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How can a manager improve workplace performance? By thinking like a social psychologist, says Linda E. Ginzel, clinical professor of managerial psychology.

Ginzel shared her expertise on this topic during a recent sample class for prospective students. They learned how to find clues in workplace interactions that can complement their existing quantitative chops and set them apart from their peers early in their careers.

Called Managerial Psychology, the class is part of Booth’s new Master in Management Program, designed for recent college graduates of liberal arts or STEM programs. The 10-month program provides a foundation across disciplines for critical thinking in business and markets.

Ginzel, a social psychologist, has received numerous teaching awards since joining Booth in 1992, including the Emory Williams Award for Teaching Excellence in 2022. Alumni frequently rank Ginzel as one of their top professors and her courses as among their favorites. At Booth, where much of the focus is on economics and quantitative analysis, Ginzel views business through the lens of psychology. “Using behavioral science to improve the effectiveness of individuals and groups is the future of business,” she says.

In the virtual sample class, Ginzel offered prospective students a taste of the interactive nature of a Booth course—along with four takeaways to apply in their future careers.

We All Have Our Defaults

Ginzel began the sample class the same way she starts all her classes at Booth—with an exercise in defaults, or cognitive biases. The students saw a block of text and counted how many times the letter f appeared.

Many miscounted the number of f’s because they were acting on defaults, reading the text for the “gist” to understand it more quickly.  

“Bias in psychology is not a negative word. Bias simply means a tendency toward,” Ginzel said, noting that everyone has a personal set of cognitive defaults. These inform our impressions of others and our interpretations of our experiences. The problem comes when our biases prevent us from noticing things. “In order to make a different choice, we need to stop and notice what’s going on.”

Recommended Reading

See Linda Ginzel’s article on cognitive biases in Chicago Booth Review.

We Care What Others Think

Cognitive biases also play out at the group and organizational levels. “For example, group think,” Ginzel said. “It’s a type of conformity based on the desire to have everyone on board share one understanding of the decision of the group.”

To demonstrate the impact of others on decision-making, Ginzel repeated the exercise, this time allowing students to see how others were responding. Ginzel pointed out that many students changed their answers to match their classmates.

“This is called social consensus,” she said. “When we’re uncertain as to objective reality, we look around to other people, especially people we admire. Their behavior is used as data to inform our own actions.”

Soft Stuff Is Hard

Members of a business team can vary widely in their personal backgrounds, language, gender identity, culture, ethnicity, race, even time zone, Ginzel said. This complexity means each team member brings different expectations to any given situation, so professionals need a good understanding of the dynamics at play.

“People might say, ‘It’s just the soft stuff.’ Well, let me tell you, soft stuff is hard,” Ginzel told the class. “And it’s hard because we don’t get answers to the people part of management through equations. We don’t have algorithms. The more you get people involved, the more the math gets messed up.

“People don’t derail on the technical; it’s the interpersonal. I want to help you create frameworks for understanding the interpersonal dynamics that are so crucial to your success in your future career.”

“Using behavioral science to improve the effectiveness of individuals and groups is the future of business.”

— Linda Ginzel

Analytics Is for Everyone

Highlighting Booth’s reputation for strong analytics, Ginzel cautioned the class not to confuse “analytical” with “mathematical.” She urged them to grapple with what a data-driven approach means for human-centered questions. By being analytical in their thinking, especially about the people part of management, they can develop robust data that informs future business decisions.

“Don’t underestimate the importance of data,” she said. “We need it. If we don’t capture the data, our conclusions are just a figment of our imagination. If you write it down, it’s observable to yourself and others.”

Knowing how to use data can be a career booster, she added. “If you capture it, collect it, and organize it, you will be wiser, younger—and you’ll move up the curve faster.”

Learn More about the Master in Management Program


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