NVC

Is it possible to help criminals with psychological interventions?

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Recent reports in the press suggest yes – but not in a good way.

In fact research shows that rather than make them better citizens it just helps them to be better at criminal activity.

In the latest reverse researchers at the George Mason University in Virginia tested Mindfulness Meditation on 259 prisoners. They were shown how to meditate focussing on their thoughts and accepting negative feelings.

They were tested before and after the sessions to assess their criminal tendencies and chances of re-offending. The results?

It actually made offenders more likely to blame others and psychologists said there was a direct link between mindfulness and the conditions likely to cause criminal behaviour.

It failed to bring prisoners out of “criminal thinking patterns” and actually made them worse because mindfulness encourages people not to judge themselves, which may have led offenders to avoid responsibility for their actions.

And this is a treatment accepted by the NHS for anxiety and depression with 20 or more apps you can use on your smart phone. Yet the warning sign were there. Mindfulness doesn’t work well with men.

Researchers at Brown University found gender differences in the effect of mindfulness meditation. “The mechanisms are highly speculative at this point, but stereotypically, women ruminate and men distract,” said a Dr Briton.

And in the UK the Ministry of Justice has shut down two Sex Offender Treatment Programmes (SOTPs) including a six months psychological group therapy programme designed to rehabilitate rapists and paedophiles. These have cost £100 million since being set up in 1991.

An independent study of the programmes found that it only made the criminals more dangerous and they had an above-average re-offending rate.

For example paedophiles who took the course had a 25% higher re-offending rate over a 10-year period especially those convicted of attacking children.

The programmes included CBT (which the Ministry believes to be the most effective way of reducing offending behaviour) and group discussions to help the sex offenders to understand their crimes and increase their awareness of victim harm. 

A former consultant on the programme who resigned told the Mail on Sunday that they weren’t adapting the course in line with new knowledge and many delivering the programme weren’t qualified but chaplains, prison officers and other para-professionals.

You can imagine that some in the group would relish the re-telling of their crimes and/or learn from others’ experiences.

Some years ago I remember reading about attempts to teach psychopaths to have more empathy and be more emotionally intelligent. It turned out that it just made them better at convincing victims they could be trusted. I couldn’t find the original source of that and it was a few years ago but in my search I came across Dr George Simon’s blog on this topic.

He wrote: “Times were when empathy training was a required component of most treatment programs for sexual offenders and predators. But the evidence indicated that providing such training had no effect on recidivism rates.

Moreover, some evidence emerged that teaching psychopathic predators about empathy only gave them increased knowledge about the vulnerabilities and sensitivities of others, which, in turn, they were prone to use to become even more adept predators“. (George Simon blog – already tweeted).

And more recent research shows that psychopaths do have an “empathy switch” but choose not to use it leading some scientists to believe it could help their rehabilitation. They need to revisit earlier work in this area if they believe that.

Given that some of these criminals will have personality disorders – notoriously difficult to deal with therapeutically – it comes as no surprise to me that these interventions show such poor outcomes.

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Brits like to keep people at arms length

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It’s been well documented that different cultures have different concepts of personal space. I was including this stuff in my presentations on NVC a long time ago, and have taken part in international cross-cultural conferences where the concept was used to great effect in workshops. So I thought there was nothing new.

However scientists around the world have come together looking at the way people interact and how their personal space is influenced not just by culture but by wealth, and even weather and published their findings in the Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology with some intriguing results.

9,000 people were asked how far they would prefer to stand from someone – depending on their relationship. Stranger, acquaintance, or intimate or close friend?

Temperature was one factor tested in the research. One theory is that hotter climates make people stand closer because hot weather encourages emotional intensity and friendship. Alternatively it could make people stand further apart to avoid the risk of contracting disease or parasites. (Interestingly it’s been suggested that head lice is spreading in schools due to kids standing close together sharing their smartphones).

People from warmer countries did on average stand closer to strangers, but relatively farther apart from people they knew. Interestingly it was Germany and Norway who kept their closest friends closest.

Previous research had scientists standing at different distances from people in an MRI scanner. When they got too close for the subject’s comfort the amygdala was activated. (The amygdala is responsible for assessing threats and activates the fight or flight response. Also referred to in the EI literature e.g. Amygdala hi-jacking). So personal space is probably a defensive measure although why should it vary so much between cultures?

At opposite extremes were the Argentinians and the Romanians, at lest with regard to strangers. The Argentinians are the most touchy-feely people with preferred distances for strangers, acquaintances and intimate friends at 76cm, 59cm,  and 40cm respectively. They keep strangers at the same distance that Canadians keep lovers.

Romanians prefer to keep strangers more than 1.3 m away but once they know you they are happy for you to be as close as the Argentinians at 40cm.

Brits like to keep people at 1 m, 80cm, or 50cm depending on their relationship with them. 

Keeping strangers at arm’s length seems sensible to me and has probably evolved over time as a survival mechanism. As we become a more crowded island we may value our personal space more or adapt to shorter distances but with less eye contact or with other ways of protecting our space.

Interviews? The computer says No!

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Those traditionalists among you who doubt the use of aptitude and other psychometric tests adding value to a notoriously unreliable interview-based recruitment process now have another problem.

Robots. Yes robots or rather AI is being used by Vodaphone to help recruit callcentre and shop floor staff according to a report in The Times.

So now candidates submit videos of themselves answering a standard questionnaire and that is then assessed by a computer algorithm which assesses their suitability for a role.

The AI examines subtle face cues and voice intonation. Only once they have been given the go-ahead by the robot do they get an interview with a human being. (So still back to the good old unreliable interview).

Vodaphone has processed about 50,000 such applications so far and is so pleased with the results that it plans to extend the system to help it hire senior managers and executives. I’m sure candidates at that level will be looking forward to being rejected at the shortlisting stage by a robot.

Catalina Shveninger, head of resourcing, said “It takes a tremendous amount of time out of the hiring process: it halves the time and allows us to fish in a much bigger pool

We are the first multi-national implementing a programme like this one on a global scale. This is the future of resourcing”.

Wow, not only are robots taking our jobs they’ll be choosing which of us can have any jobs left over!

This is all possible because  of huge leaps in the computing power and storage available. The algorithms “learn” as they process more and more data (just like Amazon’s  learning what you like to shop for to target you).

Of course they need to be programmed by human beings to start with. If Facebook can infer users’ mood swings using its algorithms what other aspects of human communication will such algorithms identify. Posh accents? And are they colour blind? Presumably they will not suffer from implicit bias but how good are they at detecting lies (or sociopaths at senior levels)?

The company that developed it has sold it to more than 50 businesses including airlines (that might explain RyanAir’s robotic approach to passengers) and banks in America.

Some techies are unhappy about these developments. Critics say AI systems like these are the “biggest existential threat to humanity“. Terminator stuff indeed.

Now you might argue Vodaphone needs all the help it can get given its standing with customers (EE and Vodafone generated the most complaints throughout 2015 – both at a volume above the sector average and considerably higher than rivals O2 and Three. For EE, the amount of complaints decreased in the second half of the year, whereas Vodafone’s went up)

Perhaps it’s a bigger threat to HR departments and recruiters. Instead of sending in your CV you upload a video shot on your smartphone and the computer says Yes or No. Might be scope for fancy filters on your camera and off-screen coaching by former recruiters re-purposing themselves . As young people are addicted to selfies they will probably love the idea. And the narcissists among the senior management candidate pool.

And I wonder if the robot/AI has a name? Being a big fan of Arthur C Clarke and the infamous HAL (Heuristically programmed Algorithmic computer) I think it should have a name. Perhaps TERRY (The End of Real Recruitment)?

Take me to your tall (and probably attractive) leader

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An old post from 2010 has popped up as one of my top posts on another of my blogs. This was a piece I wrote about leadership and tallness (before I had this blog). This is an extract from it.

I first came across this a few years ago and raised  it in a leadership workshop I was running in Sweden – along the lines of biological impact on leadership eg good looks, tallness, being a first-born etc.

The Swedes were a bit sceptical, especially when I said some of the research had been carried out in Norway – not much Scandinavian sisterhood that day.

However research across the world by psychologists and economists show that every extra inch of height is worth between $500 and $1000 a year. So a 6′ person earns up to $6,000 a year more than a 5′ 6″ person (or $12,000 a year more than someone an anthropologist would class as a pygmy). UK research showed that tall men earn 5% more than average men and 10% more than short men.

There is a mixed message for diversity campaigners: fat men don’t earn less than thin men – but fat women earn less than thin ones.

And good looks seem to effect both men and women equally with unattractive people earning up to 15% less than their more attractive counterparts.

It may be that we give more respect to taller people or think they are smarter because they look down on us. Historically military leaders would come from aristo backgrounds where they were better fed and likely to be taller than the peasants or local villagers. And there were always tall military headpieces to enhance any natural advantage.

Anyway the bottom line is: Tallness = Leaders = higher earnings and Attractiveness = higher earnings.

Not much joy then if you are short and/or ugly – although if you are vertically challenged you could always go down the same path as Prince, the Hamster, and Nicolas Sarkozy who have all worn height-enhancing heels, and not just the cuban-heeled/glam rock throwbacks but “status shoes” offering a more subtle look.

A visible heel of 1.25″ can hide an extra lift of 1.5″ – or at least £500 worth of  height-related earnings!.

Let’s see how HR sort that one out when they are practising non-discriminatory recruitment.

 

Recruiters influenced by sexual orientation

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colored_puzzle_connection_1600_wht_9893There have been several studies looking at the impact of attractiveness on your chance of being shortlisted, particularly where a photograph was included in the application.

Now a new study by the University of Sussex has found that discrimination occurs when candidates refer to membership of gay associations in their CVs.

But not in the direction you might expect.

400 participants were shown fictitious CVs. One was clearly from a lesbian, one from a gay man and the other two from a straight man and woman. The CVs were identical in terms of qualifications and experience except for a reference to membership of a gay professional association.

The researchers found that female managers were more likely to pick gay and lesbian candidates whereas men were more likely to pick straight candidates.

Benjamin Everly from the university’s School of Management & Economics said the findings suggest employers should consider carefully who was making their recruitment decisions. “These results show that bias against gay men and lesbians is much more nuanced than previous work suggests“. He could have said that there is evidence of bias against heterosexual candidates, by women, but that might not have sounded so PC.

He thought  “Hiring decisions made by teams of both men and women could lead to less biased decisions”.  He though that the findings could influence when and how gay men and lesbians disclosed their sexual orientation in the recruitment process.

The report in the Times doesn’t say what job the fictitious candidates were applying for or from what sectors the 400 participants came from. It’s possible they were students at the Business School but I don’t know that.

However research at Anglia Ruskin University suggested that at graduate entry level gay men received the fewest invitations of interview in traditional male occupations such as accountancy, banking,finance, and management and lesbians received fewer invitations for shortlisting in traditionally female occupations like social care, social services and charity work.

Recruiters are notoriously bad as selecting the right person for the job and the whole process is about discriminating against unsuitable candidates. Many people in recruitment have not been trained appropriately (worryingly the Sussex study refers to managers not HR people) and line managers are often the worst as seen recently in the steakhouse incident.

Leaving sexual orientation aside (and is Sussex going to replicate the research across the whole gender fluid/LGBT spectrum?) men and women have been shown to be discriminated against just on the basis of their looks, with women rejecting attractive female candidates and insecure men rejecting good-looking men.

Interestingly the recruitment process for the new head of the Metropolitan Police included psychometric testing, probably for the first time. (Don’t know what they used but hope it wasn’t the MBTI or DISC).

 

You need to dress the part

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business_man_and_woman_1600_wht_5662Offering advice on how to dress for the job is taking a risk. As ana ex-HR Director I know only too well. Telling someone a backless top is not appropriate in an office or that they must wear high heels? You get the point.

But someone has decided that if you want to work in “the city” there are certain things you can and can’t get away with.

  • Wearing brown shoes – or blue shoes or suede shoes or trainers or flip-flops – I could go on
  • Wearing a belt that’s a different colour from your shoes
  • Wearing socks a different colour from your underpants (I made that up but I know someone who always matched)
  • Wearing heels the wrong height – not too short and not too tall
  • Wearing a skirt that’s too short i.e. above the knee
  • Wearing a white shirt (says you’re playing safe and insecure apparently)
  • On the other hand wearing an Hawaiian shirt (says you’ve no taste)
  • Wearing a shirt with a pocket (only Dilberts wear those)
  • Wearing a brightly patterned tie
  • Showing too much cleavage
  • Wearing dangly ear-rings or anklets
  • Wearing tattoos especially sleeves or on the neck or face
  • Wearing piercings
  • Showing a t-shirt under your shirt (unless you’re a corbynista)

OK I made some of these up but does anyone really know the truth?

And can you hide some of the taboo stuff on the list?

Universal body language

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I invite you to add your own caption to these photographs from the Times newspaper. They show Sir (as of today he still has his knighthood) Philip Green and Mike Ashley, both in defensive mode before parliamentary business select committees.

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Firms say school leavers are unemployable

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business_figure_with_clients_400_wht_10680Tell me something new! This has been a recurring complaint, usually by the CBI or the IoD. This time it’s the British Chambers of Commerce.

What are they actually saying?

School leavers and even some university graduates are unemployable because:

  • they cannot speak confidently to adults
  • they can’t turn up for work on time
  • they speak abruptly to customers
  • they don’t look people in the eye
  • they fiddle with their phones all the time
  • they are unable to perform simple maths
  • they are unable to write clearly (presumably more comfortable with text speak)

John Longworth, the Director General of the BCoC has called for schools, and employers, to do more to help teenagers develop the “soft skills” demanded by employers and prepare them for interviews.

He also wants schools to enhance their careers services by forging better links with employers. (Do schools still have careers services?)

The chambers of commerce produced a survey showing that over 2/3 of employers thought that schools were not effective at preparing teenagers for work. Approximately the same proportion wanted improved literacy and numeracy and almost 90% wanted better communication skills. Over half wanted better computing skills and teamwork.

Mr Longworth said “It’s a scandal that we have nearly one million under-25s unemployed in the UK. Communication skills are a real problem both at interview and in the workplace where students cannot speak articulately and don’t know how to deal with people in a polite way. Then there is the whole business of punctuality where they won’t turn up for work on time and they don’t think that’s a problem

DSCN1502As career coaches my colleague and I have delivered workshops to prepare graduates for employment for several years – but in Lithuania where they realise how important this aspect of their education is.

My colleague has also worked with a number of UK universities, on a voluntary basis, preparing students for interviews via mock assessment days. He has experienced most of the above things plus inappropriate dress and lack of preparation.

You might be clever & work hard but unless you’re posh you’ll never make it big in the UK

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competition_corporate_ladder_1600_wht_6915If you are from a working class background, even though you are working in a higher managerial or professional job, you will still be worse off financially than someone in the same role whom comes from a more privileged background.

We’re talking about a “class pay gap” of over £7,000 a year on average but of £17,000 a year for doctors and more than £18,000 a year for lawyers.

This is almost as big a gap as the so-called “gender pay gap” but there is no legislation which deals with this kind of discrimination.

The research is based on the first UK employment survey to include questions on social mobility. The Labour Force Survey questioned almost 100,000 people in the 3rd quarter of 2014 and asked the occupational status of the main breadwinner in their family when they were 14 years of age. Even accounting for gender, ethnic origins and education and other factors the class pay gap is 10% (compared to a gender pay gap of 12%).

Daniel Laurison and Sam Friedman, the authors of the study both based at the LSE, say the study shows it’s not enough to get one of the top 3.5 million jobs in the UK. Once you get there there is a further “class ceiling“.

It’s well known that the medical and legal profession is dominated by children of higher managers and professionals but this also applies to IT, the police, and the armed forces.

There are two possible reasons working class people lose out even though they have the same qualifications and experience.

  1. It may be cultural bias. “Employers may consider as signs of talent or competence attributes actually rooted in privileged upbringing such as received pronunciation (RP), accents, a polished appearance or highbrow interests and hobbies” says Sam Friedman, one of the authors.
  2. It might also be because the upwardly mobile don’t seek promotion because of anxiety about fitting in.

41BixFZSMqL._SX304_BO1,204,203,200_Mike Savage, author of “Social Class in the 21 Century” says “Employers are not allowed to discriminate by gender, race or sexual orientation but class is not mentioned … the problem is how do you detect if someone is facing discrimination because of their class?

 

See also: Social Mobility the slippery ladder

Get some colour in your life to get ahead

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business_professionals_standout_1600_wht_5372Wearing clothing with a splash of colour can help you get ahead.

According to a study of 2,000 British workers by a personalised telephone case company 20% of employees up to their mid-30s say having a splash of colour helped them get a promotion or a pay rise.

I’m not sure how they know that but wearing colourful clothes will make you stand out, and might help you to give the impression that you are more confident or creative. (1 in 3 British workers said they felt more positive wearing brighter clothes and 1 in 4 said it made them feel more confident).

Surely it all depends on where you work and the prevailing standards. If you work in a fashion or creative industry then it will be like a peacock’s tea-party and you might be better off wearing plain black a la Steve Jobs.

Experts (not sure who) cited Theresa May, the Home Secretary, and John Snow, the newsreader as high flyers known for wearing a splash of colour to make a positive statement. I can think of dozens of other high flyers who prefer a staid, although probably expensive, corporate look.

Green micro-breaks good for productivity

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P1030063Researchers at the University of Melbourne gave 150 subjects a menial keystroke task responding to numbers on a computer screen.

After 5 minutes they were given  a 40 second break during which they were shown a view of a rooftop surrounded by tall buildings. Half of them saw a plain rooftop the other half a roof covered with a green flowering meadow.

Both groups then resumed the task. After the break concentration levels fell by 8% among those who saw the concrete roof as their performance grew less inconsistent. Those who saw the meadow showed a 6% increase in concentration and a steady performance.

The researchers suggest that having a green break – whether a walk in the park, looking out the window or even just a screensaver of this kind – is beneficial in improving performance and attention in the workplace.

The measure used: “Sustained attention to response task (SART)” had previously been mapped against brain imaging so they knew that the brain responds in predictable ways in these situations. People need to be able to both maintain focus and block out distractions to perform well.

The underlying theory is called Attention Restoration theory which suggests that natural environments have benefits for people. Nature is effortlessly fascinating and captures your attention without your having to consciously focus on it and thus allows you to replenish your stores of attention control.

Previous research has explored how people respond to landscapes like forests, parks, and woodlands for longer periods so this research using such a short time period is impressive.

The 40 seconds was based on a trial during which that was the average time people looked at the meadow scene. Whether such a micro-break is the optimal length is not known.

Other aspects of this research suggest that people would be more likely to help each other after a green break. It all sounds very positive and builds on previous research which shows that having access to nature helps reduce stress levels.

Source: HBR September 2015

 

Face up to it – you’ve either got it or you haven’t

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ThumbsUp-maleScientists are claiming that seeing someone’s face for less than 100 milliseconds is enough to create an impression of your trustworthiness, aggressiveness, and attractiveness.

Your personality traits, your leadership abilities and your potential criminality can also be deduced from your facial appearance.

Psychologists have argued about this for some time but new evidence from Rollins College in Florida suggests it might be true.

Marc Fetscherin, a professor at the International Business School found a correlation between company profits and the shape of the Chief Executive’s face.

51ZfQfM8obL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_In his new book, CEO Branding, he describes how successful business leaders tend to have broader faces than average meaning others view them as more dominant and successful.

He said “Facial width to height ratio correlates with real world measures of aggressive and ambitious behaviour and is associated with a psychological sense of power. It is therefore possible that it could predict leadership performance“.

Similar results were found by researchers at Sussex University where they analysed the faces of FTSE100 Chief Executives.

The researchers there thought underpinning this was a high level of testosterone which is associated with aggression and pursuit of dominance and which also influences the growth of muscle and bone.

Research from Finland among military personnel suggests that this view of wide-faced men being leaders might not be universally applicable in different kinds of organisations however.

With regard to personality traits there is also evidence that up to 10% of CEOs in the UK, USA and Australia have psychopathic or narcissistic tendencies – the dark side of leadership.

It’s also been known for centuries that tall, attractive people were more likely to be in leadership positions. For one thing good-looking people tend to be brighter and being well-nourished in times past probably meant you came from a privileged background – always a good starting point.

The idea that we can read people just by looking at them for 1/10th of a second has been around for a long time and was associated with physiognomy and eugenics which became disreputable. 

Today however it is still relevant when it comes to career progression. Apart from the research on CEOs, which is based predominantly on men, the research on women suggests that you can be too good-looking to get an interview.

Despite that many women, and increasingly men, are boosting their looks artificially in order to enhance their erotic capital.