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lies-are-liesWe write often about lying and deception and none of us like to discover we’ve been lied to by either a stranger or by someone whom we know [or thought we knew] well. Despite how often we encounter dishonesty, there is a tendency to presume honesty in what we hear from others. So is it better to be wary of others and presume dishonesty until proven otherwise? Today’s researchers wanted to figure that out.

They asked 190 undergraduates (average age 19.3 years and 67.6% female) to participate and assigned them to random pairs (some were same-sex pairings and others were not). Two participants arrived at the experiment location at a time and were told they would be participating in a mock job interview—with one playing the role of the interviewer and the other playing the role of the job candidate. The participants were sent to separate rooms to prepare for the interviews and the candidates were given instructions to convince the interviewer they were the best person for the job (and told that “convincing” may involve them telling lies or exaggerating their credentials). Only some of the interviewers were told the candidates might lie or exaggerate their qualifications (the researchers label these two conditions naïve versus informed).

Following preparation, the pair was reunited in a room where they engaged in a 5 to 8 minute interview which was recorded. After the interview concluded the researchers had participants review the videos.

First, the candidates reviewed the video and indicated points at which s/he had thoughts or feelings during the interview. After reviewing the video and marking points where they’d had feelings or thoughts, the candidates then reviewed the video again and were asked at each point they’d marked as one where they had thoughts or feelings—how honest were you being as you expressed that thought or feeling on the videotape.

Then, the interviewer reviewed the video and as it was paused at each point the candidate reported thoughts or feelings—and the interviewer would attempt to identify the thoughts or feelings the candidate was having and then rated how honest they thought the candidate was being with them.

So—in this study both the interviewer and the candidate each rated candidate honesty. That is, the candidates rated how honest they were about thoughts and feelings at various points on the videotape and the interviewers rated how honest they [the interviewer] thought the candidate was being at the same points in time.

The researchers were interested in two main things: empathic accuracy (how closely the interviewers were able to identify the feelings of the candidates) and deception detection (how well they could tell that the interviewee was lying to them).

They measured empathic accuracy as the level at which the candidate’s report of thoughts and feelings matched the interviewer’s assessment of what they believed the candidate was feeling. Higher levels of agreement between the candidate and interviewer, demonstrates higher levels of empathic accuracy on the part of the interviewer.

Deception detection was measured in the same way. If the candidate reported they’d been dishonest and the interviewer assessed them as being dishonest, then the interviewer had correctly detected deception.

According to the researchers, these two “processes used to infer the thoughts and feelings of another person” had never been studied together before. They report the level of empathic accuracy attained by the interviewers was similar to that found in earlier studies of empathic accuracy alone. However, it did make a difference whether the interviewer was in the “naïve” group or the “informed” group. And this is an odd finding:

“regardless of the actual honesty of the thoughts [expressed by the candidate], naïve interviewer/perceivers were more empathically accurate than were informed perceivers”.

In other words, if you trust the person you are talking with, you are able to identify their feelings more accurately. Intuitively, it seems to us that if you are not struggling with trust issues (e.g., “is she lying to me?”) you are more likely to attend to the emotions of the person you are focused on.

From a litigation advocacy standpoint, what this tells us is that verbal content is still the best way to assess if someone is telling you the truth or not. What this research leaves out is the reality that in pairs of people who believe they know each other well, there is likely more room for errors in deception detection since the listener/target of the lie would have no reason to believe they were being deceived.

Nonetheless, it does remind us of just how complex detecting deception is and how wrong many people are when they believe someone is not being truthful. It doesn’t matter if they are wrong when it comes to your witness or party though—if they believe the witness is lying, things are unlikely to turn out well for your case.

DesJardins, N., & Hodges, S. (2015). Reading Between the Lies: Empathic Accuracy and Deception Detection Social Psychological and Personality Science, 6 (7), 781-787 DOI: 10.1177/1948550615585829


Comments Off on Expecting honesty and getting lies—when are you most able to tell it’s a lie?  

Perseverance-5While 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


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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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