Are performance and perception related? Here is what a fascinating (and sobering) study tells us

December 13, 2021

(This is an article written by Gopakumar M, Senior Facilitator, Navgati)
In 2004, World Bank economists Karla Hoff and Priyanka Pandey reported the results of a remarkable experiment. They randomly put 321 boys each in to 2 groups, Group A (with boys belonging to castes considered high) and Group B (with boys from castes considered low) in the age group of 11 to 12, from scattered rural villages in India, and set them the task of solving mazes.
First, the boys did the puzzles without being aware of each other’s caste. Under this condition, the Group B boys did just as well with the mazes as the Group A boys, indeed slightly better.

Then, the experiment was repeated, but this time each boy was asked to confirm an announcement of his name, village, father’s and grandfather’s names, and caste. After this public announcement of caste, the boys did more mazes. This time there was a large caste gap in how well they did – the performance of the Group B dropped significantly.

It seems to be a self-fulfilling prophecy:  when we expect to be viewed as inferior, our abilities seem to be diminished. We get further negative commentary – hardly a motivator, you will agree – and the spiral digs deeper in.

Have you heard of – or personally experienced – this? An employee is considered an average-to-poor performer at work, gets a change of role or team or job and becomes a good-to-champion performer? (I have seen this. Twice. In one instance, going back twenty years, I was the average performer, so it strikes a rather sensitive chord).

The same phenomenon has been demonstrated in experiments with white and black high-school students in America, most convincingly by social psychologists Claude Steele at Stanford University and Joshua Aronson at New York University. In one study, they administered a standardized test used for college students’ admission to graduate programs. In one condition, the students were told that the test was a measure of ability; in a second condition, the students were told that the test was not a measure of ability.

The white students performed equally under both conditions, but the black students performed much worse when they thought their ability was being judged.

So, what does this have to do with negotiation?

Well, a great deal actually. In relationship negotiations – with team members and family, for example – a perception about someone acquires reality status in everyone’s heads and the person’s ability to negotiate is impaired. She gives in, often permanently, allowing the other person a feeling of victory in the negotiation, but it is a shallow chimera, for there is acceptance of the decision, not ownership.

Would I do this if I was negotiating a key decision with my child? If not, can I do this to anyone else?

How can we take this awareness further and make positive shifts in our influencing or negotiating styles at workplaces? Firstly, by identifying that at the core of effective influencing is a deep knowledge of oneself, the capacity to intuit the needs and emotions of others and the ability to respond with empathy. Conventional styles centre around tactics and games and display of power, with both parties looking to maximise their individual outcomes. While this may work in one-off transactions, in the long run it could harm inter-personal relationships and make people more resistant in their dealings with the influencer.

At Navgati, we invite leaders to be architects of their own growth by cultivating awareness of choices available, the beliefs that may be keeping them stuck, the power they have to make changes and the responsibility that they need to take for the choices made.

Our leadership skills programs are structured therefore to deepen self-awareness of leaders in terms of their beliefs about themselves and others.

Our ‘Winfluence’ program emphasizes on values based, principled negotiations that seeks mutually satisfying outcomes. Participants learn counter-intuitive ways of influencing people with whom we need to sustain long-term relationships – team members, peers, superiors and customers,
Visit for more insightful reads on the topic.

To know more about how you can negotiate for a win-win and effectively manage stakeholder interests please visit and explore our range of negotiation skills training programs and influencing skills training programs.

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