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Distrust sharpens memory performance

Trust needs vigilance and a query of constrasts




Trust may impede our memory performance, whereas distrust sharpens details requested for any reliable report. Responsible for this phenomenon is an automatism within our information process which makes us focus on similarities when we communicate trustfully, blurring by the way differences in content and details, though. In distrustful settings on the contrary we “steer” towards these contrasts automatically. Contrasts which define the relevance of a testimony or a report. That´s the result of an actual publication by Harvard University.


Based on nine single studies the researchers have come to the following conclusion: the precision of our memory performance depends on various factors – neglected so far have been trust and distrust, two parameters omnipresent in social everyday life.

Posten/Gino, “How Trust and Distrust Shape Perception and Memory“ in: Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2021, 121 (1), 43-58.




From the practice:

Trust is blind – an old saying has been confirmed once again scientifically, at least when it comes to our memory performance. Who communicates in trustful situations without any countermeasures has to be aware of risking accuracy – accuracy which is desperately needed for any cause per se and the people involved.

Certainly that does not mean to skip trust just to get useful testimonies and reports in meetings, negotiations, committees or at court. Having said that I´d like to share with you two concrete recommendations:

  1. Please question everything directly during the talk which appears in Spanish.

Don´t think of permanent controls or behaving like a paranoid. Think of an alert mind who wants to clarify ambiguities, superficialities, potential misunderstandings etc. particularly where trust is given and where you therefore never would have thought to question anything otherwise.

  1. Ask intentionally for contrasts. So ask colleagues, peers or subordinates not that much “What has happened?” but “What is different to the normal situation? What has happened in contrast to the way we had it before?”. In proceeding like this you may bring together the best of two worlds: You can expect more precise statements AND do not destroy the relationship of trust you have invested in for so long so intensely.


ImpfgegnerInnen sind erreichbar

ForscherInnen: Zielgruppen und Videos wirkungsvollste Hebel



Was tun, um angesichts der 4. Welle der Pandemie ImpfgegnerInnen zu überzeugen? Ein Artikel sowie eine neue Studie aus Deutschland bzw. den USA verweisen sehr deutlich auf zwei konkrete Erkenntnisse:

  1. Zielgruppenspezifische Ansprache lohnt sich. Sogar Menschen, die aus ideologischen Gründen von Regierungen festgelegte Covid-19-Maßnahmen nicht mittragen wollen, ändern ihre Meinung, wenn sie dezidiert als Eltern angesprochen werden. Vor allem Väter veränderten ihre Haltung zu Impfung, Masken und Mindestabstand, wenn ihnen die Auswirkungen einer allfälligen Covid-19-Erkrankung auf ihre Kinder klargemacht wurde.

Die WissenschaftlerInnen empfehlen daher, in der Kommunikation zur Pandemie viel stärker als bisher Menschen in ihren Beziehungsrollen – als Eltern, als Partner, als MitarbeiterIn, als LehrerIn, als NachbarIn – anzusprechen.  Covid-19-Argumentation wirke in diesem Kontext teilweise stärker als vorhandene parteipolitisch getriggerte Widerstände.

  1. Storytelling in Videoformaten punkten gegenüber reinen Zahlenfriedhöfen und Wissenschaftstexten. Besonders überzeugend seien vormalige Covid-19-SkeptikerInnen, die sich nun doch impfen ließen und die Geschichte ihrer Haltungsänderung erzählen. Dargestellt in kurzen Videos sind diese Geschichten für jene, die mit herkömmlicher Regierungskommunikation nicht erreicht werden, am glaubwürdigsten.

Zeng, “A relational identity-based solution to Group Polarization – Can Priming Parental Identity Reduce the Partisan Gap in Attitudes Toward the COVID-19 Pandemic”, in “Science Communication”, August 16, 2021.

Dan/Dixon, “Fighting the Infodemic on Two Fronts: Reducing False Beliefs without increasing Polarization”, in “Science Communication”, June 2, 2021.



Aus der Praxis:

Es ist ein uralte Kommunikationsweisheit: Nicht Gießkannenprinzip, sondern differenzierte Ansprache bringt Erfolg. Über die Rolle als Eltern und/oder Ex-ImpfgegnerInnen als Testimonials zu arbeiten, finde ich großartig. Eine andere Möglichkeit, die in dieselbe „Zielgruppen-Kerbe“ schlägt: Erst vor kurzem hat der österreichische Gesundheitsminister Mückstein in einem Video in türkisch, rumänisch und BKS aufgerufen zur Impfung zu gehen. Eineinhalb Jahre nach Beginn der Pandemie war das angesichts eines 17%-igen Bevölkerungsanteils von Nicht-ÖsterreicherInnen zwar spät, aber zumindest ein Schritt in die von den ForscherInnen empfohlene Richtung. Zielgruppen-Kommunikation heißt, der/dem anderen einen Schritt entgegenzugehen und es ihr/ihm leichter zu machen, Botschaften zu hören, zu verstehen und damit zu arbeiten. Das erfordert Empathie, strukturiertes Vorgehen und gutes Training. Aber mittelfristig werden wir nicht anders reüssieren.








Teamwork shows no effort gains per se

It´s the indispensability of each contribution, social comparing and women that count



The largest meta-analysis ever focusing on teamwork and performance refutes the popular assumption, teamwork triggers performance as such. The truth: It is not before three factors got their place in daily team management that team outputs are going up: a) each team member considers his/her contribution to be indispensable for the common goal, b) evaluations or comparisons with others are possible or c) there is a substantial number of women within the team.

These are the unequivocal results of researchers at the TU Dortmund who have gone through 622 relevant papers and more than 300.000 participants involved. Particularly the factor „indispensability“ seems to be crucial: even completely new teams that have to establish processes and relations among each other first can get quickly close to the maximum when motivating team members with their individual indispensability. Additionally helpful: this factor is beneficial for blue and white collar workers alike.

„Together, everyone achieves more – or less? An interdisciplinary meta-analysis on effort gains and losses in team”, Torka/Mazei/Hüffmeier, in: Psychological Bulletin, 147 (5) 2021, 504-534.


From the practice:

Exactly. The team for the sake of the team is rather seldom a good idea. Leaders often think they could earn some points of sympathy or motivation just because they are building teams. They underestimate how important the set up of the team work is – an aspect they are responsible for, too. Based on my experience especially when working with and in teams you have to implement straight rules (i.e. what is the duty and what is the free choice of the team?), monitor the performance and provide feedback. If not so, superiors or project managers are regularly confronted with weak results. This is also true for agile working.

A leader who cannot communicate requirements and leeways clearly and who is ducking off when it comes to a precise look at quality and potential follow ups is now at least getting some recos by the scientists from Dortmund: If you want to improve team performances then 1. Communicate unambiguously how and why each contribution in the team is indispensable 2. Make Perfomance of individuals and teams visible in order to nourish constructive competition and mutual support and 3. Keep an eye on lots of women in your teams.



Hiding success has disadvantages

You lose the option of strengthening relationships




It´s better to share than to hide success. At least when we are talking about people you are having close ties with: family, selected friends, business partners and peers. This is because by sharing success you are definitely strengthening relationships with individuals who are important to you. The logic goes like this: You apparently trust them to rejoice with you instead of being envious about what you worked out so well.

On the contrary: any direct reference person of yours interprets hiding of success either as rejection or as arrogance. The common approach not to talk proactively about things which went fine because your interlocutors would then feel bad or perceive you as a bragger is not true anymore. Or is to be seen differentiated to say the least.

These are the key findings of a recent US research. The scientists point out: you are paying a high emotional and social price if you keep believing hiding success means not to damage sensitivities of others.

Roberts, A. R., Levine, E. E., & Sezer, O. (2021). Hiding success. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 120(5), 1261–1286. https://doi.org/10.1037/pspi0000322



From the practice:

It is simply terrific to tell people who are close to my heart unlimitedly about my successes. I got it. And still I have to warn of potential pitfalls:

Even if everything is 100% correct what you are mentioning about the things which you have managed cleverly, please beware of

  1. Talking constantly about your successes – one might think you are dependent on constant praise
  2. Talking excessively about your successes – people can perceive you as penetrant.
  3. Using words and tone too self-importantly when talking about your successes – the other one might interpret this behaviour as exaggeration or yourself or as devaluation of him/herself.


So we get back a very old story: It is the How which is as crucial in communication as the What.

Negations may change outgroup attitudes

Interesting intervention leads to new opportunities to convince people




For decades we have learned and practised not to use negations when it comes to persuade someone. The socalled positive argumentation, the dogma said, was always the better idea. We need to leave this standpoint. A recent research of the Leibniz Institute for Knowledge Media concluded that negations can have indeed their effects, sometimes even much better than anything else in rhetoric: if outgroup attitudes are to be changed. It is crucial for the success of this endeavour though, to address – before negating them – the very same attitude explicitly in the words used by the respective interlocutor. A negative outgroup attitude may be transferred into a more positive opinion about an individual or a group.

That means according to this German study: „Mr. Maier is lazy“ can be successfully counteracted with „No, Mr. Maier is not lazy”, by avoiding to speak out the well-intended “No, Mr. Maier is ambitious”. What mechanism lies behind this effect? Who is hearing one´s own words particularly in the beginning of any discussion (and is NOT filled up with counterarguments at once) feels perceived and listened to – even if these own words are negated. At this particular moment people start to be willing to stay in the discussion in a constructive way – the cognitive system has been activated.

Winter/Scholl/Sassenberg, A matter of flexibility: Changing outgroup attitudes through messages with negations, in: Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2021, 120(4), 956–976



From the practise:

After having read this paper for the first time I was puzzled. Have I been confronted here with a fundamental change of directions in the field of argumentation? Yes and no.

Yes, because these findings relativize the absolute and everlasting triumph of positive argumentation. But still no, since if you look closer we identify also common knowledge in a new look.

Who is using „You have not done this well“ as a feedback intentionally wants to get criticism more accepted. We are aware of the fact that the negation ahead of the word „well“ is not perceived that strong. “Well“ resonates much longer and prevents immediate defense tactics or counter attacks by the one who has received this feedback. Nothing else gets into effect in the logic I have described and presented above.


To put it in a nutshell : let´s practise negations – but only if we select our words thereafter precisely. In this or in another case.


Emotions of crowds are frequently overestimated

It´s the Crowd-Emotion-Amplification-Effect, stupid




Keep attention when assessing the mood of a crowd. Whether we observe protesters, church visitors or family members: we fixate faces with the strongest mimics first and foremost and derive from here in an unqualified simplification that the entire group is dominated by the very same emotion. Hereby a negative expression “induces” more easily than a positive one to generalize. Crowd-Emotion-Amplification-Effect the authors call this phenomenon in a paper published lately under the patronance of James J. Gross, the pope of emotion regulation from Stanford.

Plus: people who are socially unsecure tend in particular to judge groups globally wrong. This is because they are spending lots of time to observe strong emotions in the faces of others – global prejudices are soon popping up. The researchers recommend trainings where socially unsecure people learn to shift their focus off the most expressive faces of a crowd and integrate within your judgement proactively your perception of the rest, too.

„The Crowd-Emotion-Amplification-Effect“, Goldenberg/Weisz/Sweeny/Cikara/Gross, in: Psychological Science”, vol. 32, issue 3, 2021.



From the practice:

I feel caught! Although I don´t consider myself socially unsecure my eyes constantly get stuck at most expressive faces – in a live setting or when watching videos. It is not before then that I am looking around from there to all the other people in this specific group or crowd.

Actually this study is an eye opener to me in telling 1. How important eye contact basically is, once again. 2. How deceptive and misleading visuals can be if we don´t take sufficient time to make up our minds or first judgements.

So I am going to discuss with my clients even more serious how we can protect ourselves and others in this regard. If you ask me we have to say a loud commitment to facts and a clear No to amplifications, especially if these amplifications are leading to devaluation and disdain.

Attentiveness is in demand. And coaching and/or self reflection.

Honesty of political opponent is moral spur

Misbehavior in the in-group promotes imitators




Whether somebody behaves more or less morally, is influenced by “one´s own people” (in-group) the same as by “the others” (out-group) – and still in a completely different way. Colleagues leave their traces primarily negatively. When observing misbehavior of those, “whom we belong to”, we do forget ethics and decency more easily. This is because we feel protected from any consequences by the group and/or want to demonstrate connectedness by behaving in an apparently accepted way.

Competition on the other hand promotes when it comes to morals rather the positive side in us. It does so particularly if political opponents or representatives of a rival department stands out for peculiar honesty. Who wants to have people say he/she would be less sincere than “these others”?

These are the conclusions a research team of Ivy League Universities Brown and Harvard get to in a recently published study. Remarkable from the scientific perspective: individuals who take honest behavior by out-group member as a moral spur still do not change their negative opinion about them.

„Following your group or your morals? The in-group promotes immoral behavior while the out-group buffers against ist”, Vives/Cikara/FeldmanHall, in Social Psychology and Personality Science, OnlineFirst, March 19th, 2021



From the practice:

This study confirms a sort of hypocracy or double standards we so often are confronted with in competitive arenas, above all in politics. To be generous in case of misbehavior of members of the own party and to be relentless against the very same or even minor activities if they are conducted by “the other ones”. It does not come by chance that politicians hit the bottom line of reputation rankings regularly – when credibility is concerned.

For 22 years I am questioning why so many officials see more risks than opportunities in distancing themselves from misbehavior in their in-group. Where is the issue, to demand more correctness not only for the others but also for yourself and your people? Why interpret so many “solidarity” as solidarity for their party and not for the country with its citizens?

We as coaches and advisers are asked to engage in this field even more: by encouraging, reflecting clear attitudes and training what this will mean in terms of communication. Eventually very often a client admits in a 1:1-session that double standards have to be stopped. Till today only few of them stand up against it visibly, though.

They all want the same: leaders who listen and inspire as role models

Motivation by positive communication has an impact on diverse teams, too





Regardless how diverse members of a staff might be: In the end blue-collar and white-collar workers, young and old, women and men, locals and migrants all want the same to feel motivated: leaders who listen and inspire as role models. Simultaneously self-disclosure of superiors has much less impact on follower´s perception than previously thought. These are the partially surprising results of a new study conducted and published recently at the California State University.

What this means is cristal clear: acknowledgement, appreciation and support are needed by all employees independent of their very specific and individual personal backgrounds. The researchers argue that this is due to our intrinsic desire for quality relationships, quality that can be tapped excellently with Positive Communication.

“Followers´ Perceptions of Positive Communication Practices in Leadership: What Matters and surprisingly What does not”, Biganeh/Young, in: International Journal of Business Communication”, I – 20, Feb. 2021.


From the practice:

The results of this study are not that astonishing to me as apparently for the authors. After 22 years in the coaching business and with clients from 5 different areas – Western Europe, Eastern Europe, UK, US and Middle East – I dare to make a rather unscientific comment: all of us look for attention and affection. It is the detail where cultural differences pop up and have to be acknowledged: how fast, how direct and what sort of wording you use for motivating the staff.

Let me add some recommendations to the topics “listening” and “inspiring role model”: 1. Please find space and concentration when listening to employees. You cannot note key details with the utmost precision otherwise. 2. Please have in mind that as a leader you are constantly under observation. Lots of managers underestimate this aspect and are surprised after all what their teams conclude from their walk and talk unintentionally.



Anxiety increases with new threats in the pandemic

Communicating in scenarios gets more and more inevitable



Threats that keep a constant pace decrease in their dynamics. That´s why the Covid-19 pandemic scares us less than in its beginnings – we got used to it in a way. Changes in velocity and acceleration of the pandemic, though, may lead directly to an increase in anxiety again and this has a negative impact on our performance at work, too. These are the conclusions of a study an international research team at the University of Oklahoma has published recently. Transferring them onto the current new stressors that means: the rampant new mutations of the virus, the slow implementation of the vaccination strategy in the country and the difficulties in planning the economic situation furtheron push anxieties once again and lead after days of respective bad news to emotional exhaustion and less engagement of employees. The researchers recommend leaders in politics and economy to focus in their communication less on the pandemic as such but primarily on the new stressors.

“Anxiety Responses to the Unfolding COVID-19 Crisis: Patterns of Change in the Experience of Prolonged Exposure to Stressors”, Fu/Greco/Lennard/Dimotakis, in: Journal of Applied Psychology, 2021, Vol. 106, No. 1, 48–61

From the practice:

When it comes to communication there is for me only one strategy how to cope seriously with unpredictabilities AND walk up to understandable anxieties of people involved: to present scenarios. My clients share their best experiences with the use of three scenarios  – two being rarely sufficient and four being confusing again. What sort of characteristics the scenario determines, how and why it has developed and particularly who has to do what if it occurs – these are the ingredients of professional communication in scenarios which helps to make diffuse uncertainty calculable. To communicate in scenarios is an approach for all leaders who are willing to stick to the options for actions each of their scenarios will bring with – regardless which one becomes reality. On the contrary leaders who don´t want to bind themselves to an agenda, leaders who prefer to decide and move spontaneously will go in a completely different direction: towards ad hoc-management and ad hoc-communication. Ad hoc boosts anxieties, though – that´s not only common sense but now – indirectly at least – also confirmed by this new study.

Male and female managers enjoy leadership roles alike

Positioning of women in the working place improved





There are much less differences between male and female leaders than assumed – at least when it comes down to job satisfaction and well-being. Both genders do enjoy their roles on the top of the respective organization with pleasure, relatedness and competence as the key thriver. By contrast, the number of supervised people and years of experience are of minor importance. These are the results of a study the Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, worldwide the largest university for air and space programs, has recently published.

The authors interpret the outcome a) as a symbol for improved positioning of women in the working place and b) as a success for equal rights meaning that women who lead are not plagued any more by stress, tough requirements or expectations pitched too high. Organisations which appeal to higher performance of superiors may (furtheron) emphasize diversity, inclusion and equity.

Frederick/Lazzara, „Examining Gender and Enjoyment: Do They predict Job Satisfaction and Well-Being?”, in: The Psychologist-Manager Journal, 2020, vol.23, Nr. 3 – 4, 163-176.




From the practice:

Yes, there is a similar development in my work with clients regarding the quantitatively as qualitatively improved positioning of female leaders: 75% of my clients have been men when I started this kind of business in 1999 – nowadays they are max. 50%. Does this shift resonate anyhow in the substance of my work? Not really. Challenges and solutions in leadership tasks are pretty similar. Still my observations and my guts tell that women on average do find it harder to talk about themselves positively. In hearings this might be a disadvantage from the very beginning. This is manageable, though! 8 out of 10 of my clients get their job since they succeed in the recruiting procedures. Not only, but also because they have conveyed a convincing balance between selfmarketing and coolness in their appearance and their communication.



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