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1. What is Pygmalion Effect or Self-fulfilling prophecy?

Ancient Greek mythology creates an archetype for a present day social phenomenon with an
artist named Pygmalion. He carved the perfect woman from ivory and fell in love with his
own creation, naming it Galatea. Pygmalion desperately wished she was alive. With the help
of the goddess Venus and his true belief in his creation, Galatea was brought to life. Though
the name originates from this allegory, the more precise nature of the Pygmalion effect, also
known as self-fulfilling prophecy, is demonstrated in George Bernard Shaw’s play
“Pygmalion” made into the classic movie, “My Fair Lady.” Professor Henry Higgins insisted
that he could take a Cockney flower girl and turn her into a duchess. The subject of his
experiment, Eliza Doolittle, actually makes the point of the Pygmalion effect quite clear in
her lines: “You see, really and truly, apart from the things anyone can pick up (the dressing
and the proper way of speaking), the difference between a lady and a flower girl is not how
she behaves, but how she’s treated. I shall always be a flower girl to Professor Higgins,
because he always treats me as a flower girl, and always will, but I know I can be a lady to
you because you always treat me as a lady, and always will.”

Social scientists and psychologists use this paradigm as a metaphor for the expectancy
outcome known as the “Pygmalion effect” or self-fulfilling prophecy. Not surprisingly, the
effect has an opposite reaction known as the “Galatea effect.” Both reflect the transference
process of expectancy that occurs among people.

What does this have to do with business?

Everything; because of the thousands of cues, most non-verbal, expectations are transmitted
and fulfilled between people in all relationship dynamics. According to the Accel Team Web
site, self-fulfilling prophecy can be summarized in the following principles:

• We form certain expectations of people or events. This is natural and unavoidable.

• We communicate those expectations with various cues.
• People tend to respond to these cues by adjusting their behavior to match them.
• We tend to be comfortable with people who meet our expectations, whether they’re high or
low. • The result is that the original expectation becomes true.
• This creates a circle of self-fulfilling prophecies.
• Once formed, expectations about us tend to be self-sustaining. The manager is Pygmalion.

The Pygmalion Effect, positive self-fulfilling prophecies and empowerment are all
components of one of the most important postulates of management. A top priority of any
executive is to make his or her employees successful. Once high expectations have been
developed and tough goals have been set, the executive should devote his or her time and
energy to supporting employees in their work. This support helps ensure the employees’
success and ultimately the company’s. Francisco Dao, consultant and corporate trainer
specializing in organizational performance, writes in his article, “Forget the Free Sodas –
They Don’t Motivate Anyone” found at http://www.cpsc-ccsp.ca that there are some basic
principles to cultivate a positive work performance environment. He proposes the following:
Use fairness. Lead by example. As a manager, don’t expect one thing of your employees and
then do another. If asking for time off is frowned upon, taking time off to play golf, only
belittles employees. Challenge people with responsibility and opportunity. In a famous 1969
article, Harvard professor J. Sterling Livingston described a successful manager: “If he is
skillful and has high expectations of his subordinates, their self-confidence will grow, their
capabilities will develop and their productivity will be high. More often than he realizes, the
manager is Pygmalion.” Give people authority over their responsibilities. A manager may
feel that making all the decisions is part of the job, but this inability to delegate decision-
making doesn’t give the necessary tools to employees thus defeating any progress made.
Furthermore, it negates any positive progress by telling employees that they are incapable of
thinking and making the right decisions. Nothing destroys morale and creates a suspicious
culture faster than employees who feel accountable yet powerless to accomplish their goals.
Recognize people for their work. Humans are by nature social animals, and we naturally seek
approval from others, especially those we respect. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs tells us that
after basic physiological and safety needs, the next need is for love, affection, and belonging.
Assuming your employees earn enough to live and feel safe, letting them know you
appreciate them is the next thing you can do in fulfilling their needs. Do what you say. Don’t
let the sincerity of your word be uncertain. At the end of the day, all relationships — business
or personal — are built on trust. If you make promises and don’t deliver, how is that different
than lying? As a manager you have an ability to bring about certain behaviors in your
employees by the way that you treat them. However, what if you are the “Galatea” of the
relationship – the employee? How are you internalizing the cues of expectation from your
superiors? Do you feel they inadequately reflect who you really are and what you are capable
of doing? As Covey writes in his book, “Many people wait for something to happen or
someone to take care of them. But people who end up with the good jobs are the proactive
ones who are solutions to problems, not problems themselves, who seize the initiative to do
whatever is necessary, consistent with correct principles, to get the job done.” According to
Covey, listening to the language we speak is a real indicator of the degree to which we see
ourselves as reactive or proactive. Reactive Language Proactive Language “There’s nothing I
can do.” “Let’s look at our alternatives.” “That’s just the way I am.” “I can choose a different
approach.” “I can’t.” “I choose.” “If only.” “I will.” “It makes me so mad.” “I control my
The language we use becomes the self-fulfilling prophecy or the Galatea effect. If you are a
reactive person you may feel victimized. Things may feel out of your control. You may
blame outside forces such as people, circumstances and even the stars for things not going the
direction you would want them to go. In a reactive person, the answer lies outside of
themselves. They are driven by their feelings, thus they react to the world around them,
releasing their personal power to outside forces. As Covey writes, “If our feelings control our
actions, it is because we have abdicated our responsibility and empowered them to do so.
Proactive people focus their efforts on things that they can do something about. Their energy
is positive, enlarging and magnifying, causing their ‘Circle of Influence’ to increase.” If you
really want to improve a situation, work on the one the thing that you have control over –
The best known example from Greek legend is that of Oedipus. Warned that his child would
one day kill him, Laius abandoned his newborn son Oedipus to die, but Oedipus was found
and raised by others, and thus in ignorance of his true origins. When he grew up, Oedipus
was warned that he would kill his father and marry his mother. Believing his foster parents
were his real parents, he left his home and travelled to Greece, eventually reaching the city
where his biological parents lived. There, he got into a fight with a stranger, his real father,
killed him and married his widow, Oedipus' real mother.

2. What evidence of self-fulfilling prophecies have you seen lately?

As I frequently visit banks, I have felt that the performance of tellers in some banks, we find
that manager bias negatively affects minority job performance. In the stores studied, cashiers
work with different managers on different days and their schedules are determined quasi-
randomly. When minority cashiers, but not majority cashiers, are scheduled to work with
managers who are biased (as determined by an Implicit Association Test), they are absent
more often, spend less time at work, scan items more slowly, and take more time between
customers. This appears to be because biased managers interact less with minorities, leading
minorities to exert less effort. Manager bias has consequences for the average performance of
minority workers: while on average minority and majority workers perform equivalently, on
days where managers are unbiased, minorities perform significantly better than do majority
workers. The findings are consistent with statistical discrimination in hiring whereby because
minorities under-perform when assigned to biased managers, the firm sets a higher hiring
standard for minorities to get similar average performance from minority and non-minority

3. How might the Pygmalion effect be applied in the class?

The original research of Rosenthal and Jacobsen focused on an experiment at an elementary
school where students took intelligence pre-tests. Rosenthal and Jacobsen then informed the
teachers of the names of 20% of the students in the school who were showing “unusual
potential for intellectual growth” and would bloom academically within the year. Unknown
to the teachers, these students were selected randomly with no relation to the initial test.
When Rosenthal and Jacobson tested the students eight months later, they discovered that the
randomly selected students who teachers thought would bloom scored significantly higher.
Rosenthal insists that the Pygmalion effect also applies to higher education: There've been
experiments looking at college algebra classes at the Air Force Academy, a study of
undergraduates in engineering; there've been lots of studies at the college level since the book
came out confirming the findings. In fact, the original research conducted when I was at the
University of North Dakota was all done with graduate students and under-graduates (Rhem,
1999). Why does the Pygmalion effect occur? “If you think your students can’t achieve very
much, are not too bright, you may be inclined to teach simple stuff, do lots of drills, read
from your notes, give simple assignments calling for simplistic answers” (Rhem, 1999).