Noah Goldstein (University of California, Los Angeles) and Nicholas Hays (New York University) conducted two experiments investigating what is called “illusory power transference.” Just as restaurants’ ambiances can influence our food tastes or trees influence our thoughts at business retreats, people influence our perceptions of ourselves without actively doing anything to do so.
In this case, Goldstein and Hays found that men, when associating with powerful people, felt more powerful after the association (“The Powerful Effect (on Men) of Thinking about the Powerful” [Harvard Business Review, May 2013 edition]). They “were more optimistic, confident and risk seeking, even though they could not leverage that person’s power.” For instance, they bet 40% more money in the experiment than other men who did not have an association with a powerful person. Women did not experience this effect primarily because “women are less motivated to characterize themselves as powerful.”
Power often serves as a security emotional trigger, meaning exposure to powerful messages, things and people will likely trigger men’s emotions causing them to alter their behavior. Since women also have security needs, we would need to find other feelings such as those of safety and comfort to trigger it.
Yet, despite marketing and retailing differently to men and women, we lead and manage as though they’re one gender, usually male. We completely ignore simple, but very important, attitudinal differences such as those toward power. Pragmatically, we don’t alter our communications, conversations, phrasing or word choice. As a result, we might feel more objective, but objectivity doesn’t ensure effectiveness when dealing with humans.