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Why Managers Should Understand Social Psychology

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Understanding what makes people tick is as essential to effective management as are hard skills, which is why modern Master of Business Administration (MBA) programs often feature a course in organizational behavior. According to Indeed, “Organizational behavior management is a theory that seeks to understand the behavior of individuals, teams and overall companies or organizations as a way of increasing productivity and encouraging a positive work culture.”

Managers must know how to consider the needs of individuals alongside the needs of an entire team, and an advanced business degree can equip professionals with the tools to strike this balance.

Knowledge in These Disciplines Is Essential to a Manager’s Success

There are several contributing fields to organizational behavior, which evolved out of applied behavior analysis. Related topics include anthropology, psychology, sociology and social psychology, the latter of which is among the most important for aspiring managers to master. Social psychology explores how the thoughts, feelings and behaviors of individuals are impacted in a group setting. Whereas sociology attempts to understand the group and psychology focuses on the individual, social psychology represents the fascinating intersection between individuals and groups.

When delving into this discipline, managers gain insights into other dynamics, including persuasion, power, influence, social conflict, inter-group behavior, conformity, obedience and decision-making. Through knowledge in social psychology and organizational behavior management, managers can exert influence in order to develop and maintain a high-functioning, productive team.

By knowing the principles of social psychology and organizational behavior, managers can demonstrate positive workplace behaviors and activities, including training, mentoring and goal setting. They can also establish clear consequences for both negative and positive behaviors through feedback and rewards systems.

Implementing social psychology best practices and frameworks ultimately improves organizational behavior, defines goals, clarifies target behaviors and identifies specific metrics to monitor before analyzing data and understanding issues. As a result, managers can confidently evaluate individuals within the group context and implement effective solutions when problems arise.

Essential Principles

While the suggestions mentioned are general starting points, there are some effective strategies that a manager can apply at any time:

Identity benefits: Individuals reap a variety of benefits from contributing to a team. Personal identity benefits include a sense of belonging, purpose and positive self-esteem. Social identity benefits include feeling connected to people who are part of one’s ‘tribe’ or group. Conversely, lack of these forms of identity can leave people feeling emotionally and physically unengaged, as well as stressed and unhappy.

Reciprocity: This powerful principle suggests that people feel a natural pressure to reciprocate when others do something for them. Aside from pure altruism, this principle is why valuable clients and employees receive gifts and bonuses, respectively. Even small, thoughtful gestures can go a long way toward fostering a positive workplace culture.

Positivity: This principle is about examining the positive psychological capital of an organization — the traits that underlie constructive activity that are worth propagating, including hope and confidence. Emphasizing what is working well in an organization can foster a continued positive culture.

Body language: Nonverbal bodily communication cues have a powerful and contagious effect in the workplace. Managers set a tone for their teams through their communications, including posture, facial expressions, physical comfort levels and arms and hand movements. Lacking awareness in body language can inadvertently send the wrong message to your group. Managers’ body language might indicate that they are disinterested, unapproachable, tense or even angry. Conversely, positive body language can make everyone around them feel welcome in the group.

Priming: Just as people respond to body language, they also respond to the contextual and environmental cues around them. Managers can use this principle to create a physical environment that ‘primes’ employees to behave in desired ways. This process includes the physical layout of the workplace and signage and décor.

Advanced Training

The Southern Oregon University Master of Business Administration General online program includes a course in Advanced Organizational Behavior that explores individual behavior, group behavior and organizational systems. Topics covered (from theoretical and practical perspectives) include understanding people, motivation, group dynamics, communication, leadership, power, politics, conflict, diversity, culture, decision-making, change and organizational structure.

The more business professionals understand social psychology and organizational behavior, the better equipped they will be to harness their potential influence and positively impact a team.

Learn more about Southern Oregon University’s online Master of Business Administration General program.

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