Your bosses are not as dumb as they would want you to believe

  • IANS, New York
  • Updated: Mar 17, 2016 17:00 IST
Both supervisors and subordinates present themselves in diverging ways either by trying to break down stereotypes or by mirroring the expected behaviour of the other person, finds a research. (Shutterstock)

Are you one of those who struggle to appear more intelligent to impress your boss? Or do you often feel that your superiors at work play down their competence to appear warmer to you? Well, as it turns out, you are not the only one.

According to interesting research, people at the workplace may adjust their behaviour to break stereotypes about themselves or match the stereotypes of others — even if it means playing dumb or giving the cold shoulder.

The team from Princeton University showed four experiments with approximately 150 to 200 participants in each.

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They found that both supervisors and subordinates chose to present themselves in diverging ways either by trying to break down these stereotypes or by mirroring or ‘matching’ the expected behaviour of the other person.

Past studies have shown that managers are typically seen as competent and cold while lower status employees may be seen as warm but not entirely competent.

“In doing this, people might actually talk past each other, making people have more of an awkward misunderstanding,” said Jillian Swencionis, lead author from Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.

“Our findings illustrate just how invasive perceived inequality and social hierarchies really are, impacting both interpersonal relationships and workplace encounters,” the author added.

According to a new study, supervisors trade off warmth and competence and subordinates know this. (Shutterstock)

The stereotypes people hold about others may not necessarily be true so when they’re trying to ‘match’ the other person, they’re matching what they think the other person is like.

“These kinds of diverging impression management strategies may be one reason for misunderstandings or otherwise awkward situations people have in these interactions,” Swencionis noted in a paper published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.

To reach this conclusion, researchers used Amazon’s Mechanical Turk (artificial intelligence project), recruiting 202 participants.

The studies show this clear pattern in which people are uncomfortable with status divides because of how they are stereotyped or perceived. As a result, they present themselves in diverging ways.

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“The bigger picture is that supervisors trade off warmth and competence and subordinates know this. Someone seen as highly competent will seem colder, and someone seen as really warm will seem dumber, regardless of the fact that these dimensions don’t really operate in opposition,” explained Susan Fiske, study co-author from Princeton University.

Human resource managers, job applicants, reference-letter writers, organisational managers and candidate image handlers all need to know this, the authors noted.

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