The Social Ladder

The University of Michigan conducted three studies on the cooperativeness and nonverbal expressions in leadership positions in group dynamics.

Lead author Patricia Chen, a psychology graduate student at Michigan stated, “Our studies show that the effects of rank on cooperativeness spill over into the individual’s nonverbal cues, which are not only picked up by observers, but also lead them to act differently towards the individual.”

These results, according to Health, show that less cooperative-looking people are not necessarily selected into higher-ranked organizations. Rather, situational cues of these positions evoke hierarchical facial expressions.

In one of the studies the results showed that the higher the rank of the business school, the less cooperative the dean appeared (in a photograph).

What does this mean for people higher up on the corporate ladder?

Well, if followers do not perceive a leader as cooperative, they tend to be less motivated, committed and open in their communication.  “Leaders need to be aware that their ranking might spill over into their facial expressions when they interact with others in the organization, affecting what others think of their cooperative intentions,” said co-author Christopher Myers, a doctoral student in the Ross School of Business.

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