Wednesday, 14 August 2013

The weather is not just small talk

So, are you one for checking the weather forecast on a regular basis? We all like good weather at weekends so we can get out doors and blow off some steam. During the week we like to make sure that we wear the right clothes going to work and have our raincoat or umbrella if we need it.

It turns out however, the weather also affects how we think. It does not have to be as extreme as Seasonal Affective Disorder (S.A.D.) It can affect us in far more subtle ways. 

I recently came across a 2009 study which showed that in something as specific as job interview performance it can have a real impact. The study analyzed the results of  medical-school interviews at the University of Toronto between 2004 and 2009. People interviewed on rainy days received a one per cent lower score than those interviewed on sunny days. While it seems small, the difference in scores was equivalent to a ten per cent lower total mark on the Medical College Admission Test for the university.  

The paper suggests that the mood of those conducting the interviews is lowered by the poor weather. This literally dampens their thinking when they score their candidates. If this is the case then the same cognitive influence could be at play when you have a salary review, when you try to close a big sale with a customer or when you gather some marketing material such as customer surveys. It may also play a role in performance of focus groups or any other setting where people subjectively score performance based on how they feel about it.

Try to pick a nice day for your review or that important sales meeting. If things don't work out and you are fresh out of other excuses, dodge the bullet by blaming the weather.

Sunday, 11 August 2013

Make the first move

When it comes to negotiating, many people believe that it's usually best not to make the first offer. They wait for the other guy to say how much he is willing to give or ask for. A lot of people assume that by encouraging the other person to make the first offer, they gain an information advantage.

This assumption however isn't quite right. Adam Galinsky, at Northwestern University's Kellogg Graduate School of Management has looked at the research and found that: “more often than not, negotiators who make first offers come out ahead.”

One explanation for this is ‘anchoring’, which we have discussed in previous posts. The first offer act as an 'anchor'.  Once the first offer is made, that becomes the focal point and it gets more difficult to get it off the table and discuss a completely new number. We end up spending the negotiation trying to adjust the opening offer.

This was well demonstrated in an experiment by Greg Northcraft and Maggie Neale at the University of Arizona.  They got experienced real estate agents to inspect and estimate the independent value of a house. In what appeared to be accidental, the estate agents saw one of two different price lists for the house in question. The price list was done up by someone else. Half of the agents saw a listing price of $119,900. These agents then estimated that the house would sell for just over $114,000. The other half of the agents saw a listing price of $149,900, and they came in at a figure of $128,000. The list price should have been irrelevant but it anchored their appraisal and valuation.

So when it comes to negotiation, don't be afraid to ‘play your card first’ and put a number on the table. You don't want to spend the negotiation process counteracting the other sides opening offer and not get the chance to explain your number and its worth.

Thursday, 8 August 2013

Beware of the guy with nothing to lose

I recently read a post by Alex Fradera at the BPS Occupational Digest which looked into how two different types of employees working in the same organisation would respond to change. One employee was well paid, felt valued and had an attentive boss. The other was poorly paid, under valued and disconnected from their boss.

If change was being introduced to the organisation you might expect the happier employee to be more resistive, as they have more to lose. It turns out that research specifically asking this question suggests that the better you are treated, the more open you are to change, even though you have most to lose.

The better employees felt they were treated, the less anxious they became. They had good reason to expect that if they were treated well before the change, they would continue to be treated well afterwards. The employee treated badly is already in a mind-set where they expect to be taken advantage of and the forthcoming change agenda was just another way for that to happen.

I was surprised by this, I had assumed that those with most to lose would be most anxious about losing their current cushy number. Then I thought about a large multi national insurance company I had worked in where there was a merger and major departmental changes.

The overriding feeling at the time was uncertainty as to how individual roles would turn out. We were reassured by management euphemisms about synergies and stability. Not being completely na├»ve, my colleagues and I viewed this as spin and PR, the real proof would come once the change was implemented. The feeling of uncertainty came down to trust, did we trust what we were being told?

This could be at play in the research cited by Alex Fradera. The person treated well probably trusts the employer and their change agenda, the other guy is probably very cynical and has no reason to believe that the change will lead to any good. It just means even more hassle.

So if you are changing how things work, watch out for those with nothing to lose, they could be the most resistive. If you want the change to go a little smoother, make an extra effort so that staff feel valued beforehand.

Avoid being a softie in negotiations

I recently read a very good post on the TipTapLab where it discussed haptic experience and how the way items feel influences our behavior. It highlighted a study by Ackerman, Nocera, Bargh from 2010  which showed how the weight texture and hardness of objects we come into contact with or hold, affect our decision making.

For example, the study found that heavy objects made job candidates appear more important, so maybe walk in holding brief case rather than a notepad to your next meeting or interview. It also found that hard objects increased rigidity in negotiations, so perhaps use flexible plastic glasses for drinks in your meeting rooms if you need to cut a deal. 

Interestingly on this hard/soft influence, the study found that potential car buyers were more inflexible in their price negotiations when sitting in hard rather than soft chairs. It might be worth investing in a few luxury seats and few cushions in your meeting/show rooms or sitting on a wooden chair at home when bidding on eBay.

Guess the point here is that we have impressions of hard, rigid, soft that follow into our subconscious when we physically experience them. Beware of the car salesman with the comfy chairs.