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Just how diverse is this group, really?

Wednesday, August 27, 2014
posted by Douglas Keene

Diverse PeopleWe often make assumptions when discussing diversity that we all perceive a group’s diversity in the same way. Today’s research shows that simply isn’t so. That is, you and I (depending on our racial in-group) can look at the same group and you might say it is diverse while I say it is not. What makes the difference? It’s an intriguing question.

These researchers discuss how diversity means different things to different people and yet, we often discuss diversity as though “everyone ought to know it when they see it”. In other words, we often conceptualize ‘diversity’ as objective rather than as something that will vary across individuals and situations. Their belief is that racial minorities look at groups and assess whether there is anyone else in the group from their own in-group since they believe that is the best predictor of whether they would be treated fairly by the group. The researchers review the lengthy history of research and polling results showing varying perceptions of race relations by Whites and minority group members. They then focus on differences in how groups are perceived (in terms of diversity) by African-Americans and by Asian Americans.

African-Americans, say the researchers are often lower status, have more negative stereotypes and report more discrimination than do other minority groups.

Asian Americans, on the other hand, are often granted higher status and report lower levels of discrimination than other minority groups. (We would point out that just because Asian Americans report less discrimination doesn’t mean they do not experience discrimination.)

The researchers completed three separate studies to see if there were differences between African-American and Asian Americans in terms of the perception of group diversity.

Study 1 included 1,899 American (391 Asian American, 620 African-American and 888 non-Hispanic White) members of a polling panel maintained by GfK. Participants read a short statement about a large corporation forming a management team for a new project and saw a photograph of the 6 managers. The racial composition of the management team was manipulated so there were 4 conditions: the Asian representation condition had 2 Asian-Americans and 4 White managers; the African-American representation condition had 2 African-American managers and 4 White managers; the Asian + African-American condition pictured 1 Asian American, 1 African-American and 4 White managers, and the final group was composed of a WhiteOnly condition that pictured 6 White team members. Participants were asked how diverse they thought the group pictured was.

Asian Americans thought the Asian representation group more diverse than the African-American representation group. African-American participants thought the African-American representation group was more diverse than the Asian representation group. This relationship was stronger for African-American participants than for Asian American participants.

Asian-Americans saw more diversity in the Asian + African-American representation than did African-American participants. The researchers say this means Asian-Americans and African-Americans responded differently to racial minority “out-group representation”.

Study 2 included 1,080 Americans recruited by Qualtrics of which 471 were Asian American and 574 were Black. The group was 57.8% female and ranged in age from 18 to 72 years with an average age of 34 years. 13% had graduate degrees, 32% had bachelor’s degrees, 39% had some college coursework completed and 15% had completed high school or earned a GED. Some participants in this study read that a research group found prejudice and discrimination against African-Americans had increased in recent years especially in terms of employment. Others read the same article but the words “Asian Americans” replaced “African Americans”. Then they looked at either the Asian representation, African-American representation, or Asian + African-American representation photos used in the first study and rated how diverse they thought the group pictured was.

Both Asian American and African-American participants saw the teams as more diverse when it included members of their racial in-group compared to when it included members of another racial minority group. (The effect was once again stronger for African-American participants.)

The need for in-group representation to see a group as diverse was stronger for Asian-Americans who read about higher levels of discrimination against their group in the workplace. For African-American participants, however, the level of in-group representation was equally important whether they had read about higher levels of discrimination against their group or not. The researchers thought this indicated discrimination was more chronically salient for African-American participants than for Asian American participants.

Study 3 included 380 upper-level undergraduate business majors (210 non-Hispanic White and 126 Asian American). Participants read that a large company had formed a new management team and saw headshots of eight people in business attire. Altogether, there were four racial compositions for the management team: Asian Majority (5 Asian and 3 White team members), African-American Majority (5 African-American and 3 White team members), Asian + African-American diversity condition (2 Asian, 3 African-American and 3 White team members), and White Only (8 White team members). Again they were asked to rate the diversity of the team and also asked to indicate how likely they thought the team was to be able to manage discrimination issues.

Asian American participants saw each team as differently diverse. They saw the Asian + African-American team as most diverse, then Asian Majority, then African-American Majority, and finally, White Only.

White participants saw the Asian + African-American condition as most diverse and the White Only condition as least diverse but thought the Asian Majority and African-American Majority conditions were the same in terms of diversity.

This research highlights the complexity of “diversity” and the importance of assessing perceptions of different racial groups when it comes to diversity. Overall, say the researchers, African-Americans are more chronically attuned to issues about race than are Asian-Americans. Therefore, how diverse a group is seen as being depends on how many African-Americans are represented.

There are many more details to be found in this complex and nuanced work. It’s also interesting to consider in light of the research on race and death penalty juries. Perhaps part of the reason African-Americans are so sensitive to whether a group will treat them fairly is because so often they are not treated fairly. We write a lot about bias. In this line of work, we see a lot of it. This particular research helps us understand some of the nuances more fully.

Bauman CW, Trawalter S, & Unzueta MM (2014). Diverse According to Whom? Racial Group Membership and Concerns about Discrimination Shape Diversity Judgments. Personality & Social Psychology Bulletin PMID: 25106545



The American Bar Association is seeking nominations until August 8, 2014 to help it decide on the Top 100 law blogs (“Blawgs”). We have been in the ABA Top 100 for the past 4 years and would like to make it 5! If you like this blog, please nominate us (it’s fast and free) here. THANKS! Doug and Rita

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMost of us have seen the information that a sedentary lifestyle is dangerous for our physical well-being. Today’s researchers wondered if standing (rather than sitting) for group brainstorming sessions would result in more effective and positive group dynamics and outcome.

They recruited 214 undergraduate students to participate in 3-5 person group-brainstorming tasks. Each group was asked to develop ideas for a university recruitment video which they recorded at the end of their sessions. Each group was filmed as they completed the brainstorming project in a room with a table, whiteboard and notepads. Half of the groups had five chairs around the table and the other half had no chairs. Each participant was given a wristband which measured their level of “physiological arousal” (i.e., how much their skin sweated during the task).

The researchers found the groups without chairs had higher arousal (i.e., they did more sweating) than the groups with chairs.

The groups without chairs were also less possessive of the ideas they individually generated. The researchers called this “reduced territoriality”. The researchers think this might have been due to the closer physical proximity of the groups who had no chairs. They shared the physical space and the researchers think perhaps they shared the intellectual product as well.

The groups without chairs also generated more ideas that were then modified through combining them with the ideas of other group members or improved upon by others. The researchers call this “idea elaboration”.

So in all, it looks like the groups without chairs performed better although they were sweatier. And indeed, the researchers say the group process was better. All groups designed and produced the university recruitment videos as an outcome measure, but there were no differences in the videos produced by groups with chairs and the groups without chairs.

“That is, videos produced by groups working in a room with no chairs were rated by judges as no more polished or creative, than videos produced by groups working in a room with chairs.”

In other words, you might enjoy the process more and standing up is physically better for you, but the resulting product will not be improved. Nonetheless, the authors recommend workplace leaders may want to get rid of chairs and give employees an open space to make collaboration easier.

Obviously, you won’t likely be inclined to ask jurors to stand as they deliberate (and most jury rooms tend to be on the crowded side). However, in your office, “stand-up meetings” or brainstorming sessions might improve both morale and collaboration skills. This research would say you won’t get a better product because of standing, but it might be more fun and create a more effective team.

Knight, AP, & Baer, M. (2014). Get up, Stand up: The effects of a non-sedentary workspace on information elaboration and group performance. Social Psychological and Personality Science. 



workplace ostracismIt’s always tough to measure something that seems very subjective. Like ostracism. Are you being ostracized (excluded, left out, or shunned) or are you just way too sensitive? Intrepid researchers have pushed forward though and brought us the Workplace Ostracism Scale.

Ostracism is very much like incivility which is seen as very hard to objectively describe. What appears to be incivility or ostracism to you, may look very innocent to me. It is perhaps easiest to understand what incivility is if we think back to our childhoods and how a sibling or playground nemesis would say one thing out loud (in front of witnesses like our parents or teachers) but we “knew what they really meant”. That’s what incivility often boils down to–indirect and often ambiguous actions that result in one feeling excluded, not valued, or belittled but having a hard time describing the situation in behavioral terms without sounding petty or childish.

The research on ostracism and incivility is consistent–what may seem like ambiguous and immature behavior/reactions is actually harmful to workplace morale and individual well-being. So, in an effort to keep you up to date, here are some sample items from the 2008 Workplace Ostracism Scale (a 10-item measure of ostracism at work). The items are rated using a standard 7-point Likert Scale ranging from ‘Never’ to ‘Always’.

Your greetings have gone unanswered at work.

Others refused to talk to you at work.

Others at work treated you as if you were not there.

Others left the area when you entered.

You involuntarily sat alone in a crowded lunchroom at work.

It is easy to see how one might question this as a measure of the actual experience of ostracism. (After reading the researchers report on all the various tests for validity in the full report, we are of the opinion that it’s a sound measure.) But these items could be seen as complaints from a disgruntled employee who is inclined to blame others. On the other hand, they could also be signs that all is not well in your workplace. It’s a dilemma for the workplace. How do you address uncivil or ostracizing behavior when you can’t agree on how to interpret the problematic behaviors?

You cannot ignore the distressed employee.

You cannot “make” adults be nice to each other.

But, you can set clear expectations for behavior and communication and inclusion in your workplace. You can provide training to increase awareness of the impact of incivility and ostracism as well as the more familiar (and illegal) harassing and discriminatory behaviors at work. One way to get employees to take the idea of ostracism seriously is to have everyone complete a Workplace Ostracism Scale and score them and show them a slide of the ostracizing behaviors present in your workplace.

You will almost always be surprised at the frequency of the reports of employees that have experienced these sorts of isolating interactions with co-workers– but only if you ask. These are negative experiences that overall are greatly underreported and which undermine productivity and job satisfaction. Invite a conversation about how words can hurt whether they are illegal or not. Back that up with the research findings on how ostracism and incivility are related to problems in employee morale, employee turnover, and psychological and physical health. Even if you avoid being sued over it, it impairs productivity.

It really is no joking matter.

Ferris DL, Brown DJ, Berry JW, & Lian H (2008). The development and validation of the Workplace Ostracism Scale. The Journal of Applied Psychology, 93 (6), 1348-66 PMID: 19025252



Ostracism_Fotolia_12094172_XSWhat a choice. We have written before about incivility in the workplace and that sounds a lot like what these researchers are calling ostracism. To begin, let’s look at how the researchers define both harassment and ostracism. In brief, say the researchers, harassment is the presence of an unwanted behavior and ostracism is the absence of a wanted behavior.

The term harassment is used by these researchers to “capture a range of active verbal and nonverbal behaviors directed at a target that derogate or cause embarrassment to that target. Harassment (unlike ostracism) engages the target in a social dynamic with negative social attention and treatment.” Harassment is typically composed of direct verbal and nonverbal behaviors intended to demean, harm, minimize, embarrass or harm the target.

The term ostracism describes the opposite of harassment where the workplace colleagues “disengage a target with a lack of attention and treatment”. In other words, colleagues may “ignore your greetings, exclude you from invitations, stop talking when you attempt to join a conversation” and so on. Ostracism often stems from many different motives, including obliviousness of the actor and are not always intended to cause harm.

You may be thinking what many people think of when introduced to the concept of incivility in the workplace. It is very subjective. What I see as obliviousness on the part of a colleague, you may see as ostracism or a deliberate effort to undercut you. So these researchers decided to look at two things: one, do people see harassment or ostracism as more harmful and, two, are they right? The results are consistent with the bulk of research on incivility.

In the first study, researchers asked 100 online participants (44% male, average age 32.64 years, average workplace experience of 5.29 years) what they thought more harmful in the workplace, harassment or ostracism? It is likely not surprising that the participants thought harassment more harmful and more inappropriate than ostracism in the workplace. Based on this finding, the researchers wondered whether ostracism was more common than harassment at work, and which (harassment or ostracism) is more damaging to careers.

In the second study, 1,300 working adults with demographics similar to the US population (49% male, average length of time in workplace 7.52 years) were asked to complete a number of measures (on ostracism, harassment, sense of belonging, personal well-being, and work-related attitudes) as well as some demographic information (e.g., gender and how long they had worked for their current employer). In this study, the researchers found ostracism more common than harassment, and perhaps surprisingly (if you are unfamiliar with the research on incivility) ostracism resulted in more negative physical and  emotional symptoms, and more work-related negative attitudes to study participants than did harassment.

The third study used 1,048 staff members at a large university in Canada (26% male, average age 43.49 years, and average employment length of 11.59 years). This study supported the results of the second study. Ostracism was “more strongly related than harassment to employees’ sense of belonging, well-being, and work-related attitudes, and, more important, to employees’ actual turnover within three years. [The researchers define these as ‘harm’ but it is still a pretty subjective assessment.]

In short, say the researchers, workplace ostracism has more harmful effects than workplace harassment! They are quick to say they do not mean that harassment is not harmful, as it obviously is. Ostracism is particularly toxic and is much more prevalent and thus erodes away the target’s well-being.

With regard to the workplace, and particularly the law office–managers are likely to be more attuned to the presence of harassment and much quicker to intervene against such illegal and inappropriate behavior. This research, as well as the bulk of the research on incivility, says that organizations should also take the more prevalent situation on workplace ostracism seriously as well. A healthy workplace allows room for everyone and teaches communication and conflict resolution skills that manage tension and allow work to proceed efficiently.

O’Reilly, J., Robinson, S., Berdahl, J., & Banki, S. (2014). Is Negative Attention Better Than No Attention? The Comparative Effects of Ostracism and Harassment at Work Organization Science DOI: 10.1287/orsc.2014.0900



how women leadWe’ve written about women and leadership before. While some new research shows female leaders handle stress more effectively than male leaders, we’re not going to write about that one today. Instead, here is a report on a study showing some other good news: women are no longer punished for behaving assertively in a leadership role!

It’s a positive change. The past research showed us that women who were assertive were seen negatively due to perceived violations of their gender role expectations. That is, men are assertive and women are sweet. And when women are not sweet, we call them witches (or something like that). So. The news that what these researchers call “agentic behavior” (i.e., acting like a leader) is now acceptable for women (as long as they are not aggressive and ruthless as they exhibit leadership behavior) is good news indeed.

Alas, though. Every silver lining seems to have a cloud and the battle is not yet won. As it happens, while women are now evaluated just as positively as men leaders for behaving assertively in their leadership role–women leaders who are tentative or submissive are rated much more negatively than are tentative or submissive men who lead. Leaders frequently fake their confidence and strength, but if a woman is seen as doing that, reactions they get are worse than those accorded to men.

The researchers used 185 participants (47% female, average age 28.3 years, either undergraduate students or graduates from an Australian university) who were told they were participating in a study on effective communication. The participants read a transcript of a speech (on climate change) which was identified as being given by an Independent (non-party-affiliated) candidate for national office. They were told the speech was given by a female (Annette Hayes or Susan Hayes) or a male (David Hayes or Andrew Hayes).

The speech itself was written in either an assertive voice (indicating dominance, confidence and strength) or a tentative voice (indicating deference, hesitancy, and a lack of confidence). After reading the transcripts, the participants rated the candidate’s likability and influence (i.e., how persuasive they were and therefore how likely to convince others of their position). They also rated the leaders on agency (i.e., how dominant, forceful and confident they were) and communality (i.e., how friendly, sensitive and warm they were).

Assertive female leaders were rated more likable than tentative female leaders but there was no difference in likability between the assertive and tentative male leaders. Further, while there was no difference in likability between assertive male and assertive female leaders, tentative males were more likable than tentative females.

Assertive female leaders were significantly more influential with participants than were the tentative female leaders. There was no difference in influence exerted on participants between the assertive and tentative male leaders. Further, while participants saw no difference in influence by the assertive women and assertive men leaders, they saw the tentative man as more influential than the tentative woman.

In other words, say the authors, women in political leadership will only be as effective as men if they are always confident, strong and decisive. When their behavior deviates from these male-stereotypic leadership ideals, they will be punished far more than their male counterparts. A follow-up study found the same pattern. The authors summarize their findings as follows:

“Based on men’s continued dominance in positions of power, expectations of women to show unwavering signs of confidence and strength will provide a considerable challenge. While a few women will be able to meet this expectation, the majority who cannot remain disadvantaged, with men avoiding similar penalties for equivalent non-agentic behaviors. Therefore, this subtle form of prejudice towards women demands our attention and effort if gender equality is to be achieved.”

It’s a societal double standard recently highlighted by Jon Stewart on the Daily Show. When male leaders display emotion– even inappropriate emotion– it is often celebrated. When women display even a little emotion, it is interpreted very negatively. It’s a good thing to keep in mind as you consider the behavior and leadership potential of male and female attorneys. We are all subject to bias– until we pay attention to it. Merely by being conscious of its potential, it can become a much smaller problem.

Bongiorno, R., Bain, P., & David, B. (2013). If you’re going to be a leader, at least act like it! Prejudice towards women who are tentative in leader roles. British Journal of Social Psychology DOI: 10.1111/bjso.12032