Tag Archives: Empathy

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 Business Case for Giving Thanks

thankful-cartoonMy favorite holiday is Thanksgiving. It’s the one day of the year where I am able to slow down. Other occasions provide an opportunity to unwind, but on Thanksgiving I can consistently achieve this goal without effort. While I credit the quality time with family and the incredible food, there is something to be said for a present-less celebration whose only purpose is to take stock of all you have and give thanks.

This may sound like an idealistic, “aw shucks” sentiment, but researchers have dedicated a great deal of time to studying gratitude over the last few years. Their findings show the many benefits both for individuals and for organizations. Here are a few recent studies that will improve your workplace and make you a better leader.

Self-Esteem

Gratitude reduces social comparisons. This allows us to appreciate other’s accomplishments and feel less resentful, which is a key factor in self-esteem. A study in the Journal of Applied Sport Psychology found that athletes who expressed higher levels of gratitude toward their coaches had more self-esteem than those who weren’t as openly thankful. And the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology reported that people with neuromuscular diseases who kept a “gratitude journal” had a greater sense of well-being and more positive moods.

Mental Strength

The ability to recognize what you are thankful for, especially during traumatic event, fosters emotional buoyancy. It helps you bounce back quicker and maintain an optimistic outlook. A study in Behaviour Research and Therapy found that veterans who experienced higher levels of gratitude were more resilient, more willing to forgive other, and less likely to experience post-traumatic stress. Similarly, a study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that gratitude was a major contributor to resilience following terrorist attacks.

In the household in which I was raised, the themes were pretty simple. ‘Work hard. Don’t quit. Be appreciative. Be thankful. Be grateful. Be respectful. Also, never whine, never complain. And always, for crying out loud, keep a sense of humor.’—Michael Keaton

Relationships

Displaying gratitude is more than just being polite; it can help you build your network. A study published in Emotion found that thanking a new acquaintance makes them more likely to seek an ongoing relationship and has an increased potential for a “high-quality social bond.” This display of gratitude can be as simple as saying thank you or writing a short note. In addition, a slightly older study from Cognition & Emotion shows that gratitude promotes social affiliation and strengthens relationships, which is helpful when facilitating teamwork and group activities.

Teamwork

People who express gratitude are more likely to engage in “pro-social” behaviors. Research in Social Psychological and Personality Science found that “gratitude motivates people to express sensitivity and concern for others.” These individuals display significantly greater empathy and sensitivity. They are also less likely to retaliate against others, even when given negative feedback. Another study found that people who express more gratitude are more likely to help others, a key ingredient when working with a team.

Still not convinced that your organization needs a boost of gratitude?

  • Gratitude reduces turnover, fosters employees’ organizational commitment, and aids in “eliminating the toxic workplace emotions, attitudes and negative emotions such as envy, anger, and greed.” (International Business Research)
  • Gratitude positively influences the relationship between managers and their direct reports, affecting subordinates’ sense of feeling trusted, improved performance, and overall satisfaction. (Journal of Psychological Science)
  • Individuals who feel more grateful demonstrate greater patience and delay making hasty decisions. (Psychological Science)
  • More gratitude leads to increased loyalty from employees and clients. (Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology)
  • Daily gratitude exercises result in higher levels of alertness, enthusiasm, determination, and energy. (Journal of Personality and Social Psychology)

At the age of 18, I made up my mind to never have another bad day in my life. I dove into an endless sea of gratitude from which I’ve never emerged.—Patch Adams

To be a better leader, be a more thankful leader. Find reasons to show appreciation to your team. It’s inspiring, motivating, and as per the numerous research, it is good for business. To kick off this new initiative, start the holiday season with a gratitude list. If you feel it’s making a difference, keep it going through the new year. It is cheaper than buying everyone a turkey and its positive effects will last much longer.

The Problems with Emotional Intelligence: It’s a Jungle [Book] Out There

Jungle-Book-by-Rudyard-Kipling-2Since the mid-1990s, the idea of emotional intelligence has been forced upon us as the quintessential trait for more effective leadership, enriched relationships, and generally happier lives. I don’t disagree with any of these findings and I remain a staunch supporter of growing your emotional intelligence. However, like anything, there are those who can take a positive feature and warp it to satisfy their own selfish agenda.

In 1894, English author Rudyard Kipling wrote about the perils of emotional intelligence in his classic, The Jungle Book, which you probably know it better as the 1967 Walt Disney Productions’ animated movie and (as of this weekend) the live action movie. The Jungle Book tells the story of Mowgli, an abandoned “man cub” who is raised by wolves with the help of Baloo the jovial bear and Bagheera the protective black panther.

jungle book shere khanUnlike the movies, Kipling’s book provides additional details on Shere Khan, the villainous Bengal tiger fixated on killing Mowgli. He makes many attempts on Mowgli’s life beginning with the man cub’s early upbringing. In a maneuver that involves a high degree of emotional intelligence, Khan infiltrates Mowgli’s adopted wolf pack. He promises the younger wolves generous rewards in exchange for tricking the leader while on a hunt. This results in the leader being expelled with Khan left to dismantle the group.

Khan does not coerce the younger wolves to aid his nefarious plot—he has the ability to understand himself and others and then channel this emotional energy in the desired direction. Khan is able to prey upon the naivety and self-indulgence of the less experienced members of the tribe. If this sounds familiar, consider what recent research has discovered on emotional intelligence.

A study led by University of Cambridge professor Jochen Menges found that when a leader gave an emotional, inspiring speech, the audience was less likely to consider the message and remembered less of the content, yet conversely, they claimed to recall more of the speech. This persuasive impact is attributed to the ability to strategically express emotions in a way where, according to the researchers, followers “stop thinking critically and just emote.”

According to Martin Kilduff from University College London, those who can control their emotions are more adept at disguising their true feelings. They purposefully shape their sentiments to express feelings that portray a more favorable impression of themselves.

The strategic disguise of one’s own emotions and the manipulation of others’ emotions for strategic ends are behaviors evident not only on Shakespeare’s stage but also in the offices and corridors where power and influence are traded.—Martin Kilduff

Stéphane Côté, a University of Toronto psychologist, measured Machiavellian tendencies as it relates to emotional intelligence. He and his team found that employees with higher emotional intelligence were significantly more likely to engage in harmful behaviors that demeaned and embarrassed others for personal gain.

As these studies show, the more people sharpen their emotional skills, the better they become at manipulating others. This is not meant to undermine the value of being emotionally intelligent, but it does show that each of us must remain hypervigilant against the Shere Khans in our organizations who are able to stroke our ego through charisma or empathy. We cannot confuse compassion for affection, nor can we mistake competence for integrity.

Don’t let your workplace become a jungle. Build the culture on collaboration and team achievement so others don’t perceive value in being a lone contributor. Emphasize ethical decision making over “winning.” Then the bare necessities of life will come to you.

Better Call Saul on Avoiding Con Artists

saul goodman thunbThere’s something about being in a position of authority that seems to attract con artists. Disguised as consultants, applicants, vendors, and investors, leaders are often approached by people who claim to be something they are not. Sometimes it’s an exaggeration, others times it’s the convenient absence of information or an all-out lie. Just look at Jimmy McGill.

James “Jimmy” McGill, better known as Saul Goodman, is an attorney who pushes the boundaries of the law to the point of being unethical. I will refrain from making a hackneyed lawyer joke because Saul is more than your stereotypical slimy lawyer, he is a con artist. As such, he has no problem conning free publicity from a news correspondent with a staged suicide attempt or conning the legal system to help drug dealers launder money. I’d like to think I’m too sophisticated to fall for Saul’s shtick, but that may be just what a con artist is banking on.

Con artists take advantage of us by discovering what we feel most confident about — those beliefs we are least likely to question — and using it for nefarious intent. This intent many be for money, power, influence, or your job; either way, it is self-serving and against your better interests. A reason we are all susceptible to cons is based on what psychologists call egocentric anchoring, the misalignment between seeing ourselves as highly contextualized versus viewing others as more generalized and homogenous. Described in the paper, How to Seem Telepathic, con artists exploit this mismatch by creating the illusion of like-mindedness, which builds a foundation of greater trust.

When we like someone or feel an affinity for them, we tend to mimic their behavior, facial expressions, and gestures, a phenomenon known as the chameleon effect. But the effect works the other way, too… we can fake the natural liking process quite well.—Maria Konnikova

Here’s how it works. As Maria Konnikova describes in her book The Confidence Game: Why We Fall for It … Every Time, it begins when the con artist identifies the victim (the put-up) and creates rapport and a sense of empathy (the play). Once the relationship is established, the con is in motion with a barrage of logic and persuasion (the rope) to sell their scheme (the tale) with the ways it will benefit you (the convincer). Then, by the time the swindle has occurred (the touch), we’ve become so unknowingly invested that we may not even realize there was a con.

The confidence people have in their beliefs is not a measure of the quality of evidence, but of the coherence of the story that the mind has managed to construct.—Daniel Kahneman, Nobel-winning psychologist

It may not be possible to avoid all instances of being hustled; the wider your leadership capacity extends, the more opportunities there will be for potential cons. There are, however, steps that can be taken to mitigate being swindled by the Sauls of the world:

saul goodman adSlow down. The research on con artists shows that it is prevalent in time of high pressure and the need for fast changes. These periods of transition breed uncertainty and make us gullible to those selling a quick solution. Be aware of instances when you feel anxiety so you can be mindful before making sizable purchases, carrying out significant changes, or taking counsel from someone who has much to gain from your decision.

Instill some self-doubt. A con artist doesn’t force us to do anything; they assess the areas where our belief is unshakeable and build on that foundation to subtly change the world around us. Our confidence will blind us from seeing that changes are even happening. To battle this, don’t be so sure of yourself. Take counsel from people who have nothing to gain from your accomplishments and have developed a track record of being interested in your success.

Consider the timing. If you think you are too smart to be conned, research shows that everyone, regardless of their aptitude, is more susceptible after experiencing a setback: financial problems, injury, divorce, or any other occurrence that we associate with failing. So instead of relying on your IQ, lean on your EQ (emotional intelligence) to know when you are at a low point and should not be making big decisions.

When it comes to predicting who will fall, personality generalities tend to go out the window. Instead, one of the factors that emerges is circumstance: it’s not who you are, but where you happen to be at this particular moment in your life. —Maria Konnikova

saul goodman redMost people are not out to get you, but that doesn’t mean you can remain vulnerable. There are many Saul Goodman’s in the world and we must have the ability to see through their façade. If we don’t, they will take advantage of our naively trusting nature. This is more than being made to look like a fool; the repercussions of the con artist’s actions can affect productivity, profitability, and culture and may ultimately destroy a company. Be on guard and don’t trust a guy wearing a bright red dress shirt.