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.


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

Does your company have a helping culture?

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teamwork_pass_the_puzzle_500_wht_7889As mentioned in previous posts employee engagement and discretionary effort are the current holy grail for many organisations.

And leaders can contribute by encouraging helping behaviour. One of the hallmarks of a top-performing company is that people help each other to get the best performance.

Organisational psychologists call this “citizenship behaviour” without which companies, which are complex with competing demands for time, loyalty, and team input v individual effort, would not function as effectively as they might with strict boundaries and rules.

A design firm called IDEO was the subject of a case study in the Harvard Business Review last year. A key element of the culture there is “collaborative help“.

IDEO is an organisation of knowledge workers tackling complex problems and the authors of the study discovered a number of key elements including leadership conviction that collaborative help works. The CEO Tim Brown says “the more complex the problem the more help you need“.

But promoting helping is not enough. The other side of the coin is that workers sometimes need a sounding board for their ideas so they need to be okay about asking for help without seeming incompetent.

The culture of the organisation at IDEO embedded the helping idea. Research showed that 89% of employees showed up in the top 5 helpers for everyone in the organisation and almost every person was named as a helper by at least one other person.

These helper friendly organisations are more efficient even though they build slack into the system. This is to enable access to potential helpers.

People in one office were asked to name the 5 colleagues who had helped them most and rate them along with a randomly chosen non-helper on three attributes.

These were competence, trust, and accessibility and trust and accessibility were more important than competence in the helpfulness ratings.

To read the whole story check out “IDEO’s Culture of Helping” by Amabile, Fisher, and Pillemer in HBR January-February 2014.

Cuddle a banker? You’re joking…

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giving_hug_pc_1600_wht_3332It’s been suggested by accountants PwC and the London Business School that we shouldn’t scold ‘bad boy bankers’ but treat them like babies and give them the equivalent of a cuddle (Sunday Times today).

The study says threats of punishment for bad behaviour are counter-productive when trying to improve ethical standards. Instead praising good performance and good behaviour is much more effective.

The research also says that competition is damaging and bankers are twice as likely to behave unethically when they feel anxious about competing with colleagues. Then they are more likely to cut corners and make mistakes. Or just cheat perhaps?

The research among 2,500 bankers, insurance companies and wealth management firms which suggests that the key to changing behaviour and improving ethical standards is praise rather than retribution is just wrong-headed in my view.

Some of these ‘bad boy bankers’ at the top of companies are sociopaths and narcissists and praising them will only feed their belief that they are always right.

But you might expect people from financial services to say that (even if one of the PwC team is said to be a behavioural science specialist). Given that banks are reported to have paid out over $200 billion dollars in fines since 2008 but no banker has been convicted of fraud or theft I wonder what cloud these researchers are sitting on.

The report says regulators and financial services leaders should focus on the positive outcomes of good performance – and I’d like to see a definition of that – instead of the negative behaviours they want to stamp out. But where is the evidence that it will work? Is it just the bankers etc being surveyed saying “be nice to us and we’ll behave better‘? Given the outlandish financial rewards financial services seems to offer do you think they are motivated by anything other than money?

After the fiascos of recent years most people would be happy to see bankers and similar financial sector workers taken down a peg or two, not least in respect of their ridiculous bonus levels. The bottom line is that we don’t trust them to behave honourably.

It’s still all about Trust

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businessmen_puzzle_shake_hands_1600_wht_3191Trusting people can make you vulnerable and checking them out can be time-consuming and counter-productive.

Research shows that accuracy in our ability to decide if someone can be trusted is little better than chance.

According to David DeSteno, a psychology professor at Northeastern University writing in the Harvard Business Review (“Who can you trust“), it’s because we place too much emphasis on reputation and perceived confidence.

We also ignore that fact that people can change in different contexts and we don’t trust our intuition enough.

DeSteno proposes 4 things to bear in mind:

1 Integrity can vary. People use reputation as a proxy for integrity but it isn’t a stable trait. Because someone has been fair and honest in the past doesn’t mean they will continue to be so in different circumstances.

His research into cheating shows that 90% of people will cheat if they believe they won’t get caught. And they then rationalise those actions rather than accept that they are untrustworthy.

2 Power does corrupt. Appearances can be deceptive but the author cites research by Paul Pliff, a social psychologist at Berkeley, which suggests that indicators of socio-economic status can predict trustworthiness.

Increasing status and power correlate with decreasing honesty and reliability. It’s not that rich people are inherently less trustworthy than poor people but that a person’s honesty depends on his or her relative feelings of power or vulnerability.

Assigning people to be a boss or a follower in office simulations Joris Lammers, a psychologist at the University of Cologne, found that those elevated to more senior roles displayed a high degree of hypocritical behaviour and were quick to condemn others for unethical, self-interested behaviour whilst judging their own actions to be acceptable.

When someone has a higher status than you, or even just thinks so, his mind tells him that you need him more than he needs you. Consequently he focuses on short-term outcomes and worries less about the long-term effect of being untrustworthy.

This explains why big companies often treat smaller clients less well than their larger ones.

3 Confidence often masks incompetence. Honourable intentions mean nothing if a person is incompetent. We know this instinctively from an early age (4-year olds will pick people as instructors whom they perceive as more competent).

But confidence is so alluring that we tend to trust information provided by people who exude it, especially when money is at stake. Hence the success of confidence tricksters.

In newly formed groups those members who expressed pride in the group quickly rose to positions of leadership even though the abilities that their pride stemmed from weren’t relevant to the group’s objectives.

So while reputation isn’t a good predictor of integrity it is of competence because capabilities are more stable.

4 It’s OK to trust your instinct.

Despite decades of research into researching ways of detecting untrustworthiness most people do little better than chance. Even trained experts.

That’s because most of us look for a single “tell” to indicate whether or not someone can be trusted whereas we need to look for a set of gestures. This is something we can do instinctively.

So is it better to trust or not? If you have no information to go on then a bias towards trusting is better for long-term gains. Otherwise remember these 4 rules!

The 5 dysfunctions of a team

Patrick Lencioni is a strong advocate of trust in teams. In his best-selling book, “The 5 Dysfunctions of Teams” he sets down a hierarchy (see diagram below).

Slide1 Slide2







But basically it’s all about Trust.

Hierarchical management has its place

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down_the_chain_1600_wht_5908Employers who want peak performance from their employees might do better by ensuring that they have a strong but fair hierarchy in place.

Aaron Kay at Fuqua Management School of Business at Duke University, Carolina, thinks leaders should worry less about empowerment and equality.

He says “In organisations there is a move to become flat but that is not always the best thingy you want to keep employees working hard”.

“People may say that they want to work in an egalitarian workplace but sometimes they actually function better in a hierarchy” regardless of where they sit in the organisation.

It’s not just that a hierarchy offers more chance of promotion – although some staff will appreciate seeing a ladder to climb – but that hierarchies offer staff a sense of order and structure which they like.

When times are turbulent and external circumstances reduce their sense of control preference for hierarchies increases. Kay says “People seek out guidance and leaders” And a hierarchy helps them feel that they are in a safe, stable environment … where they can predict the outcome of their behaviours.

His research also suggests that a strong hierarchy helps people feel that they are being more effective in tackling long-term goals. “If you lead an organisation where you need employees to work on long-term projects, committed to long-term goals, it’s tempting to think that if you give them autonomy they will be more interested and it will drive the right behaviour”.

But as he points out long-term goals are hard to achieve and people need to forgo immediate reward to focus on something way off in the future. They have to trust the system. Having a clear structure and a hierarchy reassures employees that things won’t change before they complete the task.

Hierarchy might also be better for complex tasks where each person needs to complete their part exactly as it is specified. This doesn’t necessarily mean managers should adopt a directive or autocratic approach. Employees obviously like to know where they stand but managers shouldn’t lord it over them and be open to new ideas.

Other experts disagree. One said ‘it’s naive to think that structures always work the way they were intended“. In some organisations employees feel that although there is a structure and the rules are fair, they are not always applied fairly.

It seems to depend on whether or not you can trust the leaders and managers to be fair and whether or not the rules change as you are working.

See also my earlier post on hierarchical management.

Danger – Jealousy at work!

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grass_is_always_greener_1600_wht_8358Jealousy and envy are closely related but jealousy is usually when you wish you had something someone else has got eg a pay rise,or a plum project, and envy is when you haven’t got it and when you wish they hadn’t either.

Envy is about feeling inferior, being resentful, and wishing ill-will to others. It also tends to be more about being competitive.

Jealousy can also be aspirational or inspirational in encouraging you to better yourself so that you can also achieve what the other person has.

Research in USA by Professor Robert Vecchio suggests that 3 out of 4 people have witnessed jealousy at work and up to 50% of people have become involved in it in some way.

People who are more envious of others at work are more likely to be the ones who use “social loafing” (not pulling their weight) to even up the score. They are also more likely to be looking for other jobs.

People with a strong work ethic who are sensitive to work issues are more likely to get emotional about them as much as people with low self-esteem who think work is all about being competitive.

Generally woman are more likely to be jealous about social relationships; men to envy others in a competitive way.

Lack of consideration by supervisors can lead to jealousy and it is more likely to happen in a small office. People who work in large offices tend to assume that unequal treatment is because of bureaucratic inefficiency.

If you are the object of jealousy or envy:

Focus on the good things in your job (count your blessings) to bolster your self-esteem
Be humble – don’t flaunt your success
Don’t get involved in the drama
Help others to achieve and be as successful as you

There are also things organisations can do:

Create more of a team culture
Encourage cooperation rather than competition through incentives
Encourage a more participative style of leadership – encouraging input
Recruit emotionally mature people
Use high achievers as role models, mentors or coaches

And the office romance? Jealousy about sex or romance is a 3-way relationship; the focus of your attention plus the rival, which can produce feelings of loss, distrust or betrayal. But that’s a different posting.

First posted on SGANDA in 2010

It’s all about Trust

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colored_puzzle_connection_1600_wht_9893When I first wrote this post 5 years ago it seemed that every time I opened a paper or magazine there seemed to be an article about trust. Whether a columnist having another (justified) rant about bankers or politicians, or Simon Barnes, the Chief Sports writer for The Times, with his take on Jose Mourinho just after his team beat Barcelona, previously judged to be the best team in the world.

He went on to talk about coaches and their role in great success stories: Sir Alf Ramsey’s refusal to drop Stiles during the 1966 World Cup at the risk of losing his own job; Sir Clive Woodward on the 1998 world tour paying for a decent hotel for the team in Cape Town; Bill Sweetenham turning round the fortunes of the Great Britain swimming team from flops in Sydney to winning six medals in Beijing. All these he puts down to belief, and trust – absolute mutual trust.

In an earlier post on SGANDA; “Do you trust your boss?“, I referred to research and articles which showed a very low level of trust in bosses, (possibly because of the MPs’ expenses scandal at the time). This is potentially catastrophic for organisations.

In his book; “The 5 dysfunctions of Teams (Josey Bass)”, Patrick Lencioni makes a persuasive argument that to be an effective team its members first need to have absolute trust in each other and are able to set aside personal agendas for the greater good of the team. Put simply Lencioni’s 5 dysfunctions model goes like this:

Absence of Trust: team members need to trust each other on a fundamental, emotional level where they are comfortable being open with each other about their weaknesses, mistakes, fears and behaviours. This is important because

Fear of conflict: … teams that trust one another are not afraid to engage in passionate debate about key issues. They are not afraid to challenge, disagree, or question each other in order to make great decisions. This is important because

Lack of commitment: … teams that engage in unfiltered conflict are able to achieve genuine buy-in around decisions even though they might initially disagree. Team members see that every option has been considered . This is critical because:

Avoidance of Accountability: … teams that commit to decisions and standards of performance don’t hesitate to hold each other accountable for those decisions. And they don’t rely on the team leader to do that but go straight to their peers. This matters because

Inattention to results: …teams that trust one another engage in conflict, commit to decisions, and hold each other accountable are more likely to put aside their individual agendas and focus on what is best for the team. They don’t put their departmental politics, career aspirations, or need for status to get in the way of team results that lead to success.

He doesn’t pretend it is easy and developing trust in the first place can be a big ask if you are used to working in a highly competitive environment or a blame culture, where feedback from peers is not the norm. But what is the alternative if you work in an organisation which needs real teams ie groups of people who are interdependent rather than a set of individuals who just happen to report to the same boss but do their own thing?

Most people like working in teams as they provide support and a social context to work but effective teamwork doesn’t just happen without leaders who provide support and resources – and who can be trusted!

Spotting a lie

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Leaving aside the controversy about whether or not lie-detectors (polygraphs) actually work can we really tell when someone is lying?

Of course if you watch the Paul Ekman inspired programme “Lie to Me” you know it’s all in the NVC micro-expressions and only about 1 in 400 people have the natural ability to understand them.

Even people you might expect to do well at spotting liars such as police and security officers rarely do better than chance without extensive training. You might as well toss a coin. (If you don’t believe me have a go at judging whether or not these smiles are genuine).

There are methods experts can use in controlled settings, such as analysing written content, and getting people to illustrate their stories or tell them in reverse order but you can hardly do that in normal social situations.

Scientists no longer believe there is one single non-verbal signal that gives people away but more likely a cluster of NVC signals or behaviours.

Psychologists and scientists at MIT carried out a series of experiments to ascertain if NVC could convey trustworthiness. Strangers were asked to conduct a 5-minute conversation together either face-to-face or via web chat (but without using emoticons) to see whether or not they were better at judging trustworthiness face-to-face.

The participants then played a game that measured cooperation and self-interested economic behaviour.

Those who had chatted face-to-face beforehand were more accurate at predicting the trustworthiness of a stranger.

So what was missing from the text only conversation that was present in the face-to-face ones? Independent judges were asked to view the videotapes of the latter and identify all possible NVC clues such as smiling, nodding, touching etc.

Then they looked for specific clues when the volunteers successfully detected other people’s self-serving intentions. The body language that appeared repeatedly in those sessions was hand touching, face touching, crossing arms, and leaning away. Taken together they indicated deceitful behaviour and the more often they did these behaviours the less they were trusted.

But are these the only clues and what about people who fidget anyway?  To take the experiment further the researchers used a robot called Nexi which is designed to emote with humanlike facial expressions and body language. They asked some of the participants to have a 10-minute conversation with it.  The robot was manipulated to carry out the four behaviours linked with deceitfulness in different orders and with some repeats to stimulate normal fidgeting.

Other participants were also asked to have a conversation but during those conversations Nexi used gestures other than the four associated with deceitfulness. When Nexi used the deceitful movements people said they felt a sense of distrust but not with the other movements. And during a replaying of the game with Nexi they expected to be cheated and cooperated less.

An interesting aspect of the experiment was that although participants were skeptical of Nexi’s motives when it exhibited deceitful NVC they didn’t necessarily dislike it. Just as in real life you can like people you don’t necessarily trust.

Source: “How to Spot a Scoundrel” in Scientific American Mind September/October 2012

FYI Just how good are you at recognising emotions?