I recently met a man at a party named Will Smith. Will was a likable guy, our wives hit it off, and our families spent much of the night near one another as we continued to meet and get acquainted with other new friends. As you might expect, as Will Smith (an engineer from Alabama) introduced himself to people throughout the evening, he was greeted with a number of predictably lame responses.
The most frequently occurring was some variant of, “I loved you in Men in Black!” as the deliverer of this wit chuckled as though Will could not possibly have ever heard that one before.
I empathized with Will that evening, because telling people that you are a psychologist is a little bit like telling them that your name is Will Smith. While, “Are you reading my mind right now?” has to be my least favorite, there are a host of predictable responses to telling someone that you are a shrink.
Worse still is telling them that you are an organizational psychologist.If people have misguided and stereotypical notions of what a clinical psychologist does, they tend to have no clue what the work of an organizational psychologist entails.
In the convoluted knowledge economy in which we work, organizational psychologists are not alone in being misunderstood. Very few of us have the sort of job that has “When I Grow Up” name recognition and familiarity.
Sure, I get what a police officer and ballerina do, but what the heck is an “optical illuminator enhancer?” In my efforts to help people understand the role of organizational psychology, I have broken it down into three verbs:
Select – One of the primary tasks of an organizational psychologist is to examine a job, determine the profile of success for that role, and evaluate potential candidates relative to that profile. Psychologists typically use some combination of cognitive measures, personality profiles, interviews, and skills testing to assess goodness of fit between a candidate and a job.
You know how the last job you interviewed for asked you 700 different ways if you “had a wide circle of acquaintances?” Blame an organizational psychologist.
Perfect – A second duty of an organizational psychologist is to perfect the extant talent pool through training, coaching, and leadership development. Whereas clinical therapy sessions tend to be focused on pathology, executive coaching sessions typically key in on making good performance exceptional.
Similarly, psychologists may leverage their understanding of individual and group dynamics to help businesses build stronger teams with more skilled leaders.
Persuade – What do making a sale, achieving buy-in around an organizational change, and motivating a team all have in common? They are all fundamentally about persuasion. Organizational psychologists are schooled in the science of influence and motivation, and can help businesses design programs that account for the idiosyncrasies of human behavior.
After all, a corporation, much as the name suggests, is made up of a corpus of individuals. While we may speak of organizations as distinct, unfeeling entities, people are the heartbeat of any business, and organizations that neglect this fact don’t typically last long enough to talk about it.
So, the next time you meet an organizational psychologist, save the jokes about cigars, tweed, and chaise lounges, and ask their opinion about the scientific study of people in the workplace.
Or don’t, but know that they are reading your mind anyway. - Originally Posted on MonsterThinking by Dr. Daniel Crosby.