Three mental traps that can drastically limit performance

by Miklos Bolza04 Feb 2016
“Without examining your beliefs and understanding how they may be creating self-imposed limits, you are at risk of buying into a false picture of potential – for yourself, your teams, and your organisation.”
Corrinne Armour, leadership speaker and trainer, spoke to HRD about ways in which mental limits can decrease workplace performance. She highlighted three main limits to be aware of.
You get what you expect
This self-fulfilled prophecy can work to either build up or tear down workplace performance.
In the positive case, the Pygmalion Effect is “a psychological principle that describes people’s propensity to live up to high expectations placed upon them,” she said.
Therefore, when you expect someone to rise to the challenge, and you support them, they will generally perform accordingly.
There is a flipside to this, Armour warns; “The Golem Effect produces the same but opposite effect: people perform poorly when expected to”.
For HRDs then, you will get what you expect with your staff. By setting a positive initial mood, the mental limits will be lifted and performance increased.
Talent is anything but stagnant
A fixed mindset is another way in which performance can be limited. According to Armour, this means an individual believes that “skills, talents, and capabilities are predetermined and finite. They cannot be developed – there is talent or there isn’t”.
A much healthier frame of mind is the belief that talents and capabilities can be developed. If HR develops a growth mindset, employees can then improve through learning and experience.
Those with fixed mindsets limit their own success too.
“Leaders with a fixed mindset experience an urgency to prove themselves,” Armour said. “Success depends on protecting their fixed qualities and concealing their deficiencies; therefore, they avoid situations where failure is likely or even possible.”
Opinions both deep and hidden
Finally, unconscious bias – the stereotypes that shape your thinking – can also limit personal and professional success, Armour said.
Often, these stereotypes aren’t even associated with negative connotations of race, age, religion, etc, and are instead a result of information overload.
“You are faced with billions of pieces of information at any time,” Armour said. “You use stereotypes – both conscious and unconscious – to make generalisations so you don’t have to analyse all that data from scratch.”
There are three types of unconscious bias which can limit potential in yourself, your team and your organisation:
  • Confirmation bias: A method of thinking designed to filter out certain information which confirms pre-conceived ideas and hypotheses
  • Ingroup bias: Giving preferential treatment to those you perceive as members of your ‘group’ (people with similar interests or those you know)
  • Dunning-Kruger Effect: The tendency for those with lower skills to overestimate themselves while experts underestimate their capabilities


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