2 (weak alternative),
  • A bid at USD $8 (strong alternative).
Roderick Swaab

Roderick Swaab

Volunteers in each group proposed a first offer, and rated the degree of power they felt.
Not surprisingly, people with the strong alternative felt the most powerful and those with no alternative felt the least powerful.

However, people with a weak alternative felt more powerful than those with no alternative, but they made lower first offers, signaling less confidence than participants with no alternative.
Having any alternative can help people feel powerful but can undermine negotiation performance.

Schaerer’s team explored this paradox by pairing participants as a  “seller,” who offered a Starbucks mug during a face-to-face meeting, and a potential “buyer.”

Adam Galinsky

Adam Galinsky

Before the meeting, the seller received a phone call from “another buyer,” who was actually a confederate of the researchers.
For half of the “sellers,” the potential buyer either made a low offer or declined to bid.

“Sellers” without an alternative offer said they felt less powerful, but made higher first offers and received considerably higher sales prices than negotiators with an unattractive alternative.

In another situation, half of the “sellers” concentrated on available alternatives (none, weak, or strong) and the remaining negotiators focused on the target price.

Volunteers with unappealing alternatives negotiated worse deals than those without other options when they focused on alternatives.
“Sellers” avoided this pitfall by concentrating on the target price.
These findings validate focusing on the goal when alternatives are weak, and of the power of first-offer anchors.

Negotiators with non-existent or unappealing alternatives benefit from tempering their cautious first offers when they feel powerless.
Instead, the situation can be opportunity to set audacious goals, reflected in an ambitious opening offer.

  • How do you overcome lowball anchoring when you have few negotiation alternatives?

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Positive Thinking, Mental Contrasting Plus WOOP to Improve Performance

Gabriele Oettingen

Gabriele Oettingen

Positive thinking without implementation strategies is wishful thinking,and is associated poor performance and complacence, found NYU’s Gabriele Oettingen.
She advocates“Mental Contrast” process 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 noted two less effective approaches to goal engagement:

– Indulging by mentally elaborating only the desired future state,

– Dwelling by mentally elaborating only the present reality.

These practices were associated with less goal commitment than Mental Contrast, even when chances of success were good in interpersonal relations, academic achievement, professional achievement, health, life management experiences.

Mental Contrast was an effective self-regulatory technique when coupled with Implementation Intentions (MCII) to improve achievement, interpersonal, and health habits.

However Mentally Contrasting was less effective when perceived chances of success were low.
This approach led to disengagement from goals.

In this case, Indulging in the future goal fantasy or Dwelling only in the present reality both maintained goal commitment.

Probability of Success-Mental Contrast-Indulve-Dwelling

In another study, volunteers who spent more time imagining working in a “dream job,” but who also had lower expectations of achieving this goal, received fewer job offers and lower starting salaries, found Oettingen and Doris Mayer of University of Hamburg.

They differentiated the motivational impact of:

  • Positive expectations for future success, which predicted high effort and successful performance,
  • Positive fantasies, which didn’t increase effort.

Mental Contrasting helped people disengage from unfeasible goals like rehabilitating 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.

Mental Contrasting can be used to link thoughts about an undesirable future situation when there’s a high probability of avoiding the negative outcome.
This strategy is useful for people with difficulty generating positive thoughts about future health status or members of “out-groups.”

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

Another way to increase performance is to adopt a “silver lining theory,” that a negative personal attribute is associated with a positive attribute.
Volunteers were informed that:

  • They were impulsive,
  • Impulsivity is associated with creativity.”
Timur Sevincer

Timur Sevincer

Participants showed greater effort-based creativity than those who were given no information or for whom the silver lining theory was refuted.

The silver lining theory increased performance and enabled people to mitigate a perceived negative attributes.
They did this by promoting effortful behavior toward a positive attribute linked to the negative attribute.

Mentally Contrasting a desired future (such as excelling in an intelligence test and writing an essay) with a present reality also increased physiological energization measured by systolic blood pressure and grip strength.

Mental contrasting may trigger energy activation that fuels effort to perform an unrelated task, concluded University of Hamburg’s A. Timur Sevincer and P. Daniel Busatta collaborating with Oettingen.

Philip Daniel Busatta

Philip Daniel Busatta

Coupling Mental Contrasting 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 Anton Gollwitzer and and Oettingen.

Teri Kirby

Teri Kirby

Student volunteers learned to compare a desired future with potential obstacles, then developed if–then implementation intentions to potential outcomes.

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 control 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 Contrasting to enhance goal commitment and realization.

Mental Contrasting can be a powerful tool to increase motivation, particularly when coupled with Implementation Intentions.
An exception occurs when the probability of successfully achieving goals is low.
In those cases, Indulging or Dwelling strategies are more effective in maintaining goal motivation.

  • How have you seen Mental Contrasting and considering your probability of success to manage your motivation and performance?

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