Reading emotions

fear06 047bImagine that you are sitting down to holiday dinner at which a number of friends and family have gathered. The host, Micaela is young, a bit nervous, rushing about trying to please the guests. Timidly she offers a plate of brown patties, with a fine grain in plate of broth. When asked “What is it?” she responds smiling, “Pate foie gras… goose liver paste.” Sandy, sitting across the table momentarily curls up the side of her mouth in an sign of contempt.

Thoughts go rushing through your head. Did Micaela not see Sandy’s expression? Is she insulted by that look of disgust? Perhaps you should comment about what delicacy pate foie gras is to show your empathy for Micaela. But then, maybe Sandy finds force feeding geese a type of animal cruelty, and the expression of disgust was an automatic gut response. Perhaps you should encourage Sandy to speak up by reminding your host that some people may have ethical reasons not to eat this dish.

Part of emotional intelligence is the ability to read others emotions. However, most instruction in emotional intelligence does not tell you what to do with the skill of quickly detecting emotions. Basically it informs you that emotional intelligence will be a benefit if you learn it. So, now you have honed your skill to the point of recognizing a momentary micro-expression. But empathizing with a person requires a demonstration that you are taking their side.  Do you choose based on which person can benefit you the most?

This same interaction that occurred at the dinner table is repeated ad infinitum around the conference table in businesses. Emotional intelligence can be welded as a weapon to point out rivals’ doubt that they thought they were concealing. It can be used to find the secret to persuading others to join your camp, when there aren’t enough facts to support your ideas. Research on emotion recognition has shown that people who are skilled in reading feelings have often gained that ability to serve themselves, rather than others.

University of Michigan research has found that people who exhibit the personality trait, exploitativeness, (part of the scale to measure narcissism) are as good at reading expressions or emotion as empathetic people are. Two studies, one with 100 college students and another with 88 adults both resulted in this same conclusion. The major difference between subjects that scored higher in dispositional empathy and those that had narcissistic tendencies of a similar magnitude, is that the exploitative people could recognize negative emotions better. Researcher Sara Konath theorizes that this enables them to detect vulnerability in others. [1]

However, you may be aware that people tend not to hide “positive” affects like happiness, or contentment as much as they do anger, fear, disgust, etc. So in the practical everyday realm the narcissists are better at reading hidden emotions. Back to the dinner table… have you decided to empathize with the nervous host or disgusted guest? Perhaps considering the kind of person who can read negative emotions the best, you should just be quiet and not say anything at all.

[1] Konrath, S., Corneille, O., Bushman, B.J., and Luminet, O. The Relationship Between Narcissistic Exploitativeness, Dispositional Empathy, and Emotion Recognition Abilities Journal of Nonverbal Behavior, March 2014, Volume 38, Issue 1, pp 129-143
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When Emotional Intelligence is a liability

breaking game (3).jpgOne of the four major branches of emotional intelligence (according to John D. Mayer and Peter Salovey) is the ability to reflectively regulate or manage emotions. This applies to managing your own emotions rather than those of other people. According to research by this team, people who understand their own emotions and “are confident about their abilities to regulate their affect, seem to be able to repair their moods more quickly and effectively following failure.” [1]

There are two things about this finding that piqued by interest. As regulating one’s own emotions and repairing one’s own mood are basically the same ability. These two skills should definitely be found in the same people. However, they only “seem” to do this. The person who manages their own emotions may only appear to be minimizing disappointment, frustration and anger. They may be just as disturbed as the person who frets, sulks and rants after their plans bite the dust. However, the first group is definitely more pleasant to be around.

People who are able to mold their own emotions to create favorable impressions of themselves must work at this. You do not remain calm and collected when others panic if you don’t’ put effort into learning how to do this. At least most people don’t. But just maybe you are one of those people who can because you never exhibit much emotion. Maybe you’ve been told to be more open and expressive, because people cannot read you. Of course if a person is really able to manipulate their own affect, others are not really reading them either.

However, there is an advantage to emotional intelligence that is rated fair to middling. Controlling expressiveness come at a price, and one of the costs seems to be less expertise in skills that require logic. Psychologists Dana Joseph (University of Central Florida) and Daniel Newman (University of Illinois) analyzed every study they could find on the connection between job performance and emotional intelligence. Interestingly. certain types of jobs are performed better by people who don’t read others emotions and regulate their own. In these positions, such as mechanic, scientist or accountant, people with higher emotional intelligence typically exhibited poorer performance.[2]

While it is a good idea to learn how to control exhibits of anger and disgust. It is not necessarily a bad thing to show a lack of enthusiasm or empathy. In learning the emotional expressiveness that enables you to persuade others, you may be sacrificing just as important skills that are part of very necessary professions.

[1] Salovey, Mayer, Goldman, Turvey, & Palfai, 1993 (…Mood%20Meas%20and%20Mood%20Cong/CA1995SaloveyMayer.pdf)



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Pinning down emotional intelligence

Picture 057If you do any research on testing for Emotional Intelligence, you are likely to run into a couple of names repeatedly. One is Howard Gardner who came up with the idea that there are several types or modalities of intelligence. Two of these, interpersonal and intrapersonal, have to do with comprehending feelings, moods and motivations.  Interpersonal is the detection of these in others, and intrapersonal is ability to perceive and understand these inside of oneself. Gardner does not illuminate how people gain these two types of intelligences. His idea is to test yourself to uncover the areas of your intelligence, as an alternate to being tested for IQ. This will help you choose a direction to develop yourself through education, and also to select a career that suits you. As these tests are mainly for individual use, and not used by schools to place students or companies to determine who gets the promotion, there has been no real attempt to validate them.[1]

Another pair of names you will hear is John D. Mayer and Peter Salovey.  They define emotionally intelligent people as those “who regulate their emotions according to a logically consistent model.”[2]  This is an interesting twist. Many of us look at emotions and logic as being diametrically opposed. However, an emotional view of emotional intelligence makes it impossible to pin down.

When people say things such as “it is not how much you know but how passionate you are,” they are often pitting logical thinking against the ability to appeal to emotions. The preference for an enthusiastic person as opposed to a thoroughly competent person is based on the idea that a person can always be taught the necessary content. But pleasingly enthusiastic person in one culture may be overly dramatic in another. And lacking the competence to perform the task makes the over the top personality even more irritating.

Mayer, Salovey and Caruso have worked on creating tests for Emotional Intelligence based on their definition. However, the ability to regulate emotions in logical manner is not the only ability tested.  In fact, the actual constructs of the test have been changing. The first version of the Emotional Intelligence test measured emotional creativity, social intelligence and ability to perceive non-verbal cues. However, the more recent Mayer-Salovey-Caruso Emotional Intelligence Test (MSCEIT) has shifted to a more intellectual measurement of emotions. It measures perception of emotion; emotional facilitation of thinking; Understanding/analyzing emotions; and reflective regulations of emotions.[3]

These “emotional” skills are assessed through answering multiple choice scenario questions that are validated by the choice that academics in the field of emotional intelligence would choose. But the answer selection is still extremely subjective. The best answer for people living in the United States that are upper middle class with college education would likely match the choice of the experts. But it may not be the best answer for other classes of people in the United States, or even wealthy and educated people living in Mexico. The best answers need to be validated for the each group being tested.

Emotional intelligence is hard to pin down, even when you look at it logically.

[1] Gardner, Howard (1999), Intelligence Reframed: Multiple Intelligences for the 21st Century, Basic Books, ISBN 978-0-465-02611-1
[2] Mayer, J. D., & Salovey, P., Caruso, D. R. (2004). Emotional intelligence and the construction and regulation of feelings . Applied & Preventive Psychology 4:197-208 (1995)
[3] Pérez , J.C. , Petrides, K.V. & Furnham, A. Measuring Trait Emotional Intelligence. Chapter 9
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How to be less confident

Joos_de_Momper_IcarusSearch on Google for information on how to be less confident, and over 90% of the hits will actually be explaining ways to increase your confidence. This does have its perks. According to research from Washington University overconfident managers are more likely to get promoted. Then, they are also more like to make investment decisions that hurt their companies.[1]

Interestingly, research from the business psychology department at the University College London found that males often compensate for lack of competence by showing more confident behavior.[2] Eventually people are going to catch on to this trend. For those of you that already see the handwriting on the wall, you should study how to become less confident.

The ancient Greeks called overconfidence hubris. Hubris had a connotation of harm to it that is not found in current ideas about overconfidence, which we tend to view  as a type of naiveté. But according to laws in ancient Athens, the intent of hubris was to humiliate another to exalt oneself. Hubris was not cured, it was punished. The Greeks had caught onto the idea that overconfidence is harmful. Understanding this is the first step in diminishing it.

Avoid the temptation to blame failure on circumstances, and then turn and around chalk up success to your own ability. Actually realizing the limited amount of control you do have over your environs should put a huge dent in your overconfidence. If you succeed, is not any more likely a result of your own ability than if you fail.

You can begin to determine your actual impact if you are as willing to listen to criticism as you are to praise. Even if you feel the comments are unkind, you may be able to learn something from them. Research from John Hopkins University indicates that for creative people innovative ideas are often spurred on by criticism from others.[3]

Honestly question yourself and be willing to listen to others who do the same. This is not being negative but rather avoiding the “confirm bias.” Confirm bias is another way of saying that people are will listen to facts that back up what they currently believe and ignore facts that are counter indications.[4] Both should be given equal weight.

Finally, let go of the illusion that the perception of success is more important than actually performing well. Perceptions are based on what others say about you. However, this may not reflect what they actually think. I recall a colleague who always responded to the manager’s requests with an assurance of what excellent work he could expect. But it became evident after a while that actually getting these request done in an excellent manner was not a priority. The colleague actually admitted to me that his enthusiasm was just play acting. But I didn’t have to tell the manager this, he already knew it. Beware, when people know you are faking it, they have less compunction about treating you poorly.

When any leader climbs beyond their ability on claims that they cannot fulfill, people are not as likely to give them a second chance. People become increasingly disgruntled because they feel their trust has been violated. Just as praise was higher for the confident leader, the fall is father. And hitting the ground hurts.

Artwork: Detail from Icarus by Joos de Momper
[1] Goel AM, Thakor AV. Overconfidence, CEO selection, and corporate governance. J Finance. 2008; 63: 2737–2784. doi: 10.1111/j.1540-6261.2008.01412.x
[2] Chamorro-Premuzic, T. “Confidence: Overcoming Low Self-Esteem, Insecurity, and Doubt,”
[3] Johns Hopkins University news release, August 21, 2012, Don’t Get Mad, Get Creative: Social Rejection Can Fuel Imagination, JHU Carey Researcher Finds
[4] Russo, JE. Schoemaker, PJH. and Russo, EJ.  Decision traps: Ten barriers to brilliant decision-making and how to overcome them, 1990


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Incompetents multiplying like rabbits

Conejos_en_una_conejeraHave you been a the position in which someone who was purported to be knowledgeable, or even an expert in an area at work gave you instructions that were impossible to follow once you got into the details… huge chunks of the process were missing or instructions, replete with jargon, were garbled with no real information. However, this person didn’t do it just once or twice, but so frequently you began to wonder if they were out to destroy your reputation at work, or just plain stupid. According to recent research on overconfidence there is a good chance that were probably not as knowledgeable in the field as you, but didn’t even know it.

Two recent studies have shown that overconfident people have deceived themselves into thinking that they know more than they do. Unfortunately other people believe this, too, which only reinforces this delusion.

One study conducted within the tutorial system implemented at some universities in Britain asked students to predict the grades of other students in the first week, when they newly acquainted, and six weeks later. Those students who overestimated their own grades, were predicted to get higher grades by their peers after the meeting in the first week. Those students who predicted lower grades than they actually earned, were ranked lower by their peers. Surprisingly after six weeks when the students had a chance to know each other better, the perceptions had not changed significantly. The others thought that the overconfident students were still getting better grades than they actually were.

In addition this study measured the susceptibility to being deceived. This was based on the difference between the actual grades of others, and the prediction of grades that each person made. The results showed that the overconfident students did not do as well in perceiving the actual ability of other students.  In other words, self-deceiving people are more easily deceived by others.[1]

A soon to be published study from Haas School of Business, University of California Berkeley, has found  one of the benefits of being overconfident that causes people to keep promoting their non-existent abilities. Study co-author Cameron Anderson said:

“Our studies found that overconfidence helped people attain social status. People who believed they were better than others, even when they weren’t, were given a higher place in the social ladder.”[2]

One of the tests measuring over confidence asked MBA students to see how many famous people, places and events that they recognized. Fake names were included with real ones, and sure enough those rated higher by their peers than their actual performance warranted claimed to recognize more fake names.

Then, researchers observed the mannerisms of these overconfident individuals as the MBA students worked in groups. They were calm and relaxed, spoke clearly, spoke convincingly and spoke a lot. They offered more information than the others. But this information wasn’t anything new to the people that they offered it to. The others did not catch on that these people did not actually know more. “In fact, overconfident individuals were more convincing in their displays of ability than individuals who were actually highly competent.” [3]

Now translate these a business environment. There are several employees who have great confidence in their ability, much greater than their actual ability. However if managers do not uncover this and judge ability based on confidence there is a great chance of less competent people being promoted. Say for the sake of argument only a quarter of them get promoted, these self-deceived individuals will then overwhelmingly select those people who are also over confident and under competent, because they are also easily deceived. Incompetence simply multiplies.

And we wonder why today’s business environment seems so unstable.


photo – By Camilo Gonzalez – Own work, GFDL,
[1] Lamba S, Nityananda V (2014) Self-Deceived Individuals Are Better at Deceiving Others. PLoS ONE 9(8): e104562. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0104562



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What does being agreeable have to do with over-confidence?

Chicago phantom 2013 023Did you ever wonder how researchers determine levels of confidence? Typically this research is perform using a population of college students volunteer to take part in psychological tests (sometimes a requirement for a psychology course). To measure confidence, students take a general knowledge test and estimate how well they did. Most of the students are not very accurate at guessing their performance on the tests. Typically 40-50% typically are over confident, and 30 to 40 % are under confident, and the small remaining percentage accurately estimate how well they have answered the questions.

Of course the whole purpose of the test is not to find out how many over confident students exist, but to find the correlation between over or under confidence and some other trait. Sometimes population are chosen based on this other trait, such as research involving men and women with similar grades in same major. These studies have revealed that men on the average are overconfident; while women on the average are underconfident. [1]

Often research includes additional personality assessments tests to determine personality traits that lead to overconfidence. Assessments based on the five factor model (commonly called the “Big Five”) are used with great frequency. These five factors are: openness to experience, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism. The acronym OCEAN is used to make them easy to remember. For many years the first four traits in this list were considered positive, and neuroticism was considered negative. Although most psychologists now concede that neither extraversion nor introversion are positive or negative; they are simply different.

According to research combining the test of confidence and a five factor analysis, high scores in extraversion significantly predicted overconfidence. Of course, that doesn’t mean that all extroverts are overconfident and introverts are underconfident, but there is a greater chance of these traits appearing together, although not a large one.[2] There is also a mild correlation between agreeableness and overconfidence. The people who rank higher in both extraversion and agreeableness showed the most significant correlation to being over confident compared to others. [3]

What you must realize first is that the five factor analysis is almost always a self-reported test.[4] It is not surprising to see extraversion correlated with over-confidence. Extraverts tend to measure themselves higher in confidence; while on the test of general knowledge, they were lower in accurately predicting how well they did. [5]  However it is interesting to note that their inaccuracy tended to be biased to make them look better rather than make them look worse.

Have you wondered what does agreeableness have to do with being overconfident? It would seem odd that students that characterize themselves as being friendly, cooperative, good-natured, sociable and nurturing would also inflate reports of their abilities. Agreeableness is seen as a positive characteristics. Perhaps people who want to appear better to others grade themselves higher in the area of agreeableness, even if they aren’t as agreeable as the students sitting next to them. Those extraverts who tended to lack accuracy in predicting how well they did, may also lack accuracy in defining their own agreeableness. In both cases motivation is to appear better than they actually are. Perhaps they even believed their own inaccurate report of themselves. It is easy to do when the rest of us take these self-reported qualities at face value without examining them.[6]

[2] Peter S. Schaefer, Cristina C. Williams, Adam S. Goodie, W.Keith Campbell. Overconfidence and the Big Five, Journal of Research in Personality, Volume 38, Issue 5, October 2004, Pages 473–480
[3] Brittany Trubenstein, and Crystal Kreitler, PhD. Overconfidence and Personality Traits,
[4] Goldberg, L.R.; Johnson, JA; Eber, HW; et al. (2006). “The international personality item pool and the future of public-domain personality measures”. Journal of Research in Personality 40 (1): 84–96. doi:10.1016/j.jrp.2005.08.007.
[5] Peter S. Schaefer, Cristina C. Williams, Adam S. Goodie, W.Keith Campbell. Overconfidence and the Big Five, Journal of Research in Personality, Volume 38, Issue 5, October 2004, Pages 473–480
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Realistic lack of confidence

Shyness_Of_angel copyMany researchers have duplicated the finding that women are more likely to show less confidence than men. Women are told if they want to make their mark in business, in politics, or any field they need to believe in themselves and show confidence like men do.[1] But that may not be best tactic to pursue.

Research showing disparity of confidence based on gender is often structured in a similar manner. Men and women of similar background or education level are given a task (often an assessment), followed by an inquiry of how well they thought they did. Women typically underestimated their performance. But the average male does not correctly estimated this, either. The majority of men are over confident, assuming that they performed better than they actually did. In research based on performance on set of math problems, Ernesto Reuben, a professor at Columbia Business School, found men consistently rated work about 30 percent better than their real scores.[2]

This trend also occurs in the daily life and the workplace in areas of math, technology, business and finance. Overconfidence doesn’t consistently lead men to success. Take the example of two studies. Barber and Odean (2001) found overconfident investors trade more often. The average turnover rate of common stocks for men higher than for women, nearly one and a half times as much. Because of this men reduce profits unnecessarily.[3] University College London research observing the results of male and female hedge-fund managers showing that investments run by less confident, more conservative female managers outperform those run by male managers.[4]

So why do men continue to show overconfidence in face of decreasing results? Psychologists David Dunning, (Cornell) and Joyce Ehrlinger, (Washington State University) noted that when failure occurred men who over estimated their ability were more likely to claim that events outside of their control, while women were more likely to blame themselves.[5] The ironic finding in Ernesto Reuben’s research is that the men who over-rated their ability seem to have honestly convinced themselves that they were better at math than they actually were. Women tend to deviate from the truth to make themselves more likable through flattery, promote themselves through discrediting others covertly, rather than by embellishing their own accomplishments.[6]

Other research has found that more people have high regard for men with unrealistic confidence, despite the cost of this trait.[7] The logical conclusion would be men are rewarded for making unwarranted claims concerning their ability, otherwise they would not keep doing it. Ironically, women are criticized for being “overconfident” and as a result underplay their abilities. The reason for lack of women’s at the top of fields may not be lack of confidence; it may be because as women they simply do not receive the same advantages as men do. According to a recent article in Bloomsberg: “In other words, the “lack of confidence” women display may just be a cold realism, not an inherent character trait.”[8]

Photo by Sureshbmani – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,
[3] Barber B, Odean T. Boys will be boys: Gender, overconfidence, and common stock investment. Quart J Econ. 2001; 116: 261–292.
[5] Dunning D, Johnson K, Ehrlinger J, Kruger J. Why people fail to recognize their own incompetence. Curr Dir Psychol Sci 2003; 12: 83–7
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The tipping point of overconfidence

snobOne of the traits of leaders that make people want to follow them is that they exude confidence. They seem sure of themselves as if they know their way around and have a plan for where they are going. One of the traits that people dislike about their bosses is that they seem too sure of themselves. According to 2014 Gallup poll, about 50% of employees are disengaged or really don’t care for their jobs, and about 18% actually hate their work.[1] The most frequently cited complaint is a narcissistic boss.

Do we applaud the person who speaks boldly in front of a large group, or while being interviewed, and then turn around and complain about someone who speaks with the same boldness that works next to us? Many of us do. Why is confidence appealing in a person seen from the distance, while the same trait is an irritation in a person that we know well?

Most of us have a set of criteria for who has a right to be confident and who does not. Some of this is based on the person’s competence (actually being able to do what they say they can do). Competence can really only be judged in someone that we observe on a regular basis, and even then our perception may not be accurate. So we fall back on evaluating the right to be confident based on other superficial traits that don’t require effort to detect.

It is curious that researches attempting to deal with overconfidence through providing warnings prior to a difficult task or immediate feedback find that overconfidence is a hard habit to break.[2] One of the things that leads to confidence is receiving positive feedback. The logical conclusion would be that the groups of people who are overconfident, gain something from being so. The majority of society that they come in contact with, finds their traits or physical characteristics to be linked with their conception of competence. Even those most people have no clue about the other person’s real level of competence are willing to reward them for showing unwarranted confidence.

So who shows up as over confident in research studies? Researchers find the following groups tend to lack well-calibrated judgments? People who are males[3] [4], extroverts[5], in an optimistic mood[6] or are good self-deception[7]. It looks like more than half of humanity has more confidence in their decision making than the accuracy of their decisions actually indicates. What do we find so attractive about overconfidence that we admire it, until we actually have to live with it?

[2] Pulford, B. D., & Colman, A. M. (1997). Overconfidence: Feedback and item difficulty effects. Personality and Individual Differences, 23, 125-133
[3] Pulford, B. D., & Colman, A. M. (1997). Overconfidence: Feedback and item difficulty effects. Personality and Individual Differences, 23, 125-133
[4] Barber B, Odean T. Boys will be boys: Gender, overconfidence, and common stock investment. Quart J Econ. 2001; 116: 261–292. doi: 10.1162/003355301556400
[5] Schaefer P, Williams C, Goodie A, Campbell WK. Overconfidence and the Big Five. J Res Person. 2004; 38: 473–480. doi: 10.1016/j.jrp.2003.09.010
[6] Koellinger P, Treffers T (2015) Joy Leads to Overconfidence, and a Simple Countermeasure. PLoS ONE 10(12): e0143263. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0143263
[7] Lamba S, Nityananda V (2014) Self-Deceived Individuals Are Better at Deceiving Others. PLoS ONE 9(8): e104562. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0104562
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Who is being transformed?

Van_Gogh_-_Weber_am_Webstuhl_-_(Profil_nach_rechts)3Transformational leadership is a theory based on leaders with a set of skills that inspire followers (typically employees) to value their contribution and therefore work harder. It seems like the perfect answer to increasingly competitive nature of business in a global community. But does it work out as well as it seems to in theory?

The characteristics of a transformational leader is a wish list with a heavy emphasis on those traits which resemble a charismatic leader:

  • Expresses optimism and enthusiasm about the future
  • Exhibits attributes that make others proud to associated with them
  • Creates a shared vision or sense of mission
  • Able to explain the importance of that vision
  • Communicates a sense of ethics or values

In additional there are some traits to round out this emotionally expressive, inspirational person. Some of them are characteristics of people who are harder to get along with because they tend not to hide their egotism:

  • Finds solutions to problems
  • Uncovers new ways to complete tasks

The final and perhaps the most difficult characteristic for an influential person is:

  • Mentors and develops followers. [1]

This is not using their influence to help a person move up the corporate ladder. According to the transformational leadership theory, this kind of leader will result in employees who are more engaged. In other words willing to put time, effort and innovative thinking into their daily work simply for the sake of doing it. No extra remuneration or reward is involved. The leader is supposed to be spending personal time helping to develop the employee, simply for the sake of doing, no reward on the leader’s part either.

So the end result would be employees who produces more while making the same amount of money. Does that seem lopsided to anyone else?

Well actually it does. Some leadership theorists see a risk of burn out in the emotionally intense atmosphere in which employees are inspired to increasingly perform better.[2] Other argue that theories emphasizing the role of increased motivation and performance is benefits towards stake holders, owners and top management while the cost is born by most of the other employees.[3]

So what are the downsides to the prospect of employing charismatic leadership within a company? Inspirational leaders are good at encouragement and painting a vision of the big picture, but not as good as plugging through the details to determine how they fit together. Once employees become disenchanted with a leader or feel their effort is being ignored, they have no loyalty to the company which does not providing extra benefits for their increased engagement. Either the company will lose talented employees or they will become content to coast by. This is much the same as the disengagement that companies are noting now.

Art work by Vincent van Gogh – repro from art book, Public Domain,
[1] Vinkenburg, C.J., van Engen, M. L., Eagly, A. H., Johannesen-Schmidt M. C. (2011) An exploration of stereotypical beliefs about leadership styles: Is transformational leadership a route to women’s promotion? The Leadership Quarterly, Volume 22, Issue 1, Pages 10–21
[2] Harrison, R. (1987). Harnessing personal energy: How companies can inspire employees. Organizational Dynamics, 16(1), 4–21.
[3] Stephens, C.U., S. D’Intino, B. Victor (1995). The moral quandary of transformational leadership. Change for whom? Research in Organizational Change and Development, 8, 123–143
Posted in Emotional intelligence, Leadership, Manipulation, optimism | Leave a comment

Charisma and confrontation

Face_Off copyPeople of high charisma are not immune to personal attacks. When there is severe criticism or antagonism leveled at them, they may call on their skill to change the desires of their followers to match their own. Often the critical or antagonistic person is dealt with by the followers not the leader.

The charismatic person probably fears being rejected by others more than any other type of personality. They often rely on those followers who are not as “inspirational” and therefore willing to deal with voices of dissent. Typically that means aggression action towards them rather than appeasement. I recall meeting a congenial politician during the 1980 presidential elections whose front man was easily angered if every preparation was not made perfectly. His aggressive nature allowed the candidate to have the expected friendly and relaxed attitude towards the crowd.

There are basically four ways that a person can deal with a confrontation. One is to try to win the confrontational person over with an emotional appeal and enthusiasm. That may work for the person that feels neutral towards you. But if he already has a heated disagreement with you, more of the same will not work.

The other three methods are aggression, compliance and detachment. Aggression or attack is similar to dealing with your opponent as they have dealt with you. Only typically people increase the amount of aggression through ridicule or criticism. These critical sentiments are more effective if spread by multiple sources. Politicians make good use of the media to do this for them prior to an election.

The next way is to comply with or appease the critic, usually by offering a compromise.  The idea is to try to give them enough of what they want that they will be satisfied. If the other person has a legitimate complaint and the compromise is sincere, this will work. However, leaders often send negotiators to work out the compromise for them so they do not appear to lose face.

The final way is to detach from or avoid the person confronting you.  While this does not work on the national level, it is often effective on the smaller level of an organization. The confronter must escalate to bring attention to his complaint and risks looking overly aggressive if this is done. While we flock to the TV to see newscasters and politicians angrily denouncing others, most people really do not want to watch confrontation in their daily life.

Leaders with strong influence over the others collect loyal followers around them. They well aware of the power of the crowd, but often not aware of the danger of isolating themselves in such a manner. If you look at the history of leaders that appear charismatic you will see a higher number of assassination attempts (some successful) compared to other types of leaders. This may be due to jealously over popularity but often it is because the highly disgruntled assassin feels the sacrifice the leader is calling the people to make is too great. The leaders is on a pedestal above his or her followers, but when others feel that the leader has become unreachable, the consequences are not good.

Horney,K. Our Inner Conflicts, Norton, 1945.
Marston, W.M.(1999; originally published 1928) Emotions of Normal People. Taylor & Francis Ltd.


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