Archive for the ‘Law Office Management’ Category
Despite the admiration we often have for whistle-blowers and the generous adjectives we might use to describe them (e.g., courageous, principled, moral) they almost uniformly have a very tough time. They are also seen as disloyal and mean-spirited by members of their former group and typically not revered as having the best interests of the group at heart (contrary to our earlier post). The whistle-blower has aired dirty laundry publicly and thus has betrayed the group and no longer belongs. They may be subjected to retaliation, and can face future job problems when they seek subsequent employment. The Borowitz Report recently featured a (humorous) piece on how the NSA has reacted to their current whistleblower. We automatically categorize the whistleblower as a negative, treacherous, disloyal, disgruntled group member.
New research focuses on the reality that, for some whistle-blowers, there is a principled and thoughtful choice behind airing that dirty laundry and then remaining within the organization. Remember that billboard that popped up during the 2008 Presidential elections? “Dissent does not equal disloyalty.” That’s from a longer Edward R. Murrow quote:
“We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty. When the loyal opposition dies, I think the soul of America dies with it.”
It is painfully easy for us to view anyone who disagrees with us as plainly and simply wrong. When they are also members of a group we belong to and hold dear, it is easy to dismiss them as “uncivil” or “immature”. Even the “old hippies” among us who once valued the idea of questioning the status quo can fall into this trap. But new research illustrates the error in our ways when we assume mal-intent from publicly declared disagreement.
The “highly conscientious” group member is the focus of this research. These are the people who are more likely to work hard to achieve their goals [both personally and on behalf of their organization] and often have organizational abilities that help them succeed. In other words, these are the people actually doing the work to help the organization survive and thrive. Why, you might wonder, would those “organizational darlings” blow the whistle on negative practices or leadership failures in a group they so vigorously support?
The very idea can be surprising to us since we often equate conscientiousness with conformity. However, there is no scientific basis for equating the two. Conscientiousness is much more related to performance and our pursuit of goals than it is to conformity. And sometimes the conscientiousness is a commitment to principles that the hard worker can feel were betrayed by the conduct about which they blow the whistle. The devotion of ‘true believers’ can cut both ways.
These researchers focus on the highly conscientious person and opine that conscientiousness can go in one of two directions:
they may pursue goals which support the status quo and result in ongoing conformity, or
they may pursue goals that support social changes and thus result in dissent.
The latter would be the “rebels with a cause” that are the topic of this research. The issue, as framed by the researchers, is whether the highly conscientious person is thinking abstractly or concretely about the goal. The authors rely on “construal theory”, the explanation for which gets pretty complicated. You might think of it as seeing the forest (high-level or abstract) or the trees (low-level or concrete). Loyalty to principles or loyalty to the group. Robin Hanson’s blog Overcoming Bias has a lot about construal theory with an emphasis on our sense that a thing is either “near” to us (and therefore more concrete) or “far” from us (and therefore more abstract).
According to the authors, “low-level construal leads people to make choices on the basis of more concrete and immediate considerations, whereas high-level construal causes people to make decisions in light of broader and longer-term concerns”.
The findings from two separate studies supported the researcher’s hypotheses.
Highly conscientious group members with high-level construal (e.g., abstract or “far”) were more willing to articulate (in Study 1) and to express (in Study 2) criticism of the group, even when others did not.
In other words, they were more likely to not only formulate critical positions but more willing to also express them even when they knew other group members would not want to hear it.
The authors believe that high-level construal orients you toward longer-term change while low-level construal orients you toward short-term stability. And while many of us laud the benefits of change, we typically praise the impact of change after the fact and not while we are in the midst of change (which is often a rocky and contentious process). And the changes are often lauded by those not directly affected by them, such as people who want a corporate policy changed, rather than the people who are responsible for actually doing the changing. From our perspective, this is a good lesson. It may be that while highly conscientious group members are ‘loyal’ to the institution/organization, they are even more loyal to higher principles.
When you are in the midst of disagreement with a highly conscientious group member or employee–consider whether their position is advocating change and what long-term goal would result from that advocacy.
Is it better communication? Increased transparency? Becoming more relevant to a changing constituency?
Or, if you are caught in a conflict with a witness on cross-examination, you might consider whether you can frame the question not just in terms of the facts, but in terms of values considerations that jurors would evaluate clearly.
Mr. Johnson, don’t you think that Acme Corp. has a duty to repair the neighborhood streets damaged by your trucks?
Mr. Johnson, do you think BP has an obligation to compensate people on the Gulf Coast for harm done to their beaches and to their lives?
The hypothetical above would surely draw an objection, but it also plants in the minds of jurors the idea of moral obligation, a framework for decision-making that goes beyond the concrete and immediate (and of course, forms the basis for the objection). If you don’t want to draw the objection, save it for closing argument. But giving people the chance to make the world a better place by invoking higher-level principles can add perspective to their analysis.
Going back to when you are in the midst of disagreement with a highly conscientious group member, work to switch your own construal level (aka perspective) from near (the heat of the moment) to far (the goal of the dissent) and allow yourself to see the forest rather than the individual trees.
Is the idea a good one? Is the goal a good one? Is the goal one with which you can agree?
Packer, D., Fujita, K., & Herman, S. (2013). Rebels with a cause: A goal conflict approach to understanding when conscientious people dissent. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology DOI: 10.1016/j.jesp.2013.05.001
Shuki. Soukias. Raheem. Samir. Jamal. Lakisha. Atholl. Tyronne. Magestic. Did you know that something as simple as a first name makes the difference between whether you even get the interview? Last weekend we were doing a focus group and one of the mock jurors had a very unique first name. One of a kind. She was African-American. It reminded us of this research and we wanted to post about it since the findings never exactly went viral (as they perhaps should have).
We are only going to cover one research article but there are several out there if you are interested in learning more. This one is more recent and that is why we chose it. Unfortunately, it doesn’t matter if the studies are 10 years old or fairly recent: they all say the same thing. When we see names that seem ethnic to us, we are less interested in interviewing the applicant. It comes down to what is familiar and thus comfortable for us. We like common names more than unique names. And we want to hire people who have common names so that we are more comfortable.
After reviewing the literature, researchers hypothesized that common names would be liked more than unique or ethnic names. To examine the hypothesis, they completed three studies. First, researchers tested sample first names on “working adults and undergraduate business students”. They included “white” (e.g., John, Mary, Robert, Susan), “Russian” (e.g., Vladamir, Sergei, Oksana, Svetlana), “African-American” (e.g., Tyronne, Jamal, Latoya, Tanisha), and “unique” (e.g., Ajax, Atholl, Magestic, Tangerine) names in their sample. The goal of this study was to make sure the names “fit” for the participants sense of White, Russian, African-American and Unique first names.
Participants rated the “white” names as common, the “Russian” names as “likely not American”, and saw the African-American names and the “unique” names as different (as opposed to common). Further, common names were more likable, African-American and Russian names were somewhere in the middle, and unique names were liked the least.
In the second study, 166 university students enrolled in part-time graduate business courses (61% male, 39% female; 78% White, 4% African-American, 2% Hispanic, 12% Asian/Pacific Islander; and 3% “other”; average age 30 years; average work experience 8.4 years) were selected. The participants in this study were asked to evaluate the names in terms of how unique they were, how much they liked the names, and “how willing they would be to hire people with those names”.
In this study, again, participants liked the unique names less and were less likely to be hired. The “best names” (i.e., most liked and most likely to be hired) in this study were Mary and Robert and the “worst names” (i.e., least liked and least likely to be hired) were Atholl and Magestic. African-American and Russian names were seen as being in between these two extreme in both likability and willingness to hire.
So, in the third study, the researchers wanted to check actual hiring behavior to see if the same findings occurred again. In this study, participants were “105 working adults enrolled in a part-time MBA program who had not participated in either of the earlier two studies”. Average age was 28 (range was 21 to 47); they averaged 6.3 years of work experience; 55% reported they had hiring experience; 82% were White, 2% were African-American, 4% were Asian or Pacific Islander, 3% were Hispanic, and 2% were “other” (7% did not report race); 62% were male and 31% were female (7% did not report gender).
Participants in this study were told to imagine they were hiring a new administrative assistant. They were given a real newspaper ad for an administrative assistant and a booklet with 8 resumes and 8 sets of questions regarding hiring. All resumes were designed to make them reasonable candidates for the administrative assistant position. 4 resumes were males and four females with one name taken from each of the four name categories. Participants were asked to evaluate how likely they would be to hire the individual candidates.
We know you think you know what is coming. And (at least in this instance) you are likely wrong. There were no effects by name type or gender. The researchers were surprised by this (as were we) given the strong findings in the first two studies and the plethora of research on the topic.
They offer several ideas for why this happened–chief among them that the participants (as MBA students) wanted to be seen positively and so they were very careful to respond in a socially positive manner. Further, the participants took 15 to 20 minutes to review the 8 resumes and this is unlikely to happen in a regular workplace where supervisors scan resumes to make a rough cut and first impressions are more likely to determine whether a resume goes on for an interview or is discarded.
What the authors do say is that their results would indicate that rejecting unique names is not simply due to racial prejudice. If that were the case, the African-American names would have been the “worst” names for getting an interview. Instead, the studies found that how unique a name was determined which names would go in the “most disliked” category. The researchers think recruiters may well react negatively to names that are unique and thus not recruit or interview those candidates with unique names as often as they choose to recruit and interview those with common names. Anecdotal evidence confirms this theory, both in the States and abroad.
The most obvious omission in the research studies above regards Hispanic names. Would they trigger special treatment? Even in 2008 (when the research was published) the prominence of Hispanic employees in the US workforce would have made inclusion in the study obvious. So we will have to wait a bit to find out whether Javier should change his name to James, and Amelia stands a better chance if she is known as Emily. It would be a shame, but then again, none of us choose our names, so judging one another for the decisions made by our parents when we were born is probably always a shame.
So should people with unique first names change their names for career purposes? The EEOC would beg to differ and may indeed be differing (although it is not confirmed) with the owner of the Whitten Hotel in Taos, New Mexico. This is instead an issue for every organization to take responsibility for reversing. We may not be comfortable with ethnic sounding names but that is very much our problem and not the problem of the individual with the ethnic name. Here’s what you can do:
Use initials on resumes rather than names (and no pictures!) so each candidate is evaluated based on skills and abilities rather than assumptions about names or faces (and the ethnic or racial information they may communicate).
Educate your hiring managers and HR staff about ethnic first name biases. In the process, make it absolutely clear that not only is it a foolish policy to select people based on what their parents thought were nice names, it is likely illegal if construed to be racially tinged. And it usually is.
Promote a work environment that reflects the changing demographics of the country (and the world).
Cotton, J., O’Neill, B., & Griffin, A. (2008). The “name game”: affective and hiring reactions to first names Journal of Managerial Psychology, 23 (1), 18-39 DOI: 10.1108/02683940810849648
Oh, the things men say. Well, in truth, no real man said this. It’s featured in a parody of the viral Dove video where a forensic artist draws pictures of women as they describe themselves and then as they are described by a stranger. In the real ad, the women describe themselves as less attractive than the stranger describes them. In the parodies, the men describe themselves with swagger and perhaps even with total and ridiculous inaccuracy. It is very funny.
It is also an anecdotally well-documented difference between men and women. But not just anecdotal. It’s supported by actual data as well. Women doubt themselves. Men praise themselves. While there is self-doubt among members of both genders, it’s more prevalent in women. Much more.
Sheryl Sandberg talks about this concept in her book, Leaning In. Women don’t praise themselves. They give credit to others. They don’t, as Sandberg says, “keep their hands up”. Instead they sit back and let others (read men) take the spotlight. And women often leave the workforce when they have children–especially if their workplaces are male-dominated. Oddly, it happens less when their workplaces are gender-balanced or female-dominated. Here’s a 2013 summary of what happens when jobs require 50 hours or more per week:
“In male-dominated occupations, overwork was more likely than in balanced fields or female-dominated fields.
Mothers in male-dominated occupations were more discouraged despite the fact that the women who survived in those more masculine fields may on average be more committed to work than overworking women in other jobs.
Higher education levels make it more likely that women stay in their jobs, but not enough to overcome the discouraging effect of being an overworking mother.
Meanwhile, men (whether fathers or not) and women without children were not more likely to leave their jobs in overworking fields.
When mothers left their jobs, some moved to less male-dominated professions; others entirely left the labor force.”
In short, women in male-dominated fields do not seem to have the support or “voice” they have in gender-balanced or female-dominated workforces. Why this is happening and how to make it stop is a long-standing debate in the field of law. Jordan Furlong has an unusual take on women leaving BigLaw behind with an often intense comment section. All of the links in this post are worth a read if you are concerned about workplace segregation (by gender or other demographic labels). Is it a problem? Some say yes and loudly. Is it a part of an eventual solution? Voices can heard to that effect as well–although some have been saying it for a really long time already.
Cha, Y. (2013). Overwork and the Persistence of Gender Segregation in Occupations Gender & Society, 27 (2), 158-184 DOI: 10.1177/0891243212470510
Institute of Leadership and Management. (2011) Ambition and gender at work. London, England.
I sent my kids to a small school with a 1:12 student teacher ratio for kindergarten through 12th grade. While I knew that student/teacher ratio was terrific, I worried sometimes that they did not have the diversity in student body they would have in a larger school. My kids (now in college) have told me consistently this was not an issue since they were taught to look at the individual and not just ethnicity both at home and at school. And they were forced by school size to do just that since there were fewer than 500 students in the entire K-12 school. They have friends (and in my daughter’s case, a first generation Vietnamese-American roommate) from that school to this day that reflect the diversity of students in the school. Nonetheless, I was glad to see this study from researchers at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research.
Two researchers looked at 4,745 high school students in the United States and ultimately conclude that “large schools promote racial segregation and discourage interracial friendships”. The researchers say that people, in general, prefer to make friends with same race others. We also prefer those who are similar in age, education, hobbies, personality, religious affiliation and political beliefs. It’s a lot of preferences through which we screen potential friend candidates.
I find that their characterization that the schools “promote” segregation is not quite fair. It suggests an intent to segregate that isn’t really supported. What is clear though, is that larger schools result in such divisions. In a smaller environment, you are unable to find as many same-race/ethnicity matches and thus are more likely to form friendships with those different than you in race/ethnicity. In other words, you are forced to look beyond what is visible to the eye and instead learn to know potential friends for their additional characteristics. Smaller groups tend to view one another on a more personal level, because people know one another more closely. If the 6th grade has 75 people, most students will know them all. If there is a grade size of 1000, you might still only really ‘know’ 75, and those 75 will tend to be those most ‘like me’. The researchers are sociologists and also (apparently) well-versed in statistics so the article itself is not a simple read. The conclusion, however, is simple: smaller groups yield more interracial relationships.
The researchers wonder about the impact of the internet and social media on interracial relationships and suggest that the huge “group” size available to all of us via the internet and social media could predict fewer interracial relationships in the future. Or as they say it:
“One potential negative social consequence of the internet as a social interaction medium in the ever more globalized world is to encourage social isolation and social segmentation by expanding size immensely.”
Not all of us have/had the choice to attend small schools. Not all students want to attend small schools. But this research isn’t just applicable to primary and secondary education environments. It’s also a lesson for the workplace.
If you are a large organization, establish interest groups that will draw people across racial/ethnic lines.
Pay attention to having diversity across the spectrum in your employees but also in specialty areas/niches so you do not end up inadvertently racially segregating your employees.
Attorneys have to be able to talk to many different kinds of jurors about many different kinds of topics. Sometimes it’s awkward. Providing training on successfully negotiating potentially awkward conversations in the workplace can bolster workplace communications and potentially transfer to more comfort in the courtroom.
Look at diversity from multiple perspectives. It isn’t only about race/ethnicity. It’s also about gender, age, sexual orientation, religious beliefs or the lack thereof, disability status, and more.
Different is good. And it often makes us nervous. Precisely because it’s different. What this research says is that smaller groupings lead to more friendships across racial/ethnic lines. What we say is that smaller groupings and diverse choices could lead to more friendships and easy working relationships across lots of differences that could divide us. We are more alike than we are different. Make sure your workplace structure, organization, and culture lets employees discover that over and over again.
Cheng S, & Xie Y (2013). Structural effect of size on interracial friendship. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America PMID: 23589848