Bill Benjamin

The Expectation Effect

We are all generally very good at heaping expectations on ourselves. Whatever the expectation, we tend to focus on what we can do ourselves. What about the expectations you have for those around you? Instead of grumbling or complaining about your co-worker, employee, teenager or spouse (or boss), you can help them reach their potential just by changing what you believe to be possible for them. Compelling research shows our expectations of others can have an incredible impact on performance.

In a fascinating study by Albert King, unskilled and unemployed laborers were trained in specialized mechanical skills. These individuals were then randomly assigned to two groups – one designated as “high performers” and the other as a control. Supervisors were told to expect unusual improvement in the skills of those in the “elite” group.

After a while on the job, the trainees took a battery of tests to assess the mechanical skills they had learned as well as their overall job performance. Can you guess what happened? All of the randomly chosen “high performers” scored higher than the other trainees.

Supervisors and peers rated the ‘high performers’ as more knowledgeable, more productive, better able to learn, more cooperative and more logical than the non-elite group – simply because the supervisors expected more from these individuals. Wow!

Are there implications of the ‘expectation effect’ for other groups? Of course! In a study described in the Wall Street Journal, researchers informed elementary school teachers that one group of kids had scored extraordinarily well on a test predicting intellectual “blooming” and would make remarkable academic gains. After a few months, the “bloomers” -who were chosen at random – had achieved statistically significant results as compared to the other students.

Not only did they fare better in academics, teachers reported that they viewed the “bloomers” as better adjusted, more affectionate and less in need of social approval. These students increased both IQ and EQ competencies – all because the teachers had higher expectations of them Wow again!

So… how can we leverage this “expectation effect” in our lives? Are there people we work or live with who are not performing as well as you think they can? Are they underutilizing their talents? Change your own expectation of these individuals and you can affect their performance!

Clearly, we need to set realistic and achievable goals for people – and in fact, this is not about “performance targets”, “quotas” and “developmental goals” in the classic business sense. It’s deeper than that – it’s about an honest and passionate belief in someone’s abilities and core strengths. A belief that is so clearly and strongly articulated that it will challenge this person’s own limiting beliefs.

Think of a peer, employee, or child you can help achieve more in life by simply expecting more of their abilities and talents and everyone will win!

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