The Secret to Improving Business Communication and Productivity

timer-icon12Business leaders who want to improve collaboration in group projects may be overthinking things. Big time.

A new study from the University of Wisconsin finds that people who share the same initials are more adaptive and productive when working together in small groups.

Dr. Evan Polman co-authored the research, which is referred to as the name-letter-effect.

“People have a tendency to prefer things that remind them of themselves…Research shows that people’s choices are reliably influenced by the similarity between the letters of the choice and the chooser’s own name. For example, people are disproportionately likely to work at companies, buy stocks, donate to charities, hold stronger attitudes to brands, and prefer consumer products with names that begin with the letters of their own initials compared to other letters.”

A Simplified Way of Building Rapport

Here’s an easy example: If you strike up a conversation with a stranger and soon discover you have the same birthday, data proves you are more likely to do a favor for that person or help them in some way. This simple birthday commonality has broken down a wall and has helped to build instant rapport.

Dr. Polman’s research focuses on whether shared initials among group members’ names tilt groups to perform better.
“Unlike surface- and deep-level characteristics, initials typically provide little if any information about others, and logically should play little if any role in group outcomes,” according to the study. “Nonetheless, we propose that sharing initials with other group members gives rise to a ‘value-in-similarity’ effect.”

Negotiations and Client Relations

How does the name-letter-effect play into business negotiations?

“Researchers interested in psychological processes underlying negotiation have addressed the potential role of priming and other nonconscious, automatic processes but no prior research has studied how the letters in one’s name might incidentally influence interpersonally relevant decision making, such as the names of one’s negotiation partner or client. Future work should study these relationships and even consider the broad implication that sharing initials with others may improve negotiation outcomes vis-à-vis more integrative agreements and better client relations.”

Can we put away the personality profiles and assessments that leaders depend on to enhance interpersonal relationships and business processes?

Is improved productivity really as simple as having John, Judy, and Jamie together in one group, and David, Brittany, and Sam in another group to see what happens?

This is one exercise you may just want to try at home.

(Editor’s Note: The Name-Letter-Effect in Groups: Sharing Initials with Group Members Increases the Quality of Group Work, has been published on PLOSONE.org. “PLOS ONE (eISSN-1932-6203) is an international, peer-reviewed, open-access, online publication. PLOS ONE welcomes reports on primary research from any scientific discipline.”)

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