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领导有时说假话,其实是为你好

杰弗里•费弗尔 2016年06月14日

说谎听上去不太好,但可能对下属的长期成长有益。

全世界都在宣扬真诚、公平和透明。以“公平的好处”为关键字在谷歌上搜索能得到30500条结果;然而,用“公平的成本”来搜,结果只有6条。歌颂领导力的“圣歌”影响之深远可见一斑。

但别忙着跟谁都推心置腹,因为说假话也并非一无是处,这里有些证据。

期望效应

大约50年前,哈佛大学一位社会心理学家和旧金山一位小学校长研究了教学过程中的皮格马利翁效应。他们编造测试结果称一些学生的智力很有可能提高,学年结束后这些学生的智商测试结果真的提高了。一、二年级学生的反应特别明显。报告公布后类似研究活动蓬勃开展,最初是在教育领域,随后延伸到了经营管理领域。

以色列学者多夫•伊登通过大量研究表明,如果领导者表示对某些下属期望很高,这些下属就会比没有受鼓励的同事表现好,从销售人员到军人都是如此。后来有人系统性梳理科学文献,证实了期望会影响个人表现,而且发现此前表现差的人受影响更大。

期望影响个人表现的方式至少有两种。一种叫做防御行为。如果听说自己没什么希望,就会放弃努力,这也很合理,既然注定失败何必还要浪费精力呢?另一方面,如果听说很有机会成功,就会投入更多的时间和精力,因为相信努力会有回报。

再来说第二种影响,人们对待某人的态度经常会被其他人的评价左右,教师和管理人员也不例外。一篇文章指出,如果跟某人打交道之前先了解一些特点,比如外表和聪明与否等,人们的行为就会跟着听来的印象走。举例来说,如果认为交流对象是帅哥美女,人们会倾向于更随和、更友善也更讨人喜欢;如果认为交流对象没什么魅力,人们会冷淡许多。

很多情况下,为了让积极的预期改善个人表现,领导者或教师要传达一些虚假信息。要想让后进者相信自己有希望,努力追求进步,领导者可能就得说一些假话。

安慰剂效应

医学方面也有类似现象,即安慰剂效应。接受了安慰剂治疗,却相信自己接受了药物或治疗的人往往反应明显,仅仅因为他们心理上确信治疗有效。举个例子,一项研究表明,如果告诉一些可卡因滥用者给他们用了兴奋剂(不是安慰剂),让另一些滥用者服用同样剂量的兴奋剂但告诉他们用的是安慰剂,相信服用了兴奋剂的滥用者生理代谢反应会高50%左右。

《新英格兰医学期刊》最近刊登的一篇文章指出,治疗中的感官体验,比如穿白大褂的医生、医院里的符号标志、用药方案以及医生护士紧张地安排治疗都会激活大脑的某些区域,进而影响病人的内啡肽和多巴胺分泌水平。该文章称,治疗中的某些体验对病人神经递质的影响和真正用药的效果相同。

安慰剂效应的作用既已确定,而利用鸦片制剂镇痛导致上瘾的问题又难解,已经有人建议在某些情况下用“假药”为病人缓解疼痛,关键在于不使用(而且不提供)成瘾性麻醉剂又达到止痛的目的。

再强调一次,要让安慰剂效应发挥作用,就必须欺骗。如果有人老实告诉你吃的不是药而是糖豆,安慰剂效应是不会出现的,这种情况下知道实情对病人来说没好处。

自我实现预言

安慰剂效应和预期效应都是自我实现预言的例证。这个概念是指某些想法引发的行为让想法成为现实,即便想法是假的。银行挤兑就是个经典范例。如果人们相信某家银行濒临倒闭就会争相前去提款,导致银行真的倒闭。

企业要取得成功,就需要投资者的支持、顾客的消费以及员工的才干和付出。但没有投资者、顾客和员工想跟一家濒临倒闭的公司扯上关系。因此,领导者最重要的任务之一就是说服别人公司一定会成功,获得各方支持。能充分展示信心的领导者就能赢得支持,而支持会让信心变为现实。一旦人们相信这家公司会成功,事事都以此为前提,公司就会取得成功。

就像英特尔联合创始人、前首席执行官安迪•格罗夫在旧金山湾区的一次哈佛商学院会议上所说,有时候,领导者心里没什么底也得表现得信心满满,有时面临困境毫无头绪,也得表现得尽在掌握。

我和鲍勃•萨顿共同撰写的书中引用了格罗夫的话,他说领导者为了铺平成功的道路是需要欺骗的:“成功一部分靠自律,一部分靠欺骗。慢慢地谎言会成真。在这里,谎言是指给自己打气,美化现实让自己感觉好一点。过段时间会发现,只要表现得有信心,自信心真会增强。算下来谎言也不太骗人。”

格罗夫还强调,即便“没有人真的知道前路如何”,领导者也不应该表现得没主见没把握。

世上确实有只为个人利益的行骗者,暂时忽略这些吧。请相信领导者的目标都是最单纯的,他们只是希望别人取得成功,不负厚望。或者领导者只是希望公司成功,因为成功能鼓励员工为公司付出更多努力一直留下。又或者医生希望借助安慰剂效应来提高治疗效果。

所有这些情况下,人们都得一本正经地说谎。所以我有时会说,能说谎说得让人心悦诚服也许是最重要的管理能力。简而言之,在管理和医疗领域,许多情况下都要借助自我实现预言的力量。尽快接受这一理论,越早纳入领导力学习的范围,效果就越好。

作者:杰弗里•费弗尔(Jeffrey Pfeffer)是斯坦福大学商学院Thomas D. Dee II教席组织行为学教授。

译者:Charlie

审校:夏林

The world is awash in claims of the benefits of truthfulness, candor, and transparency. A Google search using the phrase “benefits of candor” returned 30,500 entries, with just six for the opposite phrase, “costs of candor.” The kumbaya nature of leadership advice shows through.

But before you run off and tell everyone precisely what you are thinking and feeling, here are a few pieces of evidence in favor of the opposite approach.

Expectation Effects

About 50 years ago, a Harvard social psychologist and a San Francisco school principal studied Pygmalion effects in the classroom. They found that students who had been labeled, on the basis of fictitious test results, likely to experience spurts in intellectual growth showed increases in measured IQ over the course of the school year. The effect was particularly pronounced for children in the first and second grades. This research led to a boom in similar studies, first in education and then in management and leadership.

An Israeli academic, Dov Eden, conducted a number of studies demonstrating that when leaders communicated high expectations for individuals ranging from sales people to military personnel, those individuals performed at a higher level than people not subjected to similarly high expectations. A subsequent systematic review of the scientific literature confirmed the effects of expectations on performance and found that the effects were more pronounced for people who had previously been poor performers.

There are at least two mechanisms by which expectations have an effect on a person’s performance. One is called defensive effort. People who are told they won’t do well will, reasonably enough, not try very hard. Why waste energy on a fruitless quest? On the other hand, people who are told they are likely to succeed will invest more time and energy because they expect a payoff from their efforts.

Second, people, including teachers and supervisors, behave differently toward people depending on what they are told about those people. One article noted that when a person is provided with stereotype-cuing information about another individual with whom they expect to interact—for instance information about physical attractiveness, intelligence, and so forth—their behavior changes in ways that act to confirm the stereotype. For instance, people who thought they were interacting with a physically attractive person were more sociable, friendly, and likable than those who thought they were interacting with a less attractive individual.

In many cases, for positive expectations to improve performance, leaders or teachers must deliver false or bogus information to the targets. If poor performers are going to improve because they are told they are expected to do great, leaders may have to say things they may not believe.

Placebo Effects

A related phenomenon in medicine is the placebo effect—people who believe they have been given some drug or treatment will react more just because they think they received a potent treatment. For instance, a study of the administration of a stimulant (not a placebo) to cocaine abusers found that the physiological metabolic response was some 50% higher in people who were told they were being given the stimulant compared to people who received the identical dosage but were told they were being given a placebo.

A recent article in the New England Journal of Medicine noted that the therapeutic encounter—the doctor in the white coat, the other symbols and settings of medicine, and the apparent administration of some treatment—activated certain parts of the brain and affected patients’ levels of endorphins and dopamine. The article argued that some of these effects on neurotransmitters were identical to what was achieved when patients took actual drugs.

The potency of the placebo effect coupled with the tremendous contemporary problem of opiate addiction has led to the recommendation to sometimes use “fake” pills to treat patients’ pain. The idea is to achieve pain relief without the administration (and availability) of addictive narcotics.

Once again, for the placebo effect to work, there must be deception. If someone says you are getting a sugar pill, the placebo effect won’t operate and there will be no benefit to the patient.

Self-Fulfilling Prophecies

Placebo and expectation effects are examples of self-fulfilling prophecies—the concept that a certain idea produces behaviors that make the idea, even if originally false, become true. The classic example would be a run on a bank. If people believe a bank is on the verge of failing, they will rush to get their money out, which then causes the bank to fail.

For businesses to succeed, they need the support of investors, the purchases of customers, and the talent and energy of employees. But none of these parties will want to be associated with a company that is going to fail. So, one of the most important tasks of a leader is to convince others that the organization can and will be successful and that it deserves their support. Leaders who convincingly display confidence can attract the support that makes the confident posture become true, as the company becomes successful because others believe it will be and act on that basis.

Sometimes, as Intel co-founder and former CEO Andy Grove once told a Harvard Business School conference in the San Francisco Bay Area, this requires leaders to display confidence that they may not feel and to act as if they know what they are doing even if they don’t.

As quoted in a book I wrote with Bob Sutton, Grove argued that leaders needed to use deception to create the conditions for success: “Part of it is self-discipline and part of it is deception. And the deception becomes reality. Deception in the sense that you pump yourself up and put a better face on things than you start off feeling. But after a while, if you act confident, you become more confident. So the deception become less of a deception.”

Grove also emphasized that leaders should not display uncertainty and insecurity, even if, to quote him again, “none of us have a real understanding of where we are heading.”

Forget for a moment the self-interested benefits that may come to people who deceive others for their own advantage. Suppose leaders have the purest of intentions and just want other people to succeed to fulfill the lofty expectations others may have of them. Or maybe leaders want their organizations to succeed because success inspires others to put in more effort and stay at the company. Or perhaps doctors want to improve treatment outcomes by tapping into the placebo effect.

In all of these instances, people need to be able to convincingly prevaricate—which is one reason I sometimes say that the ability to lie convincingly may be the single most important management skill. Simply put, many situations in management—and medicine—rely on the operation of the self-fulfilling prophecy. The sooner we recognize this and incorporate it into leadership training, the better off we will be.

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