Archive for the ‘Law Office Management’ Category
Flies are annoying, dirty and often disgusting creatures. They ruin picnic foods, they buzz around our quiet bedrooms as we try to sleep, and sometimes they have the nerve to land on our bodies. That is the actual fly. In this post, we are discussing the metaphorical fly.
When you find yourself caught up in the heat of the moment of a confrontation, or after someone provokes you–it is not at all uncommon to ruminate about what happened. That rumination can lead to intensifying angry, aggressive and hostile thoughts. Wouldn’t you like to disrupt that negative cycle and have fewer negative/angry thoughts? Here’s a way we can all learn from the fly crawling around on your wall.
The challenge is learning how to distance from the “heat of the moment” and disrupt the anger and reactivity. And that’s most definitely a challenge. Researchers looking at this coping skill knew they had to provoke their participants and so they relied on a “well-established procedure for provoking individuals”. Basically it went like this:
Participants were asked to listen to an “intense” piece of classical music while trying to solve 14 different and difficult anagrams. They had 7 seconds to solve each anagram, record their answer and communicate the answer to the experimenter via an intercom. The correct answer would appear on their computer screen after they communicated via the intercom. They then had to read the word aloud and use it in a sentence. After the 4th anagram, the experimenter told the participant to speak more loudly. After the 8th anagram, the experimenter asked them to speak more loudly in an impatient tone. After the 12th anagram the experimenter said in an “extremely frustrated” voice, “Look, this is the third time I’ve had to say this! Can’t you follow directions? Speak louder!”
Participants got provoked. Go figure. Then they were asked to do a second task in which they were told to “think back on” the anagram task. Some of them were told to “see the scene in your mind’s eye” (that is, to relive the experience) and others were told to “watch the scene from a distance” (that is, from the perspective of a fly on the wall). And sure enough, those asked to distance from the recollection of the provocation/anagram task were less angry and had fewer negative feelings in general.
The researchers say this means we can distance in the moment and that by distancing, we suffer fewer negative thoughts and feelings. In short, we can reduce how long angry reactions have impact on our mood.
It’s a technique I encouraged people to try back when I was a therapist. As they would describe the infuriating way they had been treated, I would ask them to float above the memory so they were viewing the scene from above. They then related the story to me as if they were an observer rather than an actor in the drama. This strategy almost always gave them insights into their own reactions and into the motivations of the provoker. We then would plan how they would prepare for the next provocation from that person and how they wished to respond “in the moment”.
The applications of this research are myriad. Learning self-distancing is an important skill for office conflicts, personal relationships, courtroom irritations and disappointments, client management, and how you find yourself reacting to that barista taking way too long to make your coffee. As you feel the bile rising, take a moment to float above and view the situation from a fly on the wall’s perspective. Give yourself some distance. Your blood pressure will thank you.
Mischkowski, D., Kross, E., & Bushman, B. (2012). Flies on the wall are less aggressive: Self-distancing “in the heat of the moment” reduces aggressive thoughts, angry feelings and aggressive behavior Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 48 (5), 1187-1191 DOI: 10.1016/j.jesp.2012.03.012
Who gets fired? The attractive, moderately attractive, or unattractive employee? Do we even need to ask this? Of course, no one wants to think we are that overtly biased as we make decisions– but we are. We hire and fire based on likability and how attractive someone is often influences how much we like them.
Being physically attractive helps you get the job, the good ratings and the promotion–so might it also protect you from “bad stuff” that can happen at work? This was the question researchers set out to explore. The researchers designed an overall poor performance evaluation and then attached three different photographs to the poor performance review. One of the photos was a very attractive woman, one was moderately attractive, and one was unattractive.
We know you want to see the pictures but they were not provided. The researchers did pilot studies where the task was to rate the attractiveness of the various photographs and assigned “very attractive”, “moderately attractive” and “unattractive” labels to those photographs identified via pilot study participants.
179 undergraduate students (106 female and 73 male) between 18 and 34 years of age participated in the study. Almost 3/4 of the participants were 18 or 19 years old. Thirty-six had been managers, 13 had terminated employees, and 24 had been terminated at some point themselves.
The participants were given a task of making decisions as the “new manager at Central Hospital”. Among their tasks was making recommendations based on a performance evaluation of a pharmacy technician (with the photo attached). The pharmacy manager was asking for assistance from the new hospital manager on whether to pursue termination. The employee had received an oral and written warning for her poor performance during her 3 month probationary period. After the warning letter, the participant saw a job description and a photograph of the employee badge (showing one of three women).
Here’s what the researchers found:
There was a slight tendency for the unattractive employee to be terminated more often than either the moderately attractive or very attractive employee.
The research participants liked the unattractive employee less than they liked the very attractive or moderately attractive employees. Participants were more likely to terminate the employee they didn’t like–hence the unattractive employee was more likely to be terminated.
Unattractive employees were slightly more likely to be seen as internally responsible for poor work performance. That is, the researchers say, the participant-”managers” were more likely to blame her for having performed poorly than they were to blame the more attractive employees.
The researchers believe attractiveness was unlikely to “protect” the good-looking employees from termination. However, there was a bias toward terminating the unattractive employee. The employees who were liked less (e.g., the unattractive employees) were judged to be more personally responsible for their poor performance and this led to their termination.
We’ve talked about the importance of paying attention to bias a lot on this blog and even about the importance of paying attention to differential hiring of potential employees by ethnicity. Here’s another wrinkle in the fabric that makes up management tasks when it comes to the potential for discrimination.
Pay attention to whether you would treat an unattractive employee more harshly than you would treat an attractive employee when it comes to termination decisions. We’re all human, after all.
Commisso, M.; Finkelstein, L. 2012 Physical attractiveness bias in employee termination. Journal of Applied Social Psychology.
Research shows, even though it’s now 2013, that stereotypes of women as passive, not ambitious, and not energetic continue to abound. Researchers wondered whether the proportion of women in a mixed-gender group doing a male-stereotyped task would affect gender-related evaluations of the group process.
Researchers recruited 110 students (71 women, 39 men) enrolled in a graduate level introductory management course. The average age of the participants was 26.4 years and 52% of them were White. The 110 participants were divided into 22 different five-person groups. The number of women was varied in the groups: 2 of the groups had two women among the 5 workers, 13 groups had 3 women, and 7 groups had 4 out of 5 female workers. They were assigned a group task to “build a replica of a complex model made of Legos”. They were given 30 minutes to plan a strategy and then 30 minutes to build their replica. Once they believed their replica was complete, they presented it to the judges. If it was not accurate, it was returned to them without feedback on flaws.
Following successful completion of the replica, they filled out questionnaire about their experience working with the group. Ten weeks later, they were asked one question via a web-based questionnaire: “To what extent would you be willing to work with your Legoperson team on a graded group project?”. And here is what the researchers found:
The proportion of women in the group (whether 2 members, three members, or four members in the 5 person group) had no relation to performance on building the Lego replica.
In groups that had higher proportions of female members, group members rated each other as having contributed LESS to the task completion. (It did not matter if the rater was male or female. The more women in the group, the lower the level of individual contributions was perceived to be to task completion.)
In groups that had higher proportions of female members, group members also rated the group itself as less effective. (Again, it did not matter if the rater was male or female. The higher the proportion of women in the group, the less effective the group was rated.)
Finally, in the follow-up question task (to which 65% responded) groups with higher proportions of women were less willing to work together again. (And again, it didn’t matter if the rater was male or female. If there were more women in the group, members didn’t want to work together again.)
Let’s say that again. No matter if you were a male group member or a female group member–belonging to a group with a higher proportion of women and being assigned a male-stereotyped task meant you thought more negatively of individual group members, that you had a negative sense of group effectiveness, and that you were less willing to work with the group again. And all this when there was no difference in the actual objective effectiveness of the group in terms of task completion: all groups performed equally well, but the groups with more women felt less good about it.
It’s a disturbing study. Men denigrate women. Women denigrate women. The researchers suggest that perhaps it is because gender composition has impact on how the group functions so that even high-functioning teams with higher proportions of women may not wish to work together again.
Or, it could be that men and women members of groups with predominantly more women are evaluated negatively “by association”. That is, they are in a group largely composed of women and so are all negatively evaluated by each other. Perhaps, as the researchers say, it’s a case of “catching stigma” from all those women.
And all this with no actual difference in objective outcome. It’s all about subjectivity. How do I feel about this group and perceive this group’s effectiveness? It’s sobering to consider the impact of gender composition on work groups, special project groups, and on juries.
While more research is obviously essential, it highlights the importance of educating jurors (and work groups) on what is needed for successful task completion. The jury in the Rod Blagojevich trial was 11 women and 1 man and that jury was widely lauded for effective function. Given this research, it would be curious how the individual members of that jury would rate their group function, and whether they would like to work together again.
West, T., Heilman, M., Gullett, L., Moss-Racusin, C., & Magee, J. (2012). Building blocks of bias: Gender composition predicts male and female group members’ evaluations of each other and the group Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 48 (5), 1209-1212 DOI: 10.1016/j.jesp.2012.04.012
We’ve written for The Jury Expert a fair amount. In case you don’t know, The Jury Expert is a free publication from the American Society of Trial Consultants that is all about the art and science of litigation advocacy.
Our articles in The Jury Expert are focused on litigation advocacy and meant to help you do your job with the latest information available. Take a look at what we’ve done in the past couple of years.
Here’s one of those strange coincidences where realities collide. It leaves you to wonder how to reconcile them. The Pew Research Center has just released a report on Asian Americans:
“Asian Americans are the highest-income, best-educated and fastest-growing racial group in the United States. They are more satisfied than the general public with their lives, finances and the direction of the country, and they place more value than other Americans do on marriage, parenthood, hard work and career success, according to a comprehensive new nationwide survey by the Pew Research Center.”
So we would expect these Americans would be in high demand by employers–courted and cajoled into accepting employment offers from multiple companies. Right? Wrong. Here’s where the collision occurs.
The Economic Policy Institute (EPI) also recently released a new report on unemployment among Asian Americans “during and after the Great Recession” (2007-2010). Their report is summarized at the Sociological Images Website:
“It is true that Asian Americans have generally had lower unemployment rates than other racial/ethnic groups, due to their overall higher educational levels. However, if we look within educational levels beyond a high school diploma, Asian Americans have higher unemployment rates than comparable Whites, with the gap widest for those with bachelor’s degrees.”
A recent EPI update shows the pattern has not changed–with Asian Americans faring the worst of any group in the United States in terms of long-term unemployment.
“Asian Americans still had the highest share of unemployed workers who were unemployed long term (for more than half a year) when compared with white, black, and Hispanic workers—despite having higher education levels than these other racial/ethnic groups. In addition, highly educated Asian Americans continued to have a higher overall unemployment rate than similarly educated whites.”
As shown in the graph below, 48.7% of unemployed Asian-Americans had been out of a job for 27 weeks or more. Blacks are next (48%), and followed by Whites (42.7%).
It’s an interesting contradiction–likely mirroring covert national bias regarding Asian-Americans. We’ve been writing about this suppressed bias recently as it’s come up in pretrial research with either Asian parties and also in cases where Asian workers were involved peripherally. The level of distrust and animosity is surprising considering the overt stereotype of Asian-Americans as “model minorities”.
An article in the Atlantic offers a comment and three explanations for the long-term unemployment of Asian-Americans:
“What makes the situation even odder is the more educated Asians are, the more they fall behind whites. Asians with just a high school diploma were more likely to be employed than whites; however, Asians with a bachelor’s degree or higher more likely to be unemployed.
The report’s author offers up three explanations for the mystery. First, there’s the California problem: About a third of all Asian Americans live in the Golden State, which has disproportionately high joblessness, both short term and long-term. Second, there’s immigrant bias: Perhaps employers prefer to hire U.S.-born workers. Third, there’s racial bias. If Asians had the same long-term unemployment as their equally-educated white peers, their long-term jobless rate would be 8.1 percentage points lower.”
Like other biases, this one results in unfair treatment in hiring and (as we’ve seen) in mocking wisecracks by mock jurors. When we question the allegedly humorous comments in our pretrial research, the jurors quickly assure that bias is not a factor. Yet here we see it pretty clearly: the most educated, ambitious and up-beat citizens of this country are also among the most long-term unemployed.
Pay attention to your own tendencies, if any, to reject Asian American job candidates. And be attuned to this as a latent issue among jurors. Jurors are prone to making judgments that don’t seem unreasonable to them until the lights come on. It’s your job to be the beacon.