On May 18, 2020, Todd Tilghman became the 18th winner of NBC’s The Voice. It also kept coach Blake Shelton firmly in the top spot as the coach with the most wins.
Did Todd pick the right coach—or did he get lucky?
If you’ve watched the show, you know that during the blind auditions, contestants perform to four judges whose chairs are facing away from them. If a coach turns around, the contestant advances to the next round. If more than one coach turns around, contestants in the spotlight are put on the spot to choose a coach right then and there. If they choose the right one, they could end up as the winner.
Meanwhile, the coaches—using flattery, making promises, flaunting team jackets, etc.—do everything short of shaming themselves to get the contestant to choose him or her.
And usually—not always—the coach who shows the most enthusiasm gets chosen.
Maybe not so much. According to an article published in a recent issue of the American Psychological Association’s Journal of Experimental Psychology, the lesson is this: When picking a mentor, an advisor, or anyone who you trust to lead or help you succeed, use your head, not your gut.
Flattery might get them somewhere but may get you nowhere.
The trio of researchers from Carnegie Mellon University, the University of Toronto, and New York University did some binge watching; they studied data from the shows that included interviews of contestants before and after competing and found a big difference. Contestants interviewed before auditioning said they would choose a coach based on their expertise and record of success. That all sounds great—except when those same contestants had to choose a coach amid all of that wooing and flattery, they chose the coach who showed the most excitement about them instead.
Why study contests on this particular reality show? Because, explains researcher Dr. Rachel Ruttan, an assistant professor of organizational management at the University of Toronto, The Voice is a “really extreme version of life.” The show places people in a high-stakes environment, making it the perfect place to study decision-making.
All of this information is great for a reality show, but how does it translate to real life? Ruttan says the findings are useful in the real world because quality mentorship has become “increasingly important in the pursuit of personal and professional goals.” She also explained that when choosing coaches, mentors, or advisors, it’s a good idea to make a checklist of your priorities before you pick someone for the long haul.
A separate in-lab study found that enthusiasm and excitement are nice, but they have nothing to do with the quality of the person’s final performance— but precise expertise does.
Final lesson: If you want a cheerleader, by all means, pick one. But if you want someone who will get you where you want to go, pick the one who has what you need, not the one who will make you feel good about yourself.
Need someone to give you the tools to stay focused when writing your list of priorities or choosing a mentor? You might try asking a mental health professional. Before making an appointment, check the license with either the Board of Behavioral Sciences or the California Board of Psychology!