Alison Wood Brooks
Assistant Professor of Business Administration
Alison Wood Brooks is an assistant professor of business administration in the Negotiation, Organizations & Markets Unit at Harvard Business School. She teaches Negotiation in the MBA elective curriculum, Micro Organizational Behavior in the PhD curriculum, and is affiliated with the Behavioral Insights Group at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Center for Public Leadership.
In her research, Professor Brooks focuses on how emotions influence cognition and behavior, particularly in the workplace. Much of her work examines the behavioral consequences of anxiety, and how individuals can regulate their anxious feelings. Her research has been published in leading academic journals, including the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, Psychological Science, and Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and has been featured in media outlets such as The New York Times, The Economic Times, Harvard Business Review, and Scientific American.
Professor Brooks holds a Ph.D. in decision processes from The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and a bachelor's degree in psychology and finance from Princeton University.
The Organizational Apology: A Step-by-Step Guide
At some point, every company makes a mistake that requires an apology—to an individual; a group of customers, employees, or business partners; or the public at large. And more often than not, companies and their leaders fail to apologize effectively, if at all, which can severely damage their reputations and their relationships with stakeholders. Companies need clearer guidelines for determining whether a mistake merits an apology and, when it does, for crafting and delivering an effective message. In this article, the authors present their framework—the apology formula—to help companies navigate the tricky terrain. Leaders should ask themselves four questions: • Was there a violation? • Was it core to our promise or mission? • How will the public react? • Are we committed to change? As a general rule, the more central to the mission of the company the violation is and the more people it affects, the more important it is that the apology be pitch-perfect. Once a company decides that an apology is necessary, it needs to carefully consider the who, what, where, when, and how of executing it. For core violations, the "who" has to be senior leaders, the "what" has to show a tremendous commitment to change, the "where" has to be high profile, the "when" has to be fast, and the "how" must be deeply sincere and demonstrate empathy.
Anxious and Egocentric: How Specific Emotions Influence Perspective Taking
People frequently feel anxious. Although prior research has extensively studied how feeling anxious shapes intrapsychic aspects of cognition, much less is known about how anxiety affects interpersonal aspects of cognition. Here, we examine the influence of incidental experiences of anxiety on perceptual and conceptual forms of perspective taking. Compared with participants experiencing other negative, high-arousal emotions (i.e., anger or disgust) or neutral feelings, anxious participants displayed greater egocentrism in their mental-state reasoning: They were more likely to describe an object using their own spatial perspective, had more difficulty resisting egocentric interference when identifying an object from others' spatial perspectives, and relied more heavily on privileged knowledge when inferring others' beliefs. Using both experimental-causal-chain and measurement-of-mediation approaches, we found that these effects were explained, in part, by uncertainty appraisal tendencies. Further supporting the role of uncertainty, a positive emotion associated with uncertainty (i.e., surprise) produced increases in egocentrism that were similar to anxiety. Collectively, the results suggest that incidentally experiencing emotions associated with uncertainty increase reliance on one's own egocentric perspective when reasoning about the mental states of others.
Risk and Uncertainty;
Smart People Ask for (My) Advice: Seeking Advice Boosts Perceptions of Competence
Although individuals can derive substantial benefits from exchanging information and ideas, many individuals are reluctant to seek advice from others. We find that people are reticent to seek advice for fear of appearing incompetent. This fear, however, is misplaced. We demonstrate that individuals perceive those who seek advice as more competent than those who do not seek advice. This effect is moderated by task difficulty, advisor egocentrism, and advisor expertise. Individuals perceive those who seek advice as more competent when the task is difficult than when it is easy, when people seek advice from them personally than when they seek advice from others, and when people seek advice from experts than from non-experts or not at all.
Cognition and Thinking;
A 'Present' for the Future: The Unexpected Value of Rediscovery
Although documenting everyday activities may seem trivial, four studies reveal that creating records of the present generates unexpected benefits by allowing future rediscoveries. In Study 1, we use a "time capsule" paradigm to show that individuals underestimate the extent to which rediscovering experiences from the past will be curiosity-provoking and interesting in the future. In Studies 2 and 3, we find that people are particularly likely to underestimate the pleasure of rediscovering ordinary, mundane experiences compared to rediscovering extraordinary experiences. Finally, Study 4 demonstrates that underestimating the pleasure of rediscovery leads to time-inconsistent choices: individuals forgo opportunities to document the present but then prefer to rediscover those moments in the future. Underestimating the value of rediscovery is linked to people's erroneous faith in their memory of everyday events. By documenting the present, people provide themselves with the opportunity to rediscover mundane moments that may otherwise have been forgotten.
Cognition and Thinking;
Investors Prefer Entrepreneurial Ventures Pitched by Attractive Men
Entrepreneurship is a central path to job creation, economic growth, and prosperity. In the earliest stages of start-up business creation, the matching of entrepreneurial ventures to investors is critically important. The entrepreneur's business proposition and previous experience are regarded as the main criteria for investment decisions. Our research, however, documents other critical criteria that investors use to make these decisions: the gender and physical attractiveness of the entrepreneurs themselves. Across a field setting (three entrepreneurial pitch competitions in the United States) and two experiments, we identify a profound and consistent gender gap in entrepreneur persuasiveness. Investors prefer pitches presented by male entrepreneurs compared with pitches made by female entrepreneurs, even when the content of the pitch is the same. This effect is moderated by male physical attractiveness: attractive males were particularly persuasive, whereas physical attractiveness did not matter among female entrepreneurs.
Keywords: Prejudice and Bias;
Get Excited: Reappraising Pre-Performance Anxiety as Excitement
Individuals often feel anxious in anticipation of tasks such as speaking in public or meeting with a boss. I find that an overwhelming majority of people believe trying to calm down is the best way to cope with pre-performance anxiety. However, across several studies involving karaoke singing, public speaking, and math performance, I investigate an alternative strategy: reappraising anxiety as excitement. Compared to those who attempt to calm down, individuals who reappraise their anxious arousal as excitement feel more excited and perform better. Individuals can reappraise anxiety as excitement using minimal strategies such as self-talk (e.g., saying "I am excited" out loud) or simple messages (e.g., "get excited"), which lead them to feel more excited, adopt an opportunity mindset (as opposed to a threat mindset), and improve their subsequent performance. These findings suggest the importance of arousal congruency during the emotional reappraisal process.
I'm Sorry About the Rain! Superfluous Apologies Demonstrate Empathic Concern and Increase Trust
Existing apology research has conceptualized apologies as a device to rebuild relationships following a transgression. As a result, apology research has failed to investigate the use of apologies for outcomes for which individuals are obviously not culpable (e.g., apologies for heavy traffic or bad weather). In this paper, we define superfluous apologies as expressions of regret for an undesirable circumstance for which the apologizer is clearly not responsible. Across four studies, we find that issuing a superfluous apology demonstrates empathic concern, which motivates an increase in trust and liking.
Keywords: superfluous apology;
stochastic trust game;
Anxiety, Advice, and the Ability to Discern: Feeling Anxious Motivates Individuals to Seek and Use Advice
Across eight experiments, we describe the influence of anxiety on advice seeking and advice taking. We find that anxious individuals are more likely to seek and rely on advice than are those in a neutral emotional state (Experiment 1), but this pattern of results does not generalize to other negatively-valenced emotions (Experiment 2). The relationships between anxiety and advice seeking and anxiety and advice taking are mediated by self-confidence; anxiety lowers self-confidence, which increases advice seeking and reliance upon advice (Experiment 3). Though anxiety also impairs information processing, impaired information processing does not mediate the relationship between anxiety and advice taking (Experiment 4). Finally, we find that anxious individuals fail to discriminate between good and bad advice (Experiment 5a-c), and between advice from advisors with and without a conflict of interest (Experiment 6).
Keywords: Motivation and Incentives;
Can Nervous Nelly Negotiate? How Anxiety Causes Negotiators to Make Low First Offers, Exit Early, and Earn Less Profit
Negotiations trigger anxiety. Across four studies, we demonstrate that anxiety is harmful to negotiator performance. In our experiments, we induced either anxiety or neutral feelings and studied behavior in negotiation and continuous shrinking-pie tasks. Compared to negotiators experiencing neutral feelings, negotiators who feel anxious expect lower outcomes, make lower first offers, respond more quickly to offers, exit bargaining situations earlier, and ultimately obtain worse outcomes. The relationship between anxiety and negotiator behavior is moderated by negotiator self-efficacy; high self-efficacy mitigates the harmful effects of anxiety.
Outcome or Result;
How Implicit Beliefs Influence Trust Recovery
After a trust violation, some people are quick to forgive, whereas others never trust again. In this report, we identify a key characteristic that moderates trust recovery: implicit beliefs of moral character. Individuals who believe that moral character can change over time (incremental beliefs) are more likely to trust their counterpart following an apology and trustworthy behavior than are individuals who believe that moral character cannot change (entity beliefs).We demonstrate that a simple but powerful message can induce either entity or incremental beliefs about moral character.
Keywords: Values and Beliefs;