It's an established fact that job interviews are the worst — well, maybe not established per se, but it's so widely agreed upon that there's a fair amount of research showing that high-pressure situations like interviews actually make people perform worse. On the upside, scientists hate leaving a problem unsolved, which means that we now know that self-affirmations can calm you down in stressful situations. So go ahead and take this moment to remind yourself how great you are, and then let's move on, shall we?The study, published online in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, consisted of three experiments. In the first, participants were paired up with someone of the same gender, and were told to role play a job negotiation. The potential employee was considered the low-power position, and the recruiter was considered high-power. To create a high- or low-pressure environment, the "potential employees" were either told that the experiment reflected directly on their negotiating skills, or that it was just a fun exercise. Unsurprisingly, job candidates in the low-pressure group performed significantly better than their counterparts in the high-pressure environment. The second experiment was similar, but participants were asked to roleplay a situation in which they were buying or selling a biotechnology plant. Once again, the low-power role, a.k.a. the buyers, performed worse under pressure.
The last experiment was a repeat of the second, with slightly different conditions. This time, to up the ante, everyone was told that their negotiation reflected on them, and they were asked to write for five minutes beforehand about either their best or worst negotiating skill. The results? "Buyers" who wrote about their own awesomeness before the negotiation did significantly better than those who were forced to contemplate their flaws. In fact, the positive self-affirmation was so effective that it effectively minimized the buyer/seller power difference.
According to the authors of the study, this could mean great things for the millions of people who can't seem to quash that negative voice in the back of their heads during job interviews. "You should reflect on things that you know are good about yourself," lead author Sonia Kang, Ph.D., told Science Daily. “Anytime you have low expectations for your performance, you tend to sink down and meet those low expectations. Self-affirmation is a way to neutralize that threat."
This isn't the only research showing that self-affirmation works surprisingly well. A study on the subject at Carnegie Mellon found that it can do anything from improving grades to negating the effects of chronic stress, and another found that it makes us more receptive to acknowledging mistakes. Pretty big results for something so simple, isn't it? So next time you find yourself wearing a hole in the lobby floor from pacing before an interview, try sitting down and focusing on all the ways you're going to kill it in the interview instead.
Trust me, your future employed self, and the receptionist who was watching you pace, will thank you.
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