Wednesday, 22 October 2014

The Bigger they are, the harder they fall

We have all heard the cliché ‘The Bigger they are, the harder they fall’. Some recent research backs this up. Jennifer Marr and Stefan Thau in the Academy of Management Journal looked at how high status individuals coped with drops in performance.

Marr and Thau suggest that the people with the bigger reputations find it more difficult to work through and deal with a an episode of poor performance. Part of their research involved a field study of professional baseball players. They found that although low-status players’ performance quality was unaffected by status loss, the quality of high-status players’ performance declined significantly after losing status. Guys who were not very well regarded were not that bothered about a poor performance but the marquee players took it much worse. If you are a golfer, think Tiger Woods or Padraig Harrington.

In a way this makes complete sense. Individuals who have the pressure of being the best in their field have more much more to lose when their form dips. Their professional ranking, commercial value, earning potential etc make the stakes pretty high compared to the low achievers who may have very little to lose from a bad day out.

However, there is more than professional ranking and commercial opportunities at play here. High status individuals also have more of their own identity mixed in with their achievements. Being World No.1 or a top professional athlete is part of their identity as a person. When this is threatened or removed then who they are in the eyes of the public and how they see their own identity is potentially damaged.

This can also have lessons for the work place. If a sales person is hitting record targets and is employee of the year one year but then runs into a dry spell the next year, their performance can really dip and fall off a cliff. Like the baseball players or golfers, they come under professional and personal pressures that threaten both their livelihood and identity.

It is not all bad news. Marr and Thau found that self-affirmation restored the quality of high-status individuals’ performance after a dip. Getting them to remember that they still have the skills, ability and track record to be successful makes a difference. To use another sporting cliché ‘You don’t become a bad player over night’.

So keep an eye on your star performers and if you see a dip, remind them that they still have it, they are still good at what they do and their worth as professionals or as individuals is not damaged. The dip will hopefully only be a glitch and your star performer will quickly get their ‘A Game’ back on track. 

Saturday, 4 October 2014

The Smart Look - Eye Contact

We go to great lengths to put our best foot forward in meetings and demos. We get the agenda right, have all the props in place, make sure the environment is up to scratch and we are quick to remind our audience of our capabilities and track record.

This however may not be enough. A study at Northeastern University looked at how people rate our intelligence and capabilities. They found that making eye contact with the audience is key. The researchers had people watch short videos of strangers talking to each other. They were then asked to rate the intelligence of the strangers in the video. People in the video who made more eye contact while chatting were perceived as more intelligent.

This ties in with research from the University of Michigan which found that people who avoided eye contact were rated as socially awkward, deceptive and insincere. Interestingly though this was for men rather than women. Women who avoided eye contact were seen as unattractive and disagreeable. Not good results for either gender.

So even if you get the presentation right, the pricing right, making good eye contact is an important part of sealing the deal. You need to get the intelligence and sincerity message across.

While on the subject of perceived intelligence, being well dressed and looking good is a perquisite. Research by Zebrowitz and colleagues is one of many studies to establish a link between attractiveness and how smart people think we are. People who are seen as attractive are also seen as more intelligent. Scrub up, wear the good suit and make eye contact, you can’t lose.