Tag Archives: social comparison

Work with Experts – But Don’t Compete – to Improve Performance

Francis Flynn

Francis Flynn

People can improve performance on tasks ranging across:

Emily Amanatullah

Emily Amanatullah

when performing individually but alongside an outstanding performer, according to Stanford’s Francis Flynn and University of Texas, Austin’s Emily Amanatullah.

They attributed performance enhancement to increased mental focus and physical effort, motivated by:

Robert Zajonc

Robert Zajonc

  • Social facilitation due to the expert role model’s mere presence, described more than 50 years ago by Robert Zajonc, then of University of Michigan
  • Social comparison” with “skillful coactors,” demonstrated by University of North Carolina’s John Seta.

    John Seta

    John Seta

However, performance declined when people competed directly with a strong performer, Flynn and Amanatullah reported.
They concluded that “high status coactors” enable people to “psych up” performance when not competing, but become “psyched out” when challenging the expert, based on their analysis of Masters golf tournament statistics over five years.

Ray Reagans

Ray Reagans

High status co-actors can achieve their influential position through demonstrated skill or their greater awareness of status dynamics due to better ability to “self-monitor,” found Flynn and Amanatullah with Ray E. Reagans of Carnegie Mellon and Daniel R. Ames of Columbia University.

Daniel R Ames

Daniel R Ames

People with greater self-monitoring ability tend to more effective in managing their “exchange relationships,” and generally establish a reputation as a generous “exchange partner.”

As a result, they are typically more likely than low self-monitors to be sought out for help and to refrain from asking others for help.

Co-action,” organizational status differences and interpersonal “exchange” all occur in organizations when employees work independently but in near proximity with others, and when people collaborate toward shared goals.

These finding suggest that working near expert colleagues can enable improve performance among co-workers, but competition for salary increases, promotions, access to special training, and other perks can undermine individual achievement by provoking anxiety.

Flynn and Amanatullah recommended that organizations and employees can showcase desired skillful performance by role models, while enabling employees to earn rewards and incentives through individual efforts rather than competition.
This recommendation may be impossible to implement in hierarchical organizations that identify “high potential” employees and differentiate performance through “stack ranking.”

-*How do you avoid the “psych out” effect of competing with highly skilled performers?

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Interpersonal Envy in Competitive Organizations and the “Search Inside Yourself” (SIY) Antidote

Workplace envy is rarely discussed, although it is a logical outcome of competition for scarce resources:  Recognition, advancement, power, reputation, compensation in explicit or implicit organizational “tournaments.”

Jayanth Narayanan

Jayanth Narayanan

National University of Singapore’s Jayanth Narayanan, Kenneth Tai, and Daniel McAllister broached the near-taboo of workplace envy as an inevitable outgrowth of social comparison and related “cognitive dissonance” in attempting to self-regulate or return to emotional and equity “homeostasis.”

Daniel McAllister

Daniel McAllister

They differentiated malicious envy from benign envy and argue that the latter can drive performance through emulating admired outcomes.

This process, called firgun in Hebrew, is characterized by happiness, envy, and support of others, and is positively related to organizational success.
Mudita in Buddhist texts, refers to similar feelings of vicarious joy at another’s success and good fortune.

Hidehiko Takahashi

Hidehiko Takahashi

Narayan and team posit that envy is pain at another’s good fortune, and Hidehiko Takahashi’s team at Japan’s National Institute of Radiological Sciences demonstrated that the social-emotional pain of envy is a variation of the physical pain experience.

Their fMRI study found that the emotional pain of workplace envy is physically manifested in activation of the brain’s anterior cingulate cortex.

Nathan DeWall

Nathan DeWall

As such, Nathan DeWall of University of Kentucky and colleagues reported that Tylenol™ reduces behavioral and neural responses associated with social pain in two fMRI studies.

Narayanan argues that envy exerts its differential effect on workplace behavior through each individual’s specific:

  • Core self-evaluations (self-esteem, self-efficacy, locus of control, and neuroticism),
  • Referent cognitions” regarding warmth, likeability, and competence of the envied  person
  • Perceived organizational support

Workplace envy, they argue, can affect:

  • Social undermining
  • Prosocial behavior
  • Job performance

Narayanan and team proposed that those with higher self-esteem are less prone to negative workplace behaviors when experiencing on-the-job envy.

They propose that people are less likely to socially undermine the envied individual when the envied person is viewed as both warm-likeable and competent.

Similarly, they suggest that people who think their organization values them and their work, and supports their work and career development efforts are less likely to decrease job performance when envious at work.

Chade-Meng Tan

Chade-Meng Tan

Search Inside YourselfGoogle’s Jolly Good Fellow ChadeMeng Tan proposes the mindfulness-based program “Search Inside Yourself” (SIY) as a way to self-manage workplace envy and other painful social experiences, by developing skills in:

  • Trained attention
  • Self-knowledge and self-mastery
  • Creating useful mental habits.

-*How do you manage workplace envy when you notice it in yourself or others?

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