I want to tell you about this experiment from the 1960’s.

Some psychologists went into a school and gave all the students the Harvard Test of Inflected Acquisition. This test could predict which kids were likely to grow academically in the next year, or as they called them ‘growth spurters’. The researchers gave this info to the teachers and then came back later to measure changes in their academic scores.

Lo and behold, the ‘growth spurters’ did do a whole lot better than the rest of the kids in the class. Now stay with me cos this is where it get’s interesting.

The researchers weren’t trying to figure out if the Harvard test was valid, in fact it was totally bogus!

Nope, the researchers wanted to test the Pygmalion Effect – that high expectations lead to an increase in performance.

The kids were all randomly assigned to be ‘growth spurters’ or not and so the researchers concluded that it was the increased expectations of their teachers that caused an increase in their scores.

When someone believes in you, you tend to try and live up to their expectations, and of course the opposite is true to.

The same applies at work.

If you don’t believe someone is up to the task, even if they have the skills they are more likely to fail.

If you don’t believe that the person in front of you has the capability to find their own solutions then definitely don’t try coaching.

It can be tough to have a positive belief of another’s ability when you’re rushed, they’ve let you down before, there’s just something about them that …

So here’s a question that might help:

If I knew that [name] can do this, what would I do next time we speak?

Keep this question in mind when you’re talking to them, and listen in a way that will create the conditions they need to feel safe, at ease, creative and valued.

Give it a try and see what happens. Mostly, people live up to the high expectations you have of them, they also live up to the low ones.

PS1: When I say high expectations, I mean realistic and achievable.
PS2: My thinking was influenced by a workshop I ran for a professional services firm on the importance of a growth mindset in performance development conversations and reminded me of this study, Rosenthal, R., & Jacobson, L. (1968). Pygmalion in the classroom. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston.

Get in touch if you’d like me to run a workshop for your organisation or network.

Want tips to help you use a coaching approach in your inbox every Sunday?
A banner advising that Think Like A Coach is available for sale now.

Order here

Want practical coach ideas that you can use everyday?

This website stores cookies on your computer. Cookie Policy