Category Archives: Candor

The Don Rickles School of Praise: When There’s Too Much of a Good Thing

Last week I wrote about the business case for being nice. I stand by the article and the cited research flaunting the benefits of leadership based in trust, warmth, and mutual cooperation; however, with the passing of legendary comedian Don Rickles, I’d like to honor his memory by providing a counter argument—the business case for not being so nice. More specifically, why we should be more discerning when doling out praise.

In today’s culture, leaders are encouraged to instill confidence, build self-esteem, and offer regular praise so as to encourage employees to believe in themselves. This “feel good” behavior creates a nice environment, but “nice” is not synonymous with “engaging,” “productive,” or “dynamic.” In fact, research shows that praise may actually undermine success.

I always rib people, but nobody ever gives me a hard time. I don’t know why. Maybe they’re afraid of what I might say. There’s probably a lesson in that somewhere, but I don’t know what it is.—Don Rickles

A study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that when people are praised for ‘doing their own thing,’ they lose interest in the activity once the praise stops. Where they may have once felt satisfaction with the intrinsically rewarding enjoyment of performing the activity, the praise replaced the intrinsic reward with a contingent, external incentive, thus reducing the appeal of the intrinsic reward. As a result, expecting praise can soon make that thing seem not worth doing if you are not receiving the praise.

In another study published in Educational Leadership, people praised for personal attributes (being smart, talented, etc) were more easily discouraged with complex tasks and they stopped making an effort much sooner than those praised for ‘working hard’. Also, when praised for effort, participants overwhelmingly chose the more challenging task, while those praised for intelligence chose the easy test.

And according to Dr. Peggy Drexler, a research psychologist and professor of psychology at Cornell University, unpraised individuals show higher levels of confidence, while the overpraised are more likely to lie or exaggerate to make their performance sound better. Praise becomes addictive; once they get it, they need it and cannot function without it.

They always use the word ‘insult’ with me, but I don’t hurt anybody. I wouldn’t be sitting here if I did. I make fun of everybody and exaggerate all our insecurities.—Don Rickles

Before you are completely turned off from delivering praise (and decide to follow the Don Rickles’ style of ‘compliments’), the lesson here is not to withhold support or encouragement; what’s key is making sure the praise you deliver is accomplishing your intended purpose and being conveyed in the most impactful manner. A few ways you can maximize your praise include:

  • Be selective with praise. A compliment is more meaningful when it is kept sacred. If you do it all the time, it has less potency and creates an atmosphere of dependency. As David “Father of Advertising” Ogilvy says, it should be just uncommon enough to make each instance a momentous occasion.
  • Focus on what is within a person’s control. Don’t bother heaping compliments on characteristics that come natural; emphasis what they can consciously influence and control.
  • Avoid applause for easy tasks. A study found that people praised for an achievement that comes easily believe either 1) the praiser is not smart enough to realize how easy the task is or 2) the praiser thinks the prasiee is not smart.
  • Don’t over-praise for doing something they should be doing anyway. Recognize them for going above and beyond or finding a new way to complete a task, otherwise you are just reinforcing the minimum expectations of the job.
  • Deliver razor-sharp praise. Ambiguous, broad statements like, “You are great,” are worthless. Compliments should be specific and describe a detailed account of what they did well.

Don Rickles, derisively nicknamed Mr. Warmth, was always quick with an insult. He could disarm the most caustic audience with the most politically correctless jab. The greatest praise he offered was a verbal barb… and people begged Rickles to make fun of them. Of course, context matters so we should not try to emulate his form of tribute. Instead, use praise to build people up, but, at the same time, don’t rely on it as your primary form of communication. Keep it pointed, make it meaningful, and (I cannot stress this enough) don’t think “What would Rickles say.”

The Business Case for Workplace Friendship: 8 Reasons You Need It and 1 Way to Build Them Fast

In all the talk and research centered around company culture, one aspect is often ignored: The power of friends at work. I was thinking about this last week when I saw a preview for the new CHiPs movie.

If you’re unfamiliar with CHiPs, the source material for the movie was a delightfully cheesy 1970s-80s series about the California Highway Patrol. In one respect, it was about motorcycle police officers who solved crimes and cleaned up California. However, it was also a story about the brotherly love between two partners—Jon Baker (Larry Wilcox) and Frank “Ponch” Poncherello (Erik Estrada). Dax Shepard, who plays Jon Baker in the movie, echoed this in a recent interview:

I believe if you actually tried to isolate what was so appealing about the show, especially on a global level, it was two buddies.

As Jon and Ponch can attest (their record of arrests speaks for itself), there are many benefits to maintaining workplace friendships. Besides the opportunity to spend fifty-ish hours a week with people you actually like, research has proven time and again that strong social connections have both personal and business advantages.

A study in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships found that quality (not quantity) friendships lead to significantly greater job satisfaction.

Research in Personnel Psychology found that employees with more “multiplex relationships” – colleagues you work with who are also your friends outside of work – have significantly better job performance. These bonds were associated with experiencing more positive work-related emotions, like feeling excited, proud, and trusting.

The Study of Adult Development at the Harvard Medical School, which is the longest-running study of human happiness, has consistently concluded that positive relationships result in happier, healthier, and more meaningful lives.

The latest Relationships @Work study found that millennials rely on their work friends to boost their moods with 39% reporting that friendships made them more productive and 50% saying that friendships were motivating.

Gallup found that close work friendships boost employee satisfaction by 50% and people with a best friend at work are seven times more likely to be fully engaged in their work.

In Matthew Lieberman’s book Social: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Connect, he discovered that with an economist’s mindset where you put a price tag on relationships, a friend you see on most days is like earning an additional $100,000 each year. That’s quite a value from a social connection.

Innovation psychologist Amantha Imber says, “Having a friend at work, or more broadly people that you trust and people that you feel will support you, is really important for boosting confidence and when you’re confident that can lead to all sorts of positive work outcomes.”

And executive coach and organizational psychologist Michelle Pizer states that having a genuine friend in the workplace “makes us feel safer to take risks” because we know someone has our back.

Once we understand that workplace friendships are more than simply a fun way to pass the day, the real question is how to build them. Some may say it takes months or even years, but who has that much time? We need friends and we need them now. Arthur Aron may have the answer.

Aron, a social psychologist at Stony Brook University, has been studying ways to induce meaningful connections for nearly 50 years. Through his research, he uncovered how to foster closeness and break down emotional and social barriers in less than 45 minutes…and it’s easier than you may think.

In one experiment, participants were split into two groups and then partnered up. In the first group, the partners asked each other casual, impersonal questions. The second group wasn’t allowed to engage in any conversation suggestive of small talk. Instead, they asked questions like, “Given the choice to invite anyone in the world, whom would you want as a dinner guest?”

As you may have guessed, participants who asked deep, evocative questions felt significantly closer to one another than those engaged in small talk. People in the second group also reported greater interest in collaborating with their partner on future projects. In addition, when these results were replicated in another study, they found that a key factor in determining whether mere workplace acquaintances would transcend into actual friends involved self-disclosure around non-workplace topics and the more they shared, the closer they became.

Workplaces that convert their employees’ untenable ties into the durable bonds shared by fast friends will have cultures and communities that are alive and generative—in one word, thriving. As denizens of these communities, we will be doing something even more powerful than bringing our lives and souls with us to work: We will be sharing them with friends.—Jessica Amortegui

Who’s your Ponch? Who is your friend at work? This is not a trick question; it’s a challenge. Whether you’re in the elevator or grabbing coffee in the break room, quit your small talk. Ask real questions and disclose real information. This may feel unnatural at first, but if Arthur Aron’s research is correct, you could form the beginnings of a new friendship by mid-week. Who knows, maybe you two can go see CHiPs together in the theater.

Nine Ways to Be a More Assertive Leader with Logan/Wolverine

When I’m asked about core leadership traits, of course I mention ethics and communication and all the other basic competencies of anyone striving to make it in a company (or society-at-large). However, successful leaders have a characteristic that sets them apart from the masses—they are assertive.

Assertiveness is your ability to demonstrate healthy confidence, to be direct and honest. It is not aggression or seeking dominance over others, but simultaneously standing up for yourself while respecting other people’s rights. It’s like Wolverine from the X-Men movies and Logan.

Wolverine conducts himself with quiet self-assurance. He says what he thinks, speaks up when something bothers him, and has no problem making his opinions known. Sure, some will say he’s the very definition of aggression with his proclivity to destroy and his hair-trigger temper, but these bouts typically occur when he’s provoked, not because he seeks them out. No, Wolverine is assertive. Thankfully we don’t need his retractable claws, indestructible skeleton, or regenerative abilities to follow suit. Just try these nine suggestions.

Display confidence. If you want to be seen as assertive, consider your posture, tone, and general persona. Speak clearly. Stand up straight. Make eye contact. Don’t fidget. And walk with purpose.

Be direct. Assertiveness and brevity go hand in hand. No need for elaborate explanations, keep your requests simple, straightforward, and respectful.

Take responsibility. If you are waiting for other people to solve your problems, you might be confusing passiveness with assertiveness. If an aspect of your life needs to change, own it and do something about it.

And take responsibility. Being assertive means being accountable for the consequences of your actions. Take your lumps, learn from them, move on.

Say no. Unless you agree with every request, you need to exert some assertiveness by saying no. Be courteous, but be firm.

Stop apologizing. Too often, “nice” people feel guilty for asserting their needs and wants. Unless you’re nearing diva territory, you have nothing to be ashamed of. Don’t apologize; just be polite and appreciative.

Don’t be pressured into justifying your views. When people are uncomfortable, they often try to defend or rationalize their decisions. Be able to explain your opinions without feeling compelled to make excuses for them.

Say what you think. No one knows what is on your mind unless you tell them. If you need something, say it. If you have a problem, speak up.

Be patient. Learning to become more assertive takes time and practice… so keep practicing.

Why Leaders Cannot Be Indifferent to the Truth: Part 4— 10 Ways to Create a Culture of Trust

Check out Part 1 of this series where we discuss the logical fallacy of believing you are entitled to your opinion, Part 2 involving the destruction nature of alternative facts (lies), and Part 3 about deceiving with the truth.

Now that we’ve covered false opinions, lying with the truth (paltering), and lying without the truth (alternative facts), it’s time to discuss what we can do about it. According to Stephen M. R. Covey in The Speed of Trust, trust is the most powerful form of motivation in organizations and is the ultimate source of influence. Therefore, to build and maintain a culture brimming with inspiration, engagement, and authenticity, we must embrace the truth.

It should seem easy to embrace truth, but how well is that message getting to those on your team? Are they sheltering you from the hard reality? Are they paltering to make it sound better then it is? Or are they lying by omission and commission because they are scared of the consequences associated with delivering bad news?

People are going to have to sit down and decide: Are we going to want to go over the moral consequences of telling an untruth? The mere fact of it being untrue? Or the fact that it’s bogus, baseless or groundless?—Geoffrey Nunberg, linguist professor at the University of California, Berkeley

Cultivating a truthful organization begins with us; we must lead with facts. To build up your level of trust through fact-based leadership, consider these ten ideas:

Pay Attention. You can’t define and confront reality if you don’t know what the team is feeling. Listen, show respect, and exhibit empathy for their opinions and emotions.

Lead with Questions. Instead of being the “answer guy/gal,” push, prod, and probe with questions. This Socratic style will enhance your understanding and provide a clear picture of reality and its implications.

Own Up.  The easiest way to build trust is the simple acknowledgement of what’s really happening. Don’t pretend things are better than they are, but to avoid spreading doom n’ gloom, back up the bad with what is being done to fix it.

Conduct Autopsies. When things go wrong, it’s easy to dissect until you know the person(s) responsible. Instead of blame, work on solving the problem. If you can do this consistently, your team is more likely to bring you the issues without fear of reprisals.

Avoid Loyalty Tests. Some employees believe that they’ll get ahead by agreeing with you, even when you’re wrong. If you can escape the ego trap, show the team that healthy dissent will be rewarded, whereas mindless obedience will not.

Drop the Two F’s. To reestablish trust, leaders may need to change the behaviors that have propagated the lack of trust. Fear and Force are a dangerous combination that squash the unpleasant truths. Control these behaviors and you’re halfway to Trustville.

Engage in Dialogue. If you want the truth, your go-to reaction cannot be defensiveness. Stifle your natural instinct to debate or argue so your team knows they are being heard.

Teach Debate. According to Deakin University philosophy professor Patrick Stokes, “You are not entitled to your opinion. You are only entitled to what you can argue for.” To maintain truth, we sometimes need to fight for it. Show your team how to construct and defend their argument so they can effectively battle those who spread falsehoods.

Build “Red Flag” Systems. Develop a process where people can disagree in a safe way—no restrictions, no repercussions, no risk of alienation. These red flags can be used to challenge the team or the leader, share a personal anecdote, respond to a co-worker, present an analysis, make a suggestion, or ask a question.

Live it. Like every other leadership tenet, you have to model it before others will follow.

An organization based on lies will not last. An alternative fact does not increase your accounts receivable. No one needs your “opinion” about the effectiveness of the latest marketing campaign. And paltering can only result in decisions based upon faulty, incomplete information. Lead with facts and accept nothing less from your team.

Truth: So innovatively simple.

 

The Why Leaders Cannot Be Indifferent to the Truth series:

Part 1—You are NOT Entitled to Your Opinion

Part 2—The Destructive Nature of Alternative Facts (i.e. Lies)

Part 3—Deceiving with Fact-based Lies

Part 4— 10 Ways to Create a Culture of Trust

Why Leaders Cannot Be Indifferent to the Truth: Part 3—Deceiving with Fact-based Lies

Check out Part 1 of this series where we discuss the logical fallacy of believing you are entitled to your opinion and Part 2 involving the destruction nature of alternative facts (lies).

We’ve been talking about the deceptive nature of alternative facts (i.e. lies) and their effects on the workplace; however, there are many practices beyond lies that can have equally destructive results. One of the most common is paltering.

While a lie entails either the active use of false statements (lying by commission) or holding back relevant information (lying by omission), paltering involves the use of truthful statements to influence someone’s beliefs by giving a false or distorted impression. For example, let’s say you are asked about a prior lawsuit where your company was charged with housing discrimination. You can lie, you can change the topic, or you can palter like Trump in the September 26th presidential debate:

We, along with many, many, many other companies, throughout the country—it was a federal lawsuit—were sued. We settled the suit with zero—no admission of guilt. It was very easy to do. But they sued many people.

Trump’s response is technically a truthful statement in that he did settle the suit and he did not admit guilt; however, it presents a misleading sense of innocence. In reality, Trump signed a consent decree, which included “pages of stipulations intended to ensure the desegregation of Trump properties.” And while many companies have been sued for housing discrimination, this lawsuit was 1) “squarely aimed” at Trump and 2) his company was the only one sued at that particular time.

Trump has shown that stating the aggregate truth is not one of his more predominant traits, though let’s not get too sanctimonious about our own ability to be honest. Research finds that on average, people tell one to two lies a day, most often to family members, friends, and work colleagues. These tend to be harmless white lies, but they are lies. Leaders are no different.

I’ll go into my inbox and look at an email I was supposed to reply to weeks ago. And I’ll look out the window and think about it for a few seconds, and then write, ‘I’ve been thinking about your email.’ I’m clearly creating the impression that I’ve been thinking this over for the last three weeks, when in truth I’ve been thinking about it for the last second and a half. I’m creating a false impression by telling truthful things—but yet it doesn’t feel as unethical as lying.—Todd Rogers, associate professor of public policy at the Harvard Kennedy School

Leaders report paltering as often as they lie by omission and more often than they lie by commission. In the study, 52% stated they palter in some or most of their negotiations, whereas 21% said they lie by commission. When asked why, participants felt that paltering is more ethically acceptable than lying (by commission and by omission).

A study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology went even further to say that most people who palter see nothing wrong with it. According to co-author Francesca Gino, Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School, “People seem to be using this strategy because in their minds, they’re telling the truth, so they think they’re being honest.” In some cases, the leader even shifts responsibility to the audience for believing what the leader said; judging the audience for not paying closer attention to what exactly was articulated.

While these leaders may erroneously take the moral high ground, that does not change the damage paltering is doing to their reputation and relationships. In the aforementioned study, they often benefit in the short term, but when the deception is exposed the recipients of paltering feel misled, code the individual as a liar, and are less likely to work with them again.

Avoid the repercussions of truth-based deceit. You may take satisfaction in your plausible deniability, but the world is a small place. People talk and you do not need a negative stigma that may likely stick far longer than you’d prefer. If you do not want to be re-branded as a con artist, in Part 4 of this series we’ll discuss what you as a leader can do to cultivate and enforce a culture that emphasizes truthful facts, truth tellers, and truth seekers.

 

The Why Leaders Cannot Be Indifferent to the Truth series:

Part 1—You are NOT Entitled to Your Opinion

Part 2—The Destructive Nature of Alternative Facts (i.e. Lies)

Part 3—Deceiving with Fact-based Lies

Part 4— 10 Ways to Create a Culture of Trust