Unconscious biases lead to problems if left unchecked. In this episode, Patrick Veroneau focuses on understanding people’s biases and behaviors and leverages this knowledge to create a better world. When you understand these biases, you become a better communicator. Patrick digs deeper into the division that is created by people’s behaviors, the Pygmalion Effect, and the importance of creating inclusion. Tune in and learn the better way to be better.
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How Our Bias And Behaviors Are Creating A World We Don’t Want
Thanks for reading this episode. I was working with an individual who in our work, had called me the Behaviors Guy. As I think about that, a lot of the work that I do is around behavior, so I am the behavior guy. This episode is all about that. It’s about behaviors. There seems to be so much division now in this country on so many different issues, whether it’s race, COVID, wearing or don’t wearing masks, you like the police, you don’t like the police, Black Lives Matter, All Lives Matter or whatever it is.
The Pygmalion Effect
In the work that I do around behaviors, one of the things that have resonated with me through this whole thing is this idea of what’s called the Pygmalion Effect. I use this word a lot in terms of leadership development that I do whether it’s with teams, individuals or organizations. Some aren’t going to like to hear this but we are creating the environments that we say we don’t want to live in by our expectations. I’m going to walk through how that happens. I’m going to reference one study that I use quite often. The title of it is Leadership and expectations: Pygmalion effects and other self-fulfilling prophecies in organizations.
It was published by an individual, a researcher named Dov Eden, and it was in The Leadership Quarterly in 1992. As I said, it’s an article that I use quite often, in the work that I do. It’s a rather lengthy study or paper. It’s about 38 pages but there was so much in here that talks about many different things from the Pygmalion effect to the Golem effect, which is the opposite of Pygmalion to self-fulfilling prophecies and transformational leadership with a leader-member exchange and how all of these come into play.We are pack animals, we need each other, and we're looking for connections. Click To Tweet
What I thought I do on this is talk about what is Pygmalion and relate it back to the environment that we’re in because even though this paper that I’m referencing talks about self-fulfilling prophecy and organizations, we can look at this as though it’s self-fulfilling prophecies in societies where we’re living now. I’m going to make the case that this happens in our societies like it does in organizations. First I want to talk about pre-Pygmalion and this was work that was done around what’s called Theory X and Theory Y. It was introduced in 1960 by a researcher named Douglas McGregor.
I’m going to read something here around Theory X and Theory Y to give you an idea of what the concept is about. McGregor described the circular self-fulfilling prophecy by which manager’s assumptions or expectations determine how they treat their subordinates, which in turn affects how the subordinates respond. A manager acting on Theory X assumptions mistrusts workers, refrains from delegating authority to them and supervisors and them closely.
This leads to the fulfillment of the manager’s prophecy as workers so treated react by exerting less effort on the job. In contrast, belief in Theory Y leads to a manager who trusts their people and seeks ways of achieving greater integration between individual and organizational goals. McGregor held that workers live up to the trust placed in them and respond responsibly to the challenge by redoubling their efforts and redoubling their commitment and motivation.
We can see when we talk about Theory X and Theory Y, how does that relate to how we treat other people? Let’s use the political parties, for example. If I’m a conservative, how might I look towards somebody that’s more liberal? I expect them to act a certain way. I treat them a certain way based on my own beliefs and approaches. By doing that, I reinforce those behaviors that I probably would say I don’t like and that other individual. It creates what’s called a self-fulfilling prophecy. I don’t trust you and I’m going to treat you in a way that says, “I don’t trust you,” or vice versa liberal toward conservative. It doesn’t matter, whatever the issue is. Anybody that we’re having an issue with our beliefs in who we think that person is playing itself out here.
Things have gotten so much worse now, because of our isolation. We are in front of each other far less and also when we are, we’re masked up. Oftentimes not able to see who the other person is. It’s almost like we’re hiding behind a mask, literally. I do believe that it impacts our level of civility toward each other. I will often do in some of the workshops what I call the Civility Scale. I will start out with texting or email and go all the way to in-person. What I do is, I say that when we’re texting or emailing somebody, that’s where our level of civility is probably at its lowest because there’s such a buffer there. I don’t have interaction with them. Whereas if I’m in person with them, even if I’m on the phone with them, it’s a scale that I’m less abrasive, potentially, on the phone than I am in a text, or in an email. I’m even less so if it’s in person.
Let’s face it, there are things that we would say or do on a text or an email, that if we were face to face with a person, we probably wouldn’t do that. One of the examples that I will often use in this if we think about road rage. We think of somebody cutting into a line of traffic. Imagine you’re in the grocery store, and I’m waiting and there’s a little bit of room between me and the cart in front of me and somebody slides their cart in that would have a different approach. Nobody’s going to be tolerant of that in a grocery store or few are but in an automobile, we seem to have far more ability to be able to do that, out of the grocery store and back to Pygmalion.
The first Pygmalion study was done by Lenore Jacobson and Robert Rosenthal. This was in 1963. They looked at kids in grade school, and they had them all take an IQ test but then what they did was they arbitrarily labeled some of these kids as academic bloomers. It had nothing to do with their actual scores but they put them down as academic bloomers and let their instructors know which kids were the academic bloomers. What they found was at the end of the school year or the follow-up from this study, that those kids that were rated or ranked as the academic bloomers did better than the other kids in the control group. It had nothing to do with their actual IQ scores.
What they then did, the most famous study was done in 1968, which was called Pygmalion in the Classroom. It’s a similar type of setting but what they did was they had students and their instructors. The instructors were told, “Here are your kids that are high potential, these kids are average potential, and these kids are unknown.” At the end of the semester, when these kids were graded. What they found was that those kids that were high potential, again, it had nothing to do with their actual potential, did the best.
The average kids did average and those that were unknown were scattered somewhere in between there. What it started to do was uncover how our treatment toward others of what we expect of them creates a self-fulfilling prophecy. Here we talk about it in a school setting. Another researcher then went on, a gentleman named Sterling Livingston and he said, “Let’s take a look at this from a standpoint of management. What happens there?” We already have some idea of what happens because when we can go back and think of Douglas McGregor’s work in regards to Theory X and Theory Y, we can see where this goes but Livingston did the same thing with managers and employees. He saw the same results.
To me, it gets even more interesting when we look at the author of this study, who was involved in some research as well with the Israel Defense Forces. Here they are looking at Pygmalion as it relates to the armed services. In this, there were 100 individuals that were involved in a study of officers going through this training course which was going to be a written course at the end. They were for instructors and what the instructors were told was, “Here are the assessments that have been done for each of your cadets that are going to be in your class. We want you to memorize these so who you have in your class.” It was based on command potential so it was high potential, potential unknown, or average potential.
In the written exam, what they found was at the end of this course that those that were considered high potential scored the best, statistically significant on this written exam yet it had nothing to do with their actual potential. It gets more interesting in that study. What they then did was they said, “Let’s take a look on a couple of different areas in terms of these individuals that went through this boot camp.” When we look at performance, we can again see those designed as high or those that were designated as high in command potential, significantly outperformed their classmates in all the subjects that we rated.
When we looked at attitudes, each of the trainees filled out a questionnaire that included items asking whether they would recommend the course to a friend, if they desired to go on to the next course, as well as their overall satisfaction. On all of those, the ones that were considered high expectation trainees, they rated all of those more favorably. Lastly, what they then did was they looked and said, “Let’s ask leadership.”
What they found was that the trainees that were considered high potential rated their instructors’ leadership significantly higher. Why is this? It would seem through each of those that when they’re asked those that were considered high potential probably got more attention, more expectations were put on them of positive things that they could do all based on what they were told they should expect from this individual. They lived up to that. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.
I go back to our society now, how does this play into it? If you hear somebody is a Trump supporter, what do you do? Automatically, you start to have a vision of who this person is and you treat them as such. I would argue, you start this process of a self-fulfilling prophecy and vice versa. If you are a Trump supporter and you’re looking at somebody that is a democrat or you think of them as more liberal, you are automatically thinking of them as a certain individual and treating them such when you have interactions with them.
This is detrimental to our ability to be open to looking at just because somebody has a different perspective on things, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re a bad person. The bottom line of this is to say that if we want to see better out of people, we should expect more and we should let them know that. I’ll give you an example of that in work that I do with organizations where we’ll talk about the problem employee. I believe that managers are part of the problem for the problem employee, because basically, we create this self-fulfilling prophecy in them.
One way to get out of that is to place different expectations on that individual. What I mean by that is to let this person know, “You’re better than this. This is not who you are. I don’t believe that you are an uncaring person. We may have differences but I don’t believe that you mean to be mean-spirited on this, that you disrespect other people the way I’ve been told that your group does.” You can see how important that is. I’m telling somebody that because we have differences, I don’t think that this person necessarily is uncaring. They’re selfish or whatever it might be.
The Golem Effect
When we have interactions with people, if we go in with the expectation of the positive, we will tend to look for those things as opposed to wanting to reinforce why this person is such a bad person. We’re creating part of that. When we go on, we look at what’s called the Golem Effect and the Golem Effect is the opposite of Pygmalion. It says that if I don’t expect much of you, you won’t disappoint either. That’s where we spend the majority of our time it seems now is we don’t expect much of somebody else and we’re not disappointed because we don’t get much out of other people when we don’t expect too much. That self-fulfilling prophecy is coming into play. They’re living up to that negative bias that we believe this person is.Rather than looking for the negative things in other people, raise your standards for everybody. Click To Tweet
My wife and I have friends that are both liberal and conservative. Yet when we’re together, and we both can say as we sit, I would say somewhere in the middle on this and we share beliefs that straddle both sides of this. They are all close to us for different reasons, but they’re all good people and they care about other people. Yet, if you didn’t know these individuals and we put labels out there, you might not have that same interpretation, understanding, or appreciation for who these people are. I go back to isolation. The less we are able to interact with other people we live off of labels and those labels then create this self-fulfilling prophecy.
The Leader-Member Exchange
One of the last pieces that I will talk about is what’s called the Leader-Member Exchange. This is extremely powerful in the world that we’re in now. One of the researchers on this was a gentleman named George Graen, the Leader-Member Exchange talks about what’s called an In-Group and an Out-Group. When you are part of the in-group, your performance tends to be better but if I feel like I’ve been pushed outside of the group, a couple of different things can happen. One, I could disengage. The other is that I could engage in ways that are damaging to society, the organization, and the team, as a whole, because I feel I’ve been pushed outside of this group.
We see this on such a heightened level, of the in-group versus the out-group. When we push people outside and we don’t find ways to include them, we are exacerbating this leader-member exchange, this in-group and out-group mentality. In much of the work that I do around the CABLES Leadership System that I’ve developed, one of the behaviors in CABLES is around belongingness. In belongingness, there’s so much research around the impact that this has.
We are pack animals. We need each other and we’re looking for connections. We could go to a prison that maybe somebody from a gang and we talked to them, there are many interviews that you can pull up that talk about, or where you’ll hear gang members talk about how growing up they were always ostracized, always the troubled person, and always looked at as different. What did they do? They found a group that accepted them. They became part of an in-group. Unfortunately, it was a violent in-group but it still was somebody that they were part of an in-group. They were part of somebody, a group that accepted who they were.
You look at the violence that’s around us. We have in-groups and out-groups. We have done little to try and say, “How do we create inclusion for everybody here? Regardless of our differences, how can we start finding a place that we can agree and work from there to build off of that?” We clearly can. We need to because when we come down to it, there are many things that we share as core beliefs or values that we all want. We’re approaching them in different ways. Either Golem is preventing us from looking at other people that they want the same things or we’re not leveraging Pygmalion enough to be able to create the environments that we want.
That’s what this is about, so rather than talk about strategies from a standpoint of what we would call a Pygmalion Leader, that somebody that basically tries to create an environment of expectation of others. We are looking at this from a standpoint of creating Pygmalion Citizens, Pygmalion Individuals, where rather than looking for the negative things in other people, it’s let’s raise our standards for everybody here, in terms of how we’re going to treat each other. There’s real ownership that we can have here and when we do that.
When we can raise that expectation for us as individuals, as human beings, and sharing probably many core desires, we will find that we’re able to overcome much of the divisiveness. This isn’t to say utopia or that there’s this Pollyanna Approach here but certainly, it’s to say that we can do it without violence and disruptive behaviors in a way that will continue to erode our society. To me, I look at the situations that we’re in now as dress rehearsals.
We will face bigger challenges down the road and our ability to navigate these successfully now will do far more for how we will set ourselves up to be able to deal with bigger things that are coming. I realize this has been a long rant, but it is such a powerful and important topic. If you haven’t had an opportunity to dig into Pygmalion, Golem, self-fulfilling prophecies and how we play into this, our behaviors, how we create this environment that we say we don’t want to see, we have the ability to create the environment we do want to see. It’s going to require us to have a different set of expectations on how we show up toward other people and I hope you’ll take that challenge. Peace.
- Leadership and expectations: Pygmalion effects and other self-fulfilling prophecies in organizations
- Pygmalion in the Classroom
- Leader-Member Exchange
- CABLES Leadership System