Why Dogs Look Like Their Owners and How it Affects Your Hiring

By November 18, 2015Team Building

The single biggest factor in creating a successful team is not skill, it’s not IQ, it’s diversity – diversity of skill-sets, beliefs and point-of-views. The things, that when diversified, create a team who can see beyond what’s directly in front of them, who can engage in intelligent debates, who quickly move past hurdles and never overlook a better option. Ultimately, diversity fosters innovation.

The problem is, this kind of team is rare to come by, and equally challenging to build. Why? It’s human nature to like the people who are most similar to us. Our brain is made up of about 80 billion neurons that process and transmit information to determine our behaviour. Some of these neurons, called mirror neurons, specialize in understanding others’ actions and intentions. Mirror neurons are what understand subtle mimicry as a form of flattery and allow us to co-operate with, and actually like, a complete stranger. It’s also why you’ve seen dog and owner pairs with an uncanny resemblance.

In 2008, Robin Tanner and Tanya Chartrand conducted a study to understand the effect of mimicry on consumer appraisal. The study involved presenting a new sports drink to 37 students at Duke University. The presentation to each student was virtually identical, except in half the cases, the presenter discretely mimics the student’s actions (crossing their legs, reaching for water, rubbing their nose) with a two second delay. The students who had been copied were significantly more likely to say they would purchase the drink and predict its success in the market. Many variations of this study have provided the same result.

Consider this in the context of hiring decisions. If we can influence a potential consumer’s preferences with mimicry, what would stop us from applying this principle to an interview between employer and candidate. If we can develop a preference for people with similar gestures to our own, think about how well we respond to people who dress like us, talk like us, and share history, beliefs, and preferences with us. The impact of this phenomenon on the hiring process is often a trickle-down effect that creates a like-minded group.

We need to be wary of this subconscious bias in order to build better teams. Once we’ve accepted that differences are a good thing, there are some easy steps you can take to focus on hiring for diversity.

  1. Be objective.  When you’re reading over a resume don’t give preference to someone who went to the same school as you, or worked for the same company. Ask yourself if it’s relevant to their ability to succeed in the position?
  2. Prevent accidental discrimination. Cover the name when you look at a resume. It’s the best way to avoid making stereotypical judgements about the individual’s gender or race.
  3. Avoid group think. Invite multiple team members to participate in interviews. Have each of them document their feedback and reveal it simultaneously so you get everyone’s honest opinion and can identify any of your own biases.

It may well be that the best person for the job is someone just like you, but it doesn’t hurt to take the precautions mentioned above to come to that conclusion. Don’t forget the value of diversity, it’s worth the extra effort.

What other tips and tricks would you recommend to hire the right person, not just the one who’s the most like you?