Tag Archives: body language

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

Madeline Heilman

Madeline Heilman

Aaron Wallen

Aaron Wallen

Women face significant workplace challenges when they are seen as successful in traditionally-male roles, found New York University’s Madeline Heilman, Aaron Wallen, Daniella Fuchs and Melinda Tamkins.

Melinda Tamkins

Melinda Tamkins

They conducted three experimental studies on reactions to a woman’s success in a male gender-typed job.
They found that when a woman is recognized as successful in roles dominated by men, they are less liked than equally successful men in the same fields.

Tyler Okimoto

Tyler Okimoto

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

Frank Flynn

Frank Flynn

Stanford’s Frank Flynn demonstrated the competence-likeability disconnect when he taught a Harvard Business School case of Silicon Valley venture capitalist and entrepreneur Heidi Roizen.

Heidi Roizen

Heidi Roizen

He and collaborator Cameron Anderson of UC Berkeley changed Heidi’s name to “Howard Roizen” for half of the students.

Cameron Anderson

Cameron Anderson

Participants who read the Heidi case and those who read the Howard case rated Heidi and Howard on several dimensions before the class meeting.

Volunteers rated Heidi as equally highly competent and effective as Howard, but they also evaluated her as unlikeable and selfish, and wouldn’t want to hire her or work with her.

Whitney Johnson-Lisa Joy Rosner

Whitney Johnson-Lisa Joy Rosner

A more recent example of backlash toward high-profile, accomplished women was illustrated in social media mentions of Marissa Mayer, Sheryl Sandberg and Anne-Marie Slaughter,

Whitney Johnson, co-founder of Rose Park Advisors (Disruptive Innovation Fund) and her colleague Lisa Joy Rosner evaluated Brand Passion Index” (BPI) for Mayer, Sandberg, and Slaughter 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 CEO, was described as impressive and super-smart, and annoying, a terrible bully,
  • Facebook’s COO Sheryl Sandberg‘s was characterized as truly excellent, successful working mom and crazy 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 is also apparent in hiring behavior, demonstrated in 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:

  • “Agentic” (demonstrating stereotypically male behaviors) or
  • “Communal” (displaying stereotypically female behaviors) or
  • “Androgynous” (combining stereotypically male and female behaviors)

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

Niceness was not rewarded when competing for jobs:  Both male and female “communal” applicants received low hiring ratings.
However, combining niceness with agency seemed to buffer “androgynous” female applicants from discrimination in the simulated hiring process.

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

Linda Babcock

Linda Babcock

Once women receive job offers, the competence-likeability disconnect continues when they negotiate for salary and position, reported by Linda Babcock of Carnegie Mellon.
Her research demonstrated and replicated negative evaluations of women who negotiate for salaries using the same script as men.

Deborah Gruenfeld

Deborah Gruenfeld

The likeability-competence dilemma may result from women’s challenges in integrating expansive, powerful body language with more submissive, appeasing behavior to build relationships and acknowledge others’ authority, suggested Stanford’s Deborah Gruenfeld.

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

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

In addition, many people 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 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% — in less than 100 milliseconds.

Her earlier work considered the impact of body language on assessments of power, whereas her more recent work investigated gender differences in attributions of competence and likeability.

The likeability-competence dilemma may be improved by shifting from “playing high” or taking space when demonstrating competence and authority.
Powerful body language may be risky for women unless counterbalanced with “playing low” or giving space when conveying 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 urged women to practice both awareness and “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, like Mayer, Sandberg, and Slaughter, 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, self-concern to the actions of high status wrongdoers than the identical actions of low status wrongdoers, and recommended more severe punishments for higher status individuals in two experiments.

Iryna Meridith

Iryna Meridith

The team found preventive and reparative value in qualities of warmth and likeability.
Wrongdoers who demonstrated affiliative concern for others, charitable giving, and interpersonal warmth built a reservoir of goodwill that could protect from the impact of subsequent mistakes and transgressions.

Navigating the likeability-competence dilemma requires demonstrating both capacities, depending on situational requirements.
Learning this skill can take a lifetime.

-*How do you convey likeability AND competence?

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Body Language Conveys Emotions more Intelligibly than Facial Expressions

Paul Ekman

Paul Ekman

Numerous studies, pioneered by Paul Ekman of University of California, San Francisco, argue that facial expressions provide an accurate, consistent, universal “tell” to underlying emotions.

However, body language more accurately conveys intense emotions than facial Ekman Emotion Stock photoexpressions, according to Hebrew University’s Hillel Aviezer,Yaacov Trope of NYU, and Princeton University’s Alexander Todorov.

Three groups of 15 people judged intense emotions, including pain, pleasure, victory, defeat, grief and joy, portrayed in stock photographs of:

  • facial expressions alone or
  • body language alone or
  • both facial and body expressions.
Hillel Aviezer

Hillel Aviezer

Volunteers assigned more accurate inferences of pictured emotion based on body language, alone or combined with facial expressions, than judgments based on facial context alone.

These results challenge presumption that the face best communicates feeling, yet most participants believe that they rely on facial expression was their most important cue in making inferences.

Yaacov Trope

Yaacov Trope

More than half the volunteers reported that they use facial expression to judge underlying emotions, a bias labeled “illusory facial affect” by Aviezer and team.

Some participants did not view the photos, but heard a description of the content.
The vast majority – 80 percent – said they “would” rely solely on the face when determining the emotion.
The remainder said they would consider the face and body together, yet not one participant indicated that body language alone would be the most important guide to emotion.

Alexander Todorov

Alexander Todorov

Another experiment presented volunteers with altered photos that combined one intense emotional expressed in the face with an opposing “peak” emotion portrayed by the body language.
Volunteers more often judged the emotion associated with the body, although they thought that facial expression was more indicative of underlying emotional experience.

A different condition demonstrated that most participants provided inaccurate judgments of six emotional states portrayed by faces alone:  They judged positive facial expressions as negative more frequently than the actual negative expressions.

Aviezer, Trope, and Todorov argue that facial expressions can be ambiguous and subjective when viewed without the context of body, particularly during intense emotional expressions.

Jamin Halberstadt

Jamin Halberstadt

Jamin Halberstadt of University of Otago explained Team Aviezer’s findings by noting “…bodily context is the expression of emotion…the face reveals a general intensity of feeling but doesn’t communicate what the person is feeling exactly. The body is where the valid information comes from during intense feelings.”

Piotr Winkielman

Piotr Winkielman

His expertise is based on earlier research with University of California at San Diego’s Piotr Winkielman, Paula Niedenthal of University of Wisconsin and University of Clermont-Ferrand’s Nathalie Dalle.
They demonstrated the important role of expectancy in reading, experiencing, and recalling emotions expressed by ambiguous facial photographs.

Paula Niedenthal

Paula Niedenthal

Halberstadt’s team used electromyography (EMG) to evaluate volunteers’ muscle mimicry responses and memory of photos portraying ambiguous faces when associated with emotion labels like “angry” or “happy”, and when the same photos were presented without labels.

Nathalie Dalle

Nathalie Dalle

Participants displayed more EMG activity associated with smiling when they viewed faces labeled “happy” than “angry,” and remembered faces labeled “happy” as happier than faced coded “angry” even though the photographed expressions were ambiguous.

When participants spontaneously mimicked emotions labeled with a specific affect label, they were more likely to remember this emotion.
Since the photos were ambiguous, this recall represents memory bias, based on expecting, then mirroring an expected emotion. 

SPOT-Dept Homeland SecBody language’s greater accuracy than facial expression as a measure of emotion, has important implications for mission critical interrogation and security-screening techniques.

One example is the U.S. Transportation Security Administration’s Screening of Passengers by Observation Techniques (SPOT) program, which was based on Ekman’s facial expression research, but did not account for bodily expression as an indicator of underlying emotion.

Team Aviezer’s findings argue that emotion-screening procedures, as well as everyday workplace interactions, should evaluate both cues from both the body and the face to form most accurate judgments of others’ likely emotional states.  

-*Which cues do you find most helpful in judging other people’s emotional states when interacting with them?

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Power of “Powerless” Speech, but not Powerless Posture

Assertive speech is assumed to signal competence and power, pre-requisites to status, power, and leadership in the U.S. workplace.

Alison Fragale

Alison Fragale

However, University of North Carolina’s Alison Fragale demonstrated that warmth trumps competence in collaborative team work groups.

Fragale studied “powerless speech,” which has been believed to make a person seem tentative, uncertain, and less likely to be promoted to expanded workplace roles.
She defined “powerless speech” as including:

  • Hesitation: “Well” or “Um”, as known as “clutter words”
  • Tag questions: “Don’t you think?”
  • Hedges: “Sort of” or “Maybe”
  • Disclaimers: “This may be a bad idea, but … “
  • Formal addresses:“Yes, sir” or “Yes, ma’am”

In collaboration-based work teams, “powerless” speech characteristics are significantly associated with being promoted, gaining status and power.
Interpersonal warmth and effective team skills are valued more than dominance and ambition by team members and those selecting leaders for these teams.

Paul Hersey

Paul Hersey

In contrast, “powerful” speech does not feature these characteristics, is more effective when the task or group is independent and people are expected to work alone.

Ken Blanchard

Ken Blanchard

As in Paul Hersey and Ken Blanchard’s Situational Leadership, Fragale concludes that communication style should be tailored to group characteristics.

Li Huang

Li Huang

Likewise, INSEAD’s Li Huang  and Columbia’s Adam Galinsky with Stanford’s Deborah Gruenfeld and Lucia Guillory of Northwestern University demonstrated the impact of “powerful” body language – also called “playing big” –  on perceived power.

Adam Galinsky

Adam Galinsky

Although assuming “larger” postures is associated with credibility and authority, some situations benefit from assuming “smaller”, less powerful postures to establish warmth or to acknowledge another’s higher status.

Lucia Guillory

Lucia Guillory

As noted in an earlier post, Women Get More Promotions With “Behavioral Flexibility”, careful self-observation and behavioral flexibility based on situational requirements are effective foundations to establish group leadership.

-*How do you monitor and adapt “powerless” speech to work situations?

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