It can be best understood by a circle where our beliefs about another person’s abilities influence our actions towards the other person. This action has an impact on others’ beliefs about themselves. The beliefs about themselves cause the others’ actions towards us, which again reinforces our beliefs about that person.

Let’s look at an example


Imagine you are the leader of a developers team and you observe your team on the first day: Oscar and Jack are new members of your team. Oscar reminds you of a famous developer, Jack reminds you of an annoying boy from your high school years. Unconsciously you decide what to expect of each one of them.

Your beliefs influence YOUR ACTIONS

When Oscar enters the office you are happy to see him. When he develops, you push him to do better, practice harder, stay an extra hour. If he makes a mistake you explain to him how to improve. When Jack works, you hardly notice him. You are glad to see him deploy, but you don’t give him much feedback and don’t invest extra time in his training. When Jack does a mistake you are a little annoyed.

Your actions impact THEIR BELIEFS about themselves

Oscar feels you appreciate him and he appreciates you in return. He believes in his own success. Jack feels you have little patience and appreciation for him. He does not believe in his own success.

Their belief about themselves causes THEIR ACTIONS towards you

Oscar finds more and more joy in developing, and he never misses a training session. In the office, he gives 100% all the time. Jack finds less joy in working than before and doesn’t give his full effort. He starts to miss the training sessions sometimes.

Which reinforces YOUR BELIEFS about them

You see how Oscar enjoys developing, how he trains hard and shows a fast increase in his performance. Jack seems not to be very motivated, his skills don’t increase much and he starts to show up less. You knew it right away. Thank God, your instincts are right.

The Rosenthal Experiment

The Pygmalion effect is also known as the Rosenthal Experiment, named after research of Robert Rosenthal at Harvard.

Robert Rosenthal concluded:

“When we expect certain behaviors of others, we are likely to act in ways that make the expected behavior more likely to occur.”

Pygmalion effect in workplace

Some managers always treat their subordinates in a way that leads to superior performance. But most managers, unintentionally treat their subordinates in a way that leads to lower performance than they are capable of achieving.

The way managers treat their subordinates is subtly influenced by what they expect of them. If managers’ expectations are high, productivity is likely to be excellent. If their expectations are low, productivity is likely to be poor.

What do you think about this theory? And if you believe it, is there a way to prevent ourselves from being shaped by or shape others in a negative way?