Self-Fulfilling Prophesy

Someone sent me an e-mail the other night reminding me and all his other readers of the benefits of optimism over pessimism.   He’s right.  You tend to get what you expect to get.

So, as a manager, if you expect the worst from your people, the odds are that’s what you’ll get.  They will sense your dislike or distrust and react accordingly.  On the other hand,if you expect the best and get less than what you expect you might very well benevolently help that person learn how to do better.

When teachers pre-judge students, sometimes based on ethnicity, other times based on something another teacher has said, etc., they tend to either ignore that person in class, or interpret everything they do as “bad behavior.”  Thus expecting less, they focus on the negative and get less in return.  It becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy.

 Some years ago, Phil Zimbardo, a Professor of Psychology at Stanford University conducted a series of tests using graduate students.  He had the students “act crazy” so that they would be admitted to mental hospitals.  Once in, their instructions were to behave normally.  All behavior was interpreted by the staff of the hospitals as reflecting their mental pathology (“craziness”.)  For example, a student taking notes of his observations, had those behaviors noted in his chart as paranoid behaviors.

This experiment was successfully replicated many times.

So, what you believe will happen, usually does.

Of course if you are pessimistic you tend not to try – if optimistic you expect to succeed.  So wake up each morning looking at the new day as a new day of positive opportunities.

Other research indicates that physically attractive people are seen as more intelligent, interesting and positive than those who are less attractive.

Do we do this in the workplace?  Of course we do.  We respond much more positively to those to whom we have an attraction or an affinity.  They, we think are better than others.

Since perception is selective – and we listen for what we want to hear – and see what we want to see – we often miss out on seeing the best in those in whom we expect the worst.

My message, be more optimistic – see the glass as half full – and you might be pleasantly surprised in how much better people will perform for you.  Give them a chance, help them along the way and you all will benefit.


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