Feb 032011

When we need some help at work, who do we turn to? Well, someone competent who knows their stuff. I mean, we’d make sure to avoid the idiots who don’t know what they’re talking about, surely?
Wrong! It seems we’re much more likely to base our decision on how likable they are. There was a great bit of business research about it published in the Harvard Business Review about 5 years ago that you can read here. It found that given a choice between someone who knows a lot but is unpleasant and someone who doesn’t know much but is a delight, we generally pick the lovable fool over the competent jerk.

So there it is – empirical evidence that ‘we like to do business with people we like’. Useful stuff for us to bear in mind  in our business English classrooms perhaps…

 Posted by at 11:31 pm

  3 Responses to “Competent jerks vs. lovable fools.”

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Karenne Sylvester, BELTfree. BELTfree said: via @vickihollett Competent jerks vs. lovable fools. http://ow.ly/1baxqw […]

  2. So true!!!

    But I wonder why this is. This is the problem, often, with academic research, they prove stuff we all know anyway…but not why. So I really like that link you added – heading over to go look in more depth – 10page PDF – but in the meantime.. Is it because we really don’t want advice or help, we want to be loved? What goes on in the brain that we turn to the person who has been nice to us rather than the person who pushes us to be better? Who simply tells it like it is… And most importantly is it a good thing? Hopeing the doc gives more answers!

  3. Thanks Karenne! Yes, why this is is an interesting question, and whether or not it’s a good thing, another. And reasoning that people are the way the way they are, it also implies we need to find ways to work round it.

    The researchers argued that it has important implications for organizations, as both competent jerks and lovable fools represent missed opportunities. They reckon lovable fools know how to bridge gaps between people (a skill that’s likely to get overlooked when it comes to a round of firing) and competent jerks are sitting there with expertise going untapped.

    I think the research has a lot of parallels with stuff that’s been found in crew resource management (CRM). (//www.vickihollett.com/?p=930) It costs lives when a competent jerk is in charge of an aeroplane or an operating room at a hospital, for example. I think there’s a lot of stuff being taught about communication in CRM training that would transfer over well into professional English training.

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