How We Size Up Whether Someone Is a Good Judge of People Has a Lot to Do with Whether They Agree with Us

Entrepreneurs / 17th October 2017

How do you know when someone is a good judge of people, and can you tell who is accurately able to read others’ character, attitudes, and abilities? In most cases, people do not have a complete report card on someone’s track record in sizing others up. New research suggests that, for better or worse, we often turn to another source: how much they agree with us.

Across a series of studies, researchers from Columbia Business School found that people tended to think individuals who agreed with how they saw other people were good judges. Meaning that if Alice agreed with Bill’s view of Cathy, for instance, Bill would be likely to think Alice was a good judge. However, the researchers found an even more powerful effect in how we evaluate good judges: people thought individuals who agreed with them about themselves were especially good judges. In other words, if Alice agreed with Bill about Bill, he might see her as especially insightful.

“We tend to connect with people who see things the same way we do, which means we think the best judges agree with us about us,” said Jinseok Chun, the lead researcher from Columbia Business School.

The researchers also uncovered something that made the effect of agreement even stronger: liking. People appeared to be especially impressed when the judges who agreed with them were those they personally liked.

As Chun explains, “When someone we like sees us as we see ourselves, we think they’re particularly gifted at reading people.”

Real World Impact

Since managers in organizations are expected to be good judges of people, the study argues that the findings have considerable relevance to what happens in the workplace. As the researchers note, managers are expected to hire the right individuals, assess their characteristics accurately, and assign them to positions in which they can complete tasks effectively.

There is, however, one big problem in relying on how much employees agree with us to decide whether they are good judges or not, Chun suggests:

“One of our fundamental starting points is that we tend to favor those who seem to be good judges. But if they think just like we do, promoting employees who are perceived to be good judges will inevitably result in a lack of diversity in organizations. There is reward in identifying good judges, but we shouldn’t identify such judges based solely on how much they agree with us.”

About the Research

The research by Chun, Daniel R. Ames and E. Tory Higgins, all at Columbia Business School, as well as Jose N. Uribe from the University of Michigan, conducted four separate studies over a period of seven years to reach their conclusions. Those surveyed evaluated their own characteristics, evaluated others and had those others then evaluate them. They considered everything from agreeableness, conscientiousness and neuroticism to teamwork abilities and decision-making skills.

To learn more about the cutting-edge research being conducted at Columbia Business School, please visit www.gsb.columbia.edu.

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