The Voice for Insightful Leadership with Shelley Row, P.E.

Your Search for analytic

Think about your first management position.  What was initially on your mind?  For most of us, we dove into the technical work. What are the projects? Are they on time and on budget? What are the technical challenges? What is the financial picture for each?

For sure, you need to learn all of that, but learning your staff is also of utmost importance. You need to know who gets work done and how they do it so that you can match skills with organizational needs. This process can take months or years and you don’t have that kind of time.  Here is a trick that short cuts the process so that you get a sense of their skills right away.

Ask for a briefing on his or her project and don’t say how to do it. Then, pay attention to the approach. You may observe that they fall into one of these four superpowers.

  • Big picture thinkers. Big picture thinkers will begin the briefing by setting the context and describing the project goals. They may lay out a project strategy that flows from the goals. Your big picture thinkers are your strategists. They’ll know the goals and keep their eye on the ball. This keeps you and others from going off on tangents. They are less likely to be lost in the details and they will ask the tough questions.
  • Tactical executioners. Tactical executioners will tell you about the activities that are underway – who’s doing what and when it’s due. It’s all about getting the actions completed. I had a staff person with this talent. She prided herself on diligently tracking every task and its completion. She could tell me the status of everything. If you have complex projects to manage, you need someone with this superpower. They will be on it!
  • Analytical analyzers. Analytical analyzers will provide data, charts and graphs. Their presentation will be grounded in data and facts. You need to know the people on your staff with this superpower. In management positions, you must frequently make decisions before you have all the data. Go to the analytical analyzers to find out the data that is available and hear the data that they wish they had. You can decide if the risk it too great without all the data. Analytical analyzers will keep you honest and fact-based. There will be no fake news from them!
  • Politically savvy. The politically savvy staff member will talk about the individuals who are essential to project success or who are actively involved in the project. They understand that relationships play a big role in project success. If you are in management, you need to know the politically savvy people. You need them and you need to learn from them (if this isn’t your superpower). They are networked into the organization. They know everyone and everything. My chief of staff was like this. She knew how to get things done by leveraging her relationships with others. This skill was invaluable. Find them on your staff and cultivate their superpower.

The briefing style you observe tells you as much about them as it does about the project. Their approach will point to their preferred work style and their superpower. Use this trick and you’ll learn about the project and about your staff.

To be a savvy manager, you need to know both.

If you want even more, re-read my blog about “Who’s Here.”

Learn to take back control of your decision-making!

You strive to make data-driven decisions, but too much data can result in analysis paralysis. Plus, in this fast-paced and complex environment, data from the past may not foretell the future. Our interviews with 77 executives show that, to get ahead, today’s leaders need a sophisticated decision-making approach that skillfully balances hardline analytics with gut feel. These leaders see beyond the data.

18575374 - concept of stress with businessman sleeping on a laptop

When you over-think, your tendency is to search for even more data. We think that there is one magical piece of information that will make an ambiguous situation clear. There is no magical piece of information. Rather than seeking more data, you must, counter-intuitively, listen to the nagging voice in your head. That nagging voice is pointing to the problem.

Think about a tough decision that caused you to over-think. If you had been comfortable, you would have made the decision. Something makes you uncomfortable. What is that something that shows up as a nagging feeling? There’s data to be found there, if you know how to unlock it.

Here’s how one leader described it: “It’s like there’s something inside of me that just not sitting right. It’s just agitating.”

To stop over-thinking, you must learn to leverage the intelligence embedded inside gut feel to integrate information with intuition for astute action. You must get under the hood to find out what’s really going on that keeps your decision-making stuck. The nagging feeling may come from a struggle with your values, a reaction to a person, a conflict with your work style. Whatever it is, it’s taken control of your decision-making.

Unless you get under the hood and resolve these real issues, you leave valuable data on the table. It’s just data of a different sort. Learn to use this internal data to improve your decision-making and enhance daily interactions with staff, clients and colleagues.

One leader put it this way: “The intuitive people, I think will excel fester in a leadership position because of the uncertainty they have to make decisions. If you’re a facts-based person, you will get analysis paralysis because you will never feel comfortable with making a decision with a very small amount of information or data.”

If you want to stop over-thinking once and for all, let us show you how to take the mystery out of gut feel, strip away the touchy feely and replace it with practical techniques. The best part?  This real-world program is based in science. It’s not some woo-woo, hocus-pocus program. It’s hard-hitting, practical and insightful so that you and your staff take back control over your decision-making.  It might just be your secret weapon to no-nonsense productivity gains.

Contact Shelley Row Associates now to learn more about their programs and consulting services that can be your competitive edge.

Click here to contact Shelley for more information on how to enhance decision-making for you or your staff through consulting, workshops, keynotes or breakouts. Or email Shelley directly at shelley@shelleyrow.com.

We were fortunate enough to have Shelley Row speak at the Maryland Bankers Association’s Council of Professional Women in Banking and Finance Sixth Annual Conference on the topic of Go with your Gut:  Effective Decision-Making in an Over-Thinking World.  The energy she brought to close to 300 attendees was very engaging and inspiring in motivating our audience in learning how to tap into their “infotuition” – think, feel, and act – for more effective decision-making. – Cindy G.

Shelley’s honesty in telling her own story about how she learned to stop being an over thinker and start using her gut to assess people and situations help her to make the right decisions, was refreshingly insightful. Her natural ability to engage audiences was not lost on our members as they learned new tactics they can now apply to make confident and meaningful decisions in both their professional and personal lives. Infotuition is now part of our everyday thinking and vocabulary thanks to Shelley. – Annemarie R.

The presentation was riveting in many ways that you can deal with common behavior issues in your workplace. – Stephen W

This program will literally help you train your brain to adapt and adjust to situations and make decisions.- Sandra F.

Shelley presentation provides key tools to understanding your leadership style and how to build upon it within your organization. – Christopher M.

Data-driven decision-making. Data analytics. Data mining. Data sounds so logical, rational and objective. But is it? Don’t misunderstand, as an engineer, I love data! And, as a leader, I learned that data alone is not enough. Even data is subject to confirmation bias. Confirmation bias is the tendency of the brain to latch onto information that is in alignment with its expectations. Let me share an example.

I grSee Beyond the Data PPTew up in Smithville, Texas, a small ranching town in central Texas. My dad was the school band director for all kids from the 5th through 12th grades. Consequently, my sister and I grew up with music in the house. We sat in our yellow bean bag chair and watched PBS as he pointed out oboes, violas, tympani and bassoons. Fast-forward to my college years. I was home for the summer hanging out with friends at the barbeque cookoff. We stood outside the VFW hall under the live oak trees. In a cloud of dust, my little sister, Alison, stormed over dragging her friend, Jim, along. She positioned Jim in front of me and announced that I had to resolve their bet. As I stared at Jim in his boots, jeans, belt with the big belt buckle, tee-shirt and camo ball cap, Alison asked, “What does his ball cap say?” Printed across the camo background was Bass Tournament. Without hesitation I said, “Bass (as in an upright stringed bass) Tournament.” This was, of course, the correct answer as far as she was concerned, and she cheered my answer as she apparently won the bet.

Now…let’s rewind and consider the “data.” As charming as Smithville is, it is a small farming/ranching town of 3,000. There were not any string bass players. A camo ball cap isn’t what I imagine most bass players wearing. Finally, I remember stumbling over the word, “tournament.” I played in concerts and auditions but never a “tournament.” Despite all evidence to the contrary, my brain assembled the data and still came up with the type of “bass” I expected in my world. That’s confirmation bias.

You do the same with data every day. Even with data analytics, your brain sees what it wants to see, and it gives more credence to data that is in alignment with its expectations. It’s not a weakness, it’s inherent in the design of your brain. Knowing this, what’s an insightful leader to do? They ask insightful questions to see beyond the data lake.
Here are a few example questions that may prompt you to consider the insightful questions you can ask. These questions will push you past confirmation bias and aid you in recognizing your tendency to skew data to meet your expectations.

• Am I seeing only the data I want to see? Your natural tendency is to notice and give more weight to data that you expect, more so than unusual data.
• Is there other data that shows a different perspective? You may need a different analysis of the data, request data from a different source, or simply shift your perspective to force a new interpretation of the data.
• Does backward-looking data support forward-looking questions? If your industry or organization is in a period of change, historic data is just that – historic. Will historic data support decisions for a future that is fundamentally different?
• What trends are showing up at the fringe of the data? Emerging ideas and trends don’t show up in the middle of the bell curve, they happen gradually at the fringe of the data.

These trends emerge as the outliers, the slow drift in data, or the feel that something is shifting.

Don’t allow confirmation bias to rob you of the insight that data provides. What insightful questions can you ask that pushes you to see beyond the surface level of the data? It could make all the difference in your decision-making.

InfotuitionOne-and-two-and-three-and-four… My dad sat next to me counting out the beats as I practiced the clarinet. Night after night he taught and I learned. I was good but was never going to be the next Bennie Goodman. Nonetheless, I read and play music and appreciate the true virtuosos. My life is enriched by my knowledge.

Today my work is in helping others discover how to use both cognition and intuition in complex decision-making when data alone is not enough. I call it infotuition – the intersection of business pragmatics with gut feel. Frequently I hear, “You can’t teach an intuitive business sense. You have to be born with it.” Au-contraire. I firmly believe you can enhance your infotuitive skill because I’ve done it. To be clear, I’m not talking about gazing into a crystal ball or reading tarot cards. Infotuition is accessing the wisdom stored in both the cognitive and intuitive part of your brain for use in a business environment.

Decisions that swim in uncertainty and ambiguity can’t be made by using the cognitive part of your brain alone. You must tap into gut feel. It’s real and it’s valuable. Like learning music or another skill, you must want to learn. Here are five tips.

1. Value it. You must place value in infotuition. Of 75 leaders I interviewed, 74 of them attest to the value of their intuition or gut feel. They learned from trial and error that the nagging feeling provided wisdom that warranted their attention. Neuroscience shows that we store information in parts of our brain that communicate through feeling. Further, your gut has the same neurotransmitters found in the brain. But the gut and the intuitive brain do not access language. Nagging feelings are their communication tools.

2. Apply yourself. Let’s say that you’re the analytical type (like me). You cultivated, developed and value logical, rational thought. The logical part of your brain is skilled and it feels good to use it. Great. Hold on to that information and balance it with intuitive wisdom. It’s as though you go to the gym and only exercised your left arm. It’s strong but the right arm is neglected. You must commit to exercising both the left and right arms. It’s the same with your brain – which is a muscle. If you apply yourself you can develop the intuitive part of your brain and use it in a skilled way. Neuroscience tells us that we develop new behaviors and skills through intentional focus. It’s called self-directed neuroplasticity.

3. Start early. The brain is plastic particularly early in life. That’s why it’s easier to learn new skills – like music – early in life. Start early in your career to engage in diverse activities that build a storehouse of experiences in your brain. And I don’t mean just work activities. Your brain draws on lessons from all aspects of life. Put yourself is positions where you must make decisions. Look for opportunities that allow you to take some risk. Then consider both fact and feeling as you decide. Notice the nagging voice and give it a name. Naming the feeling makes it more tangible and allows you to work with it. With each decision you develop experience…and your brain.

4. Start now. Okay, so you’re not early in your career. You can still cultivate infotuitive skills because the brain retains some plasticity throughout your life. It’s not too late! Plant reminders to prompt you to think, “What am I feeling about this issue? What’s bugging me about the decision?” Pay attention to your answers. Those prompts will surface additional information to inform your decision.

5. Practice. Whether early or late in your career, practice cultivates your infotuitive sense – your gut feel. You don’t have to find the time because you are always practicing every minute of every day. Are you practicing behaviors that serve you? Do you practice noticing the nagging feeling? Practice plus intentional focus will teach your brain new tricks. In time, infotuition will become a habit. It’s takes effort and, to end at the beginning, you have to want it.

Sure, some people have a knack for sensing the intricacies of a complex situation. They intuitively sense how others will respond and how a scenario will play out. They are the virtuosos. Just because they are virtuosos doesn’t mean you can’t develop your own skill to a new level of competence. My musical ability will never rival Shakira’s, but I learned enough to enjoy playing, appreciate the great artists and enrich my life. You can do the same with infotuition.

“Just the facts: they speak for themselves.” That’s the approach many take when they want to persuade someone to their point of view.

But do they speak for themselves? Not so much.

From my technical background, I have observed a fact-based approach to persuasion many times but rarely successfully. It’s no wonder. The brain isn’t designed to respond to facts alone. Analytical people are responsive to reasoned arguments more often than others are; however, even they need to be motivated to pay attention. A logical argument takes a lot of energy and is less likely to work for most people

Thankfully, there are other persuasive techniques that are more promising. (Kevin Dutton’s work provides excellent insights into persuasion). After all, when persuading someone, the goal is to get to “yes,” you see (YES, UC).

1. You-focused. “What interests you about this issue?” And, “We want to address your questions first.” The word “you” is powerful. It is immediately relevant and it is always about our favorite subject. However, all too often, we are so preoccupied with our view that we think too little about theirs.

Before starting the persuasive argument, consider how the issue looks from their perspective. Why is it of interest to them? Given their background, what viewpoint are they likely to have and why? (This presumes that you did the research to know their background and preferences.) How can you put their interests in the forefront of the discussion? When you figure that out, start the discussion with that point of view. The first point can be the most influential.

2. Empathetic. People are more easily persuaded if they have a sense of relatedness, which leads to empathy. A lack of empathy can have the opposite effect. A 2002 study of doctors found that those with a less empathetic tone of voice were sued more often. Empathy counts a lot. Before beginning a persuasive discussion, take stock of the ways you connect with this person – schools, sports teams, background, and hobbies. Use examples or analogies based on these connections that reinforce your persuasive points. This is a step toward establishing empathy.

We like people better if we feel an empathetic connection. Mirror neurons help if we allow ourselves to notice the expressions, postures and feel of the other person. We start to feel what they feel. But we don’t pick up these subtle clues if we are thinking about a practical argument and push aside feelings. Relax so that you pick up on feeling clues.

3. Simple. A leader once told me, “If I can’t explain it, I can’t sell it.” Exactly. A pile of detailed, convoluted data rarely sells the idea. Neither will a barrage of multiple points. Make it easy for them to grasp and remember. What is the one thing you want them to remember, do, or agree to? Is it simple, clear and unambiguous? The reasoning part of the brain (prefrontal cortex) is energy intensive. It is easily derailed by fatigue, distraction or emotion. If you catch the person when they are tired or stressed, their ability to focus on detailed arguments is reduced. Keep it simple; include factual and emotional appeals; state the main point first and throughout. Repetition sticks. Repetition sticks.

4. Unexpected. We tend to be captivated by and remember the unexpected. Brain research shows that the emotion center in the brain (amygdala) is more sensitive to unexpected stimuli whether positive or negative. In a study, diners were divided into three groups. At the end of the meal, one group received a single candy; the second group received two candies; the third group received one candy but the server stopped as though having a change of heart, returned and gave an additional candy. The increased tip amounts (compared to the control group) for each group were 3.3%, 14.1% and a whopping 23% for the last group. The unexpected nice treatment caused a positive emotional reaction.

A friend of mine tried to persuade a company to hire her. She happened to be traveling to Maine after her interview. She mailed them a live lobster with a thank you note, and shortly afterward she got the job. Is there an unexpected twist you can add to your argument – something visual, tactile, or humorous? The unexpected turn will be more persuasive.

5. Confident. Confident and credible people are more persuasive. Walk in straight and tall; look them in the eye; have a firm handshake, and speak with confidence. A truly confident person doesn’t need to be a bully because they exude an air of self-assurance. A confident person is also open to hearing others’ concerns. If you sense concern, acknowledge it. Negative feelings come from a threat response in the brain. The threat response is reduced when the feeling is acknowledged. “I’m picking up that this topic is uncomfortable/not resonating/disagreeable for you. Tell me more about that.” There is no defensiveness but rather a confident interest in understanding fully.

Facts alone rarely lead to persuasion. Improve your persuasive approach by focusing on “you” statements, creating an empathetic connection, keeping the message simple, using an unexpected twist and exuding a quiet, confidence. YES, UC will make a difference. You’ll see.

 

01-18Last week, I participated in my first speaker showcase. More than 20 speakers provided ten minutes of their program to a room full of 200 meeting planners. Hearing different a motivational christian speaker throughout the day it brought nerves on. It was like speed dating for speakers. I practiced and prepared like crazy for my ten minutes. But I was unprepared for the onslaught of speakers.
There were those with boisterous bravado, theatrical hijinks, and yelling into the microphone. They had the audience laughing and clapping. “Uh-oh,” I thought. I began to doubt my program. Was I loud enough? Was I funny enough? Was I dramatic enough? What could I do to be more like them? Continue reading

“Whereof what’s past is prologue,” wrote Shakespeare in The Tempest.

When applied to stable businesses, that statement has a ring of truth. However, for entrepreneurs in emerging industries where new ways to do business or entirely new businesses show up, past is not prologue. For example, Uber created a new way to perform an old business model by merging trends in technology and social change. For entrepreneurial firms who anticipate a future that is different from the past, big data may be big, but it doesn’t necessarily foretell the future. Entrepreneurs need aha-moments that merge trends, technologies and hot topics to create insights about the future and identify opportunity. Continue reading

Have you ever tried to persuade someone and it did not go well? You have all the facts and data; you have a compelling case and the answer seems obvious – at least to you. Yet, they are not convinced and their arguments seem counterintuitive. This situation plays out with city councils, legislatures, the C-suite, board rooms, your boss, and your spouse. What is happening when a seemingly logical approach doesn’t win support?

Neuroscience research provides nine insights that you need to know about persuasion and five tips to persuade more effectively

Conformity. The opinions of others are a powerful motivator. Groups easily and unconsciously sway the perceptions of an individual. In fact, research indicates that people will give an obviously wrong answer if that answer conforms to the viewpoint of the group. An individual will gravitate to the common answer. Conforming activates the social part of the brain (the occipital parietal regions) . This is the part of the brain that responds to group activity and our relationship with others. That powerful pull to conform explains the tendency for groupthink.

Dissent. On the other end of the spectrum, when you put forward a dissenting viewpoint you activate the threaten response in the brain . This creates discomfort for you and makes it harder to disagree with the group viewpoint. As a leader, at times you must challenge the status quo and push people outside their comfort zone. If you think it’s hard to sustain, you’re right. Your brain doesn’t cooperate when you are the lone voice. At least knowing that your brain is over-reacting helps push past the norm.

Repetition works. According to research, when a message is repeated enough our habit brain – the limbic system and oldest part of the brain – begins to believe it is true. This explains why politicians find a core message and continue to repeat it.

Engaged audiences respond to cognitive persuasion. Highly engaged and analytically oriented people respond well to logic-based, cognitive persuasion. This appeals to the thinking brain which is attractive for those inclined and have time to deeply understand an issue. Even so, this type of audience needs a reason to pay attention and that is best initially done with an emotional connection

.Unengaged audiences use the habit brain. For people who are not highly engaged or don’t have time to devote to detailed understanding respond best to an emotional appeal that connects to the oldest part of the brain, the limbic system.

The messenger counts. We are more likely to be persuade by people we like, who we believe have credibility, and who feel sincere. It makes a difference to have a positive connection with the audience being persuaded.

Emotional appeals work best if they are positive. Emotion is a powerful motivator and it is even more powerful when the emotion generated is positive. Fear can work but something too fearful or distasteful may be a turnoff rather than be persuasive.

Primacy rule. The first item mentioned is likely to be the best remembered. Make the first words count. If there is a long time between the first and the last statements, the last statement may also be a key to persuasion.

In person. Face-to-face is the most persuasive. Since the brain is wired for personal connection, persuasion is more effective in person. The exception is if the data is very complex (and the people involved are inclined to study complex data).

Persuasion is social. Neuroscience supports the finding that at the moment of persuasion, the social brain is activated. This notion points to the desirability to incorporate social connections into the persuasive process.
So what does this mean as you assess the most effective approach to persuasion?

 
• Social connections are key to persuasion. Find others who support the idea you seek to advance and, ideally, who are highly regarded by those being persuaded. Incorporate them into the discussion in two ways. First, their relationship creates a sense of connection and trust which feels good to the brain. Keep in mind that the messenger matters. Find people who relate to the audience. Second, having others who take your viewpoint creates its own group and who, with you, creates a group that fosters its own social connection. It gives those being persuaded an opportunity for a social connection.

 
• Repeat the message again and again. Also, you can use varying forms of media to get the message across. For leaders, it’s important to continue delivering a message like a drum beat until you are sick of hearing it. It’s only then that the message is likely getting through.

 
• Develop cognitive and emotionally appealing, positive arguments. It is rare that you are persuading only one type of audience. Instead, you are more likely to be dealing with a mix of people to persuade – either in a group or individually. Take care to formulate an argument that has supporting data and logical benefits plus a story to convey benefits that connect at an emotional level. You need both.

 
• Be sincerely interested in others’ views. People know when you are sincerely curious about them. Sincerity can’t be faked at least not by most of us. Find out the interests of those you wish to persuade. Why do they care about this issue? What is their current perspective and why? How can you specifically address their interests? The effort to understand and show empathy communicates a sincere attentiveness and it is more likely to create an inclination for others to listen to your points.

 
• Communicate the message in person with supplemental written materials as backup. There is nothing like face-to-face communication for effective persuasion. People like to talk to other people. Just think about the last time you hoped an answering device would help you with a question. Personal communication is far superior for making an emotionally powerful connection. Provide printed material with details, data and analysis for those who want to dig in and study.

 
The next time that persuasion is your goal, review these ten points and spend the time to thoughtfully consider the approach and adapt to the needs of the audiences’ brains.

“Just the facts: they speak for themselves.” Don’t they? Not so much. From my technical background, I have observed a fact-based approach to persuasion many times but rarely successfully. It’s no wonder. The brain isn’t designed to respond to facts alone. Analytical people are responsive to reasoned arguments more often than others are; however, even they need to be motivated to pay attention. A logical argument takes a lot of energy and is less likely to work for most people

Thankfully, there are other persuasive techniques that are more promising. (Kevin Dutton’s work provides excellent insights into persuasion). After all, when persuading someone, the goal is to get to “yes,” you see (YES, UC)

. 1. You. “What interests you about this issue?” And, “We want to address your questions first.” The word “you” is powerful. It is immediately relevant and it is always about our favorite subject. However, all too often, we are so preoccupied with our view that we think too little about theirs. Before starting the persuasive argument, consider how the issue looks from their perspective. Why is it of interest to them? Given their background, what viewpoint are they likely to have and why? (This presumes that you did the research to know their background and preferences.) How can you put their interests in the forefront of the discussion? When you figure that out, start the discussion with that point of view. The first point can be the most influential.
2. Empathy. People are more easily persuaded if they have a sense of relatedness, which leads to empathy. A lack of empathy can have the opposite effect. A 2002 study of doctors found that those with a less empathetic tone of voice were sued more often. Empathy counts a lot. Before beginning a persuasive discussion, take stock of the ways you connect with this person – schools, sports teams, background, and hobbies. Use examples or analogies based on these connections that reinforce your persuasive points. This is a step toward establishing empathy. We like people better if we feel an empathetic connection. Mirror neurons help if we allow ourselves to notice the expressions, postures and feel of the other person. We start to feel what they feel. But we don’t pick up these subtle clues if we are thinking about a practical argument and push aside feelings. Relax so that you pick up on feeling clues.
3. Simple. A leader once told me, “If I can’t explain it, I can’t sell it.” Exactly. A pile of detailed, convoluted data rarely sells the idea. Neither will a barrage of multiple points. Make it easy for them to grasp and remember. What is the one thing you want them to remember, do, or agree to? Is it simple, clear and unambiguous? The reasoning part of the brain (prefrontal cortex) is energy intensive. It is easily derailed by fatigue, distraction or emotion. If you catch the person when they are tired or stressed, their ability to focus on detailed arguments is reduced. Keep it simple; include factual and emotional appeals; state the main point first and throughout. Repetition sticks. Repetition sticks.
4. Unexpected. We tend to be captivated by and remember the unexpected. Brain research shows that the emotion center in the brain (amygdala) is more sensitive to unexpected stimuli whether positive or negative. In a study, diners were divided into three groups. At the end of the meal, one group received a single candy; the second group received two candies; the third group received one candy but the server stopped as though having a change of heart, returned and gave an additional candy. The increased tip amounts (compared to the control group) for each group were 3.3%, 14.1% and a whopping 23% for the last group. The unexpected nice treatment caused a positive emotional reaction. A friend of mine tried to persuade a company to hire her. She happened to be traveling to Maine after her interview. She mailed them a live lobster with a thank you note, and shortly afterward she got the job. Is there an unexpected twist you can add to your argument – something visual, tactile, or humorous? The unexpected turn will be more persuasive.
5. Confident. Confident and credible people are more persuasive. Walk in straight and tall; look them in the eye; have a firm handshake, and speak with confidence. A truly confident person doesn’t need to be a bully because they exude an air of self-assurance. A confident person is also open to hearing others’ concerns. If you sense concern, acknowledge it. Negative feelings come from a threat response in the brain. The threat response is reduced when the feeling is acknowledged. “I’m picking up that this topic is uncomfortable/not resonating/disagreeable for you. Tell me more about that.” There is no defensiveness but rather a confident interest in understanding fully.

Facts alone rarely lead to persuasion. Improve your persuasive approach by focusing on “you” statements, creating an empathetic connection, keeping the message simple, using an unexpected twist and exuding a quiet, confidence. YES, UC will make a difference. You’ll see.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“I can’t work with him! The project was late because he didn’t do his part. I have to hold his hand every step of the way.” That’s what she said as she stood in my office frustrated, agitated and angry. And, she expected me to “take care of it.”

The situation is similar to other workplace squabbles and disputes where management intervention is needed to move forward. As a manager, you need to know that language choice, and mood influence your interpretation, understanding and judgment of the problem. It takes a perceptive, self-aware manager to recognize and account for their mood and the impact of subtle language choices. Let me share four factors to keep in mind if you are faced with resolving workplace disputes.

1. Describe the situation without assigning blame. “He is the reason the project was late” is an example of agentive language. Agentive language makes a person the subject of the action (the late project). “The project was late” is non-agentive language. Research shows that the use of agentive language has a noticeable effect on assignment of blame and judgment. Studies that assigned financial liability found that agentive language descriptions resulted in 30 to 50% higher judgments. In our example, the upset worker stated her grievance by assigning blame to the other person. Without conscious awareness of agentive language, you are more likely to agree with that judgment. Instead, reframe the problem, as “the project was late” then evaluate all reasons that contributed. It will result in a more objective evaluation.

2. Know your mood and its impacts. Your mood creates context through which you hear and process information. If you are in a good mood, positive information (congruent with that mood) is easier for the brain to integrate and understand. Conversely, negative information is much harder to process if you are in a good mood. Similarly, if you are in a bad mood, it is easier for your brain to process negative information. Be aware of your mood when listening to an agitated employee. While negative words are harder to process in general, you are more likely to process them if you got up on the wrong side of the bed or your computer just crashed. The bottom line is your mood can bias your interpretation of the situation. Consider your mood as you weigh the “he-said-she-saids” of the situation and try taking a Mood Supplement on the morning of a stressful day.

3. Recognize language that goes against your values. Comprehension is slower for words and descriptions that espouse a value judgment that is different from your personal beliefs. For example, my brain hesitated when this employee said, “I have to hold his hand every step of the way.” Personally, I value “self-sufficiency” so the idea of “holding his hand” flies in the face of my principles. I missed the next few sentences of the conversation as my brain tried to reconcile this information. You need to know your values so that you quickly recognize language that gets in the way of understanding and objectivity. Ask for clarifying language, or for the problem to be described in different words. This will aid you in separating your value system bias from the actual situation.

4. Look for solutions when your mood is positive. Neuroscientific research shows that a happy mood facilitates semantic processing and increases cognitive flexibility, which leads to creative outcomes. A sad mood, on the contrary, promotes a narrow focus on external stimuli and analytic processing. You need to find a wise, fair and objective resolution to employee disputes that maintains morale and productivity. This kind of wisdom benefits from creativity, and creativity benefits from a good mood. Don’t try to resolve the dispute on the day the dog chewed up your new shoes or your child broke a window with a baseball. Wait for the day when your kid gave you a big hug on the way out the door. With a smile on your face, look for creative options to resolve the problem.

Enhance your ability to handle employee disputes by recognizing the power language, and mood have to influence your perceptions and processing. Neutralize the impact through self-awareness and find a creative, and objective solution.

References:
Fausey, Caitlin and Boroditsky, Lera. Subtle Linguistic Cues Influence Perceived Blame and Financial Liability. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 2010, 17(5).
Egidi, Giovanna and Nusbaum, Howard. Emotional Language Processing: How Mood Affects Integration Processes During Discourse Comprehension. Brain & Language, Elsevier. 2011.