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It is in your expectations

When you expect the best of people, it’s amazing how often they deliver. If you expect the best, you unconsciously send the best signals. By expecting the best, your approach and your body language towards your team changes. You look forward to interactions with them, you like to hear about their progress and you delight in their high achievement. When you don’t expect much of someone, even if you say nothing, that will show as well and they will not surprise you.

Go and search ‘The Pygmalion Effect’ online. It is a classic and controversial piece of research that showed that the greater the expectation teachers placed on students in an experiment, the higher the performance. It was named after Pygmalion, a play by George Bernard Shaw. Apparently, the opposite is called the Golem effect, in which low expectations lead to a decrease in performance.

In the experiment, teachers were given a list of students who had been identified as ‘high achievers’. The teachers were told that these students would deliver remarkable results. At the end of the year those students did deliver great results – even though they were, in reality, not high achievers and had been chosen at random from the pool of pupils. It turned out that it was the teachers’ belief in their potential that was enabling their exceptional results, a belief that was never communicated directly to them, but was constantly communicated through non-verbal clues. The teachers unconsciously conveyed empathy, likeability and approachability. When dealing with the pupils, they did not use any ‘power’ behaviour and would give more positive feedback, would display encouraging body language whenever they dealt with them, and regularly gave many other signals that showed approval and encouragement.

It sounds absolutely too good to be true, but university researchers have found the Pygmalion effect to have positive outcomes with all sorts of work groups. Simply by holding a positive expectation, this is communicated and has an influence on whether the team delivers outstanding results. It is how you inspire without words.

On the other hand, when you send signals of status, power and supreme confidence, by standing tall, keeping your head straight, minimizing facial expressions and speaking in a forceful tone of voice, you are very unlikely to engage people. There are occasions when such signals are needed, but you need to be conscious of how you are using them.

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