Archive for category Management

Values and Behaviours Framework – South Australian Public Sector

The first in an occasional series showcasing Values statements of various organisations. To kick matters off, the Values and Behaviours Framework of the South Australian Public Sector. They have a rather nice page here:, which I have reproduced below (without permission, but I am sure they won’t mind). The PDF is attached … –> 20150710-SA-Public-Sector-Values-and-Behaviours-Framework

One of the concepts I like most about this framework is that they explicitly state what the practices should be, what “proper” behaviour looks like, and what shouldn’t be done (the “taboos”). I very much like the amount of thought that has gone into this worthwhile cultural document.

So, here it is:

Public Sector Values and Behaviours Framework

The public sector values have been developed to make it easier for us to work together by forming a culture and a vision that we all share.

This framework provides brief examples of the types of organisational practices and personal behaviours that will support the public sector values in your workplace. It also provides some examples of taboos (what you don’t want to see at work).

Organisational leaders need to structure and arrange processes in such a way that the behaviours are supported. Only when organisational practices and personal behaviours are aligned can the values be brought to life.

The examples provided here may provide you with a starting point for a discussion on what types of behaviours you would like to see in your workplace. This is not an exhaustive table. You should expand the conversation among your colleagues to make sure that the behaviours you identify are those most suited to your workplace and your customers, stakeholders, and partners.


We proudly serve the community and Government of South Australia

Organisational practices:

  • Prioritise the diverse needs of the community in the design and delivery of services.
  • Uphold the rights of each individual to access services as easily as possible.
  • Establish service standards that apply to all customers.
  • Collaborate with business and community partners to improve service delivery and respond to complaints.

Successful personal behaviours:

  • Serve people courteously, fairly, and effectively.
  • Know who your customers are, understand their needs, and take their views into account.
  • Recognise and value internal and external customers equally.
  • Go the extra mile in order to deliver the best outcomes.


  • Don’t disrespect, ignore, or devalue others, particularly those you serve.
  • Don’t use a process or procedure as an excuse for stalling or handballing an issue.
  • Don’t provide lower standards of service to customers who are employed in the public sector.
  • Don’t refuse to listen to, or act upon, complaints about poor service.


We strive for excellence

Organisational practices:

  • Promote best practice in leadership and management, and prioritise employee performance management.
  • Build impartial relationships with the Government of the day.
  • Encourage pride in the profession of public service.
  • Foster a culture that drives innovation, improves productivity, and recognises and rewards excellent outcomes.

Successful personal behaviours:

  • Exhibit the highest standards of professional behaviour, including working conscientiously and competently in a polite and helpful manner.
  • Provide honest and objective advice and carefully implement direction without undue delay.
  • Pursue individual growth and professional learning to develop strengths and improve weaknesses.
  • Strive to create new and better ways of doing things.


  • Don’t accept underperformance, or tolerate, and thereby promote, bad attitudes.
  • Don’t act in a way that is contrary to the priorities and decisions of the Government of the day.
  • Don’t act in a way that brings the reputation of the sector into disrepute.
  • Don’t accept ineffective practices when outcomes could clearly be improved.


We have confidence in the ability of others

Organisational practices:

  • Establish strong partnerships between organisations.
  • Create organisational structures that give employees the greatest possible freedom and autonomy.
  • Establish collaborative work practices through strategically and culturally aligned work places.
  • Build a systematic approach to establishing and enhancing the community’s trust.

Successful personal behaviours:

  • Encourage people from other teams and organisations to work with you to achieve the best possible outcomes.
  • Embrace responsibility and deliver on commitments to colleagues and leaders.
  • Rely on colleagues to collaborate in pursuit of common goals and objectives.
  • Follow through on obligations to individuals and the community, and keep them informed of progress.


  • Don’t allow structural and cultural barriers to hinder success.
  • Don’t tolerate a difference between what is said and what is done among colleagues or leaders.
  • Don’t refuse to recognise that others may be able to do the job as well as you.
  • Don’t allow administrative priorities to interfere with your responsibilities and commitments to the community.


We value every individual

Organisational practices:

  • Applying empathetic people management skills to bring out the best in employees and prioritise their wellbeing.
  • Implement programs that reward and recognise excellent outcomes.
  • Educate employees about diversity’s role in strengthening our workplaces and communities.
  • Promote respect for the impact of decisions on the lives of employees and the community.

Successful personal behaviours:

  • Identify and understand the situation, feelings, and motives of your associates.
  • Acknowledge the contributions of your peers.
  • Appreciate openly that people have different backgrounds, circumstances, needs, and capabilities.
  • Listen considerately to colleagues, customers, clients, stakeholders, and partners.


  • Don’t take a “one size fits all” approach to working with people.
  • Don’t neglect to recognise the work of others.
  • Don’t discriminate.
  • Don’t give greater weighting to your own opinions over others’ without clear justification.


Collaboration & Engagement
We create solutions together

Organisational practices:

  • Build systems and processes that strengthen partnerships with all sectors of the community.
  • Facilitate closer relationships within and across public sector organisations, including other service providers.
  • Create systems that enable open feedback and transparent decision making.
  • Encourage open dialogue to understand the diverse needs of the community.

Successful personal behaviours:

  • Engage genuinely with stakeholders and the community and work with them to improve outcomes.
  • Build professional relationships with peers in other teams and organisations.
  • Involve people in decisions that affect them.
  • Ask questions to jointly define problems and identify solutions.


  • Don’t act on untested assumptions about colleagues, customers, clients, stakeholders, and partners.
  • Don’t make decisions or take actions without engaging those most affected.
  • Don’t ignore potential biases in decision making.
  • Don’t avoid diversity of views and opinions or treat them as an obstacle to decision making.


Honesty & Integrity
We act truthfully, consistently, and fairly

Organisational practices:

  • Implement and uphold the Code of Ethics for the South Australian Public Sector.
  • Create a culture that encourages openness and transparency.
  • Ensure all decisions and actions can withstand scrutiny.
  • Create a culture that promotes frank and honest discussion.

Successful personal behaviours:

  • Follow the values and standards contained in the Code and model that behaviour as an example for others.
  • Fully and accurately disclose information and share available resources without being prompted.
  • Take action based on the best available evidence and argument.
  • Conduct difficult conversations with empathy, sensitivity, and a determination to resolve issues.


  • Don’t tolerate or fail to report unethical behaviour or misconduct.
  • Don’t inappropriately share or withhold information or resources.
  • Don’t ignore the evidence, or manipulate it to justify a pre-determined decision.
  • Don’t neglect to raise issues with those directly involved.


Courage & Tenacity
We never give up

Organisational practices:

  • Develop people to think innovatively about policy, services, and people management.
  • Help employees to be resilient in challenging times.
  • Minimise unnecessary bureaucracy and be flexible in the approach to solving problems.
  • Build systems that encourage innovation and accept occasional failures as a necessary part of progress.

Successful personal behaviours:

  • Suggest and support new ideas and better ways of doing things.
  • Listen attentively, question thoughtfully, challenge openly, and encourage others to do the same.
  • Challenge ineffectiveness and remove obstacles to enable yourself and others to succeed.
  • Learn from failure without being discouraged and apply that knowledge to achieve better outcomes.


  • Don’t fail to contribute for fear of being judged.
  • Don’t avoid or undermine progress because it seems difficult or threatening.
  • Don’t allow rules and regulations to hinder progress or become an excuse for inaction.
  • Don’t hold back when there is evidence of better ways of working.


We work to get the best results for current and future generations of South Australians

Organisational practices:

  • Design structures, systems and services to consume resources more efficiently over time.
  • Take collective action to improve productivity and maximise the impact on limited resources.
  • Promote the use of business cases and cost-benefit analyses to ensure the most efficient use of tax-payer resources.
  • Work together to leave a lasting legacy for future generations of South Australians.

Successful personal behaviours:

  • Identify the long-term resource impacts of the programs and services you design.
  • Seek opportunities to collaborate to maximise the collective impact of resources and reduce duplication.
  • Manage information, finances, people, and assets prudently.
  • Focus on solutions which continue to produce outcomes for the community over the long term.


  • Don’t rely on established solutions where more economical options may apply
  • Don’t resist working with others in order to retain control of resources or outcomes.
  • Don’t invest time and money in work that is not producing value.
  • Don’t design convenient short term solutions to complex long-term problems.






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Trick to Avoid Procrastination

I haven’t re-posted anything from PsyBlog for quite a while, but I came across this article and thought it would be more than useful …

Avoid Procrastination: Funky Tip Makes You Start 4 Times Sooner

Post image for Avoid Procrastination: Funky Tip Makes You Start 4 Times Sooner

This trick makes you feel closer to your future self so that you start four times sooner.

Thinking about upcoming goals in terms of days rather than months or years motivates action, new research finds.

Even counting months rather than years has a beneficial effect, psychologists have revealed.

Professor Daphna Oyserman of the University of Southern California, who led the study, thinks the tip…

“…may be useful to anyone needing to save for retirement or their children’s college, to start working on a term paper or dissertation, pretty much anyone with long-term goals or wanting to support someone who has such goals.”

Over 1,000 participants took part in four different studies to examine the phenomenon.

People were encouraged to think about goals in terms of different time scales.

For example, they either thought about saving for a college fund in 18 years or in 6,570 days.

Or, they thought about saving for retirement either in 30 years or in 10,950 days.

Thinking in days made people feel more connected to their future selves, which in turn was a greater motivator to action.

People said they would start working towards their goal four times sooner when the time was expressed in days than when it was expressed in years.

The research was published in the journal Psychological Science (Lewis & Oyserman, 2015).

Procrastination image from Shutterstock






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Persuasive and Memorable Stories

“In 350 B.C., Aristotle was already wondering what could make content—in his case, a speech—persuasive and memorable, so that its ideas would pass from person to person. The answer, he argued, was three principles: ethos, pathos, and logos. Content should have an ethical appeal, an emotional appeal, or a logical appeal. A rhetorician strong on all three was likely to leave behind a persuaded audience. Replace rhetorician with online content creator, and Aristotle’s insights seem entirely modern. Ethics, emotion, logic—it’s credible and worthy, it appeals to me, it makes sense. If you look at the last few links you shared on your Facebook page or Twitter stream, or the last article you e-mailed or recommended to a friend, chances are good that they’ll fit into those categories.”




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Making Conversation Work For You

I have been a fan of Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) for many many years now.  Bandler and Grinder really did come up with something special, and had a reasonable theoretical framework associated with their concepts.

Much of what they wrote about is continually re-played in the popular and business press, under various headings.  If done well, it does not diminish the essential messages nor the utility of what is said.

The following article is one such example of this post-NLP diaspora.  It provides some good advice, in succinct chunks perfectly suited for the web-gen adversity to 200 page tomes:

Here are the headlines:

1. Encourage people to talk about themselves

2. To give feedback, ask questions

3. Ask for advice

4. The two-question technique

5. Repeat the last three words

6. Gossip — but positively



semantic-web: , ,

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Why Haters Have to Hate

More from PsyBlog – this guy just continues to come up with pearlers!



Why Haters Have to Hate

Post image for Why Haters Have to Hate

Are you an instinctive ‘liker’ or an instinctive ‘hater’?

Some people have the talent to find the bad in anything.

Mountains, brie, Greece, electric toothbrushes; you name it, they don’t like it. And they want to tell you exactly why.

A new study published in theJournal of Personality and Social Psychology suggests this might be a newly identified aspect of personality: how much people are predisposed to like or hate stuff, even if they know almost nothing about it (Helper & Albarracin, 2013).

To investigate, the researchers asked people questions about loads of different things that weren’t connected.

They included everything from ‘abortion’, ‘America’, ‘antidepressants’ and ‘architecture’ down to ‘voluntary euthanasia’, ‘wearing clothes that draw attention’ and ‘wine’.

Imagine if you took five of your friends and asked them about subjects as varied as these; surely you’d get really varied responses. Some people like wine and wearing clothes that draw attention, other people dislike those things. Others couldn’t care less either way.

What the researchers found was that there was certainly lots of variation between what people liked and disliked. But, oddly, at a general level, people were split between likers and haters.

In other words, some people tended to like stuff even though they didn’t really know much about it, and some people had the tendency to hate stuff, whatever it was.

The authors of this article argue that this initial stance towards anything and everything is a facet of personality. In the same way that you can be either extroverted or introverted, you can also be a ‘liker’ or a ‘hater’.

So, the answer to why the haters have to hate is that it’s built into them at the level of their personality.

Now, how you might become a like or a hater in the first place, we don’t yet know. Likely, it’s got a lot to do with genetics. Some people are born haters, others born likers.

But there’s also likely a learning component: people probably learn to become haters—hating from an early age, and so forth.

It raises all kinds of fascinating questions: does being a hater run in the family? Can a liker and a hater be in a relationship together? Which professions have the most haters?

I’ll leave you to ponder these and more important questions!

Image credit: Minh Hoang


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How to Set Better Goals

More from PsyBlog – this time on setting goals (which is one of those totally critical elements of business, management and consulting):


Badly set goals can degrade performance, motivate unethical behaviour and damage organisations.

It’s no accident that goal-setting pervades so many areas of modern life.

There are hundreds of research studies going back decades showing that setting goals can increase people’s performance.

Most have heard the goal-setting mantra that goals should be specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-targeted (S.M.A.R.T.); but few recognise the dangers of poor goal-setting and the unintended consequences that can follow.

Here’s how to avoid four common problems with goal-setting, which are highlighted by Ordonez et al. (2009) at the Harvard Business School.

1. Too specific

The problem with setting goals that are too specific is that they can bias people’s behaviour in unintended ways.  For example:

  • If you use goals to effectively tell a university professor that all that’s important is publishing articles, then what is going to happen to her teaching?
  • If you tell call-centre staff that the main thing is how quickly they answer the phone, what’s going to happen to how they deal with the call?

Very specific goals can degrade overall performance by warping the way people view their jobs.

Better goals: keep them somewhat vague. This gives people control and choice over how they do their jobs. When people are given vaguer goals they can take into account more factors: in short it makes them think for themselves. It’s no wonder that having control is strongly linked with job satisfaction.

2. Too many goals

Perhaps the answer, then, is to set loads of goals which cover all aspects of a person’s work? Not necessarily, as that introduces its own problems.

For one thing people tend to concentrate on the easiest goal to the exclusion of the others. For example, in one study participants were given both quality and quantity goals related to a task. When quantity goals were easier to achieve than quality, they focused mostly on quantity.

This study is showing how a well-meaning goal can warp people’s behaviour in unintended directions.

Better goals: limit the total number of goals. Apart from anything else, who can remember 10 or 20 goals they are supposed to be working towards?

3. Short-termism

Why is it so hard to get a cab on a rainy day?

The answer isn’t just that more people are hailing cabs; it’s also that the cab drivers go home earlier because they hit their targets earlier for the day. So Camerer et al., (1997) found in their study of New York cab drivers.

This is a prime example of short-termism: goals can make people believe that when they hit their target, they can take the rest of the day (or month!) off.

This works at an organisational level as well: if an organisation is continually working to meet short-term goals, it can neglect the long-term importance of innovation and evolution.

Better goals: Make sure short-term goals don’t interfere with the long-term vision, otherwise they can be corrosive for the organisation.

4. Too hard

When goals are too hard, they encourage people to do anything in order to meet them; that includes unethical behaviour.

One example of unethical behaviour prompted by poor goals was in the hard disk manufacturer, MiniScribe. Back in 1989, in order to meet financial targets, they began shipping bricks instead of hard drives. The bricks sat unopened for a few weeks in a Singapore warehouse, while Miniscribe successfully invoiced for them. The company soon went into bankruptcy.

Miniscribe’s story is also a brilliant example of short-term thinking. What did they think was going to happen when the bricks were discovered, as they surely would be?

Similarly, research has also shown that when people are set more difficult goals, they are more willing to take risks. In some circumstances this may be acceptable, but often it is not.

Not only that, but goals that are too hard are simply demotivating. How come almost reaching your target feels like failure, even when you’re 99% there?

Better goals: Set genuinely achievable goals rather than so-called ‘stretch’ goals. These will avoid encouraging people to behave unethically.

New rules of goal-setting

All of these problems are further exaggerated by larger the incentives. When there are huge amounts of money at stake, then badly set goals can distort human behaviour even more.

So, use these warnings as ways to set better goals, and be careful of unintended consequences.

Ordonez et al. (2009) conclude by saying:

“Rather than dispensing goal setting as a benign, over-the-counter treatment for students of management, experts need to conceptualize goal setting as a prescription-strength medication that requires careful dosing, consideration of harmful side effects, and close supervision.”

With that warning in mind, here are some new rules of goal-setting

  • Goals should be somewhat abstract.
  • Goals should be set with an eye on the long-term.
  • Goals should be relatively limited in number.
  • Goals should not be too hard to achieve.

(Oh, and unless they’ve ordered them, never ship bricks.)


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4 Qualities of Truly Horrible Managers

Another terribly topical article from Psyblog:


4 Qualities of Truly Horrible Managers

Fifty per cent of managers are incompetent, so how did that idiot get to be your boss?

Surveys keep telling us that between 65% and 75% of people rate their managers as the worst aspect of their jobs.

Is this just baseless moaning, or are they right?


Actually most are right since research into managers shows that around 50% of them are incompetent (DeVries, 1993).

The reasons they can’t do their jobs are pretty simple. When Leslie and Van Velsor (1996) looked at the research across different organisations and different employees, they found these four points summarised the problems with failed managers (research described in Hogan & Kaiser, 2005):

  1. Poor interpersonal skills. Horrible managers look down on you from on high like irascible emperors. They are insensitive, cold and as likely to be nice to you as give their pay-checks to charity.
  2. Can’t get the work done. They repeatedly set overly ambitious targets and then repeatedly fail to meet them. They don’t follow through on their promises and they’re likely to betray your trust.
  3. Can’t build a team. It’s perhaps the most essential skill of being a manager. Team-building requires building trust, assigning roles and goals, promoting good communication and providing leadership. Terrible managers are totally incapable of any of this.
  4. Can’t cope with promotion. Who knows how they got that promotion, but it’s clear the new job is beyond them. As soon as they’re settled in, everything starts to fall apart.

If 50% of managers are that bad, how do they become managers in the first place?

The answer is that horrible managers do have desirable qualities—that’s how they got hired in the first place—but they also have undesirable qualities, which often outweigh them.

Hogan and Hogan (1994) have looked at decades of research on this and they find that most horrible managers have a personality disorder. And the thing about personality disorders is:

Personality disorders are hard to detect

Many horrible managers are narcissists and, sadly, people like narcissists at first. They seem like fun people to be around.

In time, though, we come to notice that narcissists can’t learn from their mistakes and go around with a massive sense of entitlement.

What seemed charming on day one is revealed as arrogance over time. Unfortunately this usually doesn’t become obvious until too late.


Failure of the selection process

Managers are often recruited from outside the organisation using interviews.

Both narcissists and psychopaths are great at interviews: making a good impression in these sorts of situations is what they excel at.

Instead, more formal selection tools should be used with information collected about the person’s ability to be a manager from the people who know best: the manager’s subordinates.

In other words: you should vote for your boss.

Can you imagine?


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How Rewards Can Backfire and Reduce Motivation — PsyBlog


How Rewards Can Backfire and Reduce Motivation


Surely one of the best ways to generate motivation in ourselves and others is by dangling rewards?

Yet psychologists have long known that rewards are overrated. The carrot, of carrot-and-stick fame, is not as effective as we’ve been led to believe. Rewards work under some circumstances but sometimes they backfire. Spectacularly.

Here is a story about preschool children with much to teach all ages about the strange effects that rewards have on our motivation.

It’s child’s play

Psychologists Mark R. Lepper and David Greene from Stanford and the University of Michigan were interested in testing what is known as the ‘overjustification’ hypothesis—about which, more later (Lepper et al., 1973).

Since parents so often use rewards as motivators for children they recruited fifty-one preschoolers aged between 3 and 4. All the children selected for the study were interested in drawing. It was crucial that they already liked drawing because Lepper and Greene wanted to see what effect rewards would have when children were already fond of the activity.


The children were then randomly assigned to one of the following conditions:

  1. Expected reward. In this condition children were told they would get a certificate with a gold seal and ribbon if they took part.
  2. Surprise reward. In this condition children would receive the same reward as above but, crucially, weren’t told about it until after the drawing activity was finished.
  3. No reward. Children in this condition expected no reward, and didn’t receive one.

Each child was invited into a separate room to draw for 6 minutes then afterwards either given their reward or not depending on the condition. Then, over the next few days, the children were watched through one-way mirrors to see how much they would continue drawing of their own accord. The graph below shows the percentage of time they spent drawing by experimental condition:


As you can see the expected reward had decreased the amount of spontaneous interest the children took in drawing (and there was no statistically significant difference between the no reward and surprise reward group). So, those who had previously liked drawing were less motivated once they expected to be rewarded for the activity. In fact the expected reward reduced the amount of spontaneous drawing the children did by half. Not only this, but judges rated the pictures drawn by the children expecting a reward as less aesthetically pleasing.

Rewards reduce intrinsic motivation

It’s not only children who display this kind of reaction to rewards, though, subsequent studies have shown a similar effect in all sorts of different populations, many of them grown-ups. In one study smokers who were rewarded for their efforts to quit did better at first but after three months fared worse than those given no rewards and no feedback (Curry et al., 1990). Indeed those given rewards even lied more about the amount they were smoking.

Reviewing 128 studies on the effects of rewards Deci et al. (1999, p. 658)concluded that:

“tangible rewards tend to have a substantially negative effect on intrinsic motivation (…) Even when tangible rewards are offered as indicators of good performance, they typically decrease intrinsic motivation for interesting activities.”

Rewards have even been found to make people less creative and worse at problem-solving.


So, what’s going on? The key to understanding these behaviours lies in the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. When we do something for its own sake, because we enjoy it or because it fills some deep-seated desire, we are intrinsically motivated. On the other hand when we do something because we receive some reward, like a certificate or money, this is extrinsic motivation.


The children were chosen in the first instance because they already liked drawing and they were already intrinsically motivated to draw. It was pleasurable, they were good at it and they got something out of it that fed their souls. Then some of them got a reward for drawing and their motivation changed.

Before they had been drawing because they enjoyed it, but now it seemed as though they were drawing for the reward. What they had been motivated to do intrinsically, they were now being given an external, extrinsic motivation for. This provided too muchjustification for what they were doing and so, paradoxically, afterwards they drew less.

This is the overjustification hypothesis for which Lepper and Greene were searching and although it seems like backwards thinking, it’s typical of the way the mind sometimes works. We don’t just work ‘forwards’ from our attitudes and preferences to our actions, we also work ‘backwards’, working out what our attitudes and preferences must be based on our current situation, feelings or actions (see also: cognitive dissonance).

When money makes play into work

Not only this but rewards are dangerous for another reason: because they remind us of obligations, of being made to do things we don’t want to do. Children are given rewards for eating all their food, doing their homework or tidying their bedrooms. So rewards become associated with painful activities that we don’t want to do. The same goes for grown-ups: money becomes associated with work and work can be dull, tedious and painful. So when we get paid for something we automatically assume that the task is dull, tedious and painful—even when it isn’t.

This is why play can become work when we get paid. The person who previously enjoyed painting pictures, weaving baskets, playing the cello or even writing blog posts, suddenly finds the task tedious once money has become involved.

Yes, sometimes rewards do work, especially if people really don’t want to do something. But when tasks are inherently interesting to us rewards can damage our motivation by undermining our natural talent for self-regulation.


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The New Science of ‘The Meeting’ — PsyBlog


The subtle signals that—thank the heavens—decisions are being made and how long the wrap-up will last.

Until now people have been gathering around tables and whiteboards without properly understanding what is going on in ‘The Meeting’.

Perhaps that’s why so many of them feel like a complete waste of time. As ‘The Meeting’ stretches out, participants start to feel lost, adrift, confused and unsure of the point.

But now, thanks to an analysis of 95 meetings by researchers at MIT, we understand this strange beast a little better (Kim & Rudin, 2013).

‘The Meeting’, it seems, sends out little clues about what stage it’s at through the language of those at ‘The Meeting’.

Although it sounds incredible, by close textual analysis of the words being used, you can tell when a decision is being made.

Usually, of course, decisions are avoided at all costs in ‘The Meeting’ in case anyone has to actually do anything as a result of ‘The Meeting’.

But if you listen carefully enough, you can hear the almost imperceptible signal that agreement is being reached. That signal, according to the MIT researchers, is when people start asking each other for specific information:

“As it turns out, the important parts of the meeting are characterized mostly by information and information request dialogue acts, and very few offers, rejections, or acceptances. We hypothesize that at the important parts of the meeting, when the decisions have been narrowed down and few choices remain, the meeting participants would like to ensure that they have all the relevant information necessary to make the decision, and that the outcome will fit within all of their constraints.”

The question is, then, how can you persuade other people to reach one of these mythical ‘decisions’ which we hear so much about, yet which are so elusive in ‘The Meeting’?

The researchers argue that top of the potential list comes the word ‘yeah’. Apparently when people start their utterances with ‘yeah’, this is a particularly good signal that ‘The Meeting’ is creeping ever-so-slowly towards this so-called ‘decision’.

OK, it’s a miracle and ‘the meeting’ has made its ‘decision’, now, how long ’till I can get out of here? Not so fast, now we’ve got the wrap-up.

The MIT researchers found that how long the wrap-up lasts depends on how long it’s taken to reach a decision. Once ‘The Meeting’ was over 14 minutes, the longer it was, the shorter the wrap-up. After the decision was made, people in ‘The Meeting’, if it was 14 minutes long, took 18 further minutes to wrap-up.

But, if ‘The Meeting’ went to 35 minutes, the wrap-up normally only lasted about 10 minutes.

Over to you…

Why not conduct your own experiments in meeting science? All you need is a boring meeting to go to and a keen eye for details:

  • How long until people start asking each other for detailed information? (Here comes the decision.)
  • How long until people keep starting their sentences with ‘yeah’? (This is it, we’re making a decision now.)
  • How long does the wrap-up take as a proportion of total meeting length? (And then bliss, sweet freedom, ‘the meeting’ is over.)

Please send your results to MIT, not me.

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Psychology of Negotiation — PsyBlog


An award-winning social psychology experiment reveals why we often fail to bargain effectively with each other.

Bargaining is one of those activities we often engage in without quite realising it. It doesn’t just happen in the boardroom, or when we ask our boss for a raise or down at the market, it happens every time we want to reach an agreement with someone. This agreement could be as simple as choosing a restaurant with a friend, or deciding which TV channel to watch. At the other end of the scale, bargaining can affect the fate of nations.

Big-scale or small-scale, bargaining is a central part of our lives. Understanding the psychological processes involved in bargaining can provide us with huge benefits in our everyday lives. In a classic, award-winning series of studies, Morgan Deutsch and Robert Krauss investigated two central factors in bargaining: how we communicate with each other and how we use threats (Deutsch & Krauss, 1962).

To do this, they used a game which forces two people to bargain with each other. Although Deutsch and Krauss used a series of different conditions – nine in fact – once you understand the basic game, all the conditions are only slight variations.

So, imagine you were a clerical worker at the Bell Telephone Laboratories in the late 1950s and you’ve been asked to take part in a psychology study. Every psychology study has a story, and this one revolves around two trucking companies…

Experiment 1: Keep on trucking

Before the experiment proper starts, the researcher explains that you’ll be playing a game against another participant. In the game you will run a trucking company. The object of the game is the same as a real trucking company: to make as much money as possible.

Like the real-life trucking company you have to deliver as many of your goods as possible to their destination in the shortest possible time. But in this game you only have one starting point, one destination and one competitor. It looks like a pretty simple game.

Here’s the catch.

The road map your one truck has to travel across presents you with a dilemma. You are the ‘Acme’ trucking company and your fellow participant is the ‘Bolt’ trucking company, although both of you have an identical problem. Have a look below.


[Deutsch & Krauss, 1962, p. 55]

As you’ll see there are two possible routes you can take from the start to your destination: the short and the long. Remember, time is money, so the longer it takes you to get to your destination, the less profit you make, which is the aim of the game. Unfortunately the short route has a major shortcoming: it is one-way. Only one of you can travel down it at a time towards your destination.

It seems you’ll be forced to work out some agreement with your unknown rival to share this one-way route so that you can both make money. How you’ll do this is another mystery, though, as there is going to be no communication between the two of you during the experiment. You are to be seated in a cubicle from where you’ll only be able to see the control box for your ‘truck’ and the experimenter.

Threatening gates

You are to be given one method of communication with your rival, albeit indirect communication. Each of you controls a gate at your own end of the one-way road. The gate, though, can only be closed when your truck is on the main route. This will be your threat. It is reinforced by the experimenter that you are out to make as much money as you can for yourself – the other person’s profit is not a concern.

Once the experimenter sets you off, it soon becomes clear you’re not going to make much money at all. In the first of 20 trials, both you and your rival shut your gates, forcing both trucks onto the alternative route. This is 50% longer and means you make a loss on the trip as a whole. In the second trial your trucks meet head-on travelling up the one-way road. You both have to reverse, costing you time and money.

The rest of the trials aren’t much better. Occasionally you make a profit on a trip but more often than not it’s a bust. You spend more time on the long route or reversing than you do chugging happily along the main route making money.

At the end of the experiment, the researcher announces how much profit you made. None. In fact you made a crippling loss. Perhaps trucking companies aren’t so easy to run.

Comparing threats

You find out later that you were in one of three experimental conditions. The only differences in the other two conditions were that in one there were no gates at either end of the one-way road. In the other there was only one active gate controlled by one player.

Before I tell you the results of the other two conditions, try to guess. One condition, which you’ve taken part in, contained bilateral threat – you could both threaten each other. One condition had unilateral threat – only one could threaten the other. And the final condition had no threat at all. What was the order of profit?

In fact it turns out that your condition, of bilateral threat, made the least profit when both participant’s scores were added up. The next most profitable was the unilateral threat condition, while the most profitable overall was the no-threat condition.

Here’s the first rather curious result. While the person who had the threat – control of the gate – in the unilateral condition did better than the person who didn’t, they were still better off, individually and collectively, than if they both had threats. What this experiment is showing is that the availability of threats leads to worse outcomes to the extent that unilateral threat is preferable to bilateral threat to both parties.

Experiment 2: Lines of communication

But surely a little communication goes a long way? You weren’t allowed to talk to the other participant in this experiment, so your trucks had to do the talking for you. Bargaining is all about reaching a compromise through negotiation – surely this should help?

To test the effect of communication Deutsch and Krauss (1962) set up a second experiment which was identical in all respects to the first except participants were given headphones to talk to each other.

Here’s the next curious result: allowing the two participants to communicate with each other made no significant difference to the amount of money each trucking company made. In fact the experimenters found no relationship between words spoken and money made. In other words those who communicated more did not manage to reach a better understanding with each other.

Like the experimenters themselves, I find this result surprising. Surely allowing people to communicate let’s them work out a way for them both to make money? And yet this isn’t what happened in the experiment at all. Instead it seems that people’s competitive orientation was stronger than their motivation to communicate. On the other hand, perhaps something specific to the situation in this experiment is stopping people talking?

Participants in the second study reported that it was difficult to start talking to the other person, who was effectively a stranger. As a result they were considerably less talkative than normal. Could it be that it was this situational constraint that meant little talking, and therefore little bargaining was going on?

Experiment 3: Forced communication

Deutsch and Krauss decided to test the effect of forced communication in their third experiment. Again the procedure is the same as last time but now participants are instructed that on each of the 20 trials they have to say something. If they don’t talk on one of the trials they are gently reminded by the experimenter to do so. They are told they can talk about whatever they like, as long as they say something.

The results finally showed some success for communication. Performance in the one-gate (unilateral threat) condition came close to that achieved in the ‘no-threat’ condition (remember the no-threat condition has the best outcomes). Forced communication didn’t have much effect on the ‘no-threat’ condition when compared with no communication, and neither did it improve the bilateral threat condition much. It still seems that people are so competitive when they both have threats it’s very difficult to avoid both sides losing out.

Threat causes resentment

The most surprising finding of this study is how badly people do under conditions of bilateral threat. In this experiment not even forcing communication can overcome people’s competitive streaks. Deutsch and Krauss provide a fascinating explanation for this.

Imagine your neighbour asks you to water their plants while they’re on holiday Socially, it looks good for you if you agree to do it. On the other hand if they ask you to water their plants otherwise they’ll set their TV on full blast while they’re on holiday, it immediately gets your hackles up. Suddenly you resent them. Giving in when there is no threat is seen by other people as pro-social. Duress, however, seems to make people dig in their heels.

Applying the brakes

Before drawing some general conclusions from these studies, we should acknowledge the particular circumstances of this research. Deutsch and Krauss’s experiment covers a situation in which bargaining is carried out under time pressure. Recall that the longer participants take to negotiate, the less money they make. In real life, time isn’t always of the essence.

The present game also has a relatively simple solution: participants make the most profit if they share the one-way road. In reality, solutions are rarely that clear-cut. Finally, our participants were not professional negotiators, they were clerical and supervisory workers without special training.

Real-life implications

Despite these problems the trucking game has the advantage of being what game theorists call a non-zero-sum game. In other words if you win, it doesn’t automatically mean the other person loses. When you total the final results, as you sometimes can in a financial sense, they don’t add to zero. In real life many of the situations in which we find ourselves are of this nature. Cooperation can open the way to more profit, in financial or other form, for both parties.

As a result the trucking game has clear implications for real life:

  • Cooperative relationships are likely to be much more beneficial overall than competitive relationships. Before you go ‘duh!’, remember that increasing proportions of the world’s societies are capitalist. Deutsch and Krauss’s experiment clearly shows the friction caused by competitive relationships, such as those encouraged by capitalism. I’m not saying capitalism is bad, I’m just saying competition isn’t always good. This simple fact is often forgotten.
  • Just because people can communicate, doesn’t mean they will – even if it is to their advantage.
  • Forcing parties to communicate, even if they already have the means to communicate, encourages mutually beneficial outcomes.
  • In competitive relationships, communication should be aimed at increasing cooperation. Other methods will probably create more heat than light.
  • Threats are dangerous, not only to other’s interests, but also to our own.

Remember all these the next time you are bargaining with your partner over a night out, about to shout a threat at a motorist blocking your path on a one-way road, or even involved in high-level political negotiations between warring factions with nuclear capabilities. It could save you, and the other side, a lot of trouble.

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