Friday, May 2, 2014

Why Do We Always Pick On The New Guy?

As the child of a military man, we were always on the move. Every one or two years from the ages of 5 to 18 we moved from one military base to the next. We moved so much that after a while I stopped saying goodbye to my friends before I would leave. I would just 'split.'

My adult life hasn't been much different, as I have transferred quite a few times for jobs. At the college where I am currently employed I have only worked there for two years.

Which means I am quite familiar with the role of the new guy. As a child this always meant new friendships and sometimes exciting new environments. It also meant new bullies and as a teenage male always having to prove myself to different sets of testosterone filled adolescents.

As an adult being the new guy (or gal) takes on a different meaning. The craziness of school yard childhood bullying goes away and is often replaced by passive aggressive workplace behavior from workmates/colleagues and the occasional office tyrant.

Many of you may already know what I'm talking about, but there are a few who may have been lucky enough to have no or very pleasant 'new guy' experiences. Yet, regardless of the severity or pleasantness of the 'new guy' experience the back and forth dance must take place.

Robert Sommers in his book Personal Space: The Basis of Behavioral Design (2008), talks about two things that affect people's behavior when first meeting each other. Those things are "territoriality" and "dominance." Sommers asserts that most people avoid trouble because they are fully aware of areas that are 'safe' territories (usually their own) and avoid those that aren't. Further, because they are intimately familiar with the power hierarchies that exist between them and other people within their own environment there is usually no need for conflict (dominance) because arrangements, whether conscious or not, have already been determined.

Now imagine the 'new guy' entering the new work environment. The people within the organization already have their arrangements in place. They know their roles, who is in charge, their general standing in the scheme of things and written and unwritten protocols of the organization. The new person upsets this balance and the balance has to be restored, albeit in a different way than before.

The established members of the group only have to deal with the new person once in establishing a relationship, regardless if the outcome is positive or negative. The new person has to negotiate terms with everyone in the organization.

As Sommers expressed in his research, established members use territorial claims in negotiating with newcomers and let them know immediately where they stand. These types of claims are often verbal and serve as gentle warnings. For instance, an established member may say, "Don't worry about these invoices, I always handle these." Usually, the new person (without rank) would respond to such statements with deference until they learn where their own boundaries begin and end.

However, if that fails then 'dominance' techniques will be used, depending of course, on the level of aggressiveness the established members are willing to display. But, since the workplace is not designed or tolerates such behavior, newcomers are usually at the receiving end of passive aggressive activity.

Examples of the treatment handed out to 'new guys' in the workplace include being called a "newbie" or "rookie;" being told an inappropriate joke to see how they will respond; being ignored by someone in the hallway even after being properly introduced; having to listen to rants such as "you young people are all over the place;" and being subjected to the "stick with me and I'll show you the ropes" conversations. In severe cases, established members try to assert themselves by yelling or using threats.

What can be done?

Well, one major way to lessen 'new guy' woes is to make sure you learn as much as you can about your new environment and the role you will serve before accepting a position.Unwritten rules and informal codes always play a role in any job and sometimes can only be learned on the job, but knowing your rights, responsibilities and duties can go a long way in avoiding hassles and 'stepping on toes.'

Is there a cure-all to avoid some of the pinch of being the new guy? Not really, because people can applaud, resent or be indifferent to your arrival for the same reasons. But knowing that friction can and will occur and that its most likely not you, but the circumstance, will help you deal with situations more calmly as they arise.

Bakari Akil II, Ph.D. is the author of Pop Psychology - The Psychology of Pop Culture and Everyday Life! 






Thanks to Bakari Akil II, Ph.D. / Psychology Today


How To Set Better Goals: Avoid Four Common Mistakes

Badly Set Goals Can Degrade Performance, Motivate Unethical Behavior And Damage Organization's.

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-center 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 organizational level as well: if an organization 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 organization.

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.)

Thanks to Spring Org UK / PsyBlog