Harness the power of self-fulfilling beliefs

Posted in Personal development.

A self-fulfilling prophecy is a belief that causes someone to change their behaviour in such a way that the outcome conforms with that belief. These sorts of things can influence many aspects of our lives and give a sort of credence to the phrase “mind over matter”. Whether these beliefs and expectations stem from ourselves or those around us, they can have an impact on our performance; even creating a loop that strengthens our beliefs. Three types of self-fulfilling beliefs are:

1. Pygmalion effect

The Pygmalion effect – otherwise known as the Rosenthal effect – is the tendency for higher expectations from others to increase our own performance. Essentially, higher expectations of someone else’s abilities leads to them performing better.

An example in the workplace would be a manager having high expectations of a new employee. Due to this, the new employee may be given more opportunities to learn and improve by being challenged. This would, in turn, conform with the manager’s expectations for the new employee.

2. Galatea effect

While the Pygmalion effect stems from other’s expectations of our own abilities, the Galatea effect stems from our own expectations of our abilities. In essence, it is the effect that high self-efficacy – belief in our own abilities – has on our performance.

Oftentimes, the Pygmalion effect and the Galatea effect interact in a loop. A new promising employee is given more opportunities to learn. Due to the high expectations of their manager, they perform well. This leads them to have faith in their own abilities which further increases their performance. The manager sees this as confirmation of their expectations and their beliefs are strengthened. Thus, a positive feedback loop is created.

3. Golem effect

The previous self-fulfilling prophecies were positive. However, the Golem effect is quite the opposite. Here, lower expectations lead to worse performance whether it stems from the outside or within. There are different types of Golem effects. One could be employees who are unqualified for the task and therefore have lower expectations of themselves. Another could be employees who are qualified for the task but do not compare favourably with their peers and therefore others have lower expectations of them and they have lower expectations of themselves. The latter is potentially more dangerous as it could degrade employees’ performance in such a way that they are no longer qualified for the task in a similar feedback loop to the other self-fulfilling prophecies.

As an example, two employees are hired at the same time. Employee A shows promise and excels in their tasks. Employee B has the same task and succeeds at it, but it is not to the same extent. Employee B now has lower expectations of their abilities. The manager notices the discrepancy and may subconsciously deem employee B to be inferior. Employee A is given new opportunities to show off their skills and learn while employee B is given less opportunities. Here, the manager’s lower expectations and employee B’s low self-efficacy relative to employee A leads to a positive feedback loop degrading their performance. Eventually, employee B may not be suited for the task even though they were at the beginning.

The Take-away

The power of belief in these self-fulfilling prophecies can influence our performance in such a way that our beliefs are strengthened, and a loop is formed. A skilled manager should be able to take note of these expectations and use them in a way that benefits the business.