In Greek mythology, Pygmalion was a king—and sculptor—who fell in love with a statue of a woman that he had carved himself.

He was so enamored with his own work that he couldn’t resist but fall for it. This was later developed into the Pygmalion effect by Robert Rosenthal and Lenore Jacobson.

According to Rosenthal, a psychologist, high expectations lead to high performance in a specific area. For Pygmalion, it was his own skill that influenced his action toward his work.

The Pygmalion effect is a widely applicable theory or phenomenon in the modern world. Read on to discover how you can use the pygmalion effect to improve your team’s performance.

  1. Explaining The Pygmalion Effect

  2. The Pygmalion Effect In Management

Explaining The Pygmalion Effect

The Pygmalion effect, or the Rosenthal effect, is a cyclical process where our beliefs influence our actions toward others, which reinforce others’ beliefs about themselves and cause their actions toward us.

Let’s take an example to understand the meaning of Pygmalion effect:

Imagine you’re starting a new job as a manager and today’s your first day. As soon as you enter the office, you see two members—Asha and Ravi—of your team. Asha smiles at you—you deem them friendly—Ravi simply glances in your direction—you deem them standoffish.

You’ve already formed an opinion about your team members at this stage. You give Asha the next big account and overlook Ravi’s contribution thinking that Asha will do a better job.

As a result, Asha believes that she’s a high-performer and Ravi, on the other hand, believes he’s not doing as well.

The Pygmalion effect shows us that the way we perceive others—and engage with them—influences not just our actions toward them but vice versa. It may be both positive and negative, making it critical for you to approach a situation as objectively as possible.

The Pygmalion Effect In Management

In the workplace, if you’re working in a team, your manager’s expectations can drive your performance. In most cases, high expectations lead to better results. This is because managers provide positive feedback, recognizing your efforts toward your goals. Not only does this motivate you to do well but also boosts morale.

Examples of a Pygmalion effect include manager expectations. Your manager’s expectations can push you to realize your full potential and deliver excellent results. But as with everything in life, this too has a flipside.

Many times, managers may not communicate their expectations in the right way. If they don’t convey that your performance is up to the mark or satisfactory, you have no other way of knowing how well—or not—you’re doing.

A Pygmalion effect in management is driven by unconscious beliefs and actions. We tend to make judgments or assumptions about others that can affect their behavior. You have to consider the following to drive excellence at work:

  • As a manager, you have to communicate your expectations clearly to avoid confusion

  • As an employee, you have to clarify expectations from the start to do your best

This is only a glimpse of how the Pygmalion effect can impact your work life. It has more to do with healthy leadership and interpersonal relationships. Here are a few things you should keep in mind for positive workplace impact:

  • Set expectations from the very first day to make sure that your manager knows where you stand

  • Give your best shot at whatever you do and ask for opportunities, don’t just wait for them

  • Encourage dialogue (communication) to maintain a healthy feedback channel

  • Approach a situation as objectively as you can to overcome barriers like personal biases

  • Request someone you admire to be your mentor, someone who can guide, encourage and motivate you

An efficient workplace is built on effective teamwork. You need to get everyone on the same page to make sure that things go according to plan. Feedback can help you overcome challenges like team conflicts. Working on improvement areas together builds rapport and trust among teams. If you can acknowledge the Pygmalion effect in your workplace, you can use it for positive reinforcement.

With these examples of a Pygmalion effect, you can gauge just how permeable it is. It’s quite prevalent in the workplace, especially in teams. Harappa’s Managing Teamwork course will teach you how to form and grow your teams in the right way. You’ll learn to leverage team skills to achieve organizational goals. Understand different behaviors and how your actions can affect others in your team. This will show you the way to effective leadership and management.


Explore topics such as the Process of Building a Team, What are Management Skills, Elements of Quality Management and Organizational Development from Harappa Diaries and understand how your workplace functions.

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