I thought I would repost my comments to a discussion question in the SIOP (Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology) group on LinkedIn about the notion of “corporate psychopaths” (made famous by the book Snakes in Suits: When Psychopaths Go To Work [Babiak & Hare, 2006]).
From Snakes in Suits: When Psychopaths Go To Work (p. xiv):
“The premise of this book is that psychopaths do work in modern organizations; they often are successful by most standard measures of career success; and their destructive personality characteristics are invisible to most of the people with whom they interact. They are able to circumvent and sometimes hijack succession planning and performance management systems in order to give legitimacy to their behaviors. They take advantage of communication weaknesses, organizational systems and processes, interpersonal conﬂicts, and general stressors that plague all companies. They abuse coworkers and, by lowering morale and stirring up conﬂict, the company itself. Some may even steal and defraud.”
As a former mental health counselor, I am very cautious about buying into this notion of “corporate psychopaths.” Technically, psychopathy is not mentioned in the DSM-IV-TR as a diagnosis. It actually falls under “Antisocial Personality Disorder” (301.7).
For information sake (not trying to diagnose), the criteria for Antisocial Personality Disorder requires that a person must have (1) a history of conduct disorder symptoms as a juvenile, AND (2) antisocial symptoms as an adult. It’s important to note that the DSM-IV explains the pattern of those who engage in antisocial behavior “continues into adulthood” (DSM-IV TR, p. 702). In other words, their problematic behavior started before they were 18 and continued into adulthood.
The DSM-IV said the prevalence of psychopathy in the general population is about 3% in males and 1% in females (DSM-IV TR, p. 704).
Another important note is that generally a diagnosis of Antisocial Personality Disorder is not warranted if the person also has a substance abuse problem.
Based on the criteria listed above, many of those who would be described or classified as “corporate psychopaths” in the book “Snakes in Suits” might actually not be psychopaths.
This is why I am very skeptical about this idea of “corporate psychopaths.”
Indeed, the authors of Snakes in Suits: When Psychopaths Go To Work (pp. xiv-xv) warned:
We consider it important to caution the reader that, although the topic of this book is psychopathy in the workplace, not everyone described herein is a psychopath [and that] reader[s] should not assume that an individual is a psychopath simply because of the context in which he or she is portrayed in this book.
American Psychiatric Association. (2000). Diagnostic and statistical
manual of mental disorders (4th ed., text rev.). Washington, DC: Author.
Babiak, P., & Hare, R. D. (2006). Snakes in suits: When psychopaths go to work. New York: HarperCollins Publishers.
Those who work for a government agency, a school system, a city government office, a nonprofit association, or even a church can understand this title and the point of this post. I previously wrote about people creating bottlenecks in their own companies or place of employment.
Too often, I have seen a hesitancy to act because of a fear of making the wrong decision. One way this fear manifests itself is through a reliance or dependence on endless surveys to support their decisions. While there is absolutely nothing wrong with surveys per se. Using surveys as an excuse to not act because of a fear of messing up is wrong.
While, on the surface, it might seem like these individuals (the ones who support doing additional and unnecessary surveys) are doing the right thing. They are, in fact, crippling themselves and failing their organizations by wasting time.
A VP in one organization was so indecisive and so terrified she would make a mistake that she solicited feedback from everyone in the office about the smallest decisions. In one instance, she could not decide on a simple logo to use for her office so she asked the staff for their input about a logo design. Weeks went by and even after getting feedback from the staff, no decisions were made. It was decided to contract out the work and have a professional design the logo. However, even after several logos were designed, no decisions were made because of the indecisive VP.
“Indecision and delays are the parents of failure.” George Canning
Sadly, after the time and energy the staff invested working on the logo design project, because of the executive’s indecision, a logo was never selected and the money spent hiring the logo designer was wasted.
Fear of failure is a dangerous addiction. It creates a vicious circle which goes like this: I’m afraid of making a mistake so I won’t act. I won’t act because I’m afraid of making a mistake.
Takeaway: Fear of failure cripples people from acting and causes them to rationalize their indecisions. Their rationalizations can become so habitual and strong that it blinds them from sound advice and feedback.
More than three years ago (12/13/09 to be precise), I wrote about people with a situational value system. That post in December 2009 was about my experience as a waiter and my story about a rude customer, the wife of a famous baseball player, who snapped her fingers in a demanding way to get my attention.
The situational value system post has become the most visited post on WorkplacePsychology.Net. Over the months, and now years, that followed, I have tried to come up with a follow-up or related post. It’s not easy to do a follow-up to something that has been so well received.
Based on the number of visits and people who have shared the post or clicked on the “like” button, it seems many people can relate to or have their own stories about knowing, experiencing, and/or witnessing someone with a situational value system (i.e., an individual who treats people differently based on that person’s status).
What I have wanted to do since that time was to further explore mistreatment and uncivil behaviors in the workplace. Because my original post in 2009 talked about the impact that one customer had on me (an employee), this post in 2013 will be about the negative effects of employee uncivil behaviors on customers, coworkers, or subordinates (if the employee is in a managerial role). There’s quite a bit of research in this area, although my guess is that by writing about it, it will not be anywhere near as popular.
Harm to Customers Who Directly Experienced It or Were Witnesses to It And the Negative Business Effects
Customers Who Directly Experienced Uncivil Behaviors
Hawkins and Mothersbaugh (2010) outlined three coping strategies customers use when confronted with bad customer service (p. 381):
Active coping: Thinking of ways to solve the problem, engaging in restraint to avoid rash behavior, and making the best of the situation.
Expressive support seeking: Venting emotions and seeking emotional and problem-focused assistance from others.
Avoidance: Avoiding the retailer mentally or physically or engaging in complete self-denial of the event.
The customer might work with the organization to try to resolve the situation (active coping). Other customers might decide to vent their frustrations to the company (expressive support seeking) or they might tell their friends or broadcast it online about their bad experience (negative word of mouth [WOM]). The last case, avoidance, is also damaging because a customer might choose to avoid an organization completely or continue to be a customer but makes an effort to avoid the company (either physically or mentally), in which case the result will be lost sales (Hawkins & Mothersbaugh, 2010).
“Many times, however, consumers do not complain to the company, but instead take actions such as switching brands or engaging in negative word of mouth (WOM)” (Hawkins & Mothersbaugh, 2010, p. 636).
Customers Who Were Witnesses to Uncivil Behaviors
Porath, MacInnis, & Folkes (2010) found that when an employee mistreated or was uncivil (e.g., being rude or discourteous, ignoring or making derogatory remarks, passing blame for their own mistakes, belittling the efforts of others, etc.) toward another employee, customers who witnessed it tended to “make negative generalizations about (a) others who work for the firm, (b) the firm as a whole, and (c) future encounters with the firm, inferences that [went] well beyond the incivility incident” (p. 292). What researchers discovered was that “consumers [were] also negatively affected even when they [were] mere observers of incivility between employees” (Porath et al., 2010, p. 301).
Harm to Coworkers or Subordinates
Pearson & Porath (2009) discovered in their studies that 1 in 5 employees reported being targets of incivility from a coworker at least once a week. About 2/3 said they witnessed incivility happening among other employees at least once a month. Ten percent said they saw incivility among their coworkers every day.
A survey of public sector employees in the United States found that 71% of respondents reported at least some experience of workplace incivility from a supervisor or coworker (e.g., being treated rudely or discourteously, having a coworker or boss ignore or make derogatory remarks, being blamed for a colleague’s mistakes, being belittled, having someone set them up to fail, being shut out of a team, etc.) during the previous 5 years, and 6% reported experiencing such behavior many times (Cortina, Magley, Williams, & Langhout, 2001).
Lim, Cortina, and Magley (2008) found that (1) “uncivil work experiences also appear to have a direct negative influence on mental health” (p. 104), (2) employees who experienced incivility were more likely to be dissatisfied with their boss and coworkers than with the the job itself, and (3) those personal experiences of workplace incivility can lead to them eventually quitting their jobs.
An employee who engages in uncivil behavior (i.e., being rude, insensitive, or disrespectful) is harmful to: (1) other employees inside the organization, and (2) customers who are direct targets of such behaviors or who might simply be witnesses (from the outside) to uncivil behaviors between employees.
Cortina, L. M., Magley, V. J., Williams, J. H., & Langhout, R. D. (2001). Incivility in the workplace: Incidence and impact. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 6(1), 64-80.
Hawkins, D. I., & Mothersbaugh, D. L. (2010). Consumer behavior: Building marketing strategy (11th ed.). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill/Irwin.
Lim, S., Cortina, L. M., Magley, V. J. (2008). Personal and workgroup incivility: Impact on work and health outcomes. Journal of Applied Psychology, 93(1), 95-107. doi:10.1037/0021-9010.93.1.95
Pearson, C. & Porath, C. (2009). The cost of bad behavior: How incivility is damaging your business and what to do about it. New York, NY: Portfolio.
Porath, C., MacInnis, D., & Folkes, V. (2010). Witnessing incivility among employees: Effects on consumer anger and negative inferences about companies. Journal of Consumer Research, 37(2), 292-303.
How many times have you heard a supervisor or coworker say: “I welcome any feedback.” On the surface the statement “I welcome any (or your) feedback” suggests someone who is receptive to getting feedback. It might also imply that people are welcomed and invited to come share about problems, issues, and/or concerns.
Myers (2010) said feedback works best when it is presented in an honest and specific manner. However, there’s a caveat: Even when the feedback is delivered honestly and specifically, the reaction of the receiver to that feedback might not always be what you would expect.
There is research (Bushman, Baumeister, Thomaes, Ryu, Begeer, & West, 2009) suggesting that individuals high in narcissism and self-esteem are more likely to either retaliate or be aggressive toward those who give feedback that the person with high narcissism and self-esteem perceived to be critical or insulting.
Simply stated, if you have a narcissistic boss or colleague with very high self-esteem (yes high, not low; there are narcissists with low self-esteem¹), be careful the type of feedback (especially if it’s critical or negative) you share with them. If they perceive your comments/statements as threats to their inflated egos (researchers call it the threatened egotism hypothesis), then there’s a good chance their reactions (words and/or behaviors) will be aggressive².
“[N]arcissists with high self-esteem are eager to dominate their social environment and claim the admiration to which they apparently feel entitled, and when their interaction partners fail to cooperate, they may turn aggressive” (Bushman et al., 2009, p. 441).
Interestingly, the researchers “found no support for the view that low self-esteem causes aggression. . . . On the contrary, low self-esteem reduced or eliminated the independent effect of narcissism on aggression” (Bushman et al., 2009, p. 441).
¹Bushman and colleagues explained that, “Narcissists with low self-esteem may be shy, socially anxious and unconfident, and preoccupied with their own possible inadequacy, but they are still highly self-absorbed” (p. 441).
²Aggression is defined as, “Behavior directed toward the goal of harming another living being who is motivated to avoid such treatment” (Baron & Branscombe, 2012, p. 322).
Baron, R. A., & Branscombe, N. R. (2012). Social psychology (13th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.
Bushman, B. J., Baumeister, R. F., Thomaes, S., Ryu, E., Begeer, S., & West, S. G. (2009). Looking again, and harder, for a link between low self-esteem and aggression. Journal of Personality, 77(2), 427-446. doi:10.1111/j.1467-6494.2008.00553.x
Myers, D. G. (2010). Social psychology (10th ed.). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.
Japanese television offers a wide selection of variety shows. Unlike those in the U.S., Japanese variety shows will invite a group of “talents” (although I’m still not sure what many of their talents are, other than smiling and tasting different foods). The thing that immediately got my attention about all of these variety shows was the repeated use of talents (actors or comedians) to comment on any issues, whether the person was qualified to do so or not.
It is simply baffling to me how a group of people, with no discernible expertise on a subject matter will comment on just about anything. The subjects can vary from management to mental health to melting snow, and believe it or not, a group of people will comment on it. Last week, I saw five people on one variety show standing around commenting on different shapes of snow.
In another week, a young man (one of the “talents”) was on a talk show embedded inside a joint infomercial and a soap opera (I’m not joking). The young man shared that he was concerned about his melancholy outlook on life and his tendency to be negative. Another “talent” (I think he’s a former teacher) proceeded to play armchair therapist by asking the guy to read aloud from Romeo and Juliet.
Ok, so what does all of this nonsense have to do with psychology and workplace behaviors? Two things: expertise and credibility.
I realize I’m making a huge leap from talking about Japanese variety shows to the business environment, so please bear with me. But, the more I watched these “talents” the more I kept thinking about expertise and credibility. Because these “talents” do not have the expertise to offer anything of substantive value (that I could not otherwise get by simply asking my next door neighbors for their opinions), they (at least in my eyes) end up diminishing their own brand and/or jeopardizing their own credibility.
In Business Leadership (2003), Kouzes and Posner said credibility is one admired characteristics of a leader:
“Credibility is the foundation of leadership” (Kouzes & Posner, 2003, p. 262).
“The qualities of being honest, inspiring, and competent compose what communications researchers refer to as source credibility. In assessing the believability of a source of information—whether it is the president of the company, the president of the country, a sales person, or a TV newscaster— researchers typically use the three criteria of trustworthiness, expertise, and dynamism. Those who rate highly in these areas are considered to be credible sources of information” (Kouzes & Posner, 2003, p. 261).
Kouzes and Posner (2003) said your credibility must be earned over time. It’s not something that’s bestowed upon you when you get a new title or job. What’s more, credibility can affect the workplace.
“Credibility has a significantly positive outcome on individual and organizational performance” (Kouzes & Posner, 2003, p. 266).
In The Leadership Challenge (2007), Kouzes and Posner explained in greater details about why credibility matters. They wrote (pp. 38-39):
“Using a behavioral measure of credibility, we asked organization members to think about the extent to which their immediate manager exhibited credibility-enhancing behaviors. In our studies we found that when people perceive their immediate manager to have high credibility, they’re significantly more likely to
Be proud to tell others they’re part of the organization
Feel a strong sense of team spirit
See their own personal values as consistent with those of the organization
Feel attached and committed to the organization
Have a sense of ownership of the organization
When people perceive their manager to have low credibility, however, they’re significantly more likely to
Produce only if they’re watched carefully
Be motivated primarily by money
Say good things about the organization publicly but criticize it privately
Consider looking for another job if the organization experiences problems
Feel unsupported and unappreciated
“Credibility makes a difference” (Kouzes & Posner, 2007, p. 39).
Kouzes, J. M., & Posner, B. Z. (2003). Leadership is a relationship. In J. M. Kouzes (Ed.), Business leadership (pp. 251-267). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Kouzes, J. M., & Posner, B. Z. (2007). The leadership challenge (4th ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
[NOTE:This post was updated February 2021 for freshness & clarity.]
In a Forbes article, Goudreau (2012) wrote about silly job titles that some top executives hold (e.g., Chief Listening Officer). A related listing on Forbes showed other silly titles, such as Chief Internet Evangelist, Chief Observance Officer, Chief Knowledge Officer, Chief Digital Officer, and Chief Happiness Officer (Forbes, 2012).
Please understand that I am not commenting on the skills and competencies of the individuals who hold these titles, only in the silliness of the titles.
The Forbes article quoted Mark Stevens, author of Your Marketing Sucks, in saying: “It is all corporate Kindergarten playtime title-making . . . It’s a puppet show.” According to Stevens, having “Chief” in the title is merely for show. “These people have absolutely no power . . . Most of these vanity titles don’t even report to the CEO.”
Traditionally, the C-suite or C-level officers with actual authority or power include only a handful of top leaders: Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Chief Financial Officer (CFO), Chief Operating Officer (COO), Chief Human Resources Officer (CHRO), and Chief Information Officer (CIO).
Title inflation is not unique to just top executives. It’s an epidemic that has spread and continues spreading to various levels in a company. An Internet search reveals other silly job titles, including Chief Thought Provoker, Chief People Herder, Chief Flavor Officer, and Paranoid In Chief.
All silliness aside, a job title is important for several reasons. I/O psychology professor Michael Aamodt (2010) explained that an accuratejob title does the following:
It describes the nature of the job.
It aids in employee selection and recruitment (by indicating the nature of the job, thus helping an organization match potential applicants with the requirements for the job).
It provides employees with some form of identity.
It affects perceptions of the status and worth of a job.
Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.
Leadership Development Advisor & Consultant
Aamodt, M. G. (2010). Industrial/organizational psychology: An applied approach (6th ed.). Wadsworth.
In a conversation about how, in one organization, management had known for quite some time what needed to be done, but they just didn’t do it, a professor inquired: “What purpose might it serve for an organization to be in possession of possible solutions yet choose not to implement them?”
What a great question.
Robert Sutton (2010) contended that what separates good bosses from bad ones is that good bosses find ways to link talking to doing, and that bad bosses are oblivious and often don’t even realize that they “routinely stifle and misdirect action” (p. 130).
Perhaps this is overly simplistic, but with regard to why organizations that are in possession of possible solutions but choose not to implement them, I think sometimes managers and/or organizations fall prey to “analysis paralysis” where there’s a tendency to over analyze everything and which can result in the crippling or stifling of timely actions.
The Ultimate Business Dictionary (2003) defines analysis paralysis (or paralysis by analysis) in this manner :
Paralysis by analysis is “the inability of managers to make decisions as a result of a preoccupation with attending meetings, writing reports, and collecting statistics and analyses” (p. 235).
The obsession with studying a problem and analyzing an issue to death is akin to creating a self-imposed bottleneck. The obstruction/congestion is your own doing.
Sutton, R.I. (2010). Good boss, bad boss: How to be the best…and learn from the worst. New York: Business Plus.
(2003). The Ultimate Business Dictionary: Defining the World of Work. Cambridge, MA: Perseus Publishing.
Politicians and car salesmen are notorious for being dishonest. But what’s often overlooked are skilled liars who might be a coworker, a supervisor, a top executive, a family member, or even a neighbor. It isn’t until a major scandal, like the ones involving Ponzi schemers Allen Stanford and Bernie Madoff, that people take note that lying is more pervasive and much more difficult to detect than we think.
The scandal in 2009 involved CEO Allen Stanford and other top executives of Stanford Financial Group. They were charged and convicted of fraud for scheming investors (for more than two decades). Allen Stanford was sentenced to 110 years in prison for a $7 billion Ponzi scheme.
The NY Times article said: “Prosecutors argued that Mr. Stanford had consistently lied to investors, promoting safe investments for money that he channeled into a luxurious lifestyle, a Swiss bank account and various business deals that almost never succeeded.” It also stated that Stanford was convicted “of running an international scheme over more than two decades in which he offered fraudulent high-interest certificates of deposit at the Stanford International Bank, which was based on the Caribbean island of Antigua.”
And, even as he made his final statement in court, Stanford continued to lie by saying: “I’m up here to tell you from my heart I didn’t run a Ponzi scheme.” The federal prosecutor called his statement “obscene” and said this: “This is a man utterly without remorse . . . from beginning to end, he treated all of his victims as roadkill.”
But a scandal in late 2008 is perhaps even more outrageous and infamous. It involved Bernie Madoff, wherein he lied, stole and laundered money, and deceived thousands of investors out of billions of dollars. Even more incredible was that the scheme lasted for two or even three decades! Madoff was sentenced to 150 years in prison for his Ponzi scheme.
An article in Scientific American led me to a book by professor Aldert Vrij called “Detecting Lies and Deceit” (Vrij, 2008). Professor Vrij defines deception or lying as:
“a successful or unsuccessful deliberate attempt, without forewarning, to create in another a belief which the communicator considers to be untrue” (Vrij, 2008, p. 15).
Dr. Vrij identified three different categories that make detection of lying challenging: (1) a lack of motivation to detect lies; (2) difficulties associated with lie detection; and (3) common errors made by lie detectors. I want to focus on “good liars” (identified on pp. 378-381), one of the seven reasons listed under “difficulties associated with lie detection.”
“Good liars are those people: (i) whose natural behaviour disarms suspicion; (ii) who do not find it cognitively difficult to lie; and (iii) who do not experience emotions such as fear, guilt, or duping delight when they are lying” (Vrij, 2008, p. 378).
CHARACTERISTICS OF GOOD LIARS
There are 8 Characteristics of Good Liars (Vrij, 2008, p. 378-379):
(1) Being natural performers: “Directed gaze to a conversation partner, smiling, head nodding, leaning forward, direct body orientation, posture mirroring, uncrossed arms, articulate gesturing, moderate speaking rates, a lack of ums and ers, and vocal variety” are often associated with being honest and likable.
(2) Being well prepared: “Good liars therefore say as little as possible or say things that are impossible for others to verify. The less verifiable information is given, the less opportunity it provides for the lie detector to check.” The better the preparation (and the more believable the lie), the easier it is for good liars to lie effectively.
(3) Being original: People who are especially good at lying are mentally creative and original. They’re able to offer a convincing and credible answer in almost any situation.
(4) Rapid thinking: Good liars are quick to respond to a question because waiting too long to answer would arouse suspicion. Thus, being able to think quickly is an important characteristic.
(5) Being eloquent: Being eloquent, in the context of being a good liar, means that you provide a long-winded, intentionally vague response to avoid answering the question. Good liars might even say something that, on the surface, sounds plausible, but actually does not answer the question. Just imagine a skilled politician dodging a question and you get the idea.
(6) Good memory: Good liars must have a good memory or else they risk getting caught in their web of lies. They have to be able to recall what they’ve previously said so they can repeat theta same information without contradicting themselves.
(7) Not experiencing guilt, fear, or delight: “Deceiving others is made easier if the liar does not experience feelings of guilt, fear or delight, because in that case there will not be any emotional behaviour that needs to be suppressed.”
(8) Good at acting: If a person is not a “natural performer” (the first characteristic listed) or they are not especially skilled at masking their guilt, fear, or delight when lying (the seventh characteristic listed), then being a good actor is a must. Good liars are masters with excellent decoding skills. They can adapt to quickly to disarm suspicion.
SPOTTING LIARS DIFFICULT DUE TO LIE DETECTION MISTAKES
Under “Common Errors Made by Lie Detectors”, Dr Vrij explained that, in addition to lie detection being difficult, those who play the role of lie detectors also make SEVEN mistakes. I’ll just mention five mistakes below.
(1) Examining the Wrong Cues: Lie detectors (referring to people whose job is to spot liars, such as police detectives) might look at the wrong cues. For instance, one police manual says that liars tend to look away and make grooming gestures. But a lie detection study, Dr. Vrij found that the more police officers endorsed the lie cues promoted in that police manual, the worse they were at detecting suspects who lied and suspects who told the truth.
(2) Neglect of Interpersonal Differences: There are large differences when it comes to people’s behavior, speech, and physiological responses. “The result is that people whose natural behaviour looks suspicious (e.g., people who naturally avert their gaze or fidget a lot) are in a disadvantageous position, because they run the risk of being falsely accused of lying . . . Introverted and socially anxious people in particular run such a risk” (Vrij, 2008, p. 383).
(3) Neglect of Intrapersonal Differences: “Not only do different people respond differently in the same situation (interpersonal differences), the same person also responds differently in different situations (intrapersonal differences). Neglecting or underestimating those intrapersonal differences is another error that lie catchers make. The failure to control adequately for intrapersonal differences is one of the main criticisms of concern-based polygraph tests” (Vrij, 2008, p. 383).
(4) Use of Heuristics: Following general decision rules (heuristics) can easily lead to mistakes and biases. For example, facial appearance heuristic is the “tendency to judge people with attractive faces or baby-faced appearances as honest” (Vrij, 2008, p. 385). And the fundamental attribution error which occurs when we form impressions of others and then overestimate their character factors while underestimating situational factors. Thus, if we believe someone to be trustworthy, we will judge that person a telling the truth in any given situation. On the other hand, if we think someone is untrustworthy, we’ll tend to judge that individual as dishonest in any given situation. “Obviously, trustworthy people are not honest all of the time and untrustworthy people are not always dishonest” (Vrij, 2008, p. 385).
(5) Overestimating the Accuracy of Lie Detection Tools: We tend to overestimate the accuracy of lie detection tools. However, despite the belief that polygraphs or fMRI brain scans are effective, Dr. Vrij argued that “every single lie detection tool used to date is far from accurate and prone to errors” (p. 386).
Polygraphs measure finger sweating, blood pressure, and respiration. Dr. Vrij explained that one of the most frequently used polygraph test today is the Comparison Question Test (CQT), also referred to as the Control Question Test. I would recommend reading Ch. 11 “Physiological Lie Detection: The Concern Approach” of his book for a detailed explanation about the CQT and the criticisms of the CQT. Professor Vrij (pp. 304-305 citing Iacono ) contended there are three reasons why the CQT is controversial: (i) there is no consensus amongst scientists that there exists an adequate theoretical foundation for its application; (ii) the polygraph profession operates outside the scientific environment and is practiced most by law enforcement officials trained at freestanding polygraph schools that are unrelated to universities; and (iii) polygraph tests can have profound consequences for individuals subjected to them. [***It is not the intent of this post to argue for or against the merits of the CQT because I do not possess expertise in this area. However, the criticisms about the CQT are worth noting.]
According to Dr. Vrij, when we try to deceive others, we activate higher centers of the brain. fMRI scans (when used to detect deception or lying) are supposed to reveal this. However, “different people tested in the same situation revealed different patterns of brain structure and area activity when they lied (interpersonal differences) and the same person shows different patterns of brain structure and area activity when he or she lies in different situations (intrapersonal differences)” (Vrij, 2008, p. 371). Therefore, Dr. Vrij argued, fMRI scans aren’t much different from the traditional polygraph lie detectors.
“So far, research has not yet shown that the fMRI technique does produce more accurate results than traditional polygraph testing, and I therefore do not recommend using such scans in real-life settings for lie detection purposes” (Vrij, 2008, p. 372).
The sad reality is that there are very skilled liars who are able to effectively lie for years or, in the case of Allen Stanford and Bernie Madoff, even decades before they’re caught. And, I suspect, there are many other good liars who have never been and probably will never be caught.
A 2016 study in Nature Neuroscience discovered that our brain actually adapts to being dishonest, and that habitual lying can desensitize our brains from “feeling bad,” and may even encourage us to tell bigger lies in the future.
Bottom line: Good liars (those with natural behavior that disarms suspicion, who do not find it cognitively difficult to lie, and who do not experience fear, guilt, or delight when they are lying) can be hard to spot because they’re very skilled at the art of lying. Even polygraphs and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scanning techniques will not adequately identify those who are good at lying because these lie detection methods have important limitations.
Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.
Leadership + Talent Development Advisor
Iacono, W. G. (2000). The detection of deception. In J. T. Cacioppo, L. G. Tassinary, & G. G. Berntson (Eds.), Handbook of psychophysiology, 2nd edition (pp. 772–793). Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.
I’m a very picky book reader. Prior to reading “The Orange Revolution: How One Great Team Can Transform an Entire Organization,” I had actually started and given up reading several other business books. But “The Orange Revolution” restored my belief that business books can be entertaining, researched-based, and instructive.
Culling research from a 350,000-person database (employees from 28 industries) by the Best Companies Group, as well as from their own interviews with exceptional teams at leading companies, the authors found that breakthrough teams had not only remarkable leaders, but also team members, all of whom share similar characteristics!
These characteristics comprised what Gostick and Elton called “The Basic 4 + Recognition” (p. 45):
Goal setting (knowing where you are going)
Communication (wise use of your voice and ears)
Trust (believing in others and being trustworthy)
Accountability (doing what you say you will do)
Recognition (appreciating others’ strengths)
From the first few pages, Gostick and Elton’s writing style immediately caught my attention. Their story about Thomas Edison’s success in creating the incandescent lightbulb set a beautiful tone throughout the book. Although Edison is almost universally thought of as the one person who invented the incandescent light bulb, it was his team working together under his supervision that made it a reality! That’s right, Edison envisioned it, but it took a team of remarkable “assistants” who made it happen. In fact, Edison searched for men of integrity, who were hungry for knowledge and who expected excellence. He would then put them into small teams, gave them a goal, and let them independently pursue it. Edison did not do it alone. He had help from a breakthrough team.
“By creating an Orange culture that not only expects but also nurtures competency, and then combining it with a high regard for team members, breakthrough teams generate a self-perpetuating collaborative energy” (Gostick & Elton, 2010, p. 42).
A world-class team is not about who is on the team, but rather what the team can do. Gostick and Elton discovered that six core traits defined breakthrough teams: (1) they dream ambitious goals; (2) they believe in one another and what the team can accomplish together; (3) they take calculated risks but (4) measure their results; (5) they persevere even when conflicts or challenges occur; and (6) they tell stories that illustrate what they’re trying to achieve.
Indeed, it is this last trait that, in my opinion, separates “The Orange Revolution” from the sea of business books out there. Stories are amazingly powerful and Gostick and Elton did a masterful job incorporating incredible stories into their book.
According to the authors, all breakthrough teams followThe Rule of 3 (p. 16):
Wow—Breakthrough teams commit to a standard of world-class performance.
No Surprises—All team members are accountable for openness and honest debate, and each knows what to expect from the others.
Cheer—Team members support, recognize, appreciate, and cheer others and the group on to victory.
But more than any other story, the one about Patrick Poyfair’s Arsenal Strikers (a second girl’s Double A soccer team created for girls who were told they weren’t good enough to be in the first soccer club) really touched me. It’s in the last chapter of the book so I don’t want to give the story away. Since my summary here won’t do the story any justice, I’ll just briefly say this: The power of cheering for one another transcends the workplace and into the home and our lives outside of work. It’s so inspiring to hear about breakthrough teams, but it is even more empowering to know that we can create and be a part of our own breakthrough teams.
Gostick & Elton (2010) showed that “soft” ideas such as recognition, goal setting, trust, etc. can “actually drive competency every bit as much as technical ability” (p. 45).
Summary: One of the best and most practical business books I have ever read. This is a book I would definitely take with me if I were stranded on an island somewhere and could only bring three books. Well written and witty, with amazing and uplifting stories to inspire and warm the heart. Gostick and Elton have done a wonderful job convincing me, “how one great team can transform an entire organization.” My highest recommendation!
According to the American Society for Training & Development, U.S. organizations spent about $171.5 billion on employee learning and development in 2010. But what good does it do a company if the very workers the organization spent money on to train will quit and take their newly acquired training with them?
I came across an article in the Wall Street Journal titled, “When Training Leads to Turnover” and found it interesting. However, it’s important to note that the title is a bit misleading since training (by itself) does not lead to turnover. Rather, it’s the idea that without an opportunity to advance/move up in a company, employees (even those who have received training) are more likely to leave compared to those who have opportunities to advance in the organization. As Silverman later clarified in the WSJ article, “employee turnover can increase after training if a company fails to also provide career development and opportunities to get ahead.”
Kraimer, Seibert, Wayne, Liden, and Bravo (2011) discovered that employees who’ve been trained by their company will leave if they do not see any chance to advance. On the other hand, workers who see a career opportunity within the organization will stick around. Thus, it would have been more fitting to label the WSJ article “When Lack of Career Advancement Leads to Turnover.” But then that wouldn’t be as eye-catching. In fact, the research study the WSJ cited is titled, “Antecedents and outcomes of organizational support for development: The critical role of career opportunities.” Note the last part of the title, “The critical role of career opportunities.”
Training does not occur in a vacuum and, by itself, is not enough to retain employees, if those employees do not see career opportunities in their future.
Researchers defined two important concepts: (a) organizational support for development (OSD) as “employees’ overall perceptions that the organization provides programs and opportunities that help employees develop their functional skills and managerial capabilities” (Kraimer et al., 2011, p. 486); (b) perceived career opportunity (PCO) as “employees’ belief that jobs or positions that match their career goals and interests exist within the organization” (Kraimer et al., 2011, p. 486).
Most notably, the researchers found that development support was associated with reduced voluntary turnover when perceived career opportunity was high, but it was associated with increased turnover when perceived career opportunity was low. In other words, even when organizations provide programs and opportunities to help employees develop their skills, if employees perceive that career advancement opportunity is low, they are more likely to leave.
Practical Implications: “Organizations should seek to manage employees’ perceptions of career opportunity if they wish to retain career-oriented employees. If organizational career paths do not lead to opportunities that match those desired by employees, they may choose to look for alternative jobs in the hopes that another organization will offer more desirable job paths. Given the high costs associated with staffing and turnover, expenditures for development support may be well justified, but only when employees perceive that there are career opportunities within the organization that match their career goals and interests. When many employees do not perceive desirable career opportunities, our results suggest that development support may simply provide them with the mobility capital to leave…” (Kraimer et al., 2011, p. 496).
American Society for Training & Development (ASTD). 2011 State of the Industry Report.
Kraimer, M. L., Seibert, S. E., Wayne, S. J., Liden, R. C., & Bravo, J. (2011). Antecedents and outcomes of organizational support for development: The critical role of career opportunities. Journal of Applied Psychology, 96(3), 485-500. doi:10.1037/a0021452
This video is from The Pew Charitable Trusts’ Economic Mobility Project which focuses public attention on the ability to move up or down the economic ladder within a lifetime or from one generation to the next.
The video shows the difference between two measurements of economic mobility. It’s important to note that there are two ways of measuring economic mobility: absolute and relative. As the video states, each offers an understanding of the health and status of the American Dream; however, neither measure should be taken in isolation for a complete picture of economic mobility in our country.
The example of being on the escalator (starting at the 1:58 mark to the 2:30 mark) is a great visual aid. As the Pew explains:
“For more than two centuries, economic opportunity and upward mobility have formed the foundation of the American Dream, and they remain at the core of our nation’s identity. As policy makers seek to foster equality of opportunity, it’s critical that their decisions be informed by a robust and nonpartisan fact base on economic mobility.”
In addition to this eye-catching video, one might also observe that economic mobility is linked to our salaries or compensations for the work we do. Interestingly,
“Many experts now believe that money is a much more important motivator than was previously believed, more because of its inherent or symbolic value than because of what it can buy. . . . One recent study found that people who are more highly paid have higher job performance because the higher paycheck makes them feel more valued in the organization (i.e., they have a more positive self-concept)” (McShane & Von Glinow, 2010, p. 167).
McShane, S. L., & Von Glinow, M. A. (2010). Organizational behavior: Emerging knowledge and practice for the real world (5th ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill/Irwin.
I was contacted by a career advice reporter with FINS.com, the jobs and career website of The Wall Street Journal, for my thoughts for an article about why workers struggle when they have to fire someone with whom they have a close personal relationship. While I’m glad to see my name mentioned, I feel that much of what I shared with her was left out of the article. Two things did manage to make the cut – cognitive dissonance and the mention of the Parker and McKinley (2008) article. However, without offering more details, I’m afraid that readers of that article might miss my message.
Here is what I emailed her:
We spend a great deal of time working alongside others at work. In fact, if you consider that the typical worker spends 8 hours a day at work, it means that many of us spend more face-time with our colleagues than with our own families.
A more specific explanation of why workers struggle when they have to fire someone with whom they have a close personal relationship is something called cognitive dissonance. It’s a state of tension, which we want to avoid, that occurs when we perceive an inconsistency between our beliefs, feelings, and behavior.
So, if we spend a great deal of time with someone and have developed a close relationship with that person, then it is understandable that having to turn around and fire that individual would create conflicts or tensions between what we are required to do (i.e. the act of firing someone) and our feelings (i.e., that person I must fire is a friend or someone I care about).
Parker and McKinley (2008) wrote about how employees who assist in the implementation of layoffs at their organization (i.e., they help the company lay off other employees) experience cognitive dissonance. They maintained that the longer you spend with the employee being terminated, the greater the odds of you experiencing cognitive dissonance when you need to let that employee go.
Parker and McKinley (2008) said in order to help reduce cognitive dissonance, the one terminating (the agent) might subscribe to an ideology of shareholder interest (the belief that shareholder value should be the main criterion for management decision-making). If the layoff agent is a strong believer in this ideology of shareholder interest, he or she would regard the increase of shareholder wealth as the first priority of management and thus back or defend actions that enhance shareholder wealth.
Basically, according to cognitive dissonance theory and the article by Parker and McKinley, the person who must fire a coworker can change the way he or she thinks about firing or letting someone go and rationalize that while the layoff or termination of a coworker might harm that individual employee, it would have positive consequences for the overall organization.
Parker, T., & McKinley, W. (2008). Layoff agency: A theoretical framework. Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies, 15(1), 46-58. doi:10.1177/1548051808318001
It’s probably safe to assume that most, if not all, of us have at one time or another, wondered whether our moods are influenced by the time of the day or the day of the week. Well, wonder no more.
According to Robbins and Judge (2009), people are more likely to be in their worst moods (i.e., highest negative affect and lowest positive affect) early in the week and in their best moods (i.e., highest positive affect and lowest negative affect) late in the week.
What about time of day? Does it make any difference if someone is a “morning” person versus another who might be an “evening” person? Robbins and Judge said that no matter what time we go to bed in the evening time or when we wake up in the morning, our levels of positive affect peak about midway between the time we wake up and the time we go to sleep.
Watson (2000), in his book “Mood and Temperament,” said this:
“Although different people reach their acrophase [peak time or time at which the peak of a rhythm occurs] at different times and show somewhat different curves over the course of the day, our analyses have demonstrated that this basic circadian rhythm—that is, low Positive Affect at the beginning and end of the day, with a peak occurring somewhere in the middle—is remarkably robust and generalizable across individuals” (p. 116).
What implication does this have in the workplace? Well, as many of us can already confirm, Monday morning is not a good time to deliver bad news. And in terms of time of the day, employees will tend to be more positive from about midmorning going forward and (certainly not surprising) later in the week.
Robbins, S. P., & Judge, T. A. (2009). Organizational behavior (13th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall.
Watson, D. (2000). Mood and temperament. New York: The Guilford Press.
Burnout is a prolonged response to chronic emotional and interpersonal stressors on the job, and is defined by the three dimensions of exhaustion (overwhelming exhaustion), cynicism (cynicism and detachment), and inefficacy (a sense of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment) (Maslach, Schaufeli, & Leiter, 2001; Maslach, Leiter, & Schaufeli, 2009).
More broadly, Maslach and Leiter (2005) said burnout includes losing three things:
Burnout is lost energy.
Burnout is lost enthusiasm.
Burnout is lost confidence.
We typically think of a “burnt-out” employee as someone who has been on the job for a long period of time. A worker who experiences burnout is someone who is exhausted emotionally. This individual exhibits low motivation and lack of energy for the job (Spector, 2008). However, there are, in fact, more than one type of burnout.
The Maslach Burnout Inventory (MBI), a scale measuring burnout, divides it into three components:
Emotional exhaustion is feeling tired and fatigued at work (it can result in absence from work).
Depersonalization is developing a callous/uncaring feeling, even hostility, toward others (either clients or colleagues).
Reduced personal accomplishment is feeling you (the employee) are not accomplishing anything worthwhile at work. This can lead to a lack of motivation and poor performance.
The Burnout Clinical Subtype Questionnaire (BCSQ-36), another scale, also divides burnout into three subtypes:
The “frenetic” type describes involved and ambitious subjects who sacrifice their health and personal lives for their jobs.
The “underchallenged” type describes indifferent and bored workers who fail to find personal development in their jobs.
The “worn-out” type describes neglectful subjects who feel they have little control over results and whose efforts go unacknowledged.
In a study of 409 employees at a university in Spain, Montero-Marín and colleagues (2011) discovered that those who work more than 40 hours a week faced the greatest risk for “frenetic” burnout. They found that administration and service personnel encountered the greatest risk of “underchallenged” burnout compared to teaching and research staff. Finally, the researchers found that employees with more than sixteen years of service in the organization faced the greatest risk of “worn-out” burnout versus those with less than four years of service.
Take-Away: The “frenetic” profile is associated with the number of hours per week dedicated to work. The “underchallenged” profile is related with the type of occupation and the “worn-out” profile is associated with the cumulative effect over time of the characteristics of an organization.
Suggestions: There are two, rather obvious, ways to reduce burnout. One is to take a vacation (Fritz & Sonnentag, 2006), even though a few weeks after returning to work, feelings of burnout often return. The second way to reduce burnout is to have supervisors offer emotional support to workers through positive feedback and discussions about the positive aspects of the job (Kahn, Schneider, Jenkins-Henkelman, & Moyle, 2006).
Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.
Leadership, Training, and Talent Consultant
Fritz, C., & Sonnentag, S. (2006). Recovery, well-being, and performance-related outcomes: The role of workload and vacation experiences. Journal of Applied Psychology, 91(4), 936–945. doi:10.1037/0021-9010.91.4.936
Kahn, J. H., Schneider, K. T., Jenkins-Henkelman, T. M., & Moyle, L. L. (2006). Emotional social support and job burnout among high-school teachers: Is it all due to dispositional affectivity? Journal of Organizational Behavior, 27, 793–807. doi:10.1002/job.397
Maslach, C., & Leiter, M. P. (2005). Banishing burnout: Six strategies for improving your relationship with work. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Maslach, C., Leiter, M. P., & Schaufeli, W. (2009). Measuring burnout. In S. Cartwright & C. L. Cooper (Eds.). The Oxford handbook of organizational well-being (pp. 86-108). Oxford: Oxford Univerrsity Press.
Maslach, C., Schaufeli, W. B., & Leiter, M. P. (2001). Job burnout. Annual Review of Psychology, 52, 397-422.
Montero-Marín, J., García-Campayo, J., Fajó-Pascual, M., Carrasco, J. M., Gascón, S., Gili, M., & Mayoral-Cleries, F. (2011). Sociodemographic and occupational risk factors associated with the development of different burnout types: The cross-sectional University of Zaragoza study. BMC Psychiatry, 11:49. doi:10.1186/1471-244X-11-49
Spector, P. E. (2008). Industrial and organizational psychology: Research and practice (5th ed.). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.
“Having an organizational culture that emphasizes ethical behavior can cut down on misbehavior of organizations. Research shows that whether an organization develops a culture that emphasizes doing the right thing even when it is costly comes down to whether leaders, starting with the CEO, consider the ethical consequences of their actions. Leaders with a moral compass set the tone when it comes to ethical dilemmas” (Truxillo, Bauer, & Erdogan, 2016, p. 385).
Robbins and Judge (2009) offer a nice list of what management can do to create a more ethical organizational culture. They suggest a combination of the following practices:
Be a role model and be visible. Your employees look to the behavior of top management as a model of what’s acceptable behavior in the workplace. When senior management is observed (by subordinates) to take the ethical high road, it sends a positive message for all employees.
Communicate ethical expectations. Ethical ambiguities can be reduced by creating and disseminating an organizational code of ethics. It should state the organization’s primary values and the ethical rules that employees are expected to follow. Remember, however, that a code of ethics is worthless if top management fails to model ethical behaviors.
Offer ethics training. Set up seminars, workshops, and similar ethical training programs. Use these training sessions to reinforce the organization’s standards of conduct, to clarify what practices are and are not permissible, and to address possible ethical dilemmas.
Visibly reward ethical acts and punish unethical ones. Performance appraisals of managers should include a point-by-point evaluation of how his or her decisions measure up against the organization’s code of ethics. Appraisals must include the means taken to achieve goals as well as the ends themselves. People who act ethically should be visibly rewarded for their behavior. Just as importantly, unethical acts should be punished.
Provide protective mechanisms. The organization needs to provide formal mechanisms so that employees can discuss ethical dilemmas and report unethical behavior without fear of reprimand. This might include creation of ethical counselors, ombudsmen, or ethical officers.
A good case study of an unethical organizational culture is the now defunct Enron. Sims and Brinkmann (2003) described Enron’s ethics as “the ultimate contradiction between words and deeds, between a deceiving glossy facade and a rotten structure behind” (p. 243). Enron executives created an organizational culture that valued profits (the bottom line) over ethical behavior and doing what’s right.
“A business perceived to lack integrity or to operate in an unethical, immoral, or irresponsible manner soon loses the support of customers, suppliers and the community at large*” (Tozer, 2012, p. 476).
*In addition to losing customers, suppliers and the community, I would also include losing the support of employees and managers.
Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.
Leadership & Talent Development Consultant
Robbins, S. P., & Judge, T. A. (2009). Organizational behavior (13th ed.). Pearson Education, Inc.
Sims, R. R., & Brinkmann, J. (2003). Enron ethics (or: Culture matters more than codes). Journal of Business Ethics, 45(3), 243-256.
Tozer, J. (2012). Leading through leaders: Driving strategy, execution and change. KoganPage.
Truxillo, D. M., Bauer, T. N., & Erdogan, B. (2016). Psychology and work: Perspectives on industrial and organizational psychology. Routledge.