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Mis-Communicator of the Week: Jose Mourinho

In his influential and groundbreaking book ‘Influence’, Dr. Robert Cialdini explores the physiology of persuasion. Published in 1984 it was perhaps the first of the popular psychology books which those in business and politics turn to today.

In ‘Influence’ Dr. Cialdini summarises a harrowing murder in the Queens area of New York. Catherine Genovese was killed in a late-night knife attack on the street where she lived as she returned home from work. At that time New York was a pretty violent place so a murder, even one this brutal, could easily have passed by as no more than a news in brief in the New York Times. What raised its profile to a degree that America took it to its public conscience was that Catherine Genovese died a long, brutal and very public death witnessed by thirty-eight of her neighbours.

The story grew in prominence with social commentators concluding that this demonstrated America and its citizens no longer simply cared. Apathy became the watchword of the day with others blaming TV violence and the rise of urban living. It took two psychology professors, who examined the case and its reporting to see a different explanation for the Genovese story. Previous accounts had emphasised that no action was taken by the witnesses, even though thirty-eight neighbours saw the attack. The psychologists suggested the reverse, that no one had helped precisely because there were so many people observing the brutal death of a young woman.

This reasoning, known as Social Proof, has subsequently been observed in a range of controlled tests. Social proof states that one means we use to determine what is correct is to find out what other people think is correct.

This brings me to this weeks award winner, Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho, who publicly criticised one of his young players after his team were soundly beaten at the weekend. Mourinho questioned Luke Shaw’s “tactical and mental” attitude in a week when Mourinho had also criticised the team in general. Pundits have pointed out that Manchester United are looking disorganised and are lacking the energy and strength required to be a top team in the English Premier League.

In picking out Shaw’s performance was Mourinho trying to make an example of a player recognising that social proof can act as a block to an individual taking responsibility when in a difficult situation? Sports teams that are not performing often lack players who are willing to step up and be the one acts differently to boost a performance. If this was what Mourinho was alluding to then his analysis was right. Speaking publicly however signals to a group of players that a manager isn’t with them. Mourinho’s comments should have been made constructively and in private as a way to inspire one or more of his players to act. Now he is in danger of having 11 men on a pitch watching and waiting and not having the right mental attitude.

Jose Mourinho is an immensely successful football manager who has deployed psychological tricks throughout his career to his advantage. He is one of the cleverest leaders in world sport but this time he has got it wrong which is why he is my Mis-Communicator of the Week.

Mis-Communicator of the Week is written by Edward Staite.

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