Category Archives: Self Control

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.

Weekender: Jeff Bridges on Practicing Good Habits

jeff bridgesWelcome to another edition of leadersayswhat’s the Weekender, a rug of thought to start your weekend on the right track. Why a rug? Because that rug really tied the room together (and it’s the weekend)!

Would you describe your leadership style as discipline-based or more guided by gut reaction? If you choose the latter, consider what Jeff Bridges was once told by legendary actor (and his father) Lloyd Bridges.

In a recent Rolling Stone interview, Bridges was asked what advice he wished he had received when beginning his career. He responded:

I got the advice — I just didn’t take it! My dad would say, ‘It’s all about habit, Jeff. You gotta get into good habits.’ And I said, ‘No, Dad, you gotta live each moment. Live it as the first one and be fresh.’ And he says, ‘That’s a wonderful thought, but that’s not what we are. We are habitual creatures. It’s about developing these grooves.’ As I age, I can see his point. What you practice, that’s what you become.

I’d like to think that a zen-like (aka Lebowski-like) style would be preferable in the workplace, but implementation and intent are not always congruent. Ad hoc decision making leads to inconsistent leadership, confusion amongst the team, and a lack of focus. If your staff cannot rely on a reliable message, they cannot help you follow through on any long-term objectives.

You and your staff are habitual creatures. Provide and practice habits that fulfill your grandiose vision. It takes discipline and foresight, but as Lloyd Bridges said, “What you practice, that’s what you become.”

Why I Won’t Play Pokémon Go: My Guide to Limiting Workplace Distractions

pokemonUnlike most smartphone owners, I have not downloaded the app sensation, Pokémon Go. While I am typically first in line to consume pop culture, I’m familiar enough with my bad habits to know that the minute this game is uploaded to my phone, I would become obsessed to the point of atrophy. Case in point, I am still haunted by the wasteful Candy Crush summer of 2012.

My refusal to play Pokémon Go certainly puts me in the minority. A recent study found that a third of U.S. Android smartphone users have downloaded this game, surpassing Twitter as the most popular current mobile app. For those of you who are not familiar, Pokémon Go is a virtual scavenger hunt. Players explore the real world with their smartphones, hunting for 151 different cartoon characters at grocery stores, parks, and coffees shops. Did I mention that they are also playing Pokémon Go at work, as if our team needs another distraction.

Office workers are interrupted approximately every eleven minutes, academic studies have found. Once distracted, it takes an average of 25 minutes to return to the original task, says Gloria Mark, a professor of informatics at the University of California.

Another study measured the amount of brainpower lost when someone is interrupted. Two subject groups were tasked with reading a passage and completing a test—one merely did the assignment, while the other was told they “might be contacted for further instructions” at any moment via instant message. When the second group thought they were going to be interrupted but weren’t, they were 14% less likely to answer correctly. When they were interrupted, their scores dropped another 6%.

Distractions steal our time, hurt our productivity, impede our creativity, and damage our efficiency. Even worse, many of our distractions are our own fault, making them wholly avoidable. Larry Rosen, author of iDisorder: Understanding Our Obsession with Technology and Overcoming Its Hold on Us, states that these self-induced distractions are becoming more prevalent and difficult to manage. There is a compulsion to check email, text, social media, and games like Pokémon Go. “We might be in the middle of a meeting but if we don’t check in we start feeling anxious,” Rosen says.

To effectively manage self-inflicted interruptions, we must build our ability to concentrate and minimize distractions. Here are a few tricks that (along with discipline) may work:

  • Take tech breaks. Give yourself a pre-determined amount of time to read through social media or hunt down a Pikachu. Then, silence devices and set the timer. Until the buzzer sounds, you work on that one assignment. No flipping through emails, responding to tweets, or switching screens.
  • Be less accessible. Close your door and tape a sign saying “Do Not Disturb. Genus at Work.” Do this at a set time throughout the week to ensure that you are allowing yourself time to work undisturbed.
  • Hide. If your workspace is too distracting, find somewhere else to work. Leave your phone in your desk and retreat to a less visible area.
  • Stop pop ups. On your smartphone, tablet, and laptop turn off the notifications that interrupt you throughout the day. This includes banners, sounds, vibrations, and badges.
  • Get help. If motivation is the issue, download apps like Freedom and Zero Willpower that will block alerts and social media access at the times of your choosing.

Don’t fall victim to the Pokémons lurking around each corner. They want to break your concentration and take you off task. If you can control the urge, you remain the hunter; however, if you succumb to their temptation, they are now hunting you. You and your team do not have to become prey to a bunch of pocket monsters. Fight the distractions so you can spend time on things that really matter… like Tetris.

Weekender: Keegan-Michael Key on Perceiving Challenges

Keegan-Michael KeyWelcome to another edition of leadersayswhat’s the Weekender, a peel of thought to start your weekend on the right track. Why just the peel? Because it’s the weekend!

Have you ever seen a leader throw a temper tantrum over the minorest of minor issues? When this happens, it is clear that the individual has experienced a temporary lapse of what really matters. While this is bound to happen to anyone, the leader cannot afford to damage their reputation or appear petty. Keegan-Michael Key offers a perspective that may help.

Comedian and actor Keegan-Michael Key is best known for his television work on Key & Peele and MADtv and his recent movie Keanu. In a recent conversation on the podcast Off Camera with Sam Jones, Key discussed how maturity and experience have changed the ways he views life’s daily challenges.

At the end of the day, in our industry, it’s always just a series of challenges. So the difference is, do you look at the challenges as opportunities or do you look at the challenges as problems. And that is something that as I’ve gotten older, I’ll get into a weird mode where I’ll say, ‘alright, the stakes are really high this time.’ No, no, no, no. Why? Why weren’t they higher here? The issue or the challenge is just a challenge. It doesn’t matter if you’re in a $50 million comedy or you’re doing a play at a 60 seat black box. How do we decipher and give clarity to every moment?

What an interesting view on maintaining perspective. If we can view setbacks as nothing more than challenges, it takes some pressure off knowing that the stakes remain manageable. Then, in the moments when we feel like we’ve stumbled, our frustration might not feel so frustrating or maybe it won’t last as long.

Glitches are bound to happen, but your mindset can affect the impact they have on your confidence, attitude, and behavior. With a dose of perspective, your newfound Zen-ness can provide some inner peace and set the tone for your entire team.

John C. McGinley on Improving Your Listening Skills with “Verbing”

John C. McGinleyWhen people discuss the essential communication skills for leaders, active listening is always listed. This typically includes the same general practices—paraphrase, maintain eye contact, keep an open body language, etc. While beneficial, do these tips really make you a better listener or do they help you look like a better listener?

Listening is not as easy as it may sound. Amidst all of the distractions, preconceived ideas, and how we prepare responses while the other person is still talking, it’s a wonder we can hear what anyone has to say. To really listen we need a way to force ourselves into paying attention amidst all of our competing thoughts…and I think John C. McGinley has cracked the code.

You probably know John C. McGinley from his acting roles in Platoon, Office Space, Wall Street and the show Scrubs. What you may not know is that he is also an accomplished author. In his book Untalkative Bunny: How To Be Heard Without Saying A Word, McGinley discusses the ways we can utilize nonverbal communication for greater comprehension. He elaborated on a particularly useful technique in a recent interview:

It’s about what supporting actors do when they are listening. It distills down to this—it’s a verb… We’re astonished. We wonder. We question. The book purports that if you can attach a verb to your listening, you will listen 10% better. So if the Monday morning meeting which you’ve gone to every Monday morning on the sixth floor of IBM which is droned on by the same middle management guy, if you can bring a verb to that meeting…so to participate, if that’s the verb, you’ll listen 10% better.

Before passing along a suggestion, I like to test it out. So when preparing for six back-to-back interviews in a single afternoon, which can get fairly monotonous, I decided to attach the word curious to my listening. Before you correct my grammar, yes, I know curious is not a verb. The point is that I gave my listening an action—I am going to be curious. And it worked. Whenever I began losing interested, I reminded myself to be curious. As a result, I asked more questions and dug deeper into the candidate’s background and personality.

Leaders cannot communicate if they are not able to listen to what others have to say. By associating pre-designating actions with a conversation, we are creating the prompts that can make us a more skillful listener and a more active participant in the interaction. You can “fake” your active listening with head nods and rhetorical restatements of what the other person said or you can genuinely be interested by selecting a verb that will push you into paying attention. Then, if you can actually feel engaged, all of those active listening techniques will come naturally.