Saturday, November 30, 2019

An intentionally slower response to an interpersonal request (time-taking) leads to inferences of higher status, but lower judgments of competence and warmth

Ziano, Ignazio, and Vanessa Patrick. 2019. ““Time-takers” Are Important Jerks: Mixed Reputational Consequences of Speed of Response to Requests” PsyArXiv. November 28. doi:10.31234/

Abstract: How does speed of response influence an individual’s standing and reputation? Five experiments (n = 1,544) demonstrate that “time-takers” are perceived to be high in status but low in competence and warmth, making them important jerks. Despite being a socially dispreferred norm violation, an intentionally slower response to an interpersonal request (time-taking) leads to inferences of higher status, but lower judgments of competence and warmth. We show that observers infer status from response time only when other status information is not accessible. The effects of response speed on status, competence, and warmth are mediated by perceptions of heightened self-orientation: the slow response of time-takers signals higher self-orientation – a feature that observers associate with higher status, but also with lower competence and warmth. We discuss theoretical implications for speed of response, status signalling and inferences of competence and warmth, and practical implications for interpersonal communications in organizations and employee well-being.

General Discussion

Should you respond immediately to a text or email, or, should you take your own sweet time? The focus of this paper is to identify the social consequences of time-taking, the intentionally slow response to an interpersonal request. In a world that is becoming increasingly fast paced, people and organizations are increasingly under pressure to respond as fast as possible. Prompt responses have benefits: a fast responder is seen as both warm and competent. However, a key insight uncovered by the current research is that if a person or an organization swims against the current and responds slowly, there is a silver lining: higher status perceptions, unfortunately however at the cost of competence and warmth perceptions.

Using within-participants and between-participants experiments, we explored the role of response time in a variety of situations, involving parties (people, companies, and institutions) of different nature. In study 1A, we show that people that are intentionally slower in responding to requests are liked less, yet considered of higher status, but of lower competence and warmth. In study 1B, we replicate the results of study 1A using institutions as the signaling parties. In study 2 we show that decision time is only used as a status cue if status information is not accessible. In study 3, we explore the mediating role of heightened self-orientation (lowered other-orientation) in generating impressions of status, competence, and warmth, in both personal and institutional communications.

Contributions, Implications and Directions for Future Research.

We elaborate on the three theoretical contributions previously identified and discuss the implications for theory and practice. Status signaling.

While previous research has looked at the effect of many cues on perception of status (busyness, Bellezza et al. 2017; expensive clothes, Nelissen and Meijers 2011; product size, Dubois et al., 2012), competence (alcohol consumption, Rick and Schweitzer, 2013; non-conforming behavior, Bellezza et al. 2014; 2017) and warmth (luxury consumption, Garcia et al. 2018; moral behavior, Brambilla et al. 2012), response time – despite its prevalence in everyday life and its emergence in the signaling literature (Van de Calseyde et al., 2014)– has been neglected. We fill this gap in the literature and connect these two streams of literature by showing that time taking influences status, competence, and warmth perceptions.

Speed of response. Previous literature demonstrated that observers draw rich inferences from speed of response, for instance in the domains of cooperation (Evans, Dillon, & Rand, 2015; Van de Calseyde et al., 2014) and morality (Critcher et al., 2013). We extend this literature to reputational consequences in three important domains of other perception: status, competence, and warmth. Further, we are the first – to our knowledge - to consider the mixed reputational effects of time taking: the positive effect of slower response times (slower = high status) but the negative perceptions of competence and warmth. This nuance provides increased understanding about how observers interpret speed of response in interpersonal contexts where people may observe response times.

Competence, warmth, and status. By exploring the reactions to slower responses, we show that slow response time is a dominance-based status-gaining strategy (Cheng et al., 2013), best summarized by the quote “It is better to be feared than loved, if you cannot both” (Machiavelli, 1532). In most of the status literature, status and valued personal features such as competence and warmth (Fiske et al., 2007) go hand-in-hand (Anderson & Kilduff, 2009). Manipulations that cause an increase in perceptions of status often also cause an increase in perception of competence and warmth. Strikingly, we find that competence and status can move independently: competence – along with warmth - is lower for slower respondents and status is higher. Our results are in line with this perspective suggested by Cheng and colleagues (2013): dominance does not imply the signaling of desirable qualities in order to signal status, but simply the willingness and the attitude to use coercion.

This paper has substantial practical implications for communications amongst individuals and for companies. When people interact with others, they may draw inferences from response time even where the responding party did not intend to signal it. Therefore, an unexplained delay may be interpreted as intentional and trigger positive (status) but also negative (warmth, competence) inferences. Organizations and workers may be informed about how to intentionally and strategically use response time, in order to enhance what they wish to signal. A key issue is the intentionally of the delayed response which signals greater self-orientation and consequently the neglect to value other people’s time. Future research would need to identify, how long the high status can be maintained, if competence and warmth perceptions are constantly being eroded. Relatedly, prior research has shown that (Tost, Gino, & Larrick, 2013) power can have a negative impact on team performance. One might argue that the dominant route to status that we have documented as a result of timetaking may similarly negatively influence team performance in the long-run.

Second, we show that people interpret status and use it as an inference-making tool only when other status cues are not accessible in the environment. This implies that observers are more likely to infer status from response time in situations such as interactions between colleagues from different departments or employees from different companies, when the status of the responding party is not apparent. Respondents (such as managers and employees) may therefore modulate other people impressions of them by giving (or neglecting to give) the other party status information about them (e.g., managerial function).

Further, employees report that they are under huge pressures to reply faster and faster to an increasing number of emails. This situation is exemplified by an academic worker on Twitter, who reports that they “can’t physically respond to all legitimate email sent to me without spending 3 hours a day on email (which would both cause me to go insane and also get fired)”. Certainly, workers are worried about how their delayed emails are going to make them look to others. We highlight a potential benefit of slow response speed: higher status inferences. Overwhelmed workers may therefore take solace in the fact that their slow speed of response does not have exclusively negative consequences.

However, by the same token, future research might also investigate the silver lining to greater self-orientation and lower other orientation. Indeed, in discussing the laws of power, the author Robert Greene points to self-orientation as essential to gaining and maintaining a position of power and status. For instance, he urges, “Do not accept the roles that society foists on you… Be the master of your own image rather than letting others define if for you. Incorporate dramatic devices into your public gestures and actions – your power will be enhanced and your character will seem larger than life” (p. 191). In this research, the “dramatic device” we identify that enhances status inferences is slower response times. Future research might identify other similar devices that reflect self-orientation and thereby confer status on individuals and organizations.

In our studies, we have operationalized time on a well-defined, unidirectional line that goes from the past to the future. However, the difference between present and future may be blurrier depending on situational (e.g., whether the language spoken possesses a future tense or not; Pérez and Tavits 2017) and individual factors (e.g., self-continuity through time; Hershfield et al. 2009). Future research may therefore investigate ways to moderate the signaling effect of response time by making the time difference between fast and slow seem less definite.

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