Tag Archives: Memory

Complaining is Not Catharsis: Choose Sportsmanship Over Purposeless Venting

Few things bother me more than complaining. I’m not referring to actual complaints, the kind where the individual has a legitimate gripe and would like help finding a solution. No, I’m talking about the pointless complaints where the only intent is to voice discontent. If you are watching Feud: Bette and Joan then you know what I mean.

The mini-series Feud: Bette and Joan follows the real-life story of two legendary actresses, Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, and their legendary quarreling. They constantly complain about each other to studio heads, the director, tabloid columnists, and to their children. While many of their complaints are not without merit, how much did Davis and Crawford accomplish with their relentless critiques? A new study found that complaining may actually make the situation worse.

According to research published in the European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology, Demeroutia and Cropanzano found that complaining about negative events cements their impact. It seems that discussing these events immediately during or after they occur forces the brain to re-live the negative emotional response. This reinforces the association between the event and the negative emotions, “turning a bad experience into That Bad Experience.” The incident then becomes more memorable and has a more damaging influence on emotional well-being.

When complaining, Demeroutia and Cropanzano concluded that what may have been intended as a short outburst persists until at least the afternoon of the following day. That is over 24 hours of significantly diminished momentary mood, less satisfaction with work, and lower pride in accomplishments.

It is easy to say that the lesson is to ask people to refrain from talking about bad things, however that is not at all the point. When a problem arises we must work towards resolution, and that begins with verbalizing it. But purposeless complaining is not the solution—a more constructive method is to harness your sportsmanship.

Sportsmanship, otherwise known as organizational citizenship behavior, involves a willingness to tolerate workplace inconveniences, annoyances, and discomforts without complaining. A “good sport” can buffer themself from the harmful effects of daily negative work experiences, thereby blocking the formation of salient negative memories.

Demeroutia and Cropanzano determined that individuals with higher levels of sportsmanship processed negative events with the intent of achieving positive outcomes, not complaining for the sake of complaining. As a result, they recovered faster from setbacks. Being free from harmful distractions, they were then able to experience enhanced productivity, display a greater willingness to help co-workers, improve their efficiency, and generate social capital with stronger networks of peers.

Don’t let pettiness get the best of you or allow it to overrun your culture. We are not victims of our circumstances; we have the latitude to evaluate and process the meaning of events and how we choose to react. You can spend your whole career like Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, but you’ll end up with a bruised ego, few real friends, and a wake of wasted opportunities. They each achieved great things, but a trace of sportsmanship may have resulted in so much more. Learn from them. Make the choice to be a good sport.

Jason Bourne on Unethical Amnesia

jason bourneWhy does a leader act unethically? Are they pervasively corrupt? Do they lack a moral foundation? Are they generally depraved? If people were so predictable, detecting immorality would be simple. The real diagnosis may be more related to our inner Jason Bourne.

In both the movie and the books, Jason Bourne is introduced with dissociative amnesia. He has no memories of his past, but is capable of advanced combat skills. As he begins to discover his true identity, Bourne learns that he may be a contract assassin. How does this relate to leadership, you may ask? Similar to Bourne’s “nice guy” persona, I’ve met numerous “nice guy/gal” leaders who have admitted to committing morally questionable acts. The vast majority are not bad people; they may just have bad memories.

According to a comprehensive study, faulty memory may explain a person’s repeated dishonesty. Research shows that after participating in unethical behavior, memories of these actions become clouded due to the psychological distress and discomfort such misdeeds cause. The researchers call this unethical amnesia.

These findings distinctively note that memories of our unethical actions are less vivid than memories of our ethical actions. In the study, people who recalled and wrote about behaving unethically were less likely to remember the details of their actions a few days later as compared to people who engaged in ethical behavior. And when studying people who cheated during a dice-throwing game, participants who cheated had less detailed memories of their actions when compared to those who played the game honestly.

Because of unethical amnesia, unethical actions are more likely to be forgotten and, thereby, repeated. Therefore, as leaders, we must ensure that these memories remain intact. According to Alex Lickerman, author of The Undefeated Mind: On the Science of Constructing an Indestructible Self, here are three tips to help you and your team’s recall.

  • Associate what you are trying to learn with what you already know. The more mental connections we can make, the more successful we’ll be. When presenting ethics-based information, build on past stories and situations. Identify links and reinforce familiar concepts.
  • Create a mental memory tree. To remember past incidents of unethical behavior, visualize the details through a memory tree. Construct big branches, then leaves. These branches and leaves represent what led you down the wrong path and the steps taken to commit the misdeed.
  • When reading the employee handbook, company code of ethics, and policies & procedures, summarize each paragraph in the margin. This requires you to reflect and reprocess. Then, take each concept and reason forward—apply them to possible situations, consider ramifications, and how each instance can be avoided.

A flawed memory should not stand between the moral and immoral path. Jason Bourne is not the bad guy he once thought he was, and you don’t have to be either. By understanding why we make unethical decisions, we can promote more ethical behavior in our organizations and help those on our team behave more in line with our company values. Ethical dilemmas will continue to arise, just concentrate on remembering to avoid them.

Dory on Improving Your Memory

dory bannerLast week, I had the good fortune of attending a company’s midyear recognition ceremony. It was your typical workplace event until the CEO took the stage to deliver the awards. What could have been a dry narration was instead an exercise in leadership.

This CEO presented ten awards to ten individuals and had personal stories about each. At first I though he had a script, but then an audience member interjected a humorous heckle. The CEO used that interruption to dive into the long history of that particular winner’s project, mention each member of her team (including those no longer with the company), and address how her accomplishments have impacted each department.

When I asked the CEO about it the next day, he was surprised that I was so surprised. He stated, in his overly humble opinion, “I guess I have a good memory. What am I going to do, walk around like Dory?”

“Dory?” I asked.

“You know, the amnesiac blue tang fish from Finding Nemo.”

Albeit an unexpected reference, he had a point. A leader’s effectiveness is dramatically enhanced with a good memory. Those with better memories are seen as more intelligent, knowledgeable, and competent. This enriches the leader’s ability to problem solve as they can more readily learn new information, recall it when needed, and apply it in creative ways.

Feel like you could use a memory boost? Here are three learning strategies that are proven to work:

Forget about your learning style

A popular and often repeated idea is that we remember information best when it’s taught through our preferred learning style—visual, auditory, verbal, physical. The facts, however, show this is misguided. Research from the Journal of Educational Psychology found that we do not perform better when taught via our selected modality. And Psychological Science in the Public Interest concluded, “there is no adequate evidence base to justify incorporating learning-styles assessments into general educational practice.”

Learning includes a mix of the different learning styles. Its effectiveness is more dependent on the topic and environment than on an individual’s stated preference. So don’t rely on one technique. Mix it up.

Embrace your inner artist

Want a nifty way to improve your memory? A paper published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology suggests that drawing may be the key. Researchers flashed a random series of simple words (balloon, fork, kite, etc) to participants who were instructed to draw the object, write down its name, or list its descriptive characteristics. They then had to recall as many words as they could. Consistently, drawing the object outperformed every other option, often resulting in remembering more than twice as many words.

Drawing requires a deeper LoP, or level of processing, that encourages “a seamless integration of semantic, visual and motor aspects of a memory trace.” So if you want better recall, get your marker set and start doodling.

Rely on connections

To remember something new, it helps if you can connect it with something you already understand. According to the book Make It Stick: The Science Of Successful Learning,

The more you can explain about the way your new learning relates to prior knowledge, the stronger your grasp of the new learning will be, and the more connections you create that will help you remember it later.

The idea is that you are elaborating, not learning from scratch. To utilize this technique, apply real-life examples to the new concepts and, as you learn, continue to build on the story.

Don’t be a Dory. Her short-term recall may be funny, but she’s a fish. Your memory is a valuable leadership tool. Whether it’s recalling key figures during a negotiation, quoting pertinent articles when making a decision, or impressing the team when reminiscing about their past achievements, your ability to remember makes you a better leader. Continue to develop it and, as Dory would say, “Just keep swimming.”

Mel Brooks on Becoming More Holistically Diligent

In a recent interview Mel Brooks discussed one of the few flops of his career, the 1986 movie Solarbabies. What started as a small $5 million dollar sci-fi movie became a $25 million dollar disaster. There were a multitude of bad decisions that caused Mel to have to take out a second mortgage on his home, sell a few cars, and continuously go back to his financers for additional funds. In the end it took 25 years to break even on this laughably bad film.

When asking how a movie like this could get made by such a genius as Mel Brooks, you can blame the script, the director, or a slew of other choices, but once you’ve diagnosed the issue(s), the real question to ask yourself is, ‘How can I avoid making these mistakes next time?’ Brooks reflected on his Solarbabies lesson:

[At the time] I thought: I’ve got other fish to fry. $5 million? We can do this, we can knock this off. It’s not much… But it was a great lesson. It was like 20-25 years ago, however many years ago, and since then I have been successful because it made me aware of everything that I was doing… I’ve never lost a penny since. I’ve never really failed since. I’ve never broke the bank and took, you know, a billion dollars, but I’ve really done very well ever since. Because it was an incredible lesson in diligence. A lesson in diligence: You must pay attention to the finances of what you’re doing. Not just the artistic. Because, until then, I was only focused on the art of the film—making sure that worked—I didn’t give a s–t about the money… So ever since then, I’ve been diligent and paid a lot of respect to how things are funded; who put money in and how to get their money back, you know?

solarbabiesIf you are in the business world, consideration of finances may not seem surprising, but that is a small part of the lesson. The real message is the need for holistic diligence. We must be attentive to the bottom-line in addition to the quality of the product, engagement of customers and employees, marketing, company culture, safety and regulatory standards, and overall industry. To only focus on one or two of these areas will limit your effectiveness as a leader and will stunt the growth of your organization.

Holistic diligence involves getting into the minutiae. For leaders who struggle with the more detail-oriented tasks, here are five things you can do to improve your diligence:

Recognize that diligence is a skill that can be developed. Like any other skill, we can develop our attention through regular practice and training. While you may prefer metacognition and higher-order thinking processes, leadership requires the ability to take charge of attention so we can improve memory, problem solving, decision making, and the ways we incorporate new information.

Develop a system of checks and balances. Utilize the team to double-check your work. Create step-by-step processes and checklists for recurring tasks and prioritize intradepartmental cross-training.

Give yourself time to think. Detail work takes creativity, and creativity often needs time to percolate. Step away from the project so you can see it with fresh eyes. Even if its only subconscious, the idea continues to stir around your brain when you’ve moved on and, once you refocus, it will produce a better result.

Maintain a thorough task management system. Diligence requires organization. Maximize your calendar and to-do lists. Start each day with a plan and revisit it frequently. Prioritize tasks and ensure that your time is spread amount the many facades of your company.

Move around. Sitting still will not improve your ability to focus. Consider doodling, playing with putty, or mindlessly manipulating an object. According to psychologist and author Abigail Levrini, this can “actually free up your mental energy so you can focus a little better.”

Mel Brooks became a more successful moviemaker once he took hold of all aspects of his films and Broadway shows—and he didn’t learn this until after Blazing Saddles and History of the World, Part I. Imagine if he had acquired this knowledge 20 years sooner? We can learn from Brooks’ example. Do not dismiss the smaller ventures as inconsequential. Maintain a big picture view of the project. And, no matter how much someone may beg, do not agree to produce a post-apocalyptic movie about kids who like to play hockey.