The difference between ‘Psychology’ and ‘psychology’

The difference between ‘Psychology’ and ‘psychology’

We are applied psychologists really, we meet people at work, in a bar or restaurant, at parties and we make judgments about them and…we get it wrong! When people teach ‘Psychology,’ (note the uppercase ‘P’) it is often as an academic study, learning all the theories and models rather than focusing on understanding the people around us. It’s like nurses learning on wards full of beds with a dummy in each, which I saw on a visit to my local university, breathing life into lifeless lumps of plastic, pretend patients, who won’t complain. But how does that teach them about real people, and more importantly, that particular real person?

So, why is it that we can get people so wrong? Well, consider this statement: “When we meet someone we sum them up in the first few seconds…” we have all heard that. But the second half of this quote, often forgotten is incredibly important: “…and then we spend the rest of our time justifying our views.” Ouch, that’s so scary, isn’t it? We psychologists (note the lower case ‘p’) call this ‘thin slicing.’ Seconds into a meeting with someone, they are deciding all sorts of things about you, and you about them, trustworthiness, intelligence, conscientiousness and status, among many other things. People may decide on your trustworthiness in as little as a tenth of a second.

A study and Princeton University gave one group of 245 university students 100 milliseconds to rate the attractiveness, competence, likability, aggressiveness, and trustworthiness of actors' faces. 128 members of another group were able to take as long as they wanted. Yet the results showed that ratings of trustworthiness were incredibly similar between the two groups, in fact even more similar than ratings of attractiveness. This suggests that we decide instantaneously if we can trust someone. Janine Willis and Alexander Todorov, Psychological Science, Vol. 17, No. 7 (Jul. 2006), pp. 592-598 (7 pages), Published By: Sage Publications, Inc.

So, imagine you are hiring and the first candidate for interview comes into the room. You take 100 milliseconds to look at her and you think, subconsciously, not consciously, “She looks aggressive.” So, what do you do? Subconsciously you are prompted to ask questions that prove your assertion is right: “What makes you think you’re right for this job,” “What have you failed at,” and so she picks up on this, again subconsciously, and gives aggressive responses in return, proving you are ‘right.’ You think “I’m Sigmond Freud, I never get people wrong,” and she walks out with a totally negative view of you and your company. The next candidate comes in and you think,” He looks nice…” you get the picture. I saw this with a Sales Director at a multinational confectionary company who asked a smart, young potential sales manager, “What are your weaknesses,” the young guy shot straight back, “Paperwork.” The Sales Director started writing this down, then the guy went on, a twinkle in his eye, “I really love it, I can’t get enough paperwork. Sometimes my wife says, ‘It’s 2.00AM, come to bed,’ but I say. ‘no, I just want to do this paperwork, I love it.’” Can you see what happened here? The Sales Director was happy with this, he thought he knew what was at play. How many of our snap decisions just confirmed our own cognitive bias, based on 100 milliseconds. As the quite brilliant Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard noted, “Life is best understood backwards, but is has to be lived forwards.” Søren Kierkegaard, Journalen JJ:167 (1843), Søren Kierkegaards Skrifter.

So I would argue the case for teaching ‘psychology’ (as opposed to ‘Psychology’) in work and in life, to learn to read the signs, take the time to…well…. get it right. According to UCAS data from 2021, Psychology was the second most popular course for students to study in the UK, note ‘Psychology,’ not ‘psychology!!

So, what are the arguments for learning to manage, interact with and get the most of people engagements? Well, business is a people game and a contact sport, it encompasses essence effective communication, teamwork, leadership, and overall employee well-being. As organisations try to create more productive, engaged, and harmonious work environments, there is a compelling case for incorporating psychology into workplace education.

Why? Well how about some of the following:

Enhanced employee well-being

Work-related stress, anxiety, and burnout are prevalent issues in today's workplaces. Teaching ‘psychology’ in the workplace can equip employees with the tools and knowledge to manage their emotions, stress, and mental health effectively. It promotes self-awareness, self-regulation, and resilience, which are vital skills for dealing with the challenges of the modern work environment. Employees who can better cope with stress are likely to experience improved mental well-being, reduced absenteeism, and increased job satisfaction.

Improved interpersonal relationships

One of the fundamental aspects of ‘psychology’ is understanding human behaviour By learning ‘psychology’ in the workplace, employees can develop a deeper understanding of themselves and their colleagues, which will lead to improved interpersonal relationships, enhanced teamwork, and better conflict resolution. Enhanced communication skills create a more collaborative and harmonious work environment, ultimately benefiting the organisation's productivity and culture.

Increased employee engagement

Psychological (upper case as it is the beginning of a sentence) principles can significantly contribute to employee engagement, a critical factor in organisational success, as engaged employees are more committed, motivated, and enthusiastic about their work. When employees understand the ‘psychology’ behind motivation and job satisfaction, they are better equipped to understand their own motivation and contribute positively to the organisation. Employers benefit from increased productivity, lower turnover rates, and a more loyal workforce.

Leadership development

Top-notch leadership is a key driver of organisational success. Teaching ‘psychology’ in the workplace can help identify and nurture leadership qualities within the workforce. Leaders who understand their team members can better inspire and guide them. Additionally, leadership training rooted in ‘psychology’ (as opposed to just ‘skills’ based learning), can promote ethical leadership, empathy, and a people-centred approach, creating a more inclusive and supportive work culture. Skills-based leadership is often cookie-cutter, like learning ‘listening skills,’ is often about focusing, making our eyes bigger, saying “uh huh,” “go on” every few minutes, it’s like learnings to pretend to listen.

Enhanced problem-solving and decision-making

Psychological knowledge can significantly improve problem-solving and decision-making processes within an organisation. Employees who understand ‘psychology’ can analyse situations better, consider various perspectives, and make more informed decisions. This results in more efficient problem-solving, innovative thinking, and better adaptability to changing circumstances, all of which are vital in today's dynamic business world.

Conflict resolution

Understanding ‘psychology’ can better equip employees with strategies to identify, manage, and resolve conflicts constructively. By promoting empathy and conflict resolution skills, organisations can reduce workplace tension and create a more positive and productive atmosphere.

So those are my arguments. Sure, you may say, “Being a ‘psychologist,’ in the words of Mandy Rice-Davies, you would say that, wouldn’t you?” But bringing proper ‘psychology’ into workplace learning is not merely a luxury but a necessity for modern organisations. It enhances employee well-being, improves interpersonal relationships, increases engagement, fosters proper leadership, enhances problem-solving abilities, and reduces stress and conflicts. Ultimately, organisations that invest in bringing ‘psychology’ into the workplace create a more supportive, productive, and adaptable workforce, contributing, I would say, to their long-term success and sustainability. So, prove me wrong.

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