power posture

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

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Liars and Lies

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lying_under_oath_1600_wht_9449Goebbels famously said in 1941:” The essential English leadership secret does not depend on particular intelligence. Rather, it depends on a remarkably stupid thick-headedness. The English follow the principle that when one lies, one should lie big, and stick to it. They keep up their lies, even at the risk of looking ridiculous”.

And so the BIG LIE idea, 16 years after Hitler had first used the term in Mein Kampf, passed into popular usage.

There have been some famous liars in recent years, despite the risk of exposure on social media. For example Stephen Wilce. He was, until exposed by TV journalists, New Zealand’s Chief Defence Scientist and had a high security clearance and access to highly sensitive information.

According to his CV he had been in both MI5 and MI6, played international rugby for Wales, swam for England in the Commonwealth games, competed in the bobsleigh in the Winter Olympics, been a member of the New Zealand yacht squadron, fought alongside Prince Andrew in the Falklands and Gulf wars, been decorated for bravery, and had an honorary PhD from Cambridge university.

He did have an MBA, had been in the Royal Navy, had competed in bobsleigh events, and had worked as a bar manager at the Americas Cup but everything else was pure fantasy. It sounds funny but how embarrassing after all the security vettings and selection processes.

So while Wilce was clearly a fantasist, research tells us that people in positions of power are better liars.

Dana Carney, at Columbia University Graduate School of Business carried out research to see if it made a difference if you had more power. The research subjects were divided into bosses, with bigger offices and more power eg they could assign salaries, and employees. Half of each group were then asked, via computer instructions, to steal a hundred-dollar note then lie about it later when interviewed.

The subjects were then measured on 5 variables associated with lying:

accelerated speech – liars utter more syllables at a higher pitch and repeat words and sentences more
shoulder shrugs – liars shrug more when trying to suppress the lie
cortisol – liars’ saliva contains a higher concentration of the stress hormone
eyes – liars’ pupils dilate
mouth – liars press their lips together and involuntarily smirk when they think they’ve got away with it

Only the low-power liars could be seen to be lying. High-power liars were indistinguishable from non-liars. A sense of power seems to buffer people from the stress of lying and increases their ability to deceive others. As most people can’t detect liars better than chance unless specially trained it suggests most people in a position of power can get away with it. Perhaps they are in positions of power because they are good liars. (See “Leadership – the dark side“)

Occasionally of course powerful people get caught out lying. MPs are a case in point and many lost their seats following the expenses scandal exposed by the press.

Another aspect of the research was about power posture compared with low power, non-assertive postures. Power postures take up more space, like a peacock spreading its feathers, whilst subordinates want to take up less space.

The researchers found that those people asked to adopt power postures, even though they didn’t know why, had higher levels of testosterone and lower levels of cortisol.

In other words they felt more powerful and less stressed out although they didn’t know why.

Originally posted on SGANDA