The Power of Expectations: Expect (Thor’s) Hammer and Everything Looks like a Nail

Let’s say, just for the sake of argument, that you were born and raised to be a warrior king. All your education, child rearing, and friends were forged around waging war and leading a nation of other like-minded warriors. With this background, how would you solve dilemmas—reflective deliberation or brute force? Thor, obviously chooses the latter.

Thor, as we all know, is the God of Thunder, prince of Asgard, and core member of the superhero team Avengers. He’s a skilled fighter prone to raise his powerful hammer in both offensive and defensive skirmishes. While Thor defends those in need, there’s also the popular saying, “If all you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.” Research shows that this applies to all of us, not just those with Thor’s hammer.

According to a recent study in the journal Emotion, our performance can be influenced by our expectations about the impact of feelings and sentiments. In the first experiment, researchers told participants they would be taking part in an actual negotiation task, with real financial consequences. Before going into the negotiation, half were assigned to an “angry” group. They read advice from past participants who claimed to have been successful in the negotiation task by being aggressive and forceful. The other half read advice that recommended being “reasonable.”

The researchers found that the participants influenced to feel anger made more money, but only if they had read the statements encouraging the benefits of anger. Those who were influenced to be reasonable did just as well as the angry group, regardless of their emotional state.

In another experiment, the researchers focused on creativity. They found that participants encouraged to believe that excitement benefits creativity and reported feeling excited during the task did better than those who reported feeling calm. At the same time, participants encouraged to believe that calmness benefits creativity and reported feeling calm during the task did better than those who felt excited.

The lesson from this research is clear—if you are influenced to believe a certain emotion will evoke a response, you are more likely to tap into that emotion AND see a positive result. Thor was taught that controlled hostility will win the day—he’s a good fighter, and it does.

IF all you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail, we can try to expand our team’s tool box so they have a greater variety of tools to choose from. However, we also have the advantage as leaders in that we can choose the hammers for our workplace. We can decide which emotions breed success. Do you want a bunch of people wielding Thor’s hammer, or is there a less painful approach?