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

Your Search for perspective

Do you remember what it was like to fold a paper airplane? You fold the corners in on an angle so that there is a pointy end; fold the sides down into wings and there it is. A sheet of paper transformed into an airplane. And it flew! Well,…mostly.

Now, unfold the airplane and what do you see? The paper no longer lays flat; it retains the creases. Then, using the same paper, fold a new airplane but with the pointy end on the other side. You’ll find that the creases work against you. The paper fights your efforts because it already has a shape and it wants to keep its original shape. That’s the dilemma with habits from the perspective of the brain.

Think of your office. What habits are embedded in the organization that are no longer serving the organization?  The habits will show up as processes, routines (formal or informal) and ways of doing business. The organization has folded its own paper airplane and the creases in the paper are pronounced. For example, a team I managed years ago, learned over the years to put every new roadway sign or pavement marking through a long, arduous process guaranteed to take years. The individual and organizational brain was folded into a specific paper airplane and the creases were deeply formed. If we were to introduce innovation in the process, we had to unfold the old airplane and refold a new plane on top of the old one. Just as with the paper, the brain resists new folds.  So, what’s an insightful manager to do? Think like a paper airplane.

Commit. To develop a new habit, commit to it.  Refold the paper airplane with conviction; otherwise, the paper defaults into the hold pattern. You must be clear and specific about the behavior you wish to see. Make it as easy as possible for their brains to take the new pathways because the brain prefers the old paths – just as the paper more easily falls into the original folds. In my example, the team talked at length about a new streamlined process: how it would look, what steps were included; what decisions would be made along the way. Commit to the new habit.

Focus. You can’t remake every habit so focus on a high impact one. Remaking a habit is hard work. It requires considerable brain energy to use new pathways. Consequently, you are more likely to be successful if you focus on one change at a time. This allows the brain to use all available energy to remember the new approach and choose it.

Repeat and reward. Creating new habits requires effort and repetition.  If you refold a paper airplane in a new way, you may run a fingernail along the new creases so that the paper more easily follows the new path. It’s the same for creating new habits with your staff. Reinforce, reward, and repeat the new habits over and over and over until you’re tired of hearing yourself talk it. Then you may be getting through. You, as the astute leader, must maintain the vision and constantly talk about the new approach.

So, go ahead. Grab a piece of paper and make a paper airplane. You know you want to!  As you do, think about a new habit that would benefit your organization. With each fold of the paper, consider the behavior do you want to see. Can you articulate it? How will you reinforce it every day for months and years? It takes commitment, focus, repetition and reward to bring about the new habit.  But once you have it – you’ll fly!

 

Copyright: nnudoo / 123RF Stock Photo

“You’re doing what?” The question came from my girlfriends during our morning run. I had explained my plan to attend a weekend meditation retreat. It wasn’t the meditation retreat they reacted to. It was the plan: Friday night concert (we already had tickets); Saturday morning drive five hours to the retreat (it started at 9am); meditate all day; Sunday fly across country for a business meeting. All this so I could relax.

“No. You will not do that.” One of the girls insisted. The remarkable thing is that it took their perspective to convince me that, once again, I was over-doing it. The idea was good – to slow down – but I didn’t see the big picture. Their reaction caused me to pause and remember what I already knew about energy balance but had shoved aside.

Clearly, knowing and doing are not the same things. Here is my refresher course:

1. Know your energy profile. We all have it–the time of day when we’re at our best. For many people, it’s in the morning. But not for everyone. I’m a morning person and I do my best work in the morning…in the quiet. My friend writes and creates at night long after I’m snoozing. And don’t even call her before 11am. When are you at your peak performance? What time of day does your energy peak…morning, afternoon, evening?

 2. Recognize your energy drains and fillers. Each day starts with some amount of energy in your tank. Throughout the day you constantly fill up or drain away that energy. Energy fillers make you overflow with vim, vigor and vitality. Energy drains are activities, people or situations that sap your strength. Perhaps you procrastinate and mutter, “This just takes all my energy.” And you’re right! What activities fill or drain your energy?

As you read the following list, take note of subtle shifts in how you feel:

• Reading a book
• Listening to music
• Going dancing
• Hosting a party
• Attending a large networking event
• Going for a run
• Practicing yoga
• Meeting friends at a lively bar for drinks
• Meeting your best friend at a quiet restaurant
• Participating in a large conference
• Speaking before a group
• Facilitating a small group discussion
• Brainstorming new ideas with co-workers
• Participating in a heated debate

I noticed my breath slows with the energy fillers and my brain emits a tiny “yikes!” with the energy drains. What about you? Can you tell the difference?

 3. Coordinate your energy and your day. Big-ticket activities are best planned when your energy level is topped off. Write the report, hold budget negotiations, and do strategic planning when your energy is high. Research shows that decisions that need high moral considerations are strongest in the morning. And you certainly don’t want to have that high-emotion talk with your problem employee when your energy level is low (the same is true for having The Talk with your partner). Bad idea. Very bad idea. Plan routine administrative, minimal thinking tasks when your energy will be lower.

4. Balance the Big Picture. Even when you are adept at balancing daily energy, there is the week, month and year to consider. This is where I failed. I’ve been told that I put ten pounds in a five-pound bag.  Scan your monthly calendar. Is there time for the fun energy fillers? Or does work follow you home inside your computer or inside your head? Advances in neuroscience allow scientists to see that your brain keeps working on a problem when you are at the park, in a museum, listening to music, or baking cookies for the school fund-raiser. In fact, this down time is some of the most creative for your brain. Take a few pounds out of the bag to make time for the energy fillers across the week, month and year.

It’s easy to complain about having too much to do. It’s harder to commit to change. We wear our busy-ness as a badge of honor as though it is an indicator of value. It’s not. Perhaps something won’t be accomplished exactly when I want or perhaps I must make hard choices about the number of clients I can support. Whatever it is, I commit to managing my time with more balance.

Now it’s your turn. Be aware of your energy profile and your energy drains and fillers; balance each day, week, month and year. Make the commitment to always keep energy in your tank. Good luck! Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to take five pounds out of my bag.

Head storiesYou’re in a long security line at the airport. A LONG line. A frazzled, middle-aged, perspiring, blonde woman rushes up from behind. “Excuse me! My plane is leaving! May I cut in line?” In that moment, what do you think? Perhaps some of the more gracious of us think, “Oh…poor thing. I hope she catches her flight.”  Others of us may think, “Really? Why is this my problem?” or “If she prepared better and planned ahead she wouldn’t be in this situation.” Honestly, I would probably be in the later camp.  Except that this time, the woman was me.

Two newsletter articles ago I wrote about the man who had a heart attack on the plane and probably died. I was so upset and flustered that I forgot I had a connecting flight. I realized it on the rental car shuttle in the wrong city.  To have any chance at making my connection I had to get back through the long security line. I was forced to politely ask for a favor from strangers.  Most were great. I only got a couple of exasperated looks. There was no time to explain the unusual circumstances (how often does a person have a massive heart attack on a plane?) that led to my predicament. I asked, said thank you, kept moving and ignored the looks.

At one time or another, we all created a story from circumstances and slim information. And then believe the story! The boss slings edgy comments at you in the meeting and you think, “Oh no! She’s dissatisfied with my work!” When the real situation is that she’s exhausted after landing at 1am.  Or a team member doesn’t get a deliverable in on time and you think, “NOW what are we going to do? He let us down.” But the real situation is that this team member was in the hospital emergency room all night with his kid’s asthma. The range of options is innumerable and we can’t image them all. Instead we create a story that usually includes us and believe it.

Those stories are destructive and stress inducing. It only takes a bit of perspective to put the stories in their rightful place which is to eliminate them.

  • Take in the situation. When disappointed or upset by a situation, take it in without judgment, and take a breath to slow down the mental storytelling that’s gearing up.
  • Detach you from the situation. When you hear the story beginning in your mind, remind yourself that the situation is not likely about you and that there is more going on than you know.
  • Reframe the situation. Remind yourself of the vast range of options that could be impacting this situation. Your assumptions are bound to be wrong and likely unfair. Open up to the possibilities.

I made my flight that day but only because person after person graciously allowed me through. They will never know the story of that day. And we may never know the real stories behind each situation we encounter but we can take a broader and kinder view that allows for options beyond our imagination.

 

marish / 123RF Stock Photo

Tired brain

I had a plan. On the first leg of the flight to Reno, I would work on a new webinar series and on the second leg of the flight, after connecting in Vegas, I would work on materials for a client. I worked steadily during the first flight until the medical emergency happened that I wrote about last week. By the time we landed, I was flustered and upset, and I knew it. After deplaning, I called my sister and a friend to help me calm down. Even so, some residual stress lingered. But, I was calm enough that I decided to get the rental car and drive to my Reno hotel.

Walking through the baggage claim area I noticed signs for Mariah Carey, Faith Hill and Tim McGraw’s tour, and Penn and Teller. “Wow,” I thought, “I didn’t realize that Reno had such big acts.” I boarded the rental car shuttle and again thought, “I’m surprised that Reno has a rental car shuttle. I expected it to be a small airport with rental cars at the terminal.” On the bus, I reset my watch and again thought, “Hmmm. 9:30am. I thought I arrived in Reno later than that.” As I pondered the work I completed on the flight I thought, “I expected to get more done. I didn’t start the client work that I planned for the second leg of the flight.” The SECOND LEG of the flight! I only took one flight. Where am I? Looking out the bus window I saw the skyline of the city: tall buildings, desert landscape and the Eiffel Tower and an Egyptian Pyramid. Vegas. I was on the rental car shuttle in Vegas…not Reno.

My decision-making fell victim to a brain compromised by stress and the power of confirmation bias. “Fine, Shelley,” you think, “But what does that have to do with work?” Everything. Each workplace squabble, each passionate disagreement, or each set of hurt feelings creates stress and compromises the brain. Stress makes it more likely that you’ll see and hear what you want to see and hear – which is confirmation bias. I forced everything in the Vegas airport to conform to my belief that I was in Reno.

How can you ensure that you don’t make a bad decision under stress?

  1. Know when you are stressed. You probably know when you’re under considerable stress. You may not fully appreciate smaller instances of stress. When your boss gives credit for your work to someone else; when you have another tense conversation with THAT person in the office; when your big project is due but everything goes wrong with the deliverables. Each of these and many more generate stress. Learn to your body feels when under stress – tightness in the chest, constricted breathing, sweaty palms. Pay attention to whatever it is for you.
  2. Take steps to reduce your stress. Do you know what reduces your stress? In my situation, I needed to talk to someone(s) who would understand and care about me while I calmed down. What can you do? Take a walk around the block, take a coffee break, share with a friend, call your kids, write about your feelings. Whatever it is, do it. If you don’t know what calms you, figure it out or try different approaches until you have a workable strategy.
  3. Either postpone big decisions or get an objective observer to assist. Your stress-reduction approach will help but there may be lingering impacts that color your brain’s functioning. Under stress, the brain is more likely to force-fit everything into its existing mental models. For big decisions, it’s best to postpone the decision until the next day when your brain has settled and you have perspective about the situation. If that’s not possible, seek out input from others with differing points of view to validate your decision. One way that some people are able to relieve their stress-induced symptoms is by smoking weed. Whilst this is not for everyone, weed juul pods might be worth a try.

Luckily, I managed to return to the airport and catch my flight to Reno (more on that in the next newsletter). For you, don’t hope for luck. Learn to recognize your stress level and take steps to moderate its impact.

lightwise / 123RF Stock Photo

“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.

 

ThinkThink, think, think. We live in a culture that values thinking. We have big thinkers, deep thinkers, creative thinkers, out-of-the-box thinkers. There are think tanks and a sculpture called, The Thinker. We think out loud; we think to ourselves and then we think nothing of it. And, if you put your thinking cap on, you realize that we give little value to the role of feelings in leadership. And yet, interviews with over seventy leaders confirm that you can’t think your way to the top. Becoming a successful leader requires developing both cognitive and intuitive skill.

Interviewed leaders identified four areas where intuition is an essential compliment to fact and analysis.

Decision-making. Leaders make decisions with far-reaching impact. At executive levels decision are frequently made without complete information. As one leader said, “If you have complete information then you should have made the decision long ago.” Market competitiveness and public urgency require quick decision-making. Over and over leaders talked of surrounding themselves with facts and analysis only to find there remained a void where judgment powered by both cognition and intuition must step in. Other leaders describe situations where the analysis “feels off.” In these examples, the leader’s intuitive sense kicks in to aid the final decision. Some of their biggest decision-making mistakes were when they did not trust their instinct.

Assessing people. Leaders spoke clearly of reliance on intuition when dealing with people. Leaders talk of hiring a candidate that “looks good on paper” even though their intuition is saying otherwise. Consistently, executives say they should have trusted their intuition. But assessing people is not just about hiring. Collaborating, negotiating, and partnering depend on the ability to “sense” people. In psychology there is a term “empathic accuracy” that refers to how accurately one person can infer the thoughts and feelings of another person.[1]

Visioning. Much of the business world values the systematic, step-by-step strategic planning process. Indeed, strategic planning is good for getting from point A to point B. But the leader must identify point B. Setting a vision requires looking into the future. Trends can be studied but the future remains ambiguous. Leaders saw vision-setting as an inclusive process that draws on the perspectives of many. Leaders listen, learn, seek out opinions, and collaborate, but at the end of the day, they look to the future, engage cognition and intuition and identify point B. One leader said that intuition allowed her “see around corners.”

What to pursue and when to pursue it. This is the ability to sense the right moment to lead on a particular issue. William Duggan, author of Strategic Intuition, refers to having a “presence of mind” to discern the optimal time to move forward. Leaders must collaborate and influence others in order to move forward. They need the ability to sense the attitudes of employees and the tenor of a board. Examples ranged from the timing to introduce an employee wellness program (bringing yoga into a law office) or the timing to bring a political issue to the floor for legislative vote. If a leader chooses incorrectly it could mean the death of an idea. Intuitive sense is indispensable, and it complements analysis of facts and data. Both are necessary and neither alone is sufficient.

The next time you face one of these four situations, gather the facts, look at the analysis and make a conscious effort to ask what you sense about the situation. Does it feel right or is there a nagging feeling? If a feeling nags, these executives say to honor the feeling and ask more questions. It will make you a better leader.


[1] Wikipedia. Intuition (psychology). Retrieved January 7, 2013 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intition (psychology).

Consensus

We talk about creating consensus all the time.  What we do, however, is have a meeting and hope to reach agreement without appreciating what “consensus” really is and the benefits it provides when done well.

Consensus when well-executed will:

  • Generate a wide range of ideas and discussion;
  • Feel satisfying to participants; and
  • Create a collaborative spirit.

Range of ideas. Consensus brings together people from a range of backgrounds who represents varying perspectives of an issue. Just as important are their behavior characteristics in a meeting environment. There we have people who are vocal, quiet, fast thinkers, careful thinkers, data-driven decision-makers, relationship-oriented engagers and more. Unless these differences are consciously recognized and managed, it is easy for individuals to feel drowned out, annoyed or over-looked.  It’s most effective to use techniques designed to equalize voices so that a wide range of input and opinions will be generated and discussed without favoring the loudest, most insistent voices. Consider, for example, real-time polling apps or simply going around the table to give everyone a chance to share their thoughts.  Also valuable is the use of a communication assessment tool. Used in advance, these tools inform participants and organizers of differences in communication styles.

Satisfaction. Consensus is best achieved when people feel engaged and heard. Inevitably within group discussions some angst emerges unless carefully managed.  Angst may arise when people don’t feel that their idea was heard, or when conversation strays into tangents that waste time, or when they are interrupted before completing their thought. These situations cause participants to pull back and keep their thoughts to themselves, …that is until they are in the hallway complaining at the coffee break. For consensus to feel satisfying, the use of reflective listening skills is imperative. Reflective listening not only ensures that people have a turn, but that their ideas are heard and understood. You must also attend to the emotion in the room.  Negative, frustrated or aggravated feelings shut off consensus. Research in neuroscience shows that the brain becomes more agitated when negative emotions are suppressed. The brain calms down and returns to cognitive functioning when emotion is acknowledged. With attentiveness listening, the ebb and flow of emotion is managed within the consensus building environment so that negative emotions are quickly diffused through skilled acknowledgment. The result is a sense of satisfaction with the process. Participants leave feeling heard even if they don’t agree.

Collaboration. When you skillfully build consensus, the group feels like a team with a common cause rather than disparate individuals with individual agendas.  Again, insights come from neuroscience. Research shows that people who feel connected with a common cause are more likely to collaborate, feel empathy and trust each other.  Conversely, should an us/them atmosphere develop, research indicates that trust and empathy are lost and the likelihood of collaboration diminishes.  Build a sense of cohesion by naming the group, setting regular meeting times, rewarding the group process and acknowledging the work of the group.

Next time you are tasked with creating consensus, give it some thought. Consensus building is more than hosting a meeting with flip charts and colored dots.  It involves the skilled understanding of the people in the room, artful engagement for idea generation, management of communication tendencies, validation of feelings and the creation of a common goal.

Photo credit: vantuz / 123RF Stock Photo

Years ago, when I led an office at the Department of Transportation, we invested in a 360 assessment for the top managers and me. I looked forward to the results because I appreciate getting others’ perspectives.  Or at least I thought I did— until I got the results.  The results showed me as two different people. Seen through the eyes of my peers I was similar to how I saw myself.  But the view as seen through the eyes of my staff was not pretty. I learned that I was great at staying focused on achieving our goals…at all costs. However, the staff, through their scores, showed me that the office atmosphere was like a cattle drive (go, go and go until we get there). The staff craved attention, connection and a sense of family. Work just wasn’t fun. I suspect it isn’t just my office that’s like that. Fun is not at the top of the list of most work environments. And yet, research shows that humor is a powerful tool in the workplace. Here’s why.

  1. Task perseverance. Research indicates that humor provides the brain a respite that reenergizes it for the next task – even tedious tasks. Consider this research. In a study conducted by Australian National University management professors David Cheng and Lu Wang, they found that people who watched a funny video clip before a task spent approximately twice as long on a tiresome task compared with people who watched neutral or positive but not funny videos.[i] Would your office benefit from a two-time increase in persistence with just a short break to watch something humorous? It’s time to rethink a few minutes for a YouTube break.
  2. Morale boost. A good laugh feels good. It’s a simple as that. Laughter can make a long, arduous and stressful day a little less arduous and stressful.  Imagine what it would be like to have a joke of the day at staff meetings or funny video of the day. Within a few minutes, people are smiling and feeling reenergized.
  3. Feeling of connection. Laughing together creates a shared experience that fosters connection. I recall one of my staff meetings that happened shortly after the movie “Up” came out. In that animated movie the dog, Dug, is happily talking (yes, talking) to his new friend when he sees a squirrel that jerks his head to the side (Google it… you’ll laugh…promise… cross my heart). In the staff meeting, I described the scene and did an imitation of the “squirrel” moment. I wasn’t trying to be funny but I still remember the laughter. We felt like a team for that moment – all from sharing a good laugh.

What can you do to cultivate laughter in your office? Give a prize for the best joke; show a 2-minute funny video once a week; delegate humor to the staff to find and share?  What about sharing the silliest selfies? Use your imagination to find ways to bring a good laugh into the workplace.  You’ll reap the rewards of connection, improved morale and enhanced focus on work. And enhanced focus will help to guard against the next “squirrel” distraction!

 

[i] Cheng, D and Wang, L. (2015) Examining the energizing effects of humor: The influence of humor on persistence behavior. Journal of Business and Psychology, 30, 759-772.

Copyright: warrengoldswain / 123RF Stock Photo

clout

The brain really likes feeling important, but it’s not just about giving out raises or promotions (although that’s okay, too). As a manager, there are simple ways to activate the brain’s reward response by helping people feel important and give them a sense of clout. And, you can activate the brain’s threat response just as easy…in fact, you can activate the threat response easier.  Let’s look at some tips to give clout and tips to keep from taking away clout.

Give Clout: Think about circumstances that make you feel a wee-bit important: the really-big boss complements you by name; your input is specifically requested; a colleague demonstrates respect for your idea; you are invited to lunch with the inner-circle of top performers; your project team receives an award; the client tells your boss about the good work you do. With each example, your brain does a happy dance.

How can you, as a manager, create that same brain-based happy dance for your staff, team, or client? For top performers, send a hand-written thank you note, go for coffee together, give a shout-out in an important meeting, or offer them a career-development conversation. The gift of your attention feels like clout.

For clients or citizens, you might: call the client for their input on a key decision; tell the citizen that you appreciate their dedication to the project; send a thank you note at the end of the job noting a positive influence the client or citizen had; or praise the active citizen in a public meeting. The key to applying this brain switch is sincerity.

Lose Clout: Without thinking about it, we can easily do behaviors that diminish clout from staff or teams. This time, let’s think about it so you can stop this from happening.

Think of times when you felt sidelined or marginalized despite your best efforts.  You worked hard and someone else got the credit. You are ready for that next big assignment but don’t get the opportunity. You are ready for the meeting to discuss options but you can’t get a word in edgewise.

From a manager’s perspective, it helps to be mindful of the impact your words and choices have on people.  I’m not suggesting that you pander or give everyone a reward. I am suggesting that you be aware of work effort and the impact your words – or lack of them – can have. I rarely run into staff who say their bosses complement them too much (frankly, I’ve never had that happen).

Try this. Double check yourself in meetings to make sure that all ideas are heard – especially the quiet, reserved people. They have lots to contribute but may struggle to get a verbal foothold in a lively meeting. Have you asked for input from those on the front lines of a situation? And in those instances where you must have a tough performance conversation with an employee, don’t mention it in front of others.

The rewarded brain is more likely to be productive than the threatened brain – and the owner of the rewarded brain is more likely to stick around.  Take a few minutes to tweak your approach to give not take clout.

 

Image Copyright: yarruta / 123RF Stock Photo

Unfair

“But it’s not fair!”

Have you ever heard that from someone on your staff or from a frustrated colleague? At one time or another, everyone has felt the pangs of unfairness.  There’s a reason for that. The brain is wired to easily detect and react to perceptions of unfairness.

Your brain constantly scans the environment and compares its observations to what it expects. If the situation it encounters is similar enough to those expectations, the brain feels safe and comfortable. If the brain senses something it perceives as unfair, alarm bells go off and so does the threat center in the brain.  And the bad news is that the brain will sense unfairness more easily than it senses fairness.  I know, that’s not fair, but it’s how the brain works.  So, let’s consider what you can do to keep the brain happy and productive.

Explain the rationale. Work is a busy place. You make decisions all day every day. It may not occur to you to slow down and explain the basis of decisions – particularly personnel decisions. In my office, perceptions of unfairness showed up in the application of policies such as flexible work schedules, teleworking privileges and who was chosen to attend conferences and training.  “It’s not fair! He went last year.”  “It’s not fair. Why can’t I telework, too?” In those moments, I realized the importance of explaining the rationale in my head.  And that means there must be a rationale in your head (more on that next). It helps to share your interpretation of personnel policies with the entire team. They might not agree but at least they know there is a logical thought process working in the background.  Have you taken the time out of a busy work day to explain the rationale behind your decisions? It will help your staff understand and will reduce the feelings of unfairness.

Challenge your reasoning. You can’t explain your rationale if you don’t have a rationale. It is instructive to try out several different scenarios.  For example, on one hand, you may be completely comfortable allowing Herb to telework but you’re not comfortable allowing Joanne to telework.  Okay…what’s the difference? Challenge your own reasoning.  Is it that you trust Herb but not Joanne?  If so, what gives you that feeling?  Unintended bias can come into play, too. Maybe you’ve known Herb for longer or he’s a buddy.  Joanne has a different approach to work that feels unfamiliar to you.  Challenge your own thinking.  Is your closeness with Herb influencing your decision? Whatever your own situation, work through your own reasoning to ensure that you really are being fair.

Listen and validate. When a person’s internal alarm bells go off, they may not be articulate in a reasonable way. They want (need) to vent, to express their frustration, to vocalize their displeasure.  Let them. Your job is to listen and validate the feelings.  Validation doesn’t mean agreement but it does mean truly hearing their complaint and their feelings around it. If you’ve thought through your position clearly and honestly, you can remain calm and centered as they vent. Put yourself in their shoes.  Repeat back the situation from their perspective which ensures that you truly understand. That will help create a calmer environment. The important thing is that staff know they will get a “fair” hearing.

Not every situation can be fair, but with these skills, you help the brain move past its sense of unfairness, deactivate the threat response and move on in a productive way.