Archive for the ‘Law Office Management’ Category
“Illusory truth” and the repeated falsehood
Back in 2009, we wrote a post called I never knew Hitler had three testicles which was all about how, if you hear something often enough, it begins to see true to you. It is sometimes called “familiarity breeds belief” and new research tells us it is still true in 2015. If something sounds plausible, most of us don’t want to do the work of considering whether it may be untrue (despite how familiar it seems). So—how do you make lies appear truthful? You repeat them repeatedly and voila! Truth becomes illusory. This truism is never more relevant than in the midst of an election cycle…
Web only surveys (whose responses are we missing?)
We like Pew Research Center’s no-nonsense approach to reporting poll and survey data. Internet surveys are becoming increasingly popular,and there are times we need to think about how “doing it easier” can result in big holes in our data. Here’s a brief 4 point Pew summary of what you need to be concerned about and aware of as you ponder the costs and benefits of internet surveys.
There’s an evidence-based supplement for that…
Here’s a newly updated and visually impressive infographic on the ailments for which supplements and herbal products have been found useful. There is a filter you can use to search the database for specific medical conditions and you can see the data on which the decisions in the infographic are based with a single mouse click. While not perfect, it is a wonderfully easy tool to use to facilitate further research on alternative treatments for various medical conditions.
Did you hear about pig-to-human organ transplants?
It isn’t a joke—or one of those illusory truths written about earlier in this post. It’s true. Scientists have discovered that with gene editing using a new technique called CRISPR, they can make this far-fetched idea a reality: “Pigs and humans share a number of physiological and anatomical similarities, but pigs also carry harmful viruses in their genome making pig-to-human transplants dangerous. Now, researchers say, they can simply remove the viruses native to pig cells, reviving the idea of xenotransplantation — using animal organs in humans.”
Do you know what’s expected of you at work?
According to a new poll released by Gallup, many employees do not know what is expected of them at work! While it is a manager’s responsibility to communicate expectations, many do not “own” this task according to the Gallup people. They offer a plain language approach to how to help employees set and achieve performance goals and therefore, not only know what is expected of them but to actually meet those expectations.
Fazio LK, Brashier NM, Payne BK, & Marsh EJ (2015). Knowledge does not protect against illusory truth. Journal of Experimental Psychology. General, 144 (5), 993-1002 PMID: 26301795
While you may not have heard the term “counterproductive work behaviors” if you are not in the habit of reading organizational behavior research, you certainly will recognize the behaviors when you see them: absenteeism, lateness, rudeness and incivility. This is an interesting study because rather than studying counter-productive work behaviors (aka “bad behavior”) they wanted to see if there were character traits that were most correlated with good behavior and bad behavior in the workplace. And guess what? There are those traits and it would be pretty simple to assess them in an interview or while checking references. You will be happy to know that the assessment of perseverance requires neither a fMRI nor expensive administrations of tests to show unconscious bias. Instead, it’s a simple matter of questioning the candidate and former employers as we’ll specify later in this post.
First the researchers reviewed the literature on good and bad behavior at work as it relates to various personality characteristics. They touch briefly on the work that has shown (for years now) that conscientiousness is consistently associated with good work performance and good behavior at work. As it happens, say the researchers, perseverance and conscientiousness are highly correlated and so they wanted to see if perseverance was also a predictor of good work behavior and performance. They also thought that perseverance would be most strongly linked to good workplace behavior and performance when the work was seen as meaningful and as a career or a calling rather than “just a job”.
Participants were recruited at the Values In Action website where they completed a survey online [with perseverance being one of the assessed traits] and were then invited to participate in a study of the “character strengths of working individuals”. Participants included 686 working people (553 women, 133 men; 84.1% were full-time employed and 4.5% were employed part-time and 11.4% were self-employed; 82% had university degrees while 12% had completed some college coursework and 6% had high school educations; average age was 41.29 years; the majority were Caucasian (479), 58 were Latino, 58 were Asian, and 31 were African-American with fewer than 1% reporting other ethnic identification). The participants completed brief questionnaires on work performance, counterproductive work behaviors, meaningfulness of their work, and their sense of whether they saw their job as a job, a career or as a calling.
Overall, the researchers found that when you perceive your work to be meaningful and see it as a career or a calling—you are less likely to engage in negative work behaviors.
Perseverance was most indicative of good work performance and least indicative of engaging in counterproductive work behaviors (i.e., bad workplace behaviors).
The researchers say that perseverance plus the passion inherent in seeing one’s work as a calling or a career—is what one might call “grit”. They point to some research from 2007 coining the term “grit” and say grit is a “personal quality shared by the most prominent leaders in every field”. The researchers behind today’s work say that those with perseverance and “grit” are likely to work harder and longer without switching their objectives and goals.
From a hiring perspective, assessing perseverance during employment interviews (or reference checks) would be a relatively straightforward thing to do.
Simply ask the candidate during the interview how they demonstrated perseverance in past positions and ask references if they can give examples of the candidate showing perseverance during their employment.
After hiring, make sure your workplace offers meaningful work and that you model working with passion, purpose and a sense of meaning. And allow mistakes but learn from them. Perseverance doesn’t mean you get it right the first time. It just means you keep trying when it doesn’t work out by learning from past mistakes and getting it right next time. Allow your employees to make mistakes but create an environment where mistakes are discussed and where employee learning occurs so the same mistakes are not made repeatedly.
Littman-Ovadia, H., & Lavy, S. (2015). Going the Extra Mile: Perseverance as a Key Character Strength at Work Journal of Career Assessment DOI: 10.1177/1069072715580322
Here’s another collection of interesting tidbits that don’t rate an entire blog post on their own but that we think worthy of mention. Think of them as our contribution to your conversational contributions over dinner, drinks, or to fill that awkward silence that pops up unexpectedly.
Be thin, White and attractive for crowdfunding success!
It’s disappointing to read the research on leadership and find that still, in 2015, people think the best leaders are “tall men”. While I understood that finding back in the late 1970s, the idea that it still works today is disturbing. But that isn’t all! Crowdfunding is a big deal now and, if you are like me, some of you may have contributed to various crowdfunding projects to see worthy projects become a reality. So if you have a good idea and want to try crowdfunding—we have information on how you can succeed! Just be thin, White and attractive! How easy is that?! (And how sad.) The good news is that when only experienced investors are examined on crowdfunding sites, you don’t see this sort of biased financial support to the thin, White and attractive. Otherwise, it seems to track with a high school popularity poll.
Pupil mimicry: Yes, it’s a thing (and it leads to increased trust)
You know all that psychological research where they show that if you mimic someone’s posture or facial expressions you are seen as more likable and trustworthy? Well, here’s another one although it’s a bit odd. New research shows that if you mimic someone else’s pupil dilation (now how in the world can you do that intentionally?) during an investment game, they will trust you more. But! And this is a big but. It only works if you are both part of the same ethnic group. A check of the actual article (cited below) tells us the researchers think we mimic pupil size unconsciously/unintentionally which is a relief since we had no idea how to do it on purpose. On the other hand, if we mimic pupil size only to those of our own ethnicity—what does that say about our implicit bias toward those different from us? We imagine you can see how this is oddly intriguing, but not worth dwelling on.
Tough love performance reviews (in 10 minutes)
Some estimates place the improvement in performance following a typical performance review at about 3-5%. So here’s an idea from the Harvard Business Review blogs on how to increase the effectiveness of performance reviews (and perhaps shorten the time you spend on them). This article presents a 10 minute breakdown of the entire (tough love) performance review and it is never mean-spirited. The author says it has changed team dynamics, helped individuals understand how their behavior could keep them from being truly effective, and ultimately, helped the financial bottom line. This is well worth a read if you are interested in making your performance reviews more useful.
If you are often cold in the office, you are likely a woman
“Why?” you say? Because office cooling systems are designed for men who have higher metabolisms and generate more heat than do women. According to a recent article in Vox—
“The formulas used to design and calibrate most heating and cooling systems are based on a single estimate of the metabolic activity of a 40-year-old, 155-pound male.This formula for the human body’s level of comfort, created in the 1960s, made no attempt to take women or people of different sizes or ages into account — and hasn’t been touched for decades.”
A recent study in Nature found that if you use real women’s metabolic output (based on skin temperature) to program the air conditioning system, they were much more comfortable in their office building. (Of course, the men were likely wondering if the air conditioning was malfunctioning.)
Does your smartphone maybe know a little too much about you?
New smartphones have a lot of sensors and they can, if you have not carefully shut the sensors all off, they track how active you are physically, how much you sleep, and where you go on an average day. By comparing that data over time, your smart phone could know if you are depressed as a reflection of your behavior changes. Wow—really? You may lose interest in activities, sleep more or less, withdraw socially, and more. A new study in the Journal of Medical Internet Research (who knew there was such a journal?) examined whether smartphones could identify your behavioral changes and conclude you were depressed. Sure enough! People who were more depressed had more irregular movement patterns (going to work at a different time each day while those who were not depressed left at about the same time each day). They also were less mobile and changed locations less. And in an odd twist, people who are depressed use their phones more often and for longer periods of time—not to make phone calls but to text, play games, read, or something similar. It’s something Louis CK knows all about based on this video from the Conan O’Brien show.
Kret ME, Fischer AH, & De Dreu CK (2015). Pupil Mimicry Correlates With Trust in In-Group Partners With Dilating Pupils. Psychological science PMID: 26231910
We’ve written for The Jury Expert a fair amount. In case you don’t know, The Jury Expert is the online journal published by the American Society of Trial Consultants dedicated to 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. The last time we updated you on the articles we’ve written for The Jury Expert was in July of 2012. Take a look at what we’ve done in the past couple of years.
Loyalty, Longevity and Leadership: A Multigenerational Workforce Update: Our most recent article was written as we prepared for a large CLE presentation on the multigenerational law office. Do you wonder how to maximize the contributions of Baby Boomers, Gen X’rs and Millennials? This paper is as up to date as you can get on multigenerational issues in the workplace. Here’s a preview: “As we prepared for the mock trial research with mock jurors of varying generations, our client said, “50 year old GenXers?”. It’s hard to believe GenXers are really that old, but do the math—time has continued its inexorable march. Do that math a few more times and you will see the oldest Millennials are in their early thirties and the oldest Boomers are turning 70! It is easy to lose track of the passage of time and many of us tend to retain our outdated impressions of younger generations frozen in time. But they are growing older (just like we are) and changing as they mature. It’s imperative that we all keep our internal stereotypes up-to-date with reality in order to not be left behind with an outdated vision of who will come to interviews or even serve on our juries”.
Book Review: Law and Neuroscience: A book review from Rita on a reference book and textbook covering the fast changing world of neurolaw. As a voracious reader and a veteran scourer of electronic databases, I often prepare myself to be disappointed when opening newly published professional books since they are almost always out of date by the time they are published. This one is different. When I read the quote below, I grinned and realized this volume would not simply summarize, but also inform readers and encourage the development of critical thinking through the relaying of case narratives and interpretation of research and law that is naturally engaging to those of us with an interest in the area.
“Even if fMRI could reliably diagnose psychopathy, it wouldn’t necessarily reduce a defendant’s culpability in the eyes of a judge or a jury. Ultimately, the law is based on an individual’s rational, intentional action, not brain anatomy or blood flow”, says Stephen Morse, professor of law and psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania. “Brains don’t kill people. People kill people,” says Morse.
Demographic Roulette: What Was Once a Bad Idea Has Gotten Worse: We wrote this paper based on new survey data that said (to us) what we’ve been saying for years: “You can’t deselect (or select) jurors based on demographic information.” Here’s a peek: “Almost eighty years following Clarence Darrow’s distillation of how religion shapes jury behavior, the belief that demographics could be the holy grail for the selection of jurors persists. It is routine for our [attorney] clients to comment, in the midst of a mock juror deliberation, “Well, it looks like older women are good for us!” and for the associates to quickly add this to their notes for use in the upcoming jury selection. The lingering hope that demographics could predict a juror’s eventual vote represents a pesky and persistent belief. Too bad it’s rarely true.”
Book Review- Social Media as Evidence: Cases, Practice Pointers, and Techniques: Another book review from Rita—this one on social media issues. Here’s a little from the introduction: “The social media landscape shifts quickly and keeping up with changes in platforms, privacy settings, and case law is more than a full-time job. Websites used for juror research may be purchased by other websites and, suddenly, their results are identical. You can spend hours doing painstaking research and inadvertently “make contact” with a juror because you don’t understand how different social media websites notify users of who has looked at their social media profiles. You may think you are being very, very careful, and yet leave a trail behind you—sometimes called “cyber crumbs” or “electronic footprints” that can unintentionally identify you as having peered into the social media life of someone you (likely) do not know.”
The “Why” and “How” of Focus Group Research: Doug wrote this one for an issue of The Jury Expert prior to beginning to publish online. It’s been re-published as part of an issue on articles that stand the test of time. Here’s a sample: “Properly conducted focus groups are extremely useful in getting reactions to a wide array of aspects of the case. While it is not prudent to expect that the “verdict” of a small group research project will be repeated at trial, it is very likely that the same values, hot buttons, and sensibilities that engage the research group will resonate in the jury room”.
Intergenerational Law Offices, Intergenerational Juries: Values, Priorities, and Decision-Making: Another in the series of articles we’ve written on multigenerational issues—this one focused on the office and the courtroom. Here’s a sample of what you’ll find in this article: “The legal blawgosphere has been filled with anecdotal tales of what is termed “generational conflict” for years now. Based on conversations with our clients, contentious inter-generational interaction is not just out there “on the web”. It’s everywhere. We’ve written extensively on issues related to generations–both in the courtroom and in the office. As litigation consultants, we hear senior partners aiming sharp criticism toward both younger jurors and younger lawyers (especially new law school graduates), and we see the associates roll their eyes and grit their teeth at the disrespect they feel from some partners. The work ethic of the younger attorneys (judged as inadequate by older attorneys) is blamed for their trouble in finding jobs. “If they were not so lazy”, the opinion seems to go, and “if they did not want instant success, they wouldn’t have such a tough time finding work.” It is, in short, their own fault they are unemployed. They have bad values. Or so it is said by many of their elders. Especially the subgroup of employers, supervisors, and– occasionally– parents. But is that accurate? It turns out that it’s likely untrue.”
“Only the Guilty Would Confess to Crimes”: Understanding the Mystery of False Confessions. We wrote this paper as we researched the literature about false confessions in preparation for a case involving a man who spent 8 years on death row for a crime he had nothing to do with. This published about the time the documentary “Central Park Five” came out, and it’s been consistently accessed by readers since then. Here’s an introductory view: “It is naturally hard to understand why anyone would confess to a crime they had not committed. Yet, in North America we can trace false confessions back to at least 1692 and the Salem Witch Trials where “large numbers of mostly women were tried for witchcraft on the basis of confessions extracted by torture and threats” (Kassin, 2010). More than 300 years later, people continue to falsely confess to crimes ranging from academic cheating to murder. But the mystery of why someone would falsely confess persists. Unlike the Salem Witch Trials, most false confessions today are provided under psychological duress, but without torture or threats of physical harm. Do the generally accepted modern police methods still produce false confessions, or does the responsibility for false confession fall entirely on the confessor? There is a tendency to believe “others” might well confess under duress–but most people think they, themselves, would never do such a thing (Horgan, Russano, Meissner & Evans, 2012). This belief illustrates the reality that most of us have no idea of what it feels like to undergo an interrogation. More than 80% of those taken into custody by the police waive their Miranda rights (Sangero & Halpert, 2011)”.
Book Review: Police Interrogations and False Confessions: Current Research, Practice, and Policy Recommendations: Another book review from Rita—this one reviewing false confessions research. Here’s some thoughts from early in the review: “This is a collection of chapters written by well-known scholars in the area of false confessions and police interrogations. A review of the Table of Contents shows a stimulatingly broad range of topics. You will find the expected reviews of research on police interrogations and false confessions and then everything from juvenile interrogations, the difference between false confessions and false guilty pleas (which takes you into the shadowy arena of plea bargains), chapters on recording the interrogation (one of which educates on camera angles that reduce observer bias), how to most effectively give the oral Miranda warning, the expert witness (including identification of the five most common challenges to expert testimony and suggestions for refuting those challenges), and a whole lot more.”
Hydraulic Fracking & The Environment: Juror Attitudes, Beliefs, and Priorities: We were hired to work on fracking cases for both Plaintiffs and Defendants, and in preparing to address the complex and highly charged issues associated with fracking we discovered that information on attitudes toward fracking was hard to find for mere mortals. And what you did find was often driven by political agendas more than science. Here’s a description of what you’ll find in this paper: “In this paper we generally describe typical positions taken by both Plaintiffs and Defendants, but we will not attempt to weigh the scientific evidence that is typically presented in the toxic tort actions. Instead, we will focus attention on jurors, and the related concerns that litigants are going to face from jurors before the first word is spoken. Americans are consistently concerned about the environment, especially the environment of their own ‘backyard’. This concern is seen in surveys done at national, state, and local levels. As is typical in surveys, the closer the issue is to the respondent’s individual life circumstances, the more concern they express. “
Book Review: The Science of Attorney Advocacy: Rita wrote this book review in July, 2012. Here’s how the review starts: “This is an academic book written in a very accessible style with limited jargon and lots of information as to what advocacy lore is supported (and what is not supported) by the research literature. The book covers a wide variety of topics: attorney demeanor, attorney verbal communication as well as paralinguistic and kinesic communications (all are defined), the attorney-client relationship and attorney storytelling.”
It makes sense. If someone is rude to you, you might become grumpy and be rude in response, or rude to those who cross your path in the wake of the mistreatment. You may think of this as a small issue but new research shows us that rude behaviors are actually harmful—and, in fact, as harmful as other negative but illegal behaviors such as harassment or discrimination. This is not really a new finding as it’s been around since the initial introduction to workplace incivility. Some would say that workplace rudeness and workplace incivility cause the “death of a thousand cuts” and we would not disagree. While not fatal in and of themselves, the cumulative effect results in much distress. And if distress isn’t enough to promote change, it also produces job dissatisfaction, decreased productivity, and employee turnover. It’s about feelings, and it’s about money.
Today’s researchers wanted to figure out if rudeness in the workplace was contagious—much like the common cold. So they conducted three separate studies to explore this question.
In Study 1, the participants were 90 graduate students (average age 25; 65% White and 62% male) enrolled in a 7-week negotiation course. Over the duration of the course, students met weekly and were paired with up to 16 different classmates to practice various negotiation exercises. Following each negotiation exercise, participants completed an online questionnaire about their experience with the fellow student.
The researchers found that when the participant felt they’d been treated rudely by a negotiation partner, their own behavior toward future negotiation partners deteriorated. In other words—the rudeness contagion can occur on the basis of a single encounter.
For Study 2, the researchers wanted to see if being treated rudely would result in what they refer to as “activation of the associative network” for rudeness. Participants were 47 undergraduates (average age 20.35; 57% female; 68% White, 16% Hispanic, 8% Asian, and 4% African-American) enrolled in a management course. Participants arrived at the experiment in groups of six and first completed a personality questionnaire. That really was just a way to kill time though as the researchers were really more interested in what would happen after the “rudeness manipulation”.
After the 6 participants had all completed the personality questionnaire, there was a knock at the door of the experiment room and someone arriving late. The investigator was either rude to the late arrival (“I don’t know how you expect to hold any sort of job in the real world with this type of behavior but it’s too late for you now”) or not rude (“Email me later and we’ll see if we can find another session to get you in”). Then the real experiment began: participants did word identification tasks where they were asked to identify the category for each word (i.e., a rude word, a noontide word, an aggressive word, or not a word at all).
Individuals who’d seen the experimenter behave rudely responded to categorize the rude words more quickly than individuals who’d seen the experimenter behave politely. The researchers say that in this sort of task, a faster response time to rudeness words only means the concept of rudeness was activated by the experimenter’s rude behavior.
In Study 3, 147 undergraduate students in a management course (age range from 18 to 54 with a median age of 20; 68.5% White, 6.8% African American, 13.7% Hispanic, 7.5% Asian, and 3.4% “other”) were asked to participate in a study involving rudeness in the workplace. Participants were divided into groups and first saw videos of either an employee acting rudely (or politely) to a fellow employee. In the second stage, they saw emails of a customer addressing an employee rudely (or neutrally, or aggressively). After they had seen the videos and emails, participants were asked to decide how to divide up a reward for participation between themselves and a customer who’d expressed concerns (rudely, neutrally, or aggressively).
The results were similar to Study 2. Participants who saw the rude employee were more likely to not share resources equally with the customer whose email they’d seen. In other words, rudeness not only is contagious but also results in negative behavior from the person who was rudely treated.
Overall, the researchers conclude that rudeness is indeed contagious and that the contagion can result from a single exposure. Further, the contagion is not just about being verbally rude but can result in rude behaviors as well. The researchers recommend that workplaces pay attention to the “impact of low-intensity negative behaviors” like rudeness (or incivility). They believe that if these low-impact behaviors (e.g., rudeness and incivility) are not curtailed in the workplace, they will spiral into “higher-impact behaviors” with negative consequences (although employees may not understand the source of their rude behavior and may be unable to stop themselves from passing it on). The implication of this is that it can create a cascade of negative behavior, and result in a negative work culture that undermines job satisfaction and cooperation.
It’s an interesting study when considering the current-day law firm (or any organizational setting). While there are laws against harassment and discrimination, there are no laws against being rude or uncivil and many organizations simply tolerate rude behavior with a shrug of “that is just how that person behaves”. Yet, this research says that allowing rude behavior to remain in your workplace heightens the probability that you will see rude and otherwise inappropriate behaviors escalate until they potentially reach legal liability level. Unlike ten years ago, we now have tools to teach workplace managers so a workplace absent-rudeness can be achieved. It’s a worthwhile goal. For both worker happiness and the bottom line.
Foulk, T., Woolum, A., & Erez, A. (2015). Catching Rudeness Is Like Catching a Cold: The Contagion Effects of Low-Intensity Negative Behaviors. Journal of Applied Psychology DOI: 10.1037/apl0000037