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Archive for the ‘Self Presentation’ Category

2015 this and thatHere’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

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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

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humble-bragOh the “humblebrag”. It’s really not that long since career counselors were suggesting interview questions asking about weaknesses could be turned to the candidate’s advantage by responding about an alleged weakness that was really a strength. (“Weakness? I think I tend to be perfectionistic. I just can’t send in a report without double-checking it for spelling, grammar, and content errors.”) Alas, times change and now the humble brag is looked at with disdain.

We were pleased to see one of our favorite research groups publish a working paper on the art of humble bragging. And even more pleased to see the results of their work mirror the work on humble bragging we published in May of this year: it doesn’t work so just stop it. It is obnoxious. Ultimately, they say that if you want a self-promotion strategy, outright bragging is more effective than the deceptive humble bragging. Why? Because you are [oddly] seen as sincere when you brag.

They did five experiments in total:

First, they collected humblebrags from a Twitter account publishing them and asked a couple of (yes, that would be two) raters to indicate how likable, competent and sincere they thought the person who’d tweeted the humble brag was in real life. Then they were asked if they thought the person was complaining and if they thought the person might be humble bragging (showing off in the guise of a complaint).

The [two] raters didn’t like humble braggers  and did not see them as either sincere or competent. The researchers concluded that those who humble brag are seen as less likable, less sincere and less competent. [While this makes intuitive sense, we wish they had used more than two raters. In essence, we consider the character assessment aspect of this study to be without value.]

Second, the researchers examined humble bragging in job interviews. They gave 122 undergraduate students (67% female and average age 21.34 years) instructions to write detailed responses to the question “What is your weakness?” as though they were in a job interview. Then they asked the participants to explain the reason for their response (“Why would you answer the question, ‘What is your weakness?’ in this manner?”). Again, they had two raters analyze the resulting open-ended responses for humble bragging and whether the participant answered the second question that they were being honest (“This really is my weakness”) or strategic (“I want to get hired”) in their response.

77% of the participants chose to humble brag and just 23% gave a real weakness. (Just for your edification, the most common humble brag ‘weaknesses’ were identified as perfectionism, working too hard, being too nice and helpful, and being too fair and honest.) The [two] raters preferred the honest candidates who gave a real weakness.

Third, the researchers examined the effectiveness of humble bragging in comparison with both complaining and bragging when it comes to how much others like the person either bragging, complaining or humble bragging. For this experiment, 302 online research participants (average age 36.97 and 41.5% female) were told they would be evaluating another person. Each participant was randomly assigned to one of three conditions: complain (“I am so bored”), brag (“People mistake me for a model”), or humble brag (“I am so bored of people mistaking me for a model”). The participants viewed the statements (based on the condition they’d been assigned to) and then rated how likable, sincere, and credible they thought the person saying this was.

As before, humble braggers were viewed more negatively than those who just brag outright and those who complained. Also again, humble braggers were seen as being insincere compared to the braggarts and complainers.

Fourth, the researchers examined whether humble bragging would affect how others perceive you. For example, someone who humble brags about “the problem with having graduated from two universities is that you get double the calls looking for donations” — may be seen as not very likable (due to the humble brag) but simultaneously as intelligent (despite the humble brag since she did graduate from two different universities). So the researchers wanted to see if the cost (being disliked) outweighed the benefit (an increase in perceived intelligence) when you humble brag. Again, they used an online sample of 201 (average age 35 years, 34.3% female) and assigned half to a brag condition (“I get hit on all the time”) and half to a humble brag condition (“Just rolled out of bed and still get hit on all the time, so annoying”). Noteworthy in this experiment is that the average age of the test subjects was 35, and the dilemma faced by the bragging conditions is the nuisance of being viewed as sexually attractive. Between the use of two raters for critical judgments and now this gaffe, we are tempted to wonder about the judgment of the researchers. But still, it is interesting. As before, the participants were asked how much they liked the person saying these things, how sincere they thought s/he was and finally, how attractive.

As before, humble braggers were seen as less likable, less sincere, and even less attractive than the braggers. The researchers concluded that humble bragging just has no real benefits. You really are better off bragging.

Finally, the (likely tired by now) researchers wanted to find out if people not only disliked the humble bragger but also treated them “less positively”. And this time, the researchers used actual cold, hard cash. Well, actually it was “virtual cash” but the idea is the same. We think. Anyway, the researchers used 154 online participants (average age 33.26 years and 35.1% female) and another 154 undergraduate students (average age 21.38 years and 70.5% female) The participants in each group were given pairs of statements (either humblebrags or outright brags) they were told came from their experimental partner and asked to rate likability, and sincerity and then to determine how they would split $5 between themselves and the (non-existent) person who’d allegedly written the comments.

Those research participants paired with humble braggers kept more of the $5 for themselves while this did not happen with the braggarts. As you have guessed by now, humble braggers are seen as insincere and that results in less likability and that results in (in this case) stingier (and meaner) treatment.

The researchers seem to think they’ve done enough work to show you that humble bragging just doesn’t work and is not useful (they go so far as to say it is “uniquely ineffective”) for impression management. We can’t speak to this being a “uniquely ineffective” strategy, but the lack of sincerity shown by the humble bragger results in quick dislike.

From a litigation advocacy perspective, this has definite implications for both self-presentation and witness preparation.

Avoid humble bragging in your casual asides while in the courtroom and closely listen for humble bragging in witnesses. Sure, be proud of yourself, your company, what you have accomplished, but in a subdued way. The goal for both witnesses and attorneys is to be a likable source of useful information and to avoid aggravating your audience.  The instant dislike these researchers find for humble braggers is enough for us to recommend you watch for this increasingly ubiquitous self-promotion (in both yourself and while preparing witnesses) and avoid the negative costs in the courtroom.

Sezer, O., Gino, F., & Norton, M. (2015). Humblebragging: A Distinct And Ineffective Self-Presentation Strategy SSRN Electronic Journal DOI: 10.2139/ssrn.2597626

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whistle-blower-620x375We’ve worked on several qui tam cases where mock jurors have been suspicious of the motivations for the whistleblower given the huge amounts of money they stand to make. So what if the whistleblower is the [current or former] lawyer?

There’s a really interesting article in SSRN on the ethical issues surrounding lawyers blowing whistles. The authors (both law professors) comment that the attorney is in the perfect position to have information a whistleblower would need to file a qui tam suit and neither the False Claims Act (aka the whistleblower act) nor Dodd-Frank (which allows whistleblowers to keep their identity secret) specifically address the question of whether lawyers can take advantage of the whistleblower incentives.

The authors offer a clear primer on the False Claims Act and examine relevant ethics law for attorneys when considering whistleblowing (like the obligations of confidentiality and ethical duties to both current and former clients) and whether there are prohibitions in the statute itself that would keep lawyers from benefiting financially from blowing the whistle. They address the conflicts between state and federal rules and laws and question whether there are situations in which one would “trump” the other. Along the way, they identify a few lawyers who’ve attempted (unsuccessfully) to prevail in qui tam suits and discuss the personal and professional costs of blowing the whistle. The authors then move on to consider Dodd-Frank and again, offer a clear primer on the program. They cover the same issues under Dodd-Frank as they did with the False Claims Act.

Finally, the authors devote an entire section to “choice of law” referring to the state ethics rules in contrast to FCA or Dodd-Frank. They comment that ascertaining which law applies in cases where a whistle has been blown by an attorney is both complex and murky. They offer a number of case descriptions to illustrate the complexities therein.

Ultimately, the authors pose four questions they see as key to determining whether attorneys can receive an award under a federal program for whistleblowers without violating their fiduciary responsibilities or their rules of professional conduct. The questions are quoted below:

Under what circumstances may a lawyer disclose a client’s confidential information to others?

Under what circumstances does a lawyer’s obligation of loyalty preclude acting adversely to a client, including seeking personal benefit when engaging in conduct that is permissible for other purposes, such as to prevent or rectify harm to another?

Are any of a lawyer’s obligations under state law preempted by federal law that provides for financial incentives for whistleblowers?

Which state’s law applies to lawyers who move from state to state as they work for national companies?

This is a thoughtful examination of a thorny ethical issue. The authors offer no clear answers and no judgment on whether an attorney should be allowed to financially benefit from whistleblowing. This is an attempt to explore whether an attorney can benefit financially from whistleblowing. The paper is designed (at least to our eye) to make you think and to become aware of how complex the issues really are when attorneys consider blowing the whistle on either current or former clients.

Clark, K., & Moore, N. (2015). Buying Voice: Financial Rewards for Whistleblowing Lawyers SSRN Electronic Journal DOI: 10.2139/ssrn.2562610

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good people bad thingsHere’s a really easy solution to our tendency to sometimes do bad things: be aware of the temptation and think of the longterm consequences of the behavior. It’s a simple answer to a vexing problem that has been with us for millennia.

Researchers wanted to see how identifying an ethical conflict and considering the long-term consequences might shape behavior and so designed a series of studies to test the question. The result is a straight-forward recommendation to do what Mom would have told you to do (if only you would have listened!).

In the first experiment, students in a master’s level business program were split into pairs and then asked to either be a broker for the buyer or a broker for a seller in a real estate transaction. There was a built-in conflict between the two since the seller wanted to preserve the property and the buyer wanted to tear it down and build a hotel. Those who were brokers for the seller were told to only sell to someone who would save the brownstone and brokers for the purchaser were told to conceal the buyer’s plan to build a hotel and tear down the existing brownstone. Before the negotiations began though, half the participants were asked to remember a time they’d cheated or bent the rules to get ahead.

Sure enough, only 45% of those who thought about past bad behavior behaved unethically in negotiations while 67% of those who were not reminded of past transgressions lied in order to close the deal.

In another set of experiments, participants were asked about whether it was okay to steal office supplies, call in sick when they were not really sick, or intentionally slow down work progress to avoid additional tasks. Again, half of the participants were asked to do a pre-task writing exercise where they considered an ethical dilemma.

You guessed it. Those who thought ahead of time about an ethical dilemma were less likely to think these common occurrences were acceptable.

The researchers summarize their results by saying that those who wish to promote more ethical behavior may want to help others become aware of the accumulated impact of unethical acts (for the individual and society) and offer warning cues for upcoming temptation.

We tend to see this work as related to all the work done on how we behave better when we think we are being watched or monitored, and one of our very favorite courtroom strategies. Most of us want to behave in ways that show our best selves. This research points both to a simple way to increase the likelihood of that happening and a way to consider questioning the witness who behaved unethically.

As a trial strategy, you hope jurors associate your trial story and your client with that “high road”. But what this research makes clear is that you increase the likelihood of them making that connection when witnesses speak about their awareness of ethics, of right and wrong. A wise guy once said, “Always take the high road–it’s never crowded.” There are ways to connect your case align with those higher values.

Sheldon OJ, & Fishbach A (2015). Anticipating and Resisting the Temptation to Behave Unethically. Personality & Social Psychology Bulletin, 41 (7), 962-75 PMID: 26001580

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