Category Archives: Collaboration

The One Way to Constructively Defuse an Argument

Constructive conflict is a healthy part of any organization. Deprived of it, we end up with a lack of innovation, status quos are not challenged, necessary questions are avoided, and there is a lethal amount of consensus. The key is how we address this conflict.

One way to face conflict is fast and furious. Like the multi-sequel movie franchise, we can follow Dom Toretto’s philosophy:

I live my life a quarter-mile at a time. Nothing else matters; not the mortgage; not the store; not my team and their bullshit. For those ten seconds or less, I’m free.

When we lead through a “quarter-mile at a time” mindset, we are likely to engage in such practical strategies as seeking compromise, utilizing empathy, avoiding blame, apologizing, and forgiving past actions. However, while these techniques can be effective, they do not work when we are in the midst of a heated argument where we feel emotionally invested. So how can we improve our ability to resolve our interpersonal conflicts?

According to a study in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, you are more likely to resolve conflict through superior reasoning strategies when you consider the situation in the long run. By distancing yourself from your current feelings, you are better equipped to unravel negative events and find resolution. Otherwise, according to another study, you are prone to ruminating, recounting, and re-experiencing the negative event indefinitely.

Still not convinced you are better off with a marathon (versus sprint) mentality? A study in Psychological Review found that imagining the future is a natural outlet to thinking more abstractly about an interpersonal conflict. Once we are able to transcend the present moment and put the negative events in context, we are less focused on recounting it and more focused on thinking about the bigger picture. And with enhanced adaptive reasoning strategies, the research reported that participants had a greater influx of positive emotions and insight.

To resolve conflicts, we need to think beyond a “quarter-mile at a time.” How will it pan out tomorrow, next week, and next year? It may not be as harrowing as a fast and furious solution, but the measure of successful leadership is not reliant on how quickly you reach the finish line.

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.”

When Did Opposition Become Obstruction?

In today’s political climate, there has been a focus on the “oppositional” party. How the “less represented” party tries to push their agenda forward has always been a talking point. The difference is in the tactics that have been used during the previous Presidential administration and have continued into the current one. It’s the difference between opposition and obstruction.

By definition, oppositional parties tend to be against the policies of the “ruling” party and/or person(s) in power. This is an important part of a democracy. Through debate and discussion, they ensure we retain checks and balances. The ruling party is held accountable and the views of a broader range of constituents are represented.

While oppositional parties work against those in power, traditionally they have also been willing to work with their foes to some degree, while retaining the focus on their agenda. That is the key differentiator between opposing and obstructing.

The duty of the opposition is to oppose.—Winston Churchill

Obstructionists are those members of the opposing party who refuse to not only work with those in power, but purposely block their opponent’s progress. It does not matter whether the decision is justified and reasonable, which it often is. It does not matter whether they agree with the progress being proposed, which they often do. And it does not matter whether the majority have the right/ability to make the change, which is often the case. An obstructionist’s goal is to stop the rival at whatever the cost.

The obstructionist knows that to give a little is to concede. The fallout is irrelevant as are the consequences of their actions. Even if an obstructionist loses, they can show that they are not complicit in the outcome. Could they have made the solution better with their insight? Sure, but then their supporters would think they’re weak and without core principles.

If there is a nuclear tactic being used here, I submit it is the use of that obstruction where a willful minority blocks a bipartisan majority from voting on the President’s judicial nominees.—John Cornyn, U.S. Senator

This was not always the case. Politic use to be about compromise; it use to be about taking part in the process without an instinctually defiant stance. When you disagreed, you argued your points. You bargained for your agenda. You helped shape the solution so it included some of your party’s input. But this only happens through participation…and obstructionists refuse to participate.

This is a lesson for leaders. If you want to make an impact, if you want influence within your organization, don’t allow your feelings of opposition to transmute into obstructionist behaviors. Removing yourself from the discussion does not mean you are more ideologically pure, it means you are giving others a valid reason to cut you out of the decision making. While you may not like what others are proposing, a willingness to compromise will allow your concerns to be heard and may shape the end-result in a way that makes it more palatable for those who oppose it. Or, you can cover your ears and repeatedly yell, “NO.” I’m sure your opponents didn’t want to hear your views anyway.

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.