I learnt about the Etiquette and Echo Effects at the University of Chicago, and given their importance it’s interesting that they are not really well explained on Wikipedia, so I will give it a go here:
The Etiquette Effect suggests that if you ask someone an opinion about someone else, they are likely to give you an opinion that is closer to what they believe is your current opinion. Let’s explain this with an example:
Imagine that I ask my friend Jose what is his opinion about a common friend, Jack. If Jose believes that I like Jack, Jose is likely to give me a good opinion about Jack, or tell me good stories about him. If on the contrary, Jose believes that I dislike Jack, Jose will probably give me a negative opinion or bad stories about him. This reinforces Juan’s previous opinion, whichever it was, and also reinforces Jose’s opinion, because now I will also be affected by the etiquette effect and I will share stories with Jose depending on what his opinion was about him.
As Ronald Burt puts it in this paper, “the anecdotes that circulate depend on the interests of the people doing the circulation”. In fact, in that paper he speaks about an interesting experiment where someone receives a description about a third person, Donald, with positive and negative characteristics. Then a second person comes into the room. Sometimes this person “kind likes Donald” and some other times “kinda dislikes Donald”. The result is that the object of the experiment is more likely to remember and share the good stories and characteristics when the other person likes Donald, and the opposite when the other person seems to dislike him.
This reinforcement takes us to the Echo effect and the power of status. I will leave the power of status for another post, but this example will make it simple to understand. If you have ever seen the X-Factor, you probably know that after a singer performs, there is a jury conformed by 3 people, usually a lady and a man, and then we have someone with a really strong opinion, influential, like Simon Cowell.
It’s not chance that Simon is always the last one to give his opinion, where he is often the decider, since the two previous judges may have disagreed. The Echo effect suggests that if Simon had given his opinion first, the other two, less alpha than him, would be predisposed to follow his opinion, to Echo him, and to even praise the singer more. If Simon had said “you were good”, the next one would have said “you were excellent” and the next one would have Echoed even more “you were one of the best I have ever seen”. By being the last one, the other two can give their best of their opinions and then Simon will disagree with whoever he wants.
Take this to your business. If you are giving opinions on a new product, for example, let the most junior person give her opinion first, and the most senior at the end. Otherwise you will get biased responses by the Echo effect. Moreover, make it anonymous and at the same time. If you want to learn the power of anonymity for the Echo effect, watch the movie “12 angry men“. On the minute 11 they had the first round of votes. You can see how a few people raise their hands towards the end, just because they see the alphas raise them, leading to group-think. Watch the movie to learn what happens later :).
So key learnings:
- Anonymity is good when sharing opinions to avoid group-think.
- If the opinions cannot be anonymous, asking in growing order of seniority is important to avoid Echo Effect.
- Anecdotes drive reputation in most cases. Be careful about mere anecdotes.
- If you inquire about someone, ask as neutrally as possible to avoid the etiquette effect, so that you will get the best of responses from the person you ask to.
Anonymity was always the main aspect we wanted to get right at TraitPerception. It’s critical in order to get fair reviews, particularly about people, where the relationship might be jeopardized with the slightest of criticisms.
Juan holds an MBA from Chicago Booth with high honors and an MSc in Electrical Engineering from UPM.
His hobbies are capoeira, a brazilian martial art, drawing and tennis.
“Reward excellent failures”