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15 Dec 2011

Style Trumps Content Once Again

My August 15, 2011 post, “Eloquence Trumps Honesty in Trust & Likeability Wars,” discussed how style affects our assessment of talent. Now, in the November 2011 issue of the Harvard Business Review, the article, “It’s Not What You Say but How You Say It,” cites the research of Timothy DeGroot’s team from Midwestern State University indicating the attractiveness of leaders’ voices influence our perceptions of their effectiveness.

Again, the challenge is that we often don’t realize this influence is occurring. Moreover, we tend to believe other people are influenced but we aren’t. Combining this with the way labels influence our perceptions of content and how beauty and attractiveness influences us, we begin to see easily how incompetent people can receive promotions especially if they are confident.

In combating this influence, it’s important to begin with two perspectives:

  1. Acknowledge that style influences us (“That includes me!”)
  2. Remain focused on more intrinsic indicators of talents such as process (how a person works, thinks and interacts)

Often, we erroneously focus on results when we don’t factor in extraneously factors such as the team, timing and situation of the person’s experience. Perhaps the person was just along for the ride. Culture, processes and tools can also affect outcomes. When we fail to account for these, we tend fall into the trap of believing people are “winners” if they come from “winning organizations.”

In the final analysis, what makes assessing talent difficult is not the intrinsic analysis of it but rather being able to do so while trying to navigate the murky cloud of our own perceptions and biases. Many forces intuitively influence us on a subconscious level to stir up this mud.


2 Responses

  1. Well said, Mike. Especially glad that you mentioned “factors such as the team, timing and situation of the person’s experience.” In my view, context is the crucial element that often gets overlooked.

    1. Mike Lehr

      So true, Stephen, context is extremely important. We underestimate how much it influences us. Thank you for visiting. ~Mike

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