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How to Control Your Unconscious Expectations of Others and Maximize Your Impact In Any Relationship -Episode 010

Patrick:            Hey everybody, I’m Pat V. and you’re listening to the Rise Above Your Best podcast where I’m not only obsessed with interviewing people that are achieving great success to find out their habits and behaviors, but also in uncovering the research that demonstrates that great success is available to all of us, and it all starts when you rise above your best.

Patrick:            I’m really excited. This is the 10th anniversary or 10th episode anniversary of the Rise Above Your Best podcast. One of the topics that I’ve really wanted to discuss for a while is this idea of our expectations, and oftentimes our unconscious expectations of others and the power that that has over really creating the reality of the result of that relationship, or the outcome of the other person’s performance based on really what we’re expecting from them.

Patrick:            What I’m going to focus on first are two pieces of research around Pygmalion and the Golem effect, and the last one is a Harvard Business Review article called The Set-Up-To-Fail Syndrome. Whether you are a teacher, a manager, a parent, or you’re involved in any relationship where there’s an expectation on the other person in regards to their performance, then this is really important information for you to understand so that you can leverage it going forward in terms of just understanding how some of the behaviors that we have we’re really not even conscious of. When we look at some of the research, it allows us to bring it into the forefront and be self-aware of how we behave this way. So let’s jump into it.

Patrick:            The first study I’m going to talk about was one that was published in the Academy of Management Learning and Education was back in 2007, and the title of it was Restraining the Golem and harnessing Pygmalion in the classroom: A laboratory study of managerial expectations and task design. Now, obviously that’s pretty wordy and pretty obscure, but basically what it looked at was two things, Pygmalion and Golan.

Patrick:            Pygmalion is this idea that positive expectations of another person will oftentimes create a positive result. Golem is a term that’s suggestive of this idea that negative expectations of another create a negative outcome. This goes back to the late 1960s and it first started out with high school kids.

Patrick:            They looked at a group of high school kids and teachers, and what they did was they set up basically these bogus assessments on these high school kids, the seniors, and said to the teachers, “Here’s a group of kids that are high performers, here’s a group of kids that based on their assessments are low performers, and here’s a group that is sort of unknown.”

Patrick:            Lo and behold, they go out through the semester and they find that when they test them at the end of the semester that those that were perceived … again, it was a bogus report that the teachers didn’t realize. Those that were perceived as high potential, or had high expectations, or were high performers, they tended to score better statistically, and those that were low scored lower.

Patrick:            What’s interesting about this is it’s not just used in high school, it was done with the Israeli army at one point too where they had 104 officer cadets. It was a 15-week course, they had four instructors. Once again, the instructors had no idea about the actual potential of these cadets. What they found was, again, same story, cadets were ranked as high potential, low potential or potential unknown.

Patrick:            What they found at the end of the 15 weeks I should say, is that those soldiers that were rated as high potential scored the best on a written test, and those that were rated on the lower end of that scored lowest, and those in the middle sort of fell somewhere in the middle for the most part. This was statistically significant.

Patrick:            What’s important as well about this is when they asked the soldiers to rate their instructors, that it was those instructors that we’re perceiving their officer training or officer cadets as high potentials, those are the ones that the cadets said that they liked the best. Which again is interesting because the subconscious expectation that we put on other people, if we like them, we think they’re high potential, or we think they’ve got good characteristics, we tend to treat them differently.

Patrick:            We think about this from a standpoint especially in school. I can certainly attest to the fact that I lived out Pygmalion angle, that there were teachers that I know expected a lot from me and I didn’t want to disappoint them. There were again teachers that didn’t expect much of me, and guess what? I didn’t disappoint them either, I didn’t give them much. I think what’s important here is even though it was looked at in schools, this study that that I’m talking about right now, this laboratory study looking at managerial expectations, what they found was this translated over into management as well.

Patrick:            In this study there were sort of three hypotheses. One was that negative expectations verbalized by the instructor would negatively influence basically the person’s performance. The next was positive expectations verbalized by the instructor would positively influence the student’s or the worker’s performance. The third was that the absence of verbalized expectations would neither positively nor negatively influence student’s performance.

Patrick:            What they found was at the end of this study, that those hypotheses were confirmed. That those individuals that verbalized their expectations in terms of what they could do or couldn’t do, they tended to follow through on those. I think what’s concerning about this too, when you look at it in terms from a negative standpoint is these weren’t ongoing negative verbalization. They found that on just one negative verbalization by an instructor, that could have a detrimental effect on the worker’s performance or the student’s performance.

Patrick:            This is really important in terms of any relationship that we’re in, probably this can translate over to as a parent with a child, the same thing can happen. Certainly, we can see it with a manager. We can certainly see with the manager and the employee, and we can certainly probably see it with a student. Any relationship this is going to play out. It speaks to the power that our language and our behaviors have towards somebody else and their outcome, and being aware of this.

Patrick:            How do we take this and use it? Well, if we think about this, if I’m having a difficult time with somebody, then maybe my approach is not to say, “Why do you always do this this way?” or you reinforced that they’re not doing the right thing. The opposite is probably what needs to happen here, is if it’s somebody that I’m managing, I certainly as a coach in sports as well as a coaching business, I do this now, where I might say to somebody, “You’re better than this, your performance is better than what you’re showing right now.”

Patrick:            Because what I’ve done is I’ve set a higher expectation not only for them, but also for myself in terms of what I’m expecting out of them. Just by being aware of the power that this Golem and Pygmalion effect can have allows me to really frame things differently. That if I want better results then I need to frame it that way and let the other person know that, that my expectation is higher of them than what they’re producing. Because if we take a step back and think about this from an influence standpoint, there’s a principle that Robert Cialdini speaks to and it’s around this idea of conformity. We like to be seen as consistent with what we say we’re going to do.

Patrick:            By putting somebody in a positive place of saying, “This is what I expect of you” or, “You’re better than this”, it allows that person really to be able to think like, “You know what? I am better than this, and this person believes that I’m better than this.” And again, I go back to school and think I know when I had teachers, they called me out on that that said, “You know what, Patrick, you’re better than this.”

Patrick:            I had a manager that said the same thing when I started out in sales, that he saw my erratic behavior in terms of my numbers when I was really performing and when I wasn’t, and I will never forget this when he said to me, “You’re better than this.” It stung because I knew at that point like I almost I was disappointing this person and I was letting myself down. It drove me harder going forward to say, “I’m, I’m not gonna disappoint this person and I’m better than this, what my numbers are showing right now.”

Patrick:            The next piece of research I’d like to talk about was actually published in the Harvard Business Review and it was actually, it’s an older article. It was actually the March- April issue in 1998. It’s hard to believe that somebody listening to this might not even have been alive when that article came out, but anyway, well worth the read. The title of it is how bosses create their own poor performers, The Set-Up-to-Fail Syndrome.

Patrick:            When I read this article for the first time probably about eight years ago, it resonated so strongly with me because I believe certainly I had experienced this personally, and I certainly had seen others fall victim to this. Again, I think some of this is just unconscious. Actually, I think a lot of it is unconscious, that we don’t even recognize that this is happening, which is even more important to speak about articles or research like this so it allows people to sort of realize how this can happen and how powerful it is.

Patrick:            The Set-Up-to-Fail Syndrome basically goes through this scenario, and I’ll just sort of walk you through sort of what this looks like. There’s a cartoon series in this article that speaks to The Set-Up-to-Fail Syndrome and it says, “No harm intended. A relationship spirals from bad to worse”, and it’s so true that how this happens. In this case the first box is to say before The Set-Up-to-Fail Syndrome begins, the boss and the subordinate are typically engaged in positive or at least a neutral relationship. Then somewhere along the way there’s a triggering event as what they call it in The Set-Up-to-Fail Syndrome, and it’s often minor.

Patrick:            The subordinate may miss a deadline, lose a client, or submit a subpar report. In other cases, the syndrome’s initiation might be from the boss who distances themselves from the subordinate for either personal or social reasons. It then goes on to sort of talk about this idea of the boss or the employee reacting to the triggering event. The boss increases his supervision of the subordinate, gives more specific instructions and almost starts to begin micromanaging I guess is the easiest way to look at this. The subordinate sort of starts to respond now by beginning to suspect that there’s a lack of confidence in their ability.

Patrick:            What happens is the person starts to withdraw emotionally from the boss and from work, and he may even fight the change or the boss’ image of himself, and he reacts too high in doing that, or he runs too fast, or to almost counteract what’s been said about him or what he thinks is going on or she thinks is going on. The boss starts to interpret this in a way that it starts to snowball, to the point that the subordinate could actually be performing well and the boss doesn’t acknowledge it, or might consider that it’s a lucky one off that this really isn’t indicative of their performance anymore.

Patrick:            What happens is is the subordinate starts to feel boxed in and really underappreciated, and increasingly starts to withdraw from the boss and from work, and may even resort to ignoring instructions, speaks to [inaudible 00:11:34], almost openly disputing the boss. Because now the person feels like I’m cornered, and oftentimes somebody is probably going to try and fight back and show that this isn’t who they are. It raises this sense of cognitive dissonance, this uneasiness that the person wants to fight against it.

Patrick:            The boss starts to feel increasingly frustrated as well, and they’re even convinced that this individual can’t perform without an incredible amount of oversight, so the micromanagement even increases more than that. To the point that what happens is is that when it’s in full swing, the boss pressures and controls the subordinate during interactions, always, or he just ignores the person during routine assignments.

Patrick:            Basically, it’s only when he wants to pick something apart or she wants to pick something apart that they’re going to get involved. For the subordinate’s standpoint, what happens is the person just shuts down or leave, is really the only two things that happen. So we have disengagement from the employee, or actually the third is that the person’s eventually fired all because of something that probably was not an issue in the first place, but just snowballed. It was almost like a catch 22 and self-fulfilling prophecy all in one.

Patrick:            Now, if you went back to either the subordinate or the manager, certainly if you went back to the manager to say that a lot of this initiation was unconscious to begin with, they’d disagree, they’d vehemently say that this isn’t the case that they had. They had factual examples of why this person wasn’t doing what they were supposed to be doing. It’s no different than when the researchers questioned either teachers or military instructors on bogus reports on assessments, and they both denied that they had any leaning toward just treating somebody differently because they looked high potential or were told they were high potential.

Patrick:            Unfortunately, it’s human nature, that happens. We’ve only discussed two of hundreds, if not, thousands of pieces of research that demonstrate this Golem, or Pygmalion, or Set-Up-to-Fail Syndrome. The question is, how do we deal with it? Well, if we are the initiator of these, meaning we’re the ones that basically are expecting less of somebody or expecting more of a certain group but not the rest of the group, then just being aware that this is powerful, that that this does happen.

Patrick:            If it’s from a Set-Up-to-Fail Syndrome, if you can think of that situation you’ve been in where maybe somebody stopped performing and you were part of the problem, or you certainly were responsible for maybe creating the downward spiral. Not all of it, but certainly you had a hand in that. If you’re the recipient of Golem or Set-Up-to-Fail Syndrome, it’s again, first you got to recognize what’s going on.

Patrick:            From a Set-Up-to-Fail Syndrome, a strategy that you can take is to have a conversation with the manager or whoever the person is to really get an idea on what are the clear expectations, what do we need from each other. From an influence standpoint, the process here is to try and peel back to something that we both can agree on because I could say to the manager, “I believe that we both want the same thing. We both want success, because if I succeed, you as a manager look better. I just, for whatever reason, seemed to have missed an opportunity for that to happen, and I need to know from you, Mr. or Mrs. Manager, how do I do that?”

Patrick:            It’s the same thing from a relationship that we’re in, trying to have clear expectations are set clear expectations on what does good look like? How can we get back on track? What do we need to do? Anytime we can do that, we’re in a position where we have the opportunity to break that cycle, that self-fulfilling prophecy, especially that Golem or that Set-Up-to-Fail Syndrome has placed in front of us when we can do that.

Patrick:            I think in many ways being the recipient of Golem or Set-Up-to-Fail Syndrome, if we are practicing self-awareness allows us to be more empathetic or certainly more aware of how we might do this to other people. You can think about it in any place. If we were around the water cooler so to speak, and we talk poorly about somebody else, so and so such, and somebody else us there that doesn’t really know this person. What you’ve started in a sense is Golem because you have given this person basically an expectation. It’s your own, could be unfounded, but an expectation of what to look at when they go and see this person.

Patrick:            What tends to happen is that person now has a preconceived idea of who this person is. If I say, “Oh, so and so’s can’t be trusted.” Well, when this person goes and interacts with the so and so that I talked about, they’re going to be looking for that, and maybe unjustly looking for that.

Patrick:            Again, from a standpoint of being in school, I think about the number of times that in the teacher’s lounge, that two teachers are speaking about a student, one that have the student and one that’s going to be getting the student next year. The conversation comes into, “Oh, who you getting for next year in your class?” “Oh, I’m gonna have Patrick V.” The other teacher says, “Ugh, good luck with him, he’s a problem.”

Patrick:            When I show up in September, that teacher is more than likely, at least it’s going to be, their radar is going to be up to look for that, and that’s what they’re going to try and confirm is that based on what this other person said, it matches the description they’re given. The same thing is true if it were the other way, “Oh, he’s a great kid, you’re gonna really enjoy him”, then this person automatically comes to me or I go to them and when I behave, oftentimes they’re looking for those things that will justify or validate what was said about me.

Patrick:            We all have this power to do that, and then I go back to again, whatever relationship that we’re in, I know that we want more than this. I know you and I want more than this side of each other. Anytime I can set a higher expectation then it gives us both a place to go from there. That’s a way that you can practice this going forward and hopefully start to eliminate or at least reduce the amount of time that were spent in either Pygmalion, or Golem, or Set-Up-to-Fail Syndrome.

Patrick:            I hope you found this episode valuable and important. It is a topic that I think is is critical to engagement in any part of our lives whether it’s at work, or at home, or in the community. I think oftentimes unconsciously, we don’t realize the power that our thoughts have over the outcomes that actually are produced, it’s just trying to bring awareness to that.

Patrick:            If you found this helpful or valuable, I would ask that you forward this along to somebody who you think might need to hear it. If you found it valuable yourself as well, it would be a great honor to me if you were to go on and rate this because when that happens, it allows other people to be able to see this as well. Until our next podcast, I hope you’re able to go out there and rise above your best.

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