Over the past few weeks, I’ve delved into a few psychological principles that you may come across during the hiring process. A Ph.D. in psychology is not a qualification to effectively interview candidates and hire the right talent but it helps to understand some key psychological principles. (This is coming from someone with a Ph.D. in psychology.) This blog explains how interviewers can gain deeper insights into candidates by understanding how one psychological principle –Regression– works. (Visit the prior blogs in this series on Projection and Denial/Rationalization.) Let me know in the comment section below if you would like more blogs on additional psychological principles.
Background on this series: Some companies are hesitant to trust their instincts and ability to “read people,” which has created an industry of psychologists who interview candidates for these companies. I’m one of those psychologists. CEOs have hired me, figuring that because I have that Ph.D. I must have deep insights into the inner workings of the mind. However … I’ve proven that sharp managers, like you, can achieve professional level (85%+) hiring success without having an advanced psych degree. Part of the Topgrading training method teaches key concepts in psychology to deeply understand candidates for selection. One of these concepts is Regression.
Psychology Concept: Regression is the conjuring up childhood emotions including fears and anxieties that impact current behavior. Freud might not agree with this definition, but I’ve seen it affect 100% of the 6,500 managers I’ve interviewed.
We are all hard-wired psychologically, in a few ways, by the time we are 18. The influential people in our lives (primarily parents, but also coaches, teachers, peers, etc.), have made us unconsciously motivated to CONFIRM our expectations for people, and MOTIVATED (unconsciously by the of fear of failure) to do things that are not totally “rational” which can interfere with potential success. In Topgrading Interviews we ask, “Who were major influences – people who contributed to the way you are today in terms of your motivations, career interests, personality, and values? They could be positive influences or negative influences, people who convinced us to not be like them.”
Your job as an interviewer is to listen and ask follow up questions to form hypotheses as to how childhood molded this candidate. As you go through the rest of their education and all jobs, keep in mind: this candidate was hardwired to do some things, good or bad in the world of work. Since the motivation is probably unconscious, the result is repeated tendencies. Be on the lookout for patterns of success and failures.
There are a number of high performers who had wonderful influencers (parents and others) that helped candidates become responsible, resourceful, hardworking, and kind with no harmful, negative or weaker points that are repeated throughout the career. Unfortunately, there are many high-performers whose influencers tore them down, abused them emotionally or physically or did not provide the support and encouragement needed during their formative years. As an interviewer you’ll need to be aware of and uncover these patterns of unconscious motivation that detracts them from success.
Real Life Example (names changed): Pat was a candidate for Global Chief Operating Officer. Her parents were wonderful during her school years in providing encouragement to study hard, work hard, and in leadership roles to push, push, push people do get things done. Pat was very successful but along with the encouragement her parents also conveyed fear – “be afraid that if you do not push hard ‘THEY” will hold you back.” In all seven jobs in her career I asked her the standard question, “What could you have done differently to get even better results?,” and she said various ways, “Not push people so hard.” She admitted that every boss criticized her for driving people too hard. Instead of winning over people to welcome her leadership and get quick results her behavior made them passive aggressive, and they slowed down her results. The bottom line: results were not faster but SLOWER because she alienated too many people.
Toward the end of the interview I asked Pat how she would break this negative behavior if my client hired her. She said the Topgrading interview was very helpful because for the first time in her career she saw the pattern of pushing too hard. She proposed a plan: she, the CEO and head of HR in the client company would identify who are the opinion leaders she must win over and periodically ask for feedback on whether or not she’s pushing too hard and if she is contributing to a high-performance team.
Success! She was hired and her plan is working. What had been a repressed need to push too hard (out of unconscious fear of failure) was now conscious and being dealt with constructively.