YDS: The Clare Spark Blog

November 18, 2010

Harvard’s “Alpha Dogs”

Amy Cuddy, “Alpha Dog”

One of America’s most significant founding principles was a product of the Enlightenment: that each citizen would be capable of rationality and independent judgment based on shared perceptions of facts or things as they are. We were supposedly educable, no matter how lowly our birth by traditional European standards. Such ideals were asserted against all prior forms of coercion, pomp and demagoguery of political establishments. (For a related blog see https://clarespark.com/2012/04/02/touch-me-touch-me-not/, also https://clarespark.com/2013/01/12/hate-hard-liberty-quick-fixes/.)

How far we have departed from that standard can be seen in the featured story for the latest issue of Harvard Magazine (Nov.-Dec.2010), “The Psyche on Automatic,” by Craig Lambert.  Although one might infer from the cover that the social psychologist Amy Cuddy (who teaches at the Harvard Business School in courses on “negotiation, power and influence”) would be directing the reader away from “snap judgments” or other instances of irrationality, the article delineates a scientific basis for manipulating audiences, potential employers, investors and other targets, taken to be not amenable to rational persuasion and naked displays of “competence.” Rather these potential patrons (suckers?) are bound to be impressed by body language, warmth, and an ineffable quality of connectivity, as opposed to the stark display of competence, for competence in conjunction with “coldness” can make others envious and hostile—to the point of genocide! There are tables of ideal types to demonstrate her thesis, one that is buttressed by her studies of testosterone and cortisol levels in “high-power or low-power poses.” And there are pictures of Cuddy and others demonstrating the effective postures of power and influence—influence that will ultimately correct pre-existent cruel cognitive patterns indicating contempt for “the homeless, welfare recipients, poor people” [OMG they must be Republicans] while at the same time boosting investor confidence in the projects of “venture capitalists.”

Harvard trains leaders, and wants them to increase “social cohesiveness”(i.e., solicitude for those less fortunate than themselves: noblesse oblige). Of course Cuddy does not advocate stupidity, it is just that successful people can beat out the other would-be alpha dogs* with her techniques. We alphas do not make ourselves physically little, we do not snarl, we do not brag by pretending to superior expertise or to knowledge of “the truth”—nor do we expose our necks as a sign of submission or “niceness.” [That last sentence was my reading, not quoted directly from the article.]

The long article on making friends and influencing people while overpowering them concludes, in my view, by subtly admonishing pushy, know-it-all [Jews?]:

“Leaders often see themselves as separate from their audiences… They want to stake out a position and then move audiences toward them. That’s not effective… ‘[Her students] overemphasize the importance of projecting high competence—they want to be the smartest guy in the room. They’re trying to be dominant. Clearly there are advantages to feeling and seeing yourself as powerful and competent—you’ll be more confident, more willing to take risks. And it’s important for others to perceive you as strong and competent. That said, you don’t have to prove that you’re the most dominant, the most competent person there. In fact, it’s rarely a good idea to strive to show everyone that you’re the smartest guy in the room: that person tends to be less creative, and less cognitively open to other ideas and people.’

[quote cont.] “Instead, says Cuddy, the goal should be connecting. When people give a speech or lead a meeting, for example, they tend to exaggerate the importance of words. They ‘care too much about content and delivering it with precision. That makes them sound scripted.’ Far better, she advises, to ‘come into a room, be trusting, connect with the audience wherever they are, and then move them with you.’”

In vino veritas.

*The expression “alpha dog” is used in the subtitle of the article: “Amy Cuddy probes snap judgments, warm feelings, and how to become an “alpha dog.”

September 24, 2010

Dale Carnegie and the organization man/woman

Here is how Wikipedia summarized the main points in Dale Carnegie’s famous and hugely successful book How To Win Friends and Influence People (1936). My first impression upon reading the summary was: this is how I was raised as a woman, to be above all a good listener, empathic, a flatterer, and non-combative. At the end of the summary, I will guess to whom the book was directed, and how Carnegie envisioned leadership and success in America.

[Wiki summary:]

Fundamental Techniques in Handling People

  1. Don’t criticize, condemn, or complain.
  2. Give honest and sincere appreciation.
  3. Arouse in the other person an eager want.

 Six Ways to Make People Like You

  1. Become genuinely interested in other people.
  2. Smile.
  3. Remember that a person’s name is, to him or her, the sweetest and most important sound in any language.
  4. Be a good listener. Encourage others to talk about themselves.
  5. Talk in the terms of the other person’s interest.
  6. Make the other person feel important and do it sincerely.

Twelve Ways to Win People to Your Way of Thinking

  1. Avoid arguments.
  2. Show respect for the other person’s opinions. Never tell someone that he or she is wrong.
  3. If you’re wrong, admit it quickly and emphatically.
  4. Begin in a friendly way.
  5. Start with questions to which the other person will answer yes.
  6. Let the other person do the talking.
  7. Let the other person feel the idea is his/hers.
  8. Try honestly to see things from the other person’s point of view.
  9. Sympathize with the other person.
  10. Appeal to noble motives.
  11. Dramatize your ideas.
  12. Throw down a challenge; don’t talk negatively when a person is absent; talk only about the positive.

 Be a Leader: How to Change People Without Giving Offense or Arousing Resentment

  1. Begin with praise and honest appreciation.
  2. Call attention to other people’s mistakes indirectly.
  3. Talk about your own mistakes first.
  4. Ask questions instead of directly giving orders.
  5. Let the other person save face.
  6. Praise every improvement.
  7. Give the other person a fine reputation to live up to.
  8. Encourage them by making their faults seem easy to correct.
  9. Make the other person happy about doing what you suggest.

 Seven Rules For Making your Home Life Happier

  1. Don’t nag.
  2. Don’t try to make your partner over.
  3. Don’t criticize.
  4. Give honest appreciation.
  5. Pay little attentions.
  6. Be courteous.
  7. Read a good book on the sexual side of marriage. [End, Wikipedia summary]

[Clare:] I have not researched the reception of Carnegie’s advice book, but offhand it seems to be directed to pushy and/or feisty recent immigrants, whose aspirations did not reach above middle-management. It is sort of an Emily Post for the former denizens of the Lower East Side, Brooklyn, the Bronx, and parts West of Manhattan. It is also a handbook for women, including the route to successful motherhood. It also evokes the “other-directed” type that was described by David Reisman in The Lonely Crowd (1950), in which (I thought) he noticed the drastic departure from the 19th century “inner-directed” type person, who was indeed able to rely on individual conscience and research while putting out into the world opinions that might arouse opposition, rancor and even violence.  (See my blog on Riesman and Hayek for what Riesman really thought: I was thinking of myself, not Riesman’s copycat good son. https://clarespark.com/2010/10/09/david-riesman-v-friedrich-hayek/) Which suggests the question: what is a leader? Are “the people” the leaders? If not, is the leader primarily a teacher? Or, are we talking about demagogues, i.e., the person who can sense the mood of the masses, and then embody those mass feelings in program proposals that make the masses feel good (whether or not they are realizable or sincerely held by the “leader”)? Or is it someone or a group that takes risks, attempts to see problems in all their facets and nuances, formulates programs to relieve the malaise and other forms of needless suffering, and then forthrightly puts out into the world suggestions and policies that would advance the cause of humanity, taking into account failed experiments/policies in the past?

      There was nothing original in Carnegie’s handbook for success in America. It was a highly simplified recipe that reiterated “politeness” as it was exemplified in an imagined aristocracy, one that was learned, tactful, and skillful in avoiding destructive and costly wars. That the European aristocracy was anything but that when its interests were threatened, was perhaps beyond the ken of the masochistic man from Missouri who wrote the perennial best seller.

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