False beliefs

The Sally-Anne doll experiment

In Summary

•Employees often believe that hard work alone will be recognised and rewarded, so they don’t need to actively promote themselves

•Some leaders believe they can make false claims and be believed and might call a sacking a restructuring

I recently touched upon the fact that everyone suffers from Monday blues and suggested that the average employee might find Monday’s bluer than her leaders do. I felt that leaders and managers might want to consider this as they try to crank up the working week. One or two people wrote to ask me what the solution might be. It struck me that, if leaders practised empathy, they could come up with their own solutions.

But empathy is often misconstrued as sympathy and further misinterpreted - notably by Generation X managers - as an unprofessional weakness.

The Sally-Anne doll experiment, developed by Simon Baron-Cohen et al in 1985, serves as a good primer for understanding what empathy really is. This experiment involved a scenario with two dolls: Sally who has a basket and Anne who has a box. In front of an audience of young children, psychologists play-acted Sally putting a marble in her basket and then leaving the room. They then play-acted Anne taking the marble and placing it in her own box. When Sally returned, the children were asked where she would look for the marble. To answer correctly, they had to put themselves in Sally’s shoes. Sally wasn’t in the room when the marble moved so she would obviously look in her own basket.

The experiment tested whether children could understand false beliefs. It found that typically developing children over the age of 4-5 years are able to correctly identify that Sally has a false belief about the location of the marble. Psychologists call this The Theory of the Mind. But when we enter the workplace as adults something strange seems to happen. In certain circumstances we are unable to recognise false beliefs because we are no longer trying to put ourselves in others peoples’ shoes.

Employees often believe that hard work alone will be recognised and rewarded, so they don’t need to actively promote themselves. False: in organisations of any scale the meek will not inherit the earth.

Many managers believe that you have to be tough to manage. False: being tough inhibits your ability to communicate effectively. Employees who fear you are listening to your tone, not the content of your message.

Some leaders believe they can make false claims and be believed. They might call a sacking a restructuring. Imagine, in the 21st century!

Other leaders believe they need to know everything, leading to a reluctance to tap into the skills and expertise of the smart people around them. This hinders collaboration and innovation.

But empathy, one of the 16 skill sets of Emotional Intelligence, can help us to dispel false beliefs.

Chris Harrison leads The Brand Inside




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