Flynn, Chatman, & Spataro (2011). Getting to Know You: The Influence of Personality on Impressions and Performance of Demographically Different People in Organizations

Francis J. Flynn – Stanford University
Jennifer A. Chatman – University of California, Berkeley
Sandra E. Spataro – Northern Kentucky University

Karren Knowlton – University of Pennsylvania Wharton School
Elizabeth Luckman – Washington University in St. Louis

Article link:

Question 1. Your core idea reflects how communication and information sharing between demographically dissimilar individuals may be moderators for why some studies have found intergroup contact to improve intergroup relations and others have not. You build on this core idea by using the personality characteristics of extroversion and self-monitoring as proxies for amount and type of communication. While using these personality traits as proxies in this sense has its limitations (which you acknowledge well in the Discussion section), we found this to be an interesting and pragmatic angle from which to address your core idea. What was the genesis and scope of your original idea and how did it evolve into what we read in the publication?

We were generally interested in identifying mechanisms that can mitigate negative stereotyping. The overwhelming majority of studies in this research area focus on the perceiver, specifically what makes some perceivers more or less likely to invoke negative stereotypes than others and what can be done to undermine their use of negative stereotypes. Comparatively little work focuses on identifying target-specific factors that counteract the use of negative stereotypes. Are there specific attributes of some targets (e.g., their personality traits) that make them less likely to be seen in a negative light? In our research, we focused on extraversion and self-monitoring because they seemed like a natural fit. When it comes to information sharing, extraverts will disclose more personal information, and self-monitors will make sure it’s self-enhancing and appropriate for the situation. In theory, having a predilection toward information sharing and impression management should help counter some of the negative assumptions that perceivers impose on stereotype targets. Our hope is that readers do not interpret these ideas as “blaming the victim,” but rather as fodder for a broader conversation about what inoculates some demographically different people from harmful, and unfair, stereotypes.

Question 2. In the Discussion section (p.437), you acknowledge that the openness of in-group members may have an effect on group members’ willingness to accept demographic differences. How important do you think the relative role of “matching” personality characteristics might be, since, as mentioned, people ‘like’ people who are alike to them? This can be seen as another line along which people can feel someone is in the ‘in group.’ For example, if you’re in a group of introverts, is it still more effective to be extraverted in order to overcome demographic differences?

The concept of personality matching in small groups is fascinating, but this area of research currently lacks an overarching framework that clarifies when matching will work well. In particular, when is matching more effective in the form of similarity rather than complementarity? On one hand, groups that share certain traits, like a positive emotional outlook, tend to perform better (e.g., Filipowicz, Barsade, & Melwani, 2011). On the other hand, groups can benefit from personality complementarity. For example, Grant, Gino, and Hoffman (2011) suggest that extraverted people may be more effective in leading a group of quiet introverts, whereas an introvert may have more success leading a group of chatty extraverts. To reconcile this disconnect, it may be useful to consider the functional or affiliative value of a specific trait. Certain personality traits can improve individual and group outcomes for demographically different others because they serve as a common point of connection, or a social bond. These traits fall into a similarity model. Other traits may be useful because they help debunk negative stereotypes, aid group harmony, or provide some other functional utility. These traits may fall into a complementarity model. We have no evidence to support this claim, but it may be worth exploring in future research with the caveat that, from a managerial perspective, the prospect of effectively leveraging personality matching to enhance group success is a tricky one.

Question 3. We found the way that the overall measure of individual demographic differences was constructed (by averaging the three relational demography variables – citizenship, race, and sex) to be efficient yet intriguing. It seems plausible that there may be a general hierarchy in the impact that the three variables have on how similar or different a person sees another individual to themselves. For example, we would guess that citizenship likely has the least influence. Did your team consider differentially weighting the three demographic difference variables as opposed to a straight average and why or why not?

This is an important question that we considered when we worked on the paper. The problem with developing a hierarchy of demographic differences is that the importance of a demographic attribute can change according to various factors including the basis of diversity (what varies), how that demographic diversity aligns with stereotypical group attributes, the numerical distinctiveness of the demographic difference, and what is considered important at higher levels of analysis such as the organization, or even the nation (e.g., Chatman, Boisnier, Spataro, Anderson, & Berdahl, 2008). In Professor Spataro’s research (2012), for example, she found that in some organizations, race and gender differences were less important than differences in other attributes such as political beliefs and educational background. Simply put, there may be no clear a priori weighting for how salient one attribute is relative to another without considering the context of the group. This realization led us to treat the demographic attributes we measured as equivalent, in terms of weighting, in creating an aggregate measure of differences and similarities among group members.

Question 4. Across different cultures, people form impressions of demographically different others based on different communication, emotion, and personality cues. Your paper examines the phenomenon of communication between demographically different others in two distinct, but both American contexts. Do you think the results would be similar if these studies were done in a different national culture? How might the results change when Americans are the demographically different others in an in-group rooted in a different culture (i.e., the East)?

Our studies are, indeed, culture-bound. As for what might change across cultures, we think that one of the two personality characteristics, extraversion, would be perceived differently in other national cultures. Americans tend to place high value on extraversion, whereas other cultures may prefer the strong, silent type. To the extent that values such as humility, modesty, and being demure are valued in a national culture, even those who are highly gregarious and extraverted by nature will likely learn to temper their expressiveness. In these cultural settings, group members who are demographically different and extraverted might incur backlash, if other group members perceive an assertive communication style as contradicting a demographically different person’s minority status in the group. With regard to self-monitoring, however, we imagine that our results would remain largely the same. At its core, self-monitoring captures a person’s ability to read situations and adapt their behavior accordingly. We expect that a high self-monitor would recognize important cross-cultural differences and adapt to them quickly and successfully. Thus, high self-monitors could relay information about themselves in culturally acceptable ways from one group to the next.

Question 5. One thing that struck both of us about this paper is how important and timely the issue of understanding how demographically different people work together is – even though this was written 15 years ago. Clearly this is a persistent challenge in society and in organizations. How do you think this research has helped to address this problem since it was written?

We certainly hope that the field of demography research has advanced our ability to leverage diversity in work groups and organizations, but of course there is still a long way to go. The approach we adopted here is unique because it highlights the conditions under which demographically different people may overcome others’ negative attitudes toward them. Our biggest concern in taking this approach was that casual readers would see this as placing responsibility for negative stereotyping on the shoulders of those being stereotyped. That was certainly not our intention. Rather, our research was intended to call attention to a mechanism that could serve as a source of inspiration when it comes to generating effective interventions for diverse teams. For example, if extraversion is effective in counteracting others’ negative stereotypes, then perhaps this can be applied in other ways. Shortly after being formed, diverse groups could adopt routines that allow people to share personal, idiosyncratic information in the form of a presentation, a profile, or a pictorial. Finding ways to help people get to know one another sooner rather than later could be especially helpful for demographically different people in the group, even those who are more like a wallflower than a social butterfly.


Chatman, J. A., Boisnier, A. D., Spataro, S. E., Anderson, C., & Berdahl, J. L. (2008). Being distinctive versus being conspicuous: The effects of numeric status and sex-stereotyped tasks on individual performance in groups. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 107(2), 141-160.

Filipowicz, A., Barsade, S., & Melwani, S. (2011). Understanding emotional transitions: the interpersonal consequences of changing emotions in negotiations. Journal of personality and social psychology, 101(3), 541.

Grant, A. M., Gino, F., & Hofmann, D. A. (2011). Reversing the extraverted leadership advantage: The role of employee proactivity. Academy of Management Journal, 54(3), 528-550.

Spataro, S. E. (2012). Not all differences are the same: Variation in the status value of demographic characteristics within and across organizations. Journal of Business Diversity, 12(3), 67-80.

*The two interviewers contributed equally and are listed alphabetically by last name.

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