Business · Psychology

Self-fulfilling prophecy

Have you ever woken up and knew it was going to be a bad day? Sure enough, you’ve stubbed your toe, people at work seem to be in a bad mood and negative things just seem to happen. If so, you are likely to be experiencing a self fulfilling prophecy.

What is a self fulfilling prophecy?

A self fulfilling prophecy is when a person unknowingly causes a prediction to come true due to the simple fact that he or she expects it to come true.In other words, an expectation about a subject such as a personal event can affect our behaviour towards that subject which causes the expectation to be realized. For example, a high school basketball coach expects freshmen to be less skilled. So he does not put them in the play very often. And when he does, they under perform and don’t do well- thereby fulfilling her expectations. In a study regarding self fulfilling prophecy, psychologists led some male college students  to believe that a female student was attracted to them and others to believe that she was not attracted to them. The social psychologists later observed interactions between the men and the female in question. The woman was much more likely to act as if she was attracted to the first set of men. Why? Because the men who thought she was attracted to them acted in a way that seemed to lead her to be actually attracted to them. You can think of the self fulfilling prophecy as a circular pattern. Our actions towards others impact their beliefs about us which dictates their actions towards us which then reinforces our beliefs about ourselves. This, in turn influences our actions towards others which brings us back to the beginning of the cycle. This pattern can be negative (like the basketball coach’s example)but can also be positive.

Self fulfilling prophecy-a circular pattern

The Pygmalion effect

When it is used for positive results, it is called the Pygmalion effect, or Rosenthal effect whereby higher expectations lead to an increase in performance.

Four main principles of the Pygmalion effect:

  1. We form the expectation
  2. The expectation is communicated
  3. Behaviour is adapted to meet the expectation
  4. The expectation then becomes true.

The Pygmalion effect in the workplace:

Meeting the expectations that others set for us is something we do from early on, in our lives. In school, we work hard to learn the concepts and perform well in tests to meet the expectations of our parents and teachers. In sports, we push ourselves physically to meet the expectations of our coaches and team mates.In relationships we adapt our behaviour to meet the expectations of our partner. Likewise in the workplace, an employee will adapt his/her behaviour and level of performance to meet the expectation set by the manager in the organization. The expectation that a manager sets can powerfully influence an employee’s behaviour. Managers can use this tool of performance review to influence and harness the potential of an employee.

Pygmalion effect at workplace

So what?

It is up to us to set positive expectations and achieve the same. Have you ever wondered whether your happiness in achieving a goal is underpinning your potential? Whether you are comfortable to your own undoing? More often than not, we are very happy to set mediocre expectations and achieve the same. Most of us are scared to set lofty expectations for the fear of not being able to fulfill them. Try setting a lofty expectation. You might just fulfill it!



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