Category Archives: Training & Development

Bad Attitudes Lead to Bad Behaviors

Back in the 1990’s I took a vacation to Cancun, Mexico. It was a great experience. One thing I still don’t understand is why people get so dressed up when they fly. Think about it, you’re sitting uncomfortably in a seat designed for a child because any adult over 4 feet tall can attest, it’s pretty snug squeezing yourself into the seat, sometimes in between two other passengers. And let’s be honest, airline seats aren’t the cleanest. Then there’s the whole going to the restroom bit.

For all these reasons and more, I almost always wear the most comfortable clothes I have. On most days, this means t-shirt, shorts, and a pair of sandals.

On the flight from Cancun back to Houston (and then Dallas), I was lucky enough to be bumped up to first class. I forgot why, but I think the airline made some type of mistake. No worries, I was excited to be able to stretch my legs and not be packed in with the other passengers back in coach class.

Anyone who’s ever been on vacation as a tourist understands that you end up buying and wearing clothes you’ll never, ever wear again. But, at the time, it’s fun. While in Cancun, I got myself one of those cool (at least I thought so) ponchos that had “Cancun, Mexico” printed on it.

Thus, my traveling outfit that day consisted of my Cancun poncho, shorts, and sandals. I looked like a cross between the guy from the movie Sixteen Candles (the one that said “Automobile?”) and a Mexican cowboy. Looking back, I’m fairly certain I could have been nominated to be on a “make-over” TV show. I still laugh when I think back to what I was wearing that day.

But what happened once I got on the plane wasn’t so funny.

I was like a kid in a candy store. I still couldn’t believe my good fortune to be placed in first (or business) class. Proudly sporting my Cancun poncho and in my comfortable shorts and sandals, I headed to my seat and proceeded to sit down.

Still standing over my seat and just as I was about to sit down, a flight attendant came rushing down the aisle towards me and in a strong tone said, “Sir, you can’t sit here!”

I don’t remember if I was surprised or offended or both, but I smiled and responded, “Ma’am, I’m suppose to be here. This is my seat” and showed her my boarding ticket with my seat assignment.

The great thing about being bumped up to first class is that no one knows about it. So this flight attendant had no idea if I paid for my seat or if I got placed there as a free upgrade. But, that shouldn’t have mattered.

Clearly surprised, the flight attendant nodded, mumbling and stumbling over her words, apologized, and left.

Why did she apologize? Because she took one look and formed an attitude (an impression) about me and my place on the plane, which was clearly not in first class. We all do this. We see people (their appearances) and form opinions about them. Our bad attitudes will lead to our bad behaviors.

In their classic textbook titled “Social Psychology,” Kassin, Fein, & Markus (2008) found that when attitudes (our positive, negative, or mixed reaction to a person, object, or idea) are strong and specific they determine our actions. We vote based on our political opinions, we based our buying decisions on attitudes about the products, and racism is rooted in our negative feelings about a person based on their membership in certain groups.

Attitudes are important determinants of behavior. – Kassin, Fein, & Markus (2008, p. 189)

Our bad attitudes lead, not only to our bad behaviors, they also hurt our organizations in at least two important ways:

  1. Lost of revenue, and
  2. Damage to corporate image

In my case with the flight attendant, forming negative attitudes about others based on their appearances can be embarrassing (at best). But at the other end of the spectrum, you can offend customers so much that you lose them as valuable clients (or fail to maintain those customers who are loyal), and they’ll tell others about how poorly you treated them.

Suppose I wasn’t some college kid, but ran my own business or was CHRO (Chief Human Resources Officer) for a company. And the actions of this flight attendant offended me so much that not only did the airline lose me as a valued member, but I wrote a complaint letter about the incident to the airline president. What’s more, suppose I had told all my family members and friends about what happened. That didn’t happen, but let’s suppose it did.

This next story actually did happen several years ago during a car buying experience. We were so turned off by the car salesman’s condescending attitude (“Can you pay for this car?”) that we actually walked out during the negotiation process and purchased a car from a competitor. And the answer to his question was “yes” we could afford to pay, and gladly did so – to his competition.

How many of us have ever chosen to avoid dining at restaurants with a rude wait staff? How many of us have ever done business with a company because we liked the people working there and how they treated us, even if they weren’t the cheapest? I have and I bet you have too.

How to Change Attitudes

Persuasion by Communication (Change as a Result of Others)

  1. Our attitudes change based on the merits of the source (i.e., influenced by the strength & quality of the arguments).
  2. Our attitudes change based on superficial cues (e.g., if the person has a good reputation, speaks or writes well, we tend to believe and accept his/her message).

Persuasion by Our Own Actions (Change from Within Ourselves)

Sometimes when our actions deviate so far from our character and convictions (called cognitive dissonance), it causes us to want to change our attitudes.

I’ll take the cognitive dissonance example and relate it to the world of business. When leaders, managers, and/or employees act badly (behaviors) toward customers, it’s crucial to get to the root cause by examining both the individual’s and the organization’s attitudes (thinking).

When bad behaviors (toward customers and even one another) deviate so far from your corporate mission & culture, ask yourself:

Isn’t it time the entire company change its corporate attitude?

Reference

Kassin, S., Fein, S., & Markus, H.R. (2008). Social psychology (7th ed.). Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin.

Poor Customer Service Hurts Your Business

One thing I always notice is how often quality is sacrificed for speed. At the local supermarket near where I live in north Dallas, they have a “self-checkout” lane that can accommodate up to six customers. For those who have never had the pleasure (I’m being sarcastic here) of using one of these “self-checkout” lanes, let me fill you in on what you are not missing out on.

Apparently, in the quest to improve customer service (and cut cost), grocery chains and even Wal-mart have created lanes that allow customers to scan their own items. In essence, the customer now becomes the unpaid employee.

The idea is fine, that is let the customer do the work while reducing the cost to hire an employee because by doing the work the customer is in control.

This is not very smart. First, your customers should never perform duties meant for employees. This is not elitist, it’s simply the idea that when I go into a store to buy a product, I should not also be forced to work as an unpaid employee.

Second (and my biggest complaint) is that the customer is not trained to perform tasks that paid employees can do. Let’s go back to the “self-checkout” lane. Maybe it’s just that I always have bad luck because these “self-checkout” lanes never work right. At first my wife thought that I didn’t know how to use them. And while it’s true that my wife is right about lots of things, it turns out that she also has trouble with “self-checkout” lanes herself.

Why?

The first problem is the annoying automated voice that speaks when it senses any item being removed from the bagging compartment without permission. Makes you feel like a second grader doesn’t it? For some reason, this bagging compartment police prevents you from scanning your next item until you put back what you took out. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to know when things are removed or placed back and will keep repeating the same message.

So, after slowing down the process (with people staring and waiting impatiently behind you), I’ll look around for some assistance (there’s always one person standing there, I think, to supervise). The “paid” employee then walks over, punches in a few codes, and then it’s back to work for the “unpaid” employee.

The second problem is that when you have an item that isn’t listed, you have to find it on the touchpad. But it isn’t always simple to find because there are different varieties of tomatoes, etc.

So, again, after slowing down the process, I’ll look around for some assistance and the “paid” employee then walks over (again), punches in a few codes, and then it’s back to work for the “unpaid” employee. You get the idea.

Call it bad luck because this insane scenario seems to happen to me 9 out of 10 times I’m in these “self-checkout” lanes. It’s rarely ever faster, and instead creates more problems and ends up wasting time (mine and the “paid” employee).

In Harvard Business Review’s “What service customers really want,” Dougherty and Murthy (2009) point out that customers are no longer putting up with “rushed and inconvenient” service that’s become commonplace in today’s business. Customers want a great experience when they come into a business establishment, whether it’s selling groceries or dry cleaning clothes. Businesses that understand this will gain customer loyalty.

In their research, Dougherty and Murthy (2009) discovered that when customers contact businesses for service (i.e., calling customer service), they want two things.

First, is the employee helping me (frontline employee) knowledgeable?

Second, will the issues I have be resolved on the first call?

Regrettably, many service centers (call centers) continue to track and measure time on hold and minutes per call just as they have done so for decades! The irony is that when companies do this, the message to the employees is to hurry up, resulting in a rushed job – exactly the kind of experiences customers hate.

On average, 40% of customers who suffer through bad experiences stop doing business with the offending company.

Companies need to allow for some flexibility. Give your employees some latitude “to meet individual customers’ needs and provide positive, satisfying experiences.” Managers should check whether the customers’ problems were resolved during first contact, find out what the true problem is (if the issue isn’t resolved in one call), and then make the change needed.

Some companies are arrogant enough to believe that irritated, pissed off customers will forgive them and come back for more. But “research indicates that, on the contrary, alienated customers often disappear without the slightest warning.”

Bottom line: Never sacrifice quality for speed. Your customers will become irritated and disappear and your business won’t have the “customer” in customer service to worry about anymore.

Reference

Dougherty, D. & Murthy, A. (2009). What service customers really want. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved January 1, 2010 from http://hbr.org/2009/09/what-service-customers-really-want/ar/1

Being Attractive Helps Get You Hired

[NOTE: This post was updated October 2017]

When making decisions about whether or not to hire prospective job applicants, interviewers are influenced by an applicant’s attractiveness (Shahani-Denning, 2003, citing Watkins & Johnston, 2000; Jawahar & Mattsson, 2005). There is a great deal of evidence that being good-looking positively impacts the hiring decisions of employers (Shahani-Denning, 2003, citing Watkins & Johnston). This is known as the “what is beautiful is good” stereotype (Shahani-Denning, 2003, citing Dion, Berscheid & Walster, 1972).

Kassin, Fein, & Markus (2008, citing Hosoda, Stone-Romero, & Coats, 2003) found that as a society, we tend to favor those who are good-looking. And while this isn’t fair, research has found it to be true (Watkins & Johnston, 2000).

“Research shows that not only are good-looking applicants more likely to be hired, but they are likely to be hired at a higher starting salary. Attractiveness makes a difference with promotions, too. People ascribe more positive characteristics to attractive people” (Eichinger, Lombardo, & Ulrich, 2004, p. 124).

Whether researchers studied business school students or real-life HR professionals, the results were almost identical. The majority of the candidates hired were more attractive (Jawahar & Mattsson, 2005). “[A]ttractive applicants are preferred over less attractive applicants” (Jawahar & Mattsson, 2005, p. 571). While not surprising that attractive applicants tend to be hired more than less attractive applicants, what is surprising is that attractive applicants are also offered higher starting salaries compared to those considered less attractive (Toledano, 2013).

There is research suggesting that experienced managers do not seem to fall prey to this attractiveness/beautyism bias compared to managers who are not as experienced (Jawahar & Mattsson, 2005).

However, this quote from a Cornell HR Review article is quite clear:

“In short, attractive individuals will receive more job offers, better advancement opportunities, and higher salaries than their less attractive peers—despite numerous findings that they are no more intelligent or capable” (Toledano, 2013, para. 5).

So, given this unfair reality, what are applicants (who aren’t as attractive) to do? Jawahar & Mattsson (2005) assert that because good-looking people are believed to have better social skills, the bias against those who aren’t as good-looking might have more to do with the belief that the “less attractive” are less socially skilled. The researchers recommended that people who aren’t good-looking can help themselves by “demonstrating their social skills and directing the interviewer’s attention to other strengths” (Jawahar & Mattsson, 2005, p. 572).

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.
Leadership Advisor & Talent Development Consultant

References

Dion, K. K., Berscheid, E., & Walster, E. (1972). What is beautiful is what is good. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 24, 285-290.

Eichinger, R. W., Lombardo, M. M., & Ulrich, D. (2004). 100 things you need to know: Best people practices for managers & HR. Minneapolis, MN: Lominger Limited.

Hosoda, M., Stone-Romero, E. F., & Coats, G. (2003). The effects of physical attractiveness on job-related outcomes: A meta-analysis of experimental studies. Personnel Psychology, 56, 431-462.

Jawahar, I. M., & Mattsson, J. (2005). Sexism and beautyism effects in selection as a function of self-monitoring level of decision maker. Journal of Applied Psychology, 90(3), 563-573.

Kassin, S., Fein, S., & Markus, H. R. (2008). Social Psychology (7th ed.). Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin.

Shahani-Denning, C. (2003). Physical attractiveness bias in hiring: What is beautiful is good. Hofstra Horizons, Spring 2003, 15-18. Retrieved from http://www.hofstra.edu/pdf/orsp_shahani-denning_spring03.pdf

Toledano, E. (2013, February 14). May the Best (Looking) Man Win: the Unconscious Role of Attractiveness in Employment Decisions. Cornell HR Review. Retrieved from http://www.cornellhrreview.org/may-the-best-looking-man-win-the-unconscious-role-of-attractiveness-in-employment-decisions/

Watkins, L. M., & Johnston, L. (2000). Screening job applicants: The impact of physical attractiveness and application quality. International Journal of Selection and Assessment, 8, 76-84.

People with a Situational Value System

rude-customers

“A person who is nice to you but rude to the waiter, or to others, is not a nice person” (Barry, 1998, p. 185).

[NOTE: This post was updated January 2015]

Many years ago, while waiting for a show at a nice hotel in Dallas, my wife and I were standing in line to order some coffee. As we were in line waiting (we were second in line) at a busy one-person coffee stand, the woman waiting behind us (she was third in line) yelled out, “Can I go ahead and pay for this?” It didn’t matter to her that two other people (the first lady in line and us) were ahead of her in this ordering process.

I forgot what this was. It might have been a bottle of water or something small. But pretty much everyone else waiting patiently in line was ordering something small. After she interrupted and cut in line, she made some disparaging remarks about the single employee working there.

My wife and I both used to work as a waiter (me) and waitstaff trainer (wife) and thus we’re especially sensitive to and aware of how we and others treat waiters, waitresses, or anyone in a people service profession (e.g., hotel maids, bellmen, etc.). When I see behaviors like this woman’s, it brings me back to the time, more than 20 years ago, when I worked as a waiter for a restaurant in Austin, Texas.

I didn’t know it at first but was quickly informed by the other waitstaff that I was waiting on a baseball celebrity and his family. “Ok, not a big deal,” I thought. I’ll just make sure that I’m at my best and take care of them as I always do with all of my customers.

Because the family was busy visiting and chatting loudly, I stepped back to give them time to decide what they wanted to order. Not long afterwards, the wife snapped her fingers at me (like a rich person does when she beckons her servants). After the family ordered, she dismissed me, like “I’m done with you now leave my sight” type of attitude.

William H. Swanson, Chairman and Former CEO of Raytheon, cautioned:

“Watch out for people who have a situational value system, who can turn the charm on and off depending on the status of the person they are interacting with . . . Be especially wary of those who are rude to people perceived to be in subordinate roles.” [Cited in USA Today “CEOs say how you treat a waiter can predict a lot about character”]

I think this advice should be taken very seriously, especially by those in a supervisory or management role. In a USA Today article, Siki Giunta (CEO of Managed Objects, but who previously worked as a bartender) summed this up well when she said this type of situational behavior is a good predictor of a person’s character because it’s not something you can learn or unlearn easily but instead it shows how you were raised.

The woman who cut in line to place her order felt that she was special and deserved special treatment and gave herself permission to cut in front of others and then displayed contempt by mumbling unkind comments about the person preparing the coffee.

Takeaway: Whether it’s ordering coffee on a Saturday night or interacting with employees at work on a Monday morning, each of us—whether you’re a CEO, manager, or employee—needs to treat everyone, both in and outside the office (regardless of their status or title in the social or corporate ladder) with kindness, dignity, and respect.

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.
Leadership + Talent Development Advisor

References

Barry, D. (1998). Dave Barry Turns 50. New York, NY: Ballantine Publishing Group.

Jones, D. (2006, April 17). CEOs say how you treat a waiter can predict a lot about character. USA Today. Retrieved from http://www.usatoday.com/money/companies/management/2006-04-14-ceos-waiter-rule_x.htm