impression management

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?


Size matters

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Bar room jokes aside there are several interesting studies on the impact that size has on the way we perceive people and the way they behave.

Study 1.

single_colored_chair_rotating_anim_500_wht_10055Andy Yapp, at MIT’s Sloan School of Management, examined the impact of ergonomics on people’s ethics.

They wanted to know whether or not your workspace would have an effect on your honesty.

What they found was that the bigger and larger the space and seating, which encouraged expansive gestures, the more likely it was that people would pocket overpayments, cheat on a test, and break the rules in a driving simulator.

In the first test they deliberately overpaid people for participating in the test and found that 78% of those with the bigger chairs kept it compared with 38% of people working in cramped spaces.

They also observed illegally parked cars in New York and found that when a driver’s seat increased by 1 standard deviation from the mean the probability that a car would be double parked increased from 51% to 71%.

The researchers say that when we have more space we can adopt more expansive postures and these often project high power whereas people working in constrictive spaces where they have to keep their limbs close to their bodies project low power.

The findings were not influenced by the height of the person nor by how corrupt the person might have been before the experiment as they were randomly assigned. The posture was the only variable.

This is interesting as I would have thought that people working in constricted or uncomfortable environments might be likely to cheat just to get back at their employer – a kind of organisational justice.

But we also know that power corrupts.

Yapp and his colleagues admit there might be cultural differences e.g. Asian norms of modesty and humility are inconsistent with the power posturing.

The research replicates that done at Columbia University (see below)  on the size of desks (and illegal parking in New York).

Main source: “Big chairs create big cheats” HBR November 2013

Study 2.

fountain_pen_writing_ink_1600_wht_11648Companies led by CEOs who have large signatures – an indicator of narcissism – perform worse than ones led by CEOs with small signatures.

Researchers at the Robert H Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland measured the signatures of 650 CEOs on 10 years’ worth of annual reports from almost 400 top 500 companies.

Large signatures, which have been linked to narcissistic personality traits such as dominance and an outsize ego, were positively associated with overspending, lower return on assets, but higher CEO pay relative to other industry peers.

The companies of these CEOs spend more on capital goods and acquisitions but had worse sales and sales growth over several years. They also had fewer patents suggesting a lack of innovation.

This is probably because narcissistic leaders dominate discussions, ignore criticism and belittle other employees.

The assumption about big signatures and narcissism is based on research by Richard Zweigenhaft which showed that people with higher self-esteem and more dominant personalities had large signatures.

It’s also the case that the CEO population is more narcissistic than the general population as well as having other dark triad characteristics.

Source: HBR May 2013

Study 3.

businessman_relax_desk_1600_wht_5638And size matters when it comes to honesty at work and in other settings.

Researchers at Columbia Business School think sprawling across an over-size desk makes people feel more self-confident and more likely to behave dishonestly to further their careers.

The researchers manipulated the size of workspaces and found that people were more dishonest on tests when their environment allowed them to stretch out.

In another study they found that drivers given bigger car seats were more likely to be involved in “hit and run” incidents when incentivised to go faster in a driving simulation.

They also checked 126 cars on New York City streets, half of which were parked illegally. They found that drivers with large car seats were more likely to be breaking the law.

Study 4.

figure_looking_observing_500_wht_13769When it comes to impressing potential partners, size really does matter.

Research conducted for Brother Europe, when it was promoting its new A3 printer range across Europe, seems to prove that.

Professor Richard Wiseman, a leading human behaviour psychologist and author of; “:59 seconds. Think a little Change a lot”, carried out the research and he found that in “Dragons’ Den-style” pitch scenarios, businesses using A3 marketing materials appeared ‘significantly bigger, more successful and professional’ than those using standard A4 prints.

Moving from size to weight, in a paper published by researchers at MIT, Harvard and Yale universities; “Incidental haptic sensations influence social judgements and decisions” it appears that our sense of touch (the haptic impressions) also influences our thoughts.

They asked people to scrutinise a job candidate by looking at a resume (CV) placed on either heavy or light clipboards. The people using heavy clipboards viewed the candidate as possessing a more serious interest in the job and as more likely to succeed than those holding a light clipboard. They conclude that; “First impressions are liable to be influenced by one’s tactile environment”.

They say that understanding how the tactile environment influences perception could be relevant in; “almost any situation where you are trying to present information about yourself or attempting to influence people“.

My colleague and I have always advised candidates to use heavy-duty paper for their CVs and covering letters rather than 70/80 gm supermarket special photocopy paper. This was based on creating a good impression (because first impressions count) but now it seems it’s not just how good it looks but how heavy.

As the researchers say; “physical experiences are mentally tied to metaphors …. when you activate something physically it starts up the metaphor related to that experience in people’s heads” eg heavy = solid, reliable, serious, and so on.”

And next time someone puts a clipboard into my hands ….


These posts appeared separately on SGANDA previously

Flattery & Ingratiation works – if you have class

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networking_people_text_15380Flattery generally gets a bad press.

Abraham Lincoln said “Knavery and flattery are blood relations“, Dante said that their words were the equivalent of excrement, in the 8th Circle of Hell, and Dale Carnegie said that flattery; “is telling the other person precisely what he thinks about himself“.

But the evidence is that flattery can actually work – even when it is obviously flattery.

For example a new department store in Hong Kong sent out flyers to would-be clothing shoppers which said they were receiving them because they were stylish and fashionable. Even though an impersonal approach it created implicit positivity about the store and swayed them into choosing that stores over others.

The Hong Kong experts put the susceptibility to flattery down to our need for self-enhancement and wanting to feel good about ourselves. The fact that we like to get positive feedback, even when we know it’s not sincere, is a human trait.

With your boss however it’s a different matter as that is a personal interaction. Research in America shows that empty flattery can backfire. Successful flattery takes skill and the more politically skilled you are the less obvious it is. If you are not politically skilled it becomes obvious what you are doing and it generates a negative response. If a supervisor sees an employee’s flattery as a ploy to get ahead it tends to result in lower performance ratings. If the supervisor is fooled by the flattery it results in higher performance ratings.

Research from the Kellogg School in the USA found that managers and directors who have a background in politics, sales, or law, are significantly more likely to engage in more sophisticated forms of ingratiation. Those from upper-class backgrounds are also more sophisticated in ingratiatory behaviour than people from middle or lower-class backgrounds.

This might explain why there are fewer top managers with backgrounds in engineering, accounting, or finance as compared to managers with backgrounds in politics, law, or sales (who routinely indulge in flattery and opinion forming as part of their job). So for managers from either upper-class or politics, law, or sales, backgrounds, ingratiatory behaviour is a form of interpersonal communications and is both acceptable and expected.

Flattery can be considered one form of “impression management” – showing respect, smiling, and expressing agreement, even when you’re not feeling it. Researchers in Israel think displaying initiative and dedication is also a form of impression management. They found that employees’ tactics varied according to the type of organisation.

In rigid hierarchical workplaces, such as the military, where subordinates are highly dependent on their superior’s goodwill, ingratiation is more prevalent and aimed upwards. In more flexible organisations, such as R&D groups, workers used impression management less and focus it on peers as much as superiors. They also use dedication and commitment rather than flattery.

Robert Cialdini, the author of “Influence – science and practice” talks about the difference between influencing ethically and manipulative behaviour. It seems to me that there are many shades of grey along a continuum from influencing ethically, flattery and ingratiation, to manipulation. No wonder some people find it easy to cross the line.

Originally posted on SGANDA in 2010 & 2013

Stunning piece of psychological research…………..or perhaps not!

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Kindadukish's Blog - I am not a number, I am a free man (The Prisoner)


Good-looking men are more likely to be selfish, new research claims. The study, carried out by psychology researchers at Brunel University London, used 125 male and female participants to test an evolutionary theory that more attractive individuals profit from social inequality and so perpetuate the practise in society.

Researchers found that although attractive men were less generous, attractive women did not display the same tendency towards continuing inequality. Lead investigator and senior lecturer Dr Michael Price said: “The results suggest that better-looking men may be biased towards being more selfish and less egalitarian.”

Participants’ bodies were measured using a 3D scanner, scored on a traditional physical attractiveness measures – i.e. slimness, waist-to-chest ratio for men, and waist-to-hip ratio for women – and then rated by two separate groups. The first group of ‘raters’ scored the 125 on attractiveness and the second judged how altruistic and egalitarian they believed the images of…

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