Category Archives: Attitudes & Emotions

3 Reasons Physical Offices & Face-to-Face Meetings Are Not Going Away

The traditional, physical office is not going away any time soon despite advances in technology allowing people to work remotely, either at a home office, coworking space, virtual office, or another remote location (such as a coffee shop, library, or bookstore). Similarly, face-to-face meetings will not disappear, even though we can use email, phone, text, or virtual conference calls to conduct business meetings.

The COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic reignited the debate about remote work, with some suggesting that it will be the new normal even after COVID-19 (Verbeemen & D’Amico, 2020).

There are 3 reasons why remote work will not be the new normal and why physical offices and face-to-face meetings will stick around:

  1. The reactive response of companies to initiate a temporary work-from-home solution resulted in a bad experience to long-term remote work.
  2. Companies won’t invest time or money to address remote work structurally in their organizations.
  3. Our brains are wired to connect with others because humans have a need for meaningful social connection.

Reason #1 – Companies’ Haphazard Response to Initiate a Temporary Work-From-Home:

Shifting the workforce to remote work as a haphazard and forced reaction to COVID-19 will leave a bad taste in many people’s mouths about their experience working remotely. This GitLab article, titled “What Not to Do When Implementing Remote” is a fantastic resource:

“Remote work isn’t something you do as a reaction to an event — it is an intentional approach to work that creates greater efficiency, more geographically and culturally diverse teams, and heightened transparency.

What is happening en masse related to Coronavirus (COVID-19) is largely a temporary work-from-home phenomenon, where organizations are not putting remote work ideals into place, as they expect to eventually require their team members to resume commuting into an office.” -GitLab

In a Forbes article titled, “Remote Work Advocates Warn Companies About COVID-19 Work-From-Home Strategies,” Laurel Farrer wrote: “all of this unexpected remote work adoption has telecommuting experts concerned instead of celebrating.”

Reason #2 – Companies Not Willing to Invest Time & Money:

Most companies are not investing and will not invest time and money to tackle remote work structurally in their organizations.

Verbeemen & D’Amico (2020) wrote that remote work “will only be a real success if companies start tackling remote working structurally.” Organizations must secure the infrastructure for remote work and implement remote work in a structural way:

“Companies that see salvation in a fast adoption of tools without structural adjustments, risk a loss of efficiency and frustration among employees and stakeholders. It is not enough to simply provide the necessary infrastructure and tools. Some companies already had the infrastructure and tools available at the start of the crisis, but are only now realizing their full potential. Tools are important, but a successful migration also requires leadership, clear guidelines and real commitment” (Verbeemen & D’Amico, 2020).

Here are some findings:

  • At a global level: 56% of global companies allow remote work, but 44% of global companies don’t allow remote work (Owl Labs Global State of Remote Work Report 2018).
  • At a company level: Only 30% of senior managers feel their organization is well prepared for the rise of remote work (Future Positive Report).
  • At a leadership level: While 82% believe that leaders in the new economy will need to be digitally savvy, less than 10% of respondents strongly agree that their organizations have leaders with the right skills to thrive in the digital economy (The New Leadership Playbook for the Digital Age).
  • At a worker level: 38% of remote workers and 15% of remote managers received no training on how to work remotely (Owl Labs State of Remote Work Report 2019).

Werk (a people analytics company) conducted a comprehensive study [The Future is Flexible – Werk Flexibility Study] on the state of flexibility in corporate America. “According to [the] research, there is a significant gap between the supply and demand of workplace flexibility. 96% of employees in the U.S. workforce need some form of flexibility at work, yet only 42% have access to the type of flexibility they need, and only 19% have access to a range of flexible options. This gap is even more pronounced for women, where only 34% have access to the flexibility they need.”

Even though organizations are becoming aware that they need to adopt a more human-centric view, one that supports the employees’ needs (e.g., remote work, wellness programs, etc.), “innovation in terms of how the workplace and jobs are structured has been slow. If companies are going to truly adapt, stay nimble, and poise themselves for growth in the Human Era, they must reconsider the fundamentals of how jobs are designed and how, where, and when work gets done” (The Future is Flexible – Werk Flexibility Study Report).

In the Owl Labs’ State of Remote Work Report 2019, remote employee managers were asked about their biggest challenges and concerns when it came to managing their remote employees. Here’s what they said — They are most concerned about reduced employee productivity (82%), reduced employee focus (82%), lower employee engagement and satisfaction (81%), and whether their remote employees are getting their work done (80%).

Somewhat troubling in that Owl Labs’ State of Remote Work Report 2019 was what remote managers said were their least concerns: Managers are least concerned with employee loneliness (59%), the career implications of employees working remotely (65%), employees overworking (67%), and difficulty managing them (68%).

Gallup research suggests there are three areas in which managers struggle to engage their remote workers (Mann, 2017):

  1. Not recognizing or praising good work.
  2. Not talking to remote workers about career goals and personal growth.
  3. Not providing opportunities to connect with coworkers.

“While remote work is a valid strategy to maintain business continuity in times of crisis like the outbreak of COVID-19, suddenly allowing remote work with no clear policy or processes in place will not have the same positive outcomes as investing adequate resources into preparing leaders and employees for success in a remote environment.” -Tammy Bjelland, CEO Workplaceless

What I see happening—and I believe this trend will continue—is a semi-hybrid company [in which most employees are co-located/on-site and a handful who work remotely] that uses a semi-flexible schedule approach requiring significant time onsite [for co-located employees] and some time offsite/remote. In this semi-flexible schedule approach, organizations require most of their workforce to work and attend meetings onsite but will allow some leaders and staff (at the discretion and whim of their managers) the flexibility to occasionally work and/or attend meetings remotely.

Reason #3 – The Human Brain is Wired to Connect to Others:

The third and my strongest argument why remote work won’t be the new normal is that human beings have an innate and basic need for in-person interactions and the bias toward and preference for face-to-face interactions.

A Futurestep poll of 1,320 global executives in 71 countries found that 61% of senior managers think telecommuters are not as likely as conventional office workers to be promoted, despite the fact that over three-quarters also think teleworkers are equally productive as (42%) or more productive than (36%) their office-dwelling colleagues (Vickers, 2007 citing Bridgeford). Managers might recognize that teleworkers are productive, but they are still accustomed toward face-to-face interactions.

Indeed, remote workers are at risk of getting lower performance evaluations, smaller raises and fewer promotions (even if they work just as long and hard) due to what is called, “passive face time” or the notion of just being “seen” in the workplace even if we don’t interact with anyone in the office (Elsbach & Cable, 2012).

Face-to-face meetings are crucial to business success (Goman, 2016). Even those who make a case for remote work must concede that, “collaborating face-to-face probably is better than collaborating remotely” (Clancy, 2020). When extensive collaboration is required, remote work “may be less productive than colocation [where coworkers are physically clustered together in the same physical workplace]” (Clancy, 2020).

Michael Massari, Caesars Entertainment’s Senior Vice President of National Meetings and Events and Chief Sales Officer, shared some sage advice about the value and advantage of face-to-face meetings:

“No matter what industry you work in, we are all in the people business. Regardless of how tech-savvy you may be, face-to-face meetings are still the most effective way to capture the attention of participants, engage them in the conversation, and drive productive collaboration.” -Michael Massari (Caesars Entertainment’s Senior Vice President of National Meetings and Events and Chief Sales Officer)

Contrary to the belief that making a phone call saves time over a face-to-face meeting, Massari said this:

“If I have to go outside my division to ask for resources from someone I don’t know, I can usually get what I need in a five-minute in-person conversation. If I have to rely on a phone call, it is going to take over 30 minutes to explain who I am, why my request is important, and why the other person should help me. That’s because it is so much faster and easier to establish trust when people physically meet.” -Michael Massari (Caesars Entertainment’s Senior Vice President of National Meetings and Events and Chief Sales Officer)

Researchers have found that, “people tend to overestimate the power of their persuasiveness via text-based communication, and underestimate the power of their persuasiveness via face-to-face communication.” (Bohns, 2017). As a matter of fact, a face-to-face request is 34 times more successful than an email (Bohns, 2017).

In a survey of 760 business executives conducted by Forbes Insights in June 2009, respondents were asked to choose the meeting method that was most conducive to fostering a certain business action or outcome. “Executives preferred face-to-face meetings when the decision-making process was fluid, requiring the kind of give-and-take typical of complex decisions and sales” (Forbes, 2009).

“Surprisingly given the advances in information technology, CEOs today spend most of their time in face-to-face meetings. They consider face-to-face meetings most effective in getting their message across and obtaining the information they need. Not only do meetings present data through presentations and verbal communications, but they also enable CEOs to pick up on rich nonverbal cues such as facial expressions, body language, and mood, that are not apparent to them if they use e-mail or Skype” (Rothaermel, 2016, p. 43).

Beyond the business desire to close a deal, “the benefits of in-person social interaction—from bonding with co-workers to using time at the pool or café to cement a client relationship—are among the more subtle, less measurable advantages executives cited” (Forbes, 2009).

The COVID-19 pandemic and the importance and need for social distancing and remaining indoors and away from others exacerbated our experiences of cabin fever, isolation, and loneliness.

Research has provided consistent evidence linking social isolation and loneliness to worse cardiovascular and mental health outcomes (Leigh-Hunt, Bagguley, Bash, et al., 2017). Indeed, “social isolation [not being alone but one’s experience of feeling lonely] has an impact on health comparable to the effect of high blood pressure, lack of exercise, obesity, or smoking (Cacioppo & Patrick, 2008, p. 5).

Although people claim that their goal is to be able to work from home, when they actually have to do their work from home, those individuals reported higher levels of stress (Scott, 2020). For a great article on what’s stressful about working from home (e.g., lack of structure; lots of distractions; difficulty setting boundaries; social isolation; and lack of focus) see How to Handle the Stress of Working From Home.

“Those who work at home may find that the solitude can be a double-edged sword. It is, of course, easier to focus when you’re in your own home with no co-workers coming by your desk to chat at random times. But while this solitude can feel blissful at times, when we have no mandate for social interaction during the workday—when we don’t automatically run across people outside of those we live with—we can become lonely before we realize it” (Scott, 2020).

As evidenced, during the COVID-19 pandemic, by the boredom, loneliness, and isolation—with some people even going so far as paying money to join virtual Zoom parties (starting at $10 and going up to $80 for a private room in Club Quarantee to virtually party alongside Instagram-famous DJs and burlesque dancers)—human beings desire, indeed we need, human connections, and in particular in-person interaction and connection.

There’s value in face-to-face interaction & collaboration. Human beings crave human connection and interaction. “[O]ur brains are wired to connect with other people” (Lieberman, 2013, p. x). Lieberman says human beings are wired in a way such that our well-being depends on our connections with other people. “We depend on the most complicated entities in the universe, other people, to make our food, pay our rent, and provide for our general well-being” (2013, p. 238).

“Everything we have learned about the social brain tells us that we are wired to make and keep social connections, that we feel pain when these connections are threatened, and that our identity, our sense of self, is intimately tied up with the groups we are a part of” (Lieberman, 2013, p. 248-249).

But these interactions are not just about the number of people you spend time with. Rather, these connections need to satisfy our need to have close, satisfying relationships. Indeed, “loneliness is typically rooted in the quality rather than the quantity of social interaction: Lonely people spend plenty of time with others, but they do not come away from these interactions feeling satisfied” (Baumeister & Bushman, 2014, p. p. 410).

Loneliness is a state of mind and causes us “to feel empty, alone, and unwanted. People who are lonely often crave human contact, but their state of mind makes it more difficult to form connections with other people.” (Cherry, 2020).

Experts contend that humans are social creatures and we function better when we are around other people (DiGiulio, 2018). Even more strongly, a case can be made that our need to connect with others is as strong and fundamental as our need for food and water (Cook, 2013). Physical connection between humans is so strong that the power of touch can even create an analgesic, painkilling effect (Lamothe, 2018).

During this COVID-19 pandemic, it is more important than ever to foster relational connection to curb the rise of loneliness (Stallard & Stallard, 2020). “Research suggests that the majority of individuals today lack sufficient social connection. This connection deficit may exacerbate the negative effects of stress and diminish physical and emotional resilience that people will need to fight the COVID-19 virus” (Stallard & Stallard, 2020).

In his TEDx Talk, neuroscientist Matthew Lieberman said: “Our urge to connect and the pain we feel when this need is thwarted, is one of the seminal achievements of our brain that motivates us to live, work, and play together. You can have the greatest idea in the world, but if you can’t connect with other people nothing will come of it. You can’t build a rocket ship by yourself.”

“To the extent that we can characterize evolution as designing our modern brains, this is what our brains were wired for: reaching out to and interacting with others. These are design features, not flaws. These social adaptations are central to making us the most successful species on earth.” (Lieberman, 2013, p. 9).

According to social psychologists, our need for affiliation or connection to others is universal and all human beings have this need. “Some individuals claim that they have little or no need for affiliation—for connections to other people. But research findings indicate that even such persons really do have affiliation needs. How do we know that’s true? When such people learn that they have been accepted by others, both their moods and self-esteem increase. That would only be expected to happen if such acceptance satisfied a basic need for affiliation. . . . In short, all human beings—even people who claim otherwise—have strong needs for affiliation—to feel connected to others. They may conceal these needs under a mask of seeming indifference, but the needs are still there no matter how much such people try to deny them” (Baron & Branscombe, 2012, p. 218).

Researchers examined the emotional experience of connectedness between pairs of close friends in digital (text, audio, and video) versus in-person environments. They recruited 58 female university students aged 18-21 years (consisting of 29 pairs of close female friends). Although adolescent and emerging adults’ digital communication is primarily text-based, the researchers discovered that the greatest bonding actually occurs during in-person interaction, followed by video chat, audio chat, and instant messaging (Sherman, Michikyan, & Greenfield, 2013).

“Despite our remarkable ability to utilize tools and technologies to improve our lives in many ways, humans are constrained by the evolutionary context in which human social interaction developed” (Sherman, Michikyan, & Greenfield, 2013).

Takeaway: Traditional physical offices and face-to-face meetings are here to stay and remote work will not be the new normal as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. There are three reasons why. First, most people’s introduction to and experience with remote work occurred as a direct, but reactive response of companies to initiate a temporary work-from-home solution. Second, most companies will not be spending the time and money to tackle remote work structurally in their organizations. Third, the human brain is wired to connect with other people and human beings have a need for meaningful social connection. It’s a beautiful, defining quality of being human.

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.
Leadership Development Advisor

References

Baron, R. A., & Branscombe, N. R. (2012). Social Psychology (13th Ed.). Pearson Education, Inc.

Baumeister, R. F., & Bushman, B. J. (2014). Social Psychology and Human Nature (3rd Ed.). Wadsworth, Cengage Learning.

Bloomberg & Lhooq, M. (2020, April 14). People are paying real money to get into virtual Zoom nightclubs. https://fortune.com/2020/04/14/zoom-nightclubs-virtual-bars-video-calls-coronavirus/

Bohns, V. K. (2017, April 11). A Face-to-Face Request Is 34 Times More Successful Than an Email. https://hbr.org/2017/04/a-face-to-face-request-is-34-times-more-successful-than-an-email

Cacioppo, J. T., & Patrick, W. (2008). Loneliness: Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection. W. W. Norton & Company.

Cherry, K. (2020, March 23). The Health Consequences of Loneliness. https://www.verywellmind.com/loneliness-causes-effects-and-treatments-2795749

Clancy, M. (2020, April 13). The Case for Remote Work. Economics Working Papers: Department of Economics, Iowa State University. 20007. https://lib.dr.iastate.edu/econ_workingpapers/102

Cook, G. (2013, October 22). Why We Are Wired to Connect. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/why-we-are-wired-to-connect/

Cuncic, A. (2020, March 27). How to Cope With Loneliness During the Coronavirus Pandemic. https://www.verywellmind.com/how-to-cope-with-loneliness-during-coronavirus-4799661

DiGiulio, S. (2018, January 9). In good company: Why we need other people to be happy. https://www.nbcnews.com/better/health/good-company-why-we-need-other-people-be-happy-ncna836106

Doherty, C. (2020, May 2). What Is Coronavirus (COVID-19)? https://www.verywellhealth.com/coronavirus-overview-4783291

Elsbach, K., & Cable, D. M., & Sherman, J. W. (2010). How passive ‘face time’ affects perceptions of employees: Evidence of spontaneous trait inference. Human Relations, 63(6), 735-760.

Farrer, L. (2020, March 5). Remote Work Advocates Warn Companies About COVID-19 Work-From-Home Strategies. https://www.forbes.com/sites/laurelfarrer/2020/03/05/ironically-remote-work-advocates-warn-companies-about-covid-19-work-from-home-strategies/#536739222051

Forbes. (2009). Business Meetings: The Case for Face-to-Face. Forbes Insights. https://images.forbes.com/forbesinsights/StudyPDFs/Business_Meetings_FaceToFace.pdf

Fritscher, L. (2020, April 23). Cabin Fever Symptoms and Coping Skills. https://www.verywellmind.com/cabin-fever-fear-of-isolation-2671734

Fuller, J. B., Wallenstein, J. K., Raman, M., & de Chalendar, A. (2019, May). Future Positive Report: How Companies Can Tap Into Employee Optimism to Navigate Tomorrow’s Workplace. BCG, Harvard Business School.

GitLab. What not to do when implementing remote: don’t replicate the in-office experience remotely. https://about.gitlab.com/company/culture/all-remote/what-not-to-do/

Goman, C. K. (2016, March 11). The Immeasurable Importance Of Face-To-Face Meetings. https://www.forbes.com/sites/carolkinseygoman/2016/03/11/the-immeasurable-importance-of-face-to-face-meetings/#440d18934937

Lamothe, C. (2018, January 3). Let’s touch: why physical connection between human beings matters. https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/jan/03/lets-touch-why-physical-connection-between-human-beings-matters

Lieberman, M. D. (2013). Social: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Connect. Oxford University Press.

Lieberman, M. D. (2013, September 19). The social brain and its superpowers – TEDxStLouis. https://youtu.be/NNhk3owF7RQ

Leigh-Hunt, N., Bagguley, D., Bash, K., et al. (2017). An overview of systematic reviews on the public health consequences of social isolation and loneliness. Public Health, (152)157-171.

Mann, A. (2017, August 1). 3 Ways You Are Failing Your Remote Workers. https://www.gallup.com/workplace/236192/ways-failing-remote-workers.aspx

Owl Labs. 2018 Global State of Remote Work. https://www.owllabs.com/state-of-remote-work/2018

Owl Labs. The State of Remote Work Report. https://www.owllabs.com/state-of-remote-work

Owl Labs. [New Research] 2019 State of Remote Work. https://www.owllabs.com/blog/2019-state-of-remote-work

Ready, D. A., Cohen, C., Kiron, D., Pring, B. (2020, January). The New Leadership Playbook for the Digital Age: Reimagining What It Takes to Lead.

Rothaermel, F. T. (2016). Strategic Management (3rd Ed.). McGraw-Hill Education.

Scott, E. (2020, March 17). How to Handle the Stress of Working From Home. https://www.verywellmind.com/the-stress-of-working-from-home-4141174

Sherman, L. E., Michikyan, M., & Greenfield, P. M. (2013). The effects of text, audio, video, and in-person communication on bonding between friends. Cyberpsychology: Journal of Psychosocial Research on Cyberspace, 7(2), Article 3. https://doi.org/10.5817/CP2013-2-3

Stallard, M. L., & Stallard, K. P. (2020, March 26). COVID-19 Is Coinciding With a Loneliness Epidemic. https://www.govexec.com/management/2020/03/covid-19-coinciding-loneliness-epidemic/164153/

Verbeemen, E., & D’Amico, S. B. (2020, April 9). Why remote working will be the new normal, even after COVID-19. https://www.ey.com/en_be/covid-19/why-remote-working-will-be-the-new-normal-even-after-covid-19

Vickers, M. (2007). Adapting to Teleworker Trends. American Management Association’s Moving Ahead Newsletter, 2(10). http://www.amanet.org/training/articles/Adapting-to-Teleworker-Trends.aspx

Werk. The Future is Flexible – Werk Flexibility Study. https://werk.co/documents/The%20Future%20is%20Flexible%20-%20Werk%20Flexibility%20Study.pdf

Workplaceless. (2020, May 1). Preparing for Emergency Remote Work. https://www.workplaceless.com/blog/emergency-remote-work

How to Work Remotely During COVID-19 and Maintain Your Emotional Health

I have been asked about tips and strategies to help individuals be effective in working remotely during this COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic. Here are my thoughts.

Tips for Effectively Working Remotely:

1. Technology & Tools: Make sure you have the technology, equipments, and softwares to continue to be productive and get your work done. Practice and become comfortable with the various tools that your team and/or company requires you to use. For instance, for videoconferencing, be sure to know how to use the applications that your team uses (e.g., Zoom, WebEx, etc.). Also, even if you are familiar with the app, learn to use it and understand its limitations. Many videoconferencing tools are good to use for video through your laptop or computer’s built-in camera. However, the audio can, and is often spotty. So many times, it is best to “dial in” to the video call, and also call in on your cell phone for the audio portion.

Another thing to consider are the restrictions placed on you by your company’s IT department when you use your work laptop to work remotely. Some companies will require you to use a secure two-factor authentication process by going through an app, such as Duo Mobile, to log into your work laptop. Depending on how reliable the app and service is, this process can be quite cumbersome.

When doing video calls, preparation can go a long way in making your calls more tolerable for you and your colleagues (Chen, 2020). You will want to check your webcam, microphone, and internet speed. Also, be aware of what is in the background behind you (pets, kids, personal or identifiable items, etc.) and, as much as possible, minimize distractions and be sure that you can pay attention.

Equally important is to remember that when a video call will not work (newsflash: not everyone is comfortable using or being on a video call), try something else — like calling them on the phone.

*For Leaders:* If you are a leader leading a team, don’t forget that the virtual tools and technology serve to help you connect with your team. They aren’t meant to replace you in communicating and connecting with your team members.

I love this message from Patrick Lencioni reminding leaders to be exceedingly human:

“Demonstrate your concern for the very real fears and anxieties that your people are experiencing, not only professionally and economically, but socially and personally. Even though you don’t have definitive answers to all of their questions, don’t let that keep you from listening to them and empathizing with their fears.” -Patrick Lencioni

Here’s a great reminder that remote teams need real communication:

“You are a human manager learning to communicate with other humans aided by the power of technology. These efforts should allow you to think about the value of the human experience as supported by the best version of technology we can leverage for the goal. The power really is in your human hands; the technology just helps it virtually travel around the world” (Bisbee & Wisniewski, 2020).

2. Workspace: You need to set up a work office environment. Setting up a workspace will mentally prepare you and can be a good way to help separate your work & home space.

3. Rituals, Structure, and Breaks: You will want to develop rituals and be consistent about how you will start and end your day, as well as give yourself time to eat lunch and take short breaks throughout the day. You’ll also need to create a system or devise a method so that both you and those around you understand and know your work schedule.

4. Watercooler Conversations: When you are physically at the office, you can and do run into colleagues in the break room and are able to catch up with them or even solve or work through a challenge just by engaging in an unplanned watercooler conversation. When you work remotely, this is not possible so be sure to design a way to engage with your coworkers and/or your boss. Some teams use an instant messaging app like Microsoft Teams, Skype, or Slack to stay connected.

5. Chunk Your Time: Block times throughout the day that will work with your schedule, while trying to balance working at “home”. For instance, being at home and especially currently with many of the school children also in the home, you might not be able to follow a strict 8-5 schedule as you would normally follow in your office. In that case, break that up or chunk it into smaller chunks of time. For example, you might schedule 6am – 8am; 10am – 12pm; 2pm – 4pm; and 7pm – 9pm or 8am – 11am; 1pm – 3pm; 6pm – 9pm.

6. Be Prepared to Work More or Longer Hours: Make no mistake, working from home requires MORE (not LESS) of your time. As a matter of fact, people who telecommute, especially those who have done so for an extended period of time will tell you that it actually requires you to work more, not less.

Tips for Maintaining Your Emotional Health & Mental Sanity:

1. The COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic has created a unique scenario because it is the reason why this forced social experiment of remote work is suddenly on everyone’s mind. Indeed, many companies are suddenly requiring their employees to work from home to help contain the spread of the virus. It is important to understand and acknowledge some of the things you may experience as a result of this disruption to your regular routines (i.e., if you typically come into the office to work), such as fear and anxiety; depression and boredom; and anger, frustration or irritability.

2. To better handle and cope with this situation, try the following:

  • limit the amount of news you consume; get news from reliable sources
  • set up and follow a daily routine
  • stay connected to your coworkers, friends, and family
  • adopt a strong internal locus of control; realize there are things within your control & things outside of your control
  • take breaks and make time to unwind
  • practice gratitude and try to look for the positives
  • try meditation, mindfulness, or other relaxation exercises
  • get enough sleep, eat well, and exercise

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.
Leadership Development Advisor

References

American Psychological Association. Keeping Your Distance to Stay Safe. https://www.apa.org/practice/programs/dmhi/research-information/social-distancing

American Psychological Association. (2020, March 16). Seven crucial research findings that can help people deal with COVID-19. https://www.apa.org/news/apa/2020/03/covid-19-research-findings

Bisbee, B., & Wisniewski, K. (2020, March 18). Remote Teams Need Real Communication. Association for Talent Development. https://www.td.org/insights/remote-teams-need-real-communication

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Manage Anxiety & Stress. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prepare/managing-stress-anxiety.html

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Taking Care of Your Emotional Health. https://emergency.cdc.gov/coping/selfcare.asp

Chen, B. (2020, March 25). The Dos and Don’ts of Online Video Meetings. NYTimes.com. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/25/technology/personaltech/online-video-meetings-etiquette-virus.html

Neeley, T. (2020, March 15). 15 Questions About Remote Work, Answered. Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/2020/03/15-questions-about-remote-work-answered

Nguyen, S. (2015, August 22). The Pitfalls Of Telecommuting. https://workplacepsychology.net/2015/08/22/the-pitfalls-of-telecommuting/

Overcoming Obstacles: Attitude and Approach Are Answers to Pains and Problems

“There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”
―William Shakespear

In his book, The Obstacle Is the Way, Ryan Holiday (2014) shares the wisdom of Stoicism* (a Greek philosophy) and ancient Stoics to help readers “accomplish the very specific and increasingly urgent goal we all share: overcoming obstacles. Mental obstacles. Physical obstacles. Emotional obstacles. Perceived obstacles” (Holiday, 2014, p. 5).

*Stoicism is “about acknowledging our emotions, reflecting on what causes them, and redirecting them for our own good. It is about keeping in mind what is and what is not under our control, focusing our efforts on the former and not wasting them on the latter. It is about practicing virtue and excellence and navigating the world to the best of our abilities, while being mindful of the moral dimension of all our actions” (Pigliucci, 2017, p. 2-3).

“The Stoics realized that we have considerable flexibility in how we frame the situations we experience. They discovered, more precisely, that by thinking of setbacks as tests of our character, we can dramatically alter our emotional response to them. We can, in particular, develop our ability to stay clam, even in the face of very significant setbacks, and this in turn can have a dramatic impact on our quality of life” (Irvine, 2019, p. 17).

Holiday’s book teaches us: “How to turn the many negative situations we encounter in our lives into positive ones—or at least to snatch whatever benefit we can from them. To steal good fortune from misfortune” (2014, p. 5).

“We’re dissatisfied with our jobs, our relationships, our place in the world. We’re trying to get somewhere, but something stands in the way. So we do nothing. We blame our bosses, the economy, our politicians, other people, or we write ourselves off as failures or our goals as impossible. When really only one thing is at fault: our attitude and approach” (Holiday, 2014, p. 2).

But not everyone is stuck like this. Some people are able to turn their obstacles and trials into triumphs. What’s more, many of these individuals faced unimaginable challenges and frustrations and despite those obstacles, or perhaps thanks to those obstacles, they overcame and succeeded. Great individuals, like great companies, find a way to transform weakness into strength. They are able to take what should have held them back and used it to move forward (Holiday, 2014).

“Like oxygen to a fire, obstacles became fuel for the blaze that was their ambition. Nothing could stop them, they were (and continue to be) impossible to discourage or contain. Every impediment only served to make the inferno within them burn with greater ferocity” (Holiday, 2014, p. 4).

There are a few things to keep in mind when faced with a seemingly insurmountable obstacle. We must try (Holiday, 2014, p. 18):

  • To be objective
  • To control emotions and keep an even keel
  • To choose to see the good in a situation
  • To steady our nerves
  • To ignore what disturbs or limits others
  • To place things in perspective
  • To revert to the present moment
  • To focus on what can be controlled

“This is how you see the opportunity within the obstacle. It does not happen on its own. It is a process—one that results from self-discipline and logic” (Holiday, 2014, p. 18).

Take Helen Keller, the first deaf and blind person to ever graduate from college. Can you imagine losing one of your senses, let alone two? Many people know about Keller’s successes and accolades, but not many are familiar with the struggles she had to overcome to get there. For instance, Keller was such a temperamental, wild, and unruly deaf-blind child that even family and close friends didn’t think she could be taught. It took Helen’s mother, Kate Keller, and her unrelenting quest for a teacher (one who would be willing to travel to rural Tuscumbia, Alabama to teach Helen), and a teacher (Anne Sullivan), who was both qualified and willing to travel to Alabama. Under Sullivan’s tutelage, the young Keller thrived ― learning how to fingerspell, read Braille, and write. Helen Keller eventually graduated from Radcliffe College. Keller could read English, German, French, Greek, and Latin in Braille! She also learned to speak (McGinnity, Seymour-Ford, & Andries, 2004).

“Keller hit, pinched and kicked her teacher and knocked out one of her teeth. Sullivan finally gained control by moving with the girl into a small cottage on the Kellers’ property. Through patience and firm consistency, she finally won the child’s heart and trust, a necessary step before Keller’s education could proceed” (McGinnity, Seymour-Ford, & Andries, 2004).

What’s perhaps more remarkable is that Anne Sullivan (Helen Keller’s teacher) herself experienced much more extreme hardships growing up. When Sullivan was about five years old, she contracted trachoma, an eye disease caused by bacteria. Trachoma causes repeated, painful infections, making the eyes red and swollen. Over time the recurring irritation and scarring of the cornea causes severe vision loss. Sullivan dealt with the effects of trachoma throughout her life. After her mother died (Anne was eight years old), her father struggled to raise the family and soon abandoned his children. Anne and her younger brother Jimmie were sent to Tewksbury Almshouse, a home for the poor. Sadly and very tragically, the conditions there were so deplorable that three months after they arrived, Jimmie Sullivan died. Early in her stay at Tewksbury, Anne realized that her best chance at a better life was to get an education at a school for blind children. This became her central focus. She heard about a commission coming to investigate the conditions at Tewksbury, and on the day of their visit, she followed them around waiting for her time to speak up. As the tour was wrapping up, Anne approached one of the inspectors and told him she wanted to go to school. That moment changed her life. On October 7, 1880, Anne Sullivan entered the Perkins School for the Blind (McGinnity, Seymour-Ford, & Andries, 2004).

And even after she got into the school, many of the other girls (most from wealthy families) made fun of her because, at the age of 14, she was unable to read or write her name. And she had never owned a nightgown or hairbrush. “Anne Sullivan’s recollections of her early years at Perkins were mainly of feeling humiliated about her own shortcomings. Her anger and shame fueled a determination to excel in her studies” (McGinnity, Seymour-Ford, & Andries, 2004).

“Not everyone looks at obstacles—often the same ones you and I face—and sees reason to despair. In fact, they see the
opposite. They see a problem with a ready solution. They see a chance to test and improve themselves. Nothing stands in their way. Rather, everything guides them on the way” (Holiday, 2014, p. 178).

Anne Sullivan’s life experiences, like so many of the great history changers and makers before and after her, were “tested in the crucible of adversity and forged in the furnace of trial” (Holiday, 2014, p. 178).

“People seldom see the halting and painful steps by which the most insignificant success is achieved.” ―Anne Sullivan

“Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, vision cleared, ambition inspired, and success achieved.” ―Helen Keller

Takeaway: “You will come across obstacles in life—fair and unfair. And you will discover, time and time again, that what matters most is not what these obstacles are but how we see them, how we react to them, and whether we keep our composure. . . . [T]his reaction determines how successful we will be in overcoming—or possibly thriving because of—them” (Holiday, 2014, p. 16).

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.
Leadership Development Advisor

References

Holiday, R. (2019). The Daily Stoic. What Is Stoicism? A Definition & 9 Stoic Exercises To Get You Started. https://dailystoic.com/what-is-stoicism-a-definition-3-stoic-exercises-to-get-you-started/

Holiday, R. (2014). The Obstacle Is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Triumph. Portfolio.

Irvine, W. B. (2019). The Stoic Challenge: A Philosopher’s Guide to Becoming Tougher, Calmer, and More Resilient. W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.

McGinnity, B.L., Seymour-Ford, J. and Andries, K.J. (2004) Anne Sullivan. Perkins History Museum, Perkins School for the Blind, Watertown, MA. [Also from https://www.perkins.org/history/people/anne-sullivan]

McGinnity, B.L., Seymour-Ford, J. and Andries, K.J. (2004) Helen Keller. Perkins History Museum, Perkins School for the Blind, Watertown, MA. [Also from https://www.perkins.org/history/people/helen-keller]

Pigliucci, M. (2017). How To Be a Stoic: Using Ancient Philosophy to Live a Modern Life. Basic Books.

Steve Jobs Had Moderately Low Emotional Intelligence

I thought this might be an interesting case study. I’ve come across many articles where writers (both lay and scholars) have stated that they believe Steve Jobs had high emotional intelligence (EQ).

Let’s start by defining emotional intelligence:

Emotional intelligence is the “ability to perceive and express emotion, assimilate emotion in thought, understand and reason with emotion, and regulate emotion in the self and others” (Mayer, Salovey, Caruso, & Cherkasskiy, 2011, p. 532).

Emotional intelligence is “a set of emotional and social skills that influence the way we perceive and express ourselves, develop and maintain social relationships, cope with challenges, and use emotional information in an effective and meaningful way” (Multi-Health Systems, 2011).

Here’s my position: Steve Jobs’ emotional intelligence was very unbalanced, so much so that I believe his overall EQ score was moderately low to moderate.

In this article, I have included extensive passages, statements, and stories and quoted them verbatim from the Steve Jobs biography by Walter Isaacson as well as from a few other sources to support my viewpoint. This is done intentionally as rewording or paraphrasing would dilute the writings and storytelling and I didn’t want to do that.

There’s no doubt that Steve Jobs was a visionary genius who, over three decades, brought some incredible products (e.g., Apple II, Macintosh, iPod, iPhone, iPad, and many others) to market, and who transformed entire industries (Isaacson, 2011).

While he was very effective in some leadership areas, he was extremely lacking in others. Therefore, I would argue that Steve Jobs had a very unbalanced emotional intelligence which contributed to his moderately low overall emotional intelligence.

I will use the Emotional Quotient Inventory (EQ-i) 2.0. The EQ-i 2.0 measures emotional intelligence. More specifically, the EQ-i 2.0 measures a set of emotional and social skills that influence the way individuals: (1) perceive and express themselves, (2) develop and maintain social relationships, (3) cope with challenges, and (4) use emotional information in an effective and meaningful way.

The EQ-i 2.0 is made up of 5 composites: Self-Perception, Self-Expression, Interpersonal, Decision Making, and Stress Management. Each of the composites contains 3 subscales.

  1. Self-Perception: Self-Regard, Self-Actualization, Emotional Self-Awareness
  2. Self-Expression: Emotional Expression, Assertiveness, Independence
  3. Interpersonal: Interpersonal Relationships, Empathy, Social Responsibility
  4. Decision Making: Problem Solving, Reality Testing, Impulse Control
  5. Stress Management: Flexibility, Stress Tolerance, Optimism

If we’re going by the EQ-i 2.0 and its 15 subscales, Jobs had extremely high self-regard, self-actualization, and self-awareness. He was also very assertive and optimistic.

However, a strength overdone or overused can become a weakness. In FYI: For Your Improvement (a guide for coaching and development), Lombardo and Eichinger (2000) cautioned that, “Sometimes a strength used to extreme turns into a weakness” (p. vi).

Too much Self-Regard can be or look/sound:

  • Arrogant
  • Vain & conceited
  • Narcissistic
  • Over-confident
  • Burdensome with thoughts of superiority

Too much Self-Actualization can be or look/sound:

  • Perpetually dissatisfied with the status quo
  • Overly goal-driven—too intense
  • Overly exuberant with your activities and points of passion
  • Self-centered—blind to the needs and interests of others

Too much Emotional Self-Awareness can be or look/sound:

  • Self-consumed—seeing things unrelated to you only through your own emotional filters
  • Self-centered and self-indulgent
  • Hypersensitive to your own emotions
  • Insensitive to others’ needs

Too much Assertiveness can be or look/sound:

  • Aggressive
  • Abusive
  • Militant or bossy
  • Self-centered (commanding the spotlight and excessive air-time)

Too much Optimism can be or look/sound:

  • Blind to reality and danger
  • Prone to viewing bright sides and opportunities that do not actually exist
  • Known to let an unrealistic belief in a positive outcome take the place of effort

On the opposite end, Jobs had very low interpersonal relationships, low empathy, low impulse control (even describing himself as “mercurial”), low flexibility, and low reality testing.

Low Interpersonal Relationships can be or look/sound:

  • A loner
  • Socially withdrawn
  • Cold and unfriendly
  • Hard to like or get to know

Low Empathy can be or look/sound:

  • Inattentive
  • Uncompassionate, unfeeling, or inhumane
  • Emotionally detached or distant
  • Selfish and self-centered

Low Impulse Control can be or look/sound:

  • Lacking in self-control
  • Impulsive
  • Explosive
  • Overly talkative—monopolizing conversations
  • Short fused, quick to anger

Low Flexibility can be or look/sound:

  • Rigid in your thinking
  • Set in your ways and opinions
  • Lacking curiosity
  • Change-resistant
  • Slow to start new project or efforts

Low Reality Testing can be or look/sound:

  • Unrealistic and overly dramatic
  • Impractical & untrustworthy
  • Dishonest—prone to exaggeration

For Steve Jobs, his Emotional Expression was much higher than his Empathy. He focused much more (almost exclusively) on the expression of his emotions, thoughts, and feelings than on being empathic toward others. Balancing these facets required that Jobs listened carefully to the ideas of others and be attentive to their feelings. Because these facets were often out of balance, Jobs was never able to gauge whether the intensity and timing of his expression was appropriate for the situation.

Job’s Assertiveness was also quite high compared to his low Empathy score. Because these scores were out of balance, people viewed and experienced him and his behaviors as abrasive.

Finally, another area where Jobs’ emotional intelligence was out of balance was related to his low Empathy and high Emotional Self-Awareness. This meant that although he understood how he felt about a particular situation, he had the tendency to not spend enough time uncovering how others felt.

Steve Jobs used the handicap parking space as his own personal parking spot (Isaacson, 2011). He frequently berated and yelled at others and threw temper tantrums. He also tended to distort reality and was well-known for his reality distortion field (“He has his own way with the truth” [Isaacson, 2011, p. 185]). It was the key people in his life who helped to soften his unpleasant treatments of others as well as soothe his volatile behaviors.

For his Steve Jobs biography, Walter Isaacson conducted more than forty interviews with Jobs over two years. Isaacson also interviewed more than a hundred family members, friends, adversaries, competitors, and colleagues of Steve Jobs.

Here are some passages from Isaacson’s Steve Jobs biography:

“Ann Bowers became an expert at dealing with Jobs’s perfectionism, petulance, and prickliness. She had been the human resources director at Intel, but had stepped aside after she married its cofounder Bob Noyce. She joined Apple in 1980 and served as a calming mother figure who would step in after one of Jobs’s tantrums. She would go to his office, shut the door, and gently lecture him. “I know, I know,” he would say. “Well, then, please stop doing it,” she would insist. Bowers recalled, “He would be good for a while, and then a week or so later I would get a call again.” She realized that he could barely contain himself. “He had these huge expectations, and if people didn’t deliver, he couldn’t stand it. He couldn’t control himself. I could understand why Steve would get upset, and he was usually right, but it had a hurtful effect. It created a fear factor. He was self-aware, but that didn’t always modify his behavior”” (Isaacson, 2011, p. 121).

“[Steve Jobs] had always been temperamental and bratty. At Atari his behavior had caused him to be banished to the night shift, but at Apple that was not possible. “He became increasingly tyrannical and sharp in his criticism,” according to Markkula [the first big Apple investor; also a father figure to Jobs]. “He would tell people, ‘That design looks like shit.’” He was particularly rough on Wozniak’s young programmers, Randy Wigginton and Chris Espinosa. “Steve would come in, take a quick look at what I had done, and tell me it was shit without having any idea what it was or why I had done it,” said Wigginton, who was just out of high school” (Isaacson, 2011, p. 81-82).

Many people who worked at Apple “were afraid of Jobs “because of his spontaneous temper tantrums and his proclivity to tell everyone exactly what he thought, which often wasn’t very favorable”” (Isaacson, 2011, p. 113).

Jobs never apologized for treating people, especially those around him and people who worked for him, poorly. He thought it was his “job to be honest” because “I know what I’m talking about, and I usually turn out to be right” (Isaacson, 2011, p. 569).

There’s a useful Management Blind Spots Self-Evaluation created by Michael Timms of Avail Leadership. Out of the 15 common undesirable management tendencies (and their associated behaviors), Jobs easily checked off 13 of the 15 undesirable management tendencies!

  • Micromanage
  • Know-It-All
  • Dictatorial
  • Impersonal
  • Fail to Develop Others
  • Untrustworthy
  • Blame Others
  • Steal Credit
  • Provide Unclear Direction
  • Demanding Taskmaster* (Timms used the term “Slave Driver,” but I renamed it)
  • Emotionally Volatile
  • Overly Negative
  • Play Favorites

“Research has shown that people are five times more sensitive to their manager’s unconscious negative actions than to their manager’s efforts to motivate them. In other words, much of what managers do to motivate their staff is being undone by their thoughtless negative actions” (Timms, 2016).

The reason why people tolerated Jobs was because they “realized that despite his temperamental failings, Jobs had the charisma and corporate clout that would lead them to “make a dent in the universe”” (Isaacson, 2011, p. 112).

And to be very clear, Steve Jobs was successful despite his moderately low emotional intelligence because he had people around him [like Joanna Hoffman (his right-hand woman), Ann Bowers and her husband Bob Noyce (who were surrogate parents to Jobs) and Laurene Powell Jobs (his wife)] who had a strong, commanding, and/or calming influence on Jobs and who kept him in line.

Isaacson described Laurene Powell in this manner: “Smart, yet unpretentious. Tough enough to stand up to him, yet Zen-like enough to rise above turmoil. Well-educated and independent, yet
ready to make accommodations for him and a family. Down-to-earth, but with a touch of the ethereal. Savvy enough to know how to manage him, but secure enough to not always need to” (Isaacson, 2011, p. 267).

According to Joanna Hoffman, one of Steve Jobs’ right hand woman, Jobs can be very obnoxious because he thinks he can “get away with anything” (Isaacson, 2011, p. 184). While on a business trip in Italy, he became so nasty and was so mean to the waiter at a restaurant that Hoffman threatened that if Jobs didn’t calm down that she would pour hot coffee on him (Isaacson, 2011).

Apple’s manager in France, Jean-Louis Gassée said this about Steve Jobs: “The only way to deal with him was to out-bully him” (Isaacson, 2011, p. 185). “I remember grabbing his lapel and telling him to stop, and then he backed down. I used to be an angry man myself. I am a recovering assaholic. So I could recognize that in Steve” (Isaacson, 2011, p. 185).

Andy Hertzfeld, who worked with Steve Jobs at Apple in the early 1980s said: “The key question about Steve is why he can’t control himself at times from being so reflexively cruel and harmful to some people” (Isaacson, 2011, p. 5).

This part aptly summarizes Steve Jobs as a leader:

“There were some upsides to Jobs’s demanding and wounding behavior. People who were not crushed ended up being stronger. They did better work, out of both fear and an eagerness to please” (Isaacson, 2011, p. 121).

“Was all of his stormy and abusive behavior necessary? Probably not, nor was it justified. There were other ways to have motivated his team. Even though the Macintosh would turn out to be great, it was way behind schedule and way over budget because of Jobs’s impetuous interventions. There was also a cost in brutalized human feelings, which caused much of the team to burn out” (Isaacson, 2011, p. 123-124).

When Walter Isaacson, the biographer, asked Jobs: “Why are you sometimes so mean?” Jobs replied, “This is who I am, and you can’t expect me to be someone I’m not” (Isaacson, 2011, p. 565).

What Ann Bowers said about Steve Jobs is my main argument for why I believe Steve Jobs’ emotional intelligence is moderately low: that although he was very self-aware (i.e., he knew exactly what he was doing), he really didn’t care how he acted or treated others.

Walter Isaacson, who interviewed Jobs extensively and interviewed many of his friends, colleagues, and family for the biography, concluded that Jobs “could have controlled himself, if he had wanted. When he hurt people, it was not because he was lacking in emotional awareness. Quite the contrary: He could size people up, understand their inner thoughts, and know how to relate to them, cajole them, or hurt them at will” (Isaacson, 2011, p. 565).

“Most people have a regulator between their mind and mouth that modulates their brutish sentiments and spikiest impulses. Not Jobs. He made a point of being brutally honest. “My job is to say when something sucks rather than sugarcoat it,” he said. This made him charismatic and inspiring, yet also, to use the technical term, an asshole at times” (Isaacson, 2011, p. 564).

These stories and descriptions do not describe a person with high emotional intelligence. On the contrary, they describe some with low emotional intelligence.

Some have claimed that emotional intelligence is “not about being nice. Rather it’s about the ability to use the right emotion at the right time to get the right result. It requires the ability to read the other person, know how far you can push their buttons, and knowing when to back off and when to persist. If it is done with good intentions, even though unpleasant at the time, the payoff can be rewarding” (Stein, 2017, p. 49).

This sounds an awful lot like people who know how to read others and then use that knowledge and skill to manipulate others into doing what they want. When you are selfish and you use your talents to manipulate others, that’s not emotional intelligence. That’s just being manipulative.

As Isaacson wrote (2011, p. 312): “Jobs could seduce and charm people at will, and he liked to do so. People such as Amelio [Apple’s CEO who brought Steve Jobs back to Apple officially in January 1997 as a part-time advisor] and Sculley [Pepsi executive recruited by Jobs in 1983 to be Apple’s CEO; he clashed with and ousted Jobs in 1985] allowed themselves to believe that because Jobs was charming them, it meant that he liked and respected them. It was an impression that he sometimes fostered by dishing out insincere flattery to those hungry for it. But Jobs could be charming to people he hated just as easily as he could be insulting to people he liked.”

While it’s true that Steve Jobs inspired Apple employees to create ground-breaking products and instilled in them a belief that they could do what seemed impossible at times, the result was that many people experienced burnout and left. Those who worked for and/or with Jobs stated that it was one of the most stressful times of their lives.

Even Jony Ive admitted this about Steve Jobs:

“He has this very childish ability to get really worked up about something, and it doesn’t stay with him at all. But there are other times, I think honestly, when he’s very frustrated, and his way to achieve catharsis is to hurt somebody. And I think he feels he has a liberty and a license to do that. The normal rules of social engagement, he feels, don’t apply to him. Because of how very sensitive he is, he knows exactly how to efficiently and effectively hurt someone. And he does do that” (Isaacson, 2011, p. 462).

A Wired article talked about a reunion of former Apple employees. More than 1,300 ex-Apple employees showed up. Not surprisingly, many people shared stories about Steve Jobs as a demanding and hot-tempered leader. “Everyone has their Steve-Jobs-the-asshole story,” one of the attendees said (Kahney, 2003). “Everyone dreads getting caught in an elevator with him,” said another attendee (Kahney, 2003).

Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak said that Steve Jobs drove away some of Apple’s most talented employees (Bauter, 2014; Gibbs, 2014):

“Some of my very best friends in Apple, the most creative people in Apple who worked on the Macintosh, almost all of them said they would never, ever work for Steve Jobs again,” said Wozniak in an interview with the Milwaukee Business Journal. “It was that bad.”

Katie Savchuk (2019) wrote that narcissistic CEOs weaken collaboration and integrity, and while some may be bold leaders, they nevertheless create a dangerous corporate culture. “Success for such leaders is often attributed to their bold vision, extreme self-confidence, and determination to win at all costs. Less palatable qualities of the narcissistic personality type — including entitlement, hostility when challenged, and a willingness to manipulate — are seen as part of the package,” writes Savchuk.

Having high emotional intelligence does not mean being manipulative, mistreating others, deriving pleasure from hurting others, or justifying your own bad behaviors.

In an influential article that became the hallmark of the emotional intelligence theory, professors Peter Salovey and John Mayer (1990) wrote:

“The person with emotional intelligence can be thought of as having attained at least a limited form of positive mental health. These individuals are aware of their own feelings and those of others. They are open to positive and negative aspects of internal experience, are able to label them, and when appropriate, communicate them. Such awareness will often lead to the effective regulation of affect within themselves and others, and so contribute to well being. Thus, the emotionally intelligent person is often a pleasure to be around and leaves others feeling better” (Salovey & Mayer, 1990, p. 201).

Therefore, a person who is “smug, willful, brazen, demeaning, volatile, vindictive and manipulative” (Wasylyshyn, 2011), someone who’s a jerk, throws temper tantrums (Jobs’ temper has been described as “legendary” [Isaacson, 2011]), is childish and takes license to hurt others (Isaacson, 2011), and doesn’t care how he treats others or his “negative effects on others” (Wasylyshyn, 2011) is not a person with high overall emotional intelligence. In fact, anyone who engages in behaviors like these—regardless of being moderately emotionally intelligent or not—isn’t a very nice person.

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.
Leadership Development Advisor

References

Bauter, A. (2014, Jun 24). One-on-one with ‘Woz’: Steve Wozniak talks Steve Jobs (Video). https://www.bizjournals.com/charlotte/news/2014/07/02/one-on-one-with-woz-steve-wozniak-talks-steve-jobs.html

Gibbs, S. (2014, Jul 8). Steve Wozniak: No one wanted to work under Steve Jobs ever again. https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2014/jul/08/steve-wozniakr-steve-jobs-apple

Isaacson, W. (2011). Steve Jobs. Simon & Schuster.

Kahney, L. (2003, September 15). Apple Memories Not Sweet as Pie. https://www.wired.com/2003/09/apple-memories-not-sweet-as-pie/

Lombardo, M. M., & Eichinger, R. W. (2000). FYI: For Your Improvement: A Development and Coaching Guide (3rd ed.). Lominger Limited, Inc.

Mayer, J. D., Salovey, P., Caruso, D. R., & Cherkasskiy, L. (2011). Emotional Intelligence. In R. J. Sternberg & S. B. Kaufman (Eds.), The Cambridge handbook of intelligence (pp. 528-549). Cambridge University Press.

Multi-Health Systems (MHS). (2011). EQ-i 2.0 User’s Handbook. Multi-Health Systems.

Salovey, P. & Mayer, J. D. (1990). Emotional intelligence. Imagination, Cognition, and Personality, 9, 185-211.

Savchuk, K. (2019, November 4). Narcissistic CEOs Weaken Collaboration and Integrity. https://www.gsb.stanford.edu/insights/narcissistic-ceos-weaken-collaboration-integrity

Stein, S. J. (2017). The EQ Leader. John Wiley & Sons.

Timms, M. (2016). Management Blind Spots Self-Evaluation. Avail Leadership. https://www.availleadership.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/Avail_Leadership_Management_Blind_Spots_Self-Evaluation.pdf

Wasylyshyn, K. M. (2011, November 1). The Real Lessons from Steve Jobs’ Career. https://chiefexecutive.net/the-real-lessons-from-steve-jobs-career/

People with Secure High Self-Esteem Don’t Need or Seek External Validation

The older I get, the more reflective and observant I become. It might be because I’m older and a bit wiser, but I think it’s more about me learning important life lessons, appreciating and valuing what I have, not looking around comparing myself to others, or seeking other people’s approval or validation, and most of all being the best version of me.

Individuals who are self-assured and have secure high self-esteem aren’t bothered when others criticize their appearance, attack or make fun of their work, or try to humiliate them. Why?

If you are a Secure High Self-Esteem person, you:

  1. Know and stand firm in the belief that you do not want, need, or seek approval or validation from others;
  2. Recognize that the attacks unleashed on you or directed at you often have nothing (or very little) to do with your message, project, product, service, or who you are as a human being; and
  3. Always respect and accept yourself. You understand and appreciate your strengths, but you also acknowledge your weaknesses.

I see so many people who constantly struggle because they either see themselves as victims of life, that life is a dogfight with only a winner and a loser, or they try desperately to seek approval or validation from other people. I can relate because I once saw myself as a victim (woe-is-me mentality) and, before I finally found my voice and myself, I also sought approval and validation from others around me. I truly believe the best gift you can give yourself is self-validation.

“Something remarkable happens when you truly stop seeking other people’s approval, you automatically gain it, and find that others will then seek your approval.” -Steve Aitchison

Secure self-esteem comes from inside you. It is associated with high self-determination, knowing who you really are, and behaving independently (Vonk, 2006). What’s more, researchers have also found that even with “high” self-esteem, there’s an important distinction between someone with a stable high self-esteem vs. someone whose high self-esteem is unstable and contingent (Kernis, Lakey, & Heppner, 2008).

Secure high self-esteem involves “favorable feelings of self-worth that arise naturally from successfully dealing with life challenges, being authentic and expressing one’s true self in everyday life, and having relationships in which one is valued for whom one is and not for what one achieves” (Kernis, Lakey, & Heppner, 2008, p. 479).

People with secure high self-esteem are happy with themselves and like who they are, warts and all. Their sense of self-worth is stable and they’re able to accept their weaknesses. They “do not feel a need to be superior to others; for these individuals, high self-esteem is a given and does not need to be validated on an everyday basis” (Kernis, Lakey, & Heppner, 2008, p. 479).

Stephen Covey, in his classic The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (2004), talked about the Abundance Mentality vs. the Scarcity Mentality.

Abundance Mentality is the belief that there’s plenty out there for everyone. Scarcity Mentality is the thinking that there’s only so much and that there’s not enough for everyone. Those with a scarcity mindset believe “if someone were to get a big piece of the pie, it would mean less for everybody else” (Covey, 2004, p. 219).

Those with a Scarcity Mentality will hoard or even steal recognition and credit, and power or profit. They’re unhappy for or jealous about the success or happiness of others around them.

“It’s almost as if something is being taken from them when someone else receives special recognition or windfall gain or has remarkable success or achievement” (Covey, 2004, p. 219).

It’s very sad because, instead of seeing their lives as being filled with abundance, they see themselves as lacking.

Covey (2004) said this is because the sense of self-worth for those with a scarcity mindset “comes from being compared, and someone else’s success, to some degree, means their failure” (p. 219).

“People with a Scarcity Mentality harbor secret hopes that others might suffer misfortune — not terrible misfortune, but acceptable misfortune that would keep them ‘in their place.’ They’re always comparing, always competing. They give their energies to possessing things or other people in order to increase their sense of worth” (Covey, 2004, p. 219-220).

The author of The EQ Difference (2005) uses “The Famine Voice” in place of a Scarcity Mindset, and “The Abundance Voice” rather than a Abundance Mindset.

I especially like how The Abundance Voice is described (Lynn, 2005): “[T]he abundance voice proclaims that, indeed, life’s riches are plentiful. She believes that somehow there will always be enough, and she refuses to be ruled by thoughts of scarcity. She can convince you that a crumb of bread, when served with a smile, is indeed a feast” (p. 67).

Takeaway: Secure High Self-Esteem people (1) Know and stand firm in the belief that they don’t need or seek approval or validation from others; (2) Recognize that attack(s) directed at them usually have nothing to do with their project, product, service, or who they are as a human being; (3) Always accept and respect themselves. They understand and appreciate their strengths, while also acknowledging their weaknesses; and (4) Have an Abundance Mindset. They believe there is plenty of riches to go around and that life isn’t a competition, with a winner or loser. They are simply content running their own race.

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.
Leadership Development Advisor

References

Covey, S. R. (2004). The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change. Free Press.

Kernis, M. H., Lakey, C. E., & Heppner, W. L. (2008). Secure Versus Fragile High Self-Esteem as a Predictorof Verbal Defensiveness: Converging Findings AcrossThree Different Markers. Journal of Personality, 76(3), 477-512.

Lynn, A. B. (2005). The EQ Difference: A Powerful Plan for Putting Emotional Intelligence to Work. AMACOM.

Vonk, R. (2006). Improving Self-Esteem. In M. H. Kernis (Ed.), Self-Esteem Issues and Answers: A Sourcebook of Current Perspectives (pp. 178-186). Psychology Press.

Pygmalion Effect – A Leader’s Attitude and Expectation Set the Tone

In the book, Extreme Ownership, Leif Babin (a U.S. Navy SEAL officer who was a SEAL instructor overseeing the Junior Officer Training Course in the Naval Special Warfare Training Center) shared a story about the performances of two boat crews during Hell Week. Boat Crew II (which dominated and had a strong leader) and Boat Crew VI (which came in last in almost every race and had an indifferent and inexperienced leader). A SEAL senior chief officer (one of the SEAL instructors) suggested that they swap out the boat crew leaders from the best and worst crews and see what happens. The turnaround was stunning: “Boat Crew VI, the same team in the same circumstances only under new leadership, went from the worst boat crew in the class to the best” (Willink & Babin, 2017, p. 48-49).

As Babin wrote (Willink & Babin, 2017, p. 49): “How is it possible that switching a single individual—only the leader—had completely turned around the performance of an entire group? The answer: leadership is the single greatest factor in any team’s performance. Whether a team succeeds or fails is all up to the leader. The leader’s attitude sets the tone for the entire team. The leader drives performance—or doesn’t. And this applies not just to the most senior leader of an overall team, but to the junior leaders of teams within the team.”

This is a classic example of the Pygmalion Effect. 

The APA Dictionary of Psychology (VandenBos, 2007) defines Pygmalion effect as: “a consequence or reaction in which the expectations of a leader or superior engender behavior from followers or subordinates that is consistent with these expectations: a form of self-fulfilling prophecy. For example, raising manager expectations of the performance of subordinate employees has been found to enhance the performance of those employees” (p. 868).

“The idea here is that if an employee feels that a manager has confidence in him, his self-esteem will increase, as will his performance” (Aamodt, 2010, p. 330). Indeed, leaders often get the performance they expect from their employees.

In a classic Harvard Business Review article (originally published in 1969, reprinted in 1988), Livingston wrote (1988, p. 122): 

  • What managers expect of subordinates and the way they treat them largely determine their performance and career progress.
  • A unique characteristic of superior managers is the ability to create high performance expectations that subordinates fulfill.
  • Less effective managers fail to develop similar expectations, and as a consequence, the productivity of their subordinates suffers.
  • Subordinates, more often than not, appear to do what they believe they are expected to do.

“[S]uperior managers have greater confidence than other managers in their own ability to develop the talents of their subordinates” (Livingston, 1988, p. 126). Superior managers don’t give up on themselves and they definitely do not give up easily on their subordinates (Livingston, 1988).

“Managers not only shape the expectations and productivity of subordinates but also influence their attitudes toward their jobs and themselves. If managers are unskilled, they leave scars on the careers of young people, cut deeply into their self-esteem, and distort their image of themselves as human beings. But if they are skillful and have high expectations, subordinates’ self-confidence will grow, their capabilities will develop, and their productivity will be high” (Livingston, 1988, p. 130).

Takeaway: Leadership is, singularly, the most crucial factor in a team’s performance. What managers expect of their subordinates and the way they treat them significantly determine their performance and career progress. Superior managers create high performance expectations that subordinates fulfill. The best managers have confidence in themselves and in their ability to develop the talents of their subordinates.

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.
Leadership Development Advisor

References

Aamodt, M. G. (2010). Industrial/organizational psychology: An applied approach (6th ed.). Wadsworth.

Livingston, J. S. (1969/1988). Pygmalion in management. Harvard Business Review, 66(5), 121-130.

VandenBos, G. R. (Ed.). (2007). APA dictionary of psychology. American Psychological Association.

Willink, J., & Babin, L. (2017). Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win. St. Martin’s Press.

Being Inconsistent Can Cost You Your Credibility

Being inconsistent is not just about words versus actions, but also in what you say consistently (across time) and how you act consistently (across time). In other words, at any given moment and especially depending on the person or group you are interacting with, an observer might find that you are a completely different person. You cater to certain individuals while dismissing others. You value one person solely based on his/her title and position in the organization above another person.

In the past decade, regardless of the type of organization (nonprofit, educational institution, or for-profit company), I have consistently observed this type of inconsistency rear its ugly head (i.e., emerge).

I’ve written before about people with a “situational value system” on the WorkPlacePsychology.Net site. Indeed, that post is, by far, the most visited and shared of any other post on this site. I think it resonates so strongly with many people because they know of or have been treated by someone who acts in that manner (i.e., inconsistently).

Leaders, never forget that others, especially those who report to you, are watching your every word and deed. When you are inconsistent, you lose your credibility. “Being wishy-washy or inconsistent in your viewpoints inhibits credibility” (Whetten & Cameron, 2016, p. 441). In fact, voters in many countries rank their politicians very low in credibility because politicians are often inconsistent with what they say and will change what they say based on the audience they are addressing.

John Maxwell wrote this: “For years I have taught leaders that in their interactions with others they create ‘accounts’ of trustworthiness. Every interaction with another person either makes deposits in that person’s account or makes withdrawals from it. The best way to make regular ongoing deposits is by modeling good character consistently. Why? Because people are convinced more by what a leader does than by what a leader says. . . .People see what you do. Leadership confusion occurs when your words and your walk do not match. If that incongruity continues, not only will you confuse your people—you will lose your people” (Maxwell, 2018, p. 54-55).

“It has been said that you don’t really know people until you have observed them when they interact with a child, when the car has a flat tire, when the boss is away, and when they think no one will ever know. But people with integrity never have to worry about that. No matter where they are, who they are with, or what kind of situation they find themselves in, they are consistent and live by their principles” (Maxwell, 2007, p. 343).

Takeaway: The book, Harvard Business Review Manager’s Handbook: The 17 Skills Leaders Need To Stand Out, says it this way: “Being consistent means that your actions align with the values you profess. . . .Keep your promises and model ethical behavior from day one, even if it means making an unpopular decision . . . .By behaving consistently, you teach people that they can interpret your actions in a straightforward way, without worrying about your intentions” (p. 25).

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.
Leadership Development Advisor

References

Maxwell, J. C. (2007). The Maxwell Daily Reader: 365 Days of Insight to Develop the Leader Within You and Influence Those Around You. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson.

Maxwell, J. C. (2018). Developing the Leader Within You 2.0. Nashville, TN: HarpersCollins.

The Harvard Business Review Manager’s Handbook: The 17 Skills Leaders Need To Stand Out. (2017). Boston, MA: Harvard Business Review Press.

Whetten, D. A., & Cameron, K. S. (2016). Developing management skills (9th ed.). Essex, UK: Pearson Education Limited.

Going Through Your No’s Before Getting to Your Yes

One year ago on December 20, 2017, I flew half way across the U.S. to interview for a position at a very famous tech company in northern California. I had to miss my daughter’s Christmas program because this was one of those opportunities that you just didn’t pass up. When the recruiter reached out to me and, later, when the hiring manager invited me to come interview at their corporate headquarters near the Christmas holiday, I jumped at it.

To provide some context, I had just been laid off from my role at another company a mere one and a half week prior and the wound, shock, and pain of losing one’s job was still very fresh in my mind.

I was very excited because this was a great opportunity to work for a world-class (and very famous) tech company.

One day before my daughter’s Christmas program, I took an afternoon flight from Dallas to northern California, ate dinner there at the hotel the company had booked for me, checked my email for instructions from the company, called my wife, and went to bed. It had been a long day.

My five interviews would start around mid-lunch and last until the late afternoon. I showed up and, throughout the day, met several key leaders, all of whom the hiring manager had lined up. One in particular stood out and the impression he left will be difficult to forget.

This Vice President showed up in sweat pants, and, as he’s reclining back in his chair as if he were lounging in his own living room, told me that he didn’t want to be there and that he was supposed to be out Christmas shopping for his kids. I’m not kidding. He actually said that.

Some of you reading this may think, well maybe he was testing you. Yes, that did occur to me. But I’m too old for people to play games and “test” me. If, as part of his interview, the VP thought he would test my confidence in my abilities and eagerness for the role, then he was sorely disappointed. As I shared with the recruiter (who told me not to show up in a suit), I am confident without needing to puff up my chest and pounding on it. And, I do not subscribe to the idea of showing up for a job interview in casual wear.

If this is the type of employee they were looking for then we were definitely misaligned.

So I knew at that point that no matter what I said or did that this VP had already made up his mind that I was wasting his time, and I knew that this would not be the type of boss I would want to work with or for.

Shortly after finishing my multiple interviews, I took an Uber to the airport and hoped on my flight home, having spent 24 hours there. While waiting for my flight, I called my wife and told her about the experience with the VP and I shared with her that I don’t think they would offer me the job and how terrible I felt missing out on our daughter’s Christmas program just to waste my time and go through that whole ordeal.

My wife told me that if my experience with the VP is indicative of what the company is like then she did not think I would enjoy working there. She was right. Also, I wouldn’t have known any of this from just reading their website or watching videos about the company. More than anything, I wanted to see for myself that this company and the leaders and employees working there were like any other company — and that was exactly what I discovered.

Fast forward to exactly a year later, on December 20, 2018, and this time around I was able to attend my daughter’s Christmas program with my wife. Not only am I now in my “dream job,” but the autonomy I’m given, the incredible relationships with my bosses and coworkers, and the culture of my current company are all so much more than I could have ever hoped for.

I think the hardest part about waiting for a yes is that you have to hear lots and lots of no’s. As a matter of fact, you hear so many no’s that after a while, you just expect to hear it. But what makes waiting so unbearable is that it is a long, drawn-out process, with no end in sight.

Little did I know at the time, but this first no (from that tech company) was only the beginning of a lengthy waiting period for me, with lots of no’s to follow.

During this period of prepping, interviewing, waiting, getting no’s, and applying lessons learned for the next round of interviews (or learning to wait for them), I found a good summary of what I was experiencing and what I needed to hear from Joel Osteen’s (2013) writings:

“On the way to yes there will be no’s. You have to go through the no’s to get to your yeses. The mistake many people make is that they become discouraged by the no’s and they quit trying.”

“What if you could see into your future and discovered you would receive twenty no’s before you came to your yes? Then you’d be prepared to handle it when you faced a disappointment or a setback. If you knew your yes was only twenty no’s away, you wouldn’t give up if a loan didn’t go through, or you didn’t get a big sales contract you’d hoped to land. You would just check it off and say, ‘All right. That’s one no out of the way. Now I’m only nineteen away from my yes.’ Rather than being discouraged, you would be encouraged every time you heard a no.”

Going through all the no’s was difficult, long, painful, and, at times, too much to bear, and I sometimes wondered if it would ever end. But I see very clearly now that the many, many no’s helped me hone my interviewing skills, my ability to interact with a variety of individuals over the phone and in person, and my skills at working on short term assignments and projects. And all of these things, with the right people (who’ll give you a chance) and the right timing, led me to finally getting that “yes.”

Takeaways: Sometimes, what you think you want and what you so desperately seek can be indefinitely delayed (with many no’s), and what you end up getting (finally getting your yes) is so much better than had you gotten your initial wish (getting that yes right away).

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.
Leadership Development Advisor

Reference

Osteen, J. (2013). Break Out!: 5 Keys to Go Beyond Your Barriers and Live an Extraordinary Life. New York: FaithWords.

The Three S’s (See, Surround, Set) to Overcoming Failure

SEE: See mistakes as learning opportunities and see yourself not as a victim

One of my former college students shared this: “I have always seen every mistake I make as a learning opportunity in my life which provides me with less stress over the situation as well as allows my future choices to be based on more information, and gives me more options for my ultimate success.”

I think this is such a great approach to life! Some people live their lives with regret. They always look back and wonder what if they had done it differently and always ask “what if?” This student’s attitude, instead, is to learn from the mistakes she’s made and use those as teaching tools to help guide her future decision-making. I love that! Because no matter how hard we try, we can’t change our past, but we can decide what our future will be like by the choices we make today!

SURROUND: Surround yourself with positive people, positive thoughts, and positive things

Another former student shared, “Life is not easy, but a positive attitude, healthy mind and body can help all of us overcome anything.” This is spot on! At one time or another we have all had negative thoughts or felt hopeless because of the curve balls life throws at us. I think the times when I have truly “failed” were those in which I gave up mentally and told myself ok I can’t do this. From those life lessons, I learned to continually surround myself with positive people (like people who lift others up), to think positive thoughts (like being grateful), and do positive things (like being kind or helping others). Individually and collectively these things help to improve my outlook on life and direct me in a positive path toward a brighter future.

SET: Set small, bite-size goals

Early on in my academic studies, I set myself up to fail by having generic long-term goals (e.g., when I finish my Master’s I’m going to buy a new car). Success was never within reach and failure was almost always a certainty because I neglected to do what I call the daily grunt work (things like studying for my tests or doing my homework or making sure that I worked on my final paper). Because I didn’t do the “smaller” things consistently (i.e. work hard each day or each week), I spent an extra year to year-and-a-half in my Master’s program. Ouch! Painful life lesson learned the hard way!

For my PhD program, I was very mindful that, in addition to setting BIG goals (like getting my PhD), I also set SMALLER goals (the steps I need to reach my BIG goal), and I would break the smaller goals into even smaller ones (I call them “bite-size goals” – tiny, incremental steps needed to reach my small goal and eventually my BIG goal). That way, each time I reached one of these bite-size goals, I would pat myself on the back for a job well done. These tiny, gradual steps helped me stay focus and kept me on track all the way until I finished my program and completed my dissertation and defense.

So does this mean that I will never fail again? Heck no! In fact, I plan on failing. I expect to fail because I’m human. But the next time I fail, I will use the three S’s (See, Surround, Set) to help me overcome my failure and press on.

Takeaway: Failure is not fatal and it’s never final. Everybody fails. It’s just part of living a human life. The key is to get back up! Own your mistakes and learn from them so you don’t repeat them over and over. Surround yourself with positive people, think positive thoughts, and do positive things. Finally, set small, bite-size goals. Remember, you can’t change your past, but you can determine what your future will look like by the choices and actions you make today!

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.
Leadership + Talent Development Advisor

An “Action Bias” Can Be Counterproductive

In a Wall Street Journal article, Staats (2018) writes, “we have an action bias: We would rather be seen doing something than doing nothing.”

In a 2007 study, researchers analyzed 286 professional soccer penalty kicks. They discovered that goalkeepers almost always jump right or left because the norm is to jump — a preference for action (”action bias”). The goalkeepers jumped to the left 49.3% of the time, to the right 44.4% of the time, but stayed in the center only 6.3% of the time. Analysis revealed that the kicks went to the left 32.2%, to the right 39.2% and to the center 28.7% of the time. This means that the goalkeepers were much more likely to stop a kick if they had just stayed put.

In 93.7% of the kicks, the goalkeepers elected to jump to the right or left. When goalkeepers stayed in the center, they had a 33.3% chance of stopping a penalty kick, whereas they had 14.2% chance if they jumped to the left or 12.6% chance if they jumped to the right. Even though it would have been better (based on the current distribution of kicks in the study) for the goalkeepers to stay in the center, they almost always jumped to one of the sides (Bar-Eli, Azar, Ritov, Keidar-Levin, & Schein, 2007).

When the researchers asked why, the goalkeepers responded that they would regret allowing a goal more if they remained in the center than if they dived to the right or left. Put it another way, the goalkeepers wanted to be seen to be doing something, even if that something was wrong (Staats, 2018).

“[G]oalkeepers feel worse about a goal being scored following inaction (staying in the center) than following action (jumping), which can lead them to jump to the sides more often than is optimal” (Bar-Eli, Azar, Ritov, Keidar-Levin, & Schein, 2007).

There are two important lessons to learn from this that can be applied to the workplace. The first lesson is from FYI: For Your Improvement, a guide for coaching and development. In it, Lombardo and Eichinger (2009) remind us about being overly action-oriented, and that one consequence of overusing or over relying on an action-oriented mentality is that we tend to push for solutions without doing an adequate analysis.

The second lesson is about exercising good impulse control. The ability to think before you act, being deliberate, and surveying a situation is part of impulse control (the ability to resist or delay the impulse to act), an important factor in the Bar-On Model of Emotional-Social Intelligence (Bar-On, 2006; Multi-Health Systems, 2011). Individuals who lack or are low in impulse control will often act now and think later. They tend to be overactive, impatient, and leap before they look.

Impulse control is one of the more difficult emotional intelligence skills to develop as a teenager or adult if you don’t develop it earlier on in life. This is because surrendering to our impulses is often reinforced in the short term by getting something we want, feeling a release of tension, or some other benefit (Kanoy, 2013).

“Individuals with effective impulse control, by contrast, have the capacity to think first rather than responding reflexively. It allows them mental space for weighing alternatives and assessing options so that their actions and expressions are reasoned and well considered. This leads to wise decision-making and responsible behavior” (Stein & Book, 2006, p. 206-207).

In her LinkedIn Learning video titled, “Transitioning from Manager to Leader,” Sara Canaday (a leadership speaker and executive coach), said:

“Leaders think carefully about the impact of their decisions on the company, the bottom line, the customers, the employees, even the competitors. What’s the immediate impact? What are the long-term implications and consequences? Leaders are decisive and courageous in their decision-making but they also know when to strategically pause if a delay provides an advantage. Sometimes, there’s genius in waiting [emphasis added]. For new information, for a competitor’s announcement, for a technological advance, that pause could prove to be priceless.”

Takeaway: There are times when it is absolutely critical to slow down—even stop—and understand the situation. When you do that, you’ll learn sometimes the smartest move is to actually not move at all.

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.
Leadership + Talent Development Advisor

References

Bar-Eli, M., Azar, O. H., Ritov, I., Keidar-Levin, Y., & Schein, G. (2007). Action Bias Among Elite Soccer Goalkeepers: The Case of Penalty Kicks. Journal of Economic Psychology, 28(5), 606-621.

Bar-On, R. (2006). The Bar-On model of emotional-social intelligence (ESI). Psicothema, 18, supl., 13-25.

Kanoy, K. (2013). The Everything Parent’s Guide to Emotional Intelligence in Children. Avon, MA: Adams Media.

Lombardo, M. M., & Eichinger, R. W. (2009). FYI: For Your Improvement: A Guide for Development and Coaching (5th ed.). Minneapolis, MN: Lominger International.

Multi-Health Systems. (2011). EQ-i 2.0 Emotional Quotient Inventory 2.0 User’s Handbook. North Tonawanda, NY: Multi-Health Systems.

Staats, B. R. (2018, July 6). Don’t Just Dive Into Action: Stop to Think First. Wall Street Journal. https://www.wsj.com/articles/dont-just-dive-into-action-stop-to-think-first-1530888843

Stein, S. J., & Book, H. E. (2006). The EQ Edge: Emotional intelligence and your success. Mississauga, ON: Jossey-Bass.

Self-Actualization: Realizing Your Potential

“For of all sad words of tongue or pen, The saddest are these: ‘It might have been!’” -John Greenleaf Whittier (1807-1892)

When I read these lines by John Greenleaf Whittier, I imagine the sorrow and regret that he must have felt about what might have been. Even though the lines are part of Whittier’s poem about love (titled “Maud Muller”), the overarching theme of regret can be applicable to any areas of life.

Bronnie Ware is an Australian woman who spent many years working in palliative care. Her patients were those who had returned home to die. Bronnie was with them for the last three to twelve weeks of their lives. She shared what she learned about their regrets in a 2009 blog post, which was later turned into a book. The most common regret of her dying patients was “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.”

“When people realise that their life is almost over and look back clearly on it, it is easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled. Most people had not honoured even a half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made” (Ware, 2009).

“Of all of the regrets and lessons shared with me as I sat beside their beds, the regrets of not having lived a life true to themselves was the most common one of all. It was also the one that caused the most frustration, as the client’s realisation came too late” (Ware, 2012, p. 39).

The concept of self-actualization is not new. Abraham Maslow, although he did not coin the term (that honor belongs to Kurt Goldstein), introduced to the public and made famous the notion of our human need for self-actualization. Maslow described self-actualization as follows:

“A musician must make music, an artist must paint, a poet must write, if he is to be ultimately at peace with himself. What a man can be, he must be. He must be true to his own nature. This need we may call self-actualization” (Maslow, 1954, p. 46).

“[Self-actualization] refers to man’s desire for self-fulfillment, namely, to the tendency for him to become actualized in what he is potentially. This tendency might be phrased as the desire to become more and more what one idiosyncratically is, to become everything that one is capable of becoming” (Maslow, 1954, p. 46).

Self-actualization is the willingness to persistently try to improve oneself and engage in the pursuit of personally relevant and meaningful objectives that lead to a rich and enjoyable life (Multi-Health Systems, 2011).

“Self-actualization is the process of striving to actualize one’s potential capacity, abilities and talents. It requires the ability and drive to set and achieve goals, and it is characterized by being involved in and feeling committed to various interests and pursuits. Self-actualization is thought to be a life-long effort leading to an enriched and meaningful life. It is not merely performance but an attempt to do one’s best” (Bar-On, 2006, p. 20).

“Self-actualization is affiliated with feelings of self-satisfaction. Individuals with healthy self-actualization are pleased with their place on life’s highway with respect to their personal, occupational, and financial destinations” (Stein & Book, 2011, p. 76).

In FYI: For Your Improvement (a guide for coaching and development), Lombardo and Eichinger talked about the importance of self-development:

“The bottom line is, those who learn, grow and change continuously across their careers are the most successful. Whatever skills you have now are unlikely to be enough in the future. Acquiring new skills is the best insurance you can get for an uncertain future. Some of us won’t face our limitations; we make excuses, blame it on the boss or the job or the organization. Others are defensive and fight any corrective feedback. Some are just reluctant to do anything about our problems. Some of us want a quick fix; we don’t have time for development. Some of us simply don’t know what to do” (Lombardo & Eichinger, 2000, p. 322).

Individuals who are skilled in self-development (1) commit to and actively work to continuously improve him/herself, (2) understand that different situations and levels may require different skills and approaches, (3) work to deploy strengths, and (4) work on compensating for weakness and limits (Lombardo & Eichinger, 2000).

Jim Rohn wrote (1997, p. 263-264): “All life forms inherently strive toward their maximum potential except human beings. Why wouldn’t we strive to become all we can be, to fulfill our potentials? Because we have been given the dignity of choice. It makes us different than alligators and trees and birds. The dignity of choice makes us different than all other life forms. And here’s the choice: to become part of what we could be, enough to get by; or to become all that we can be. My best advice for you is to choose the ‘all.’”

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.
Leadership + Talent Development Advisor

References

Bar-On, R. (2006). The Bar-On model of emotional-social intelligence (ESI). Psicothema, 18, supl., 13-25.

Lombardo, M. M., & Eichinger, R. W. (2000). FYI: For Your Improvement: A Development and Coaching Guide (3rd ed.). Minneapolis, MN: Lominger Limited, Inc.

Maslow, A. H. (1954). Motivation and Personality. New York, NY: Harper & Row Publishers.

Multi-Health Systems (MHS). (2011). EQ-i 2.0 User’s Handbook. Toronto, Canada: Multi-Health Systems.

Rohn, J. (1997). Leading an Inspired Life. Niles, IL: Nightingale-Conant Corporation.

Stein, S. J., & Book, H. E. (2011). The EQ Edge: Emotional Intelligence and Your Success (3rd ed.). Mississauga, ON: Jossey-Bass.

Ware, B. (2009). Regrets of the Dying. https://bronnieware.com/blog/regrets-of-the-dying/

Ware, B. (2012). The Top Five Regrets of the Dying. A Life Transformed by the Dearly Departed. Carlsbad, CA: Hay House, Inc.

Self-Regard: Warts & All

I’ve been thinking a lot about emotional intelligence and the Bar-On Model of Emotional-Social Intelligence. According to the Bar-On model, “emotional-social intelligence is a cross-section of interrelated emotional and social competencies, skills and facilitators that determine how effectively we understand and express ourselves, understand others and relate with them, and cope with daily demands” (Bar-On, 2006, p. 14).

One particular factor of the Bar-On model, self-regard, has piqued my interest as I observe and reflect on human behaviors and interact with working professionals and other adults.

Self-regard is respecting oneself while understanding and accepting one’s strengths and weaknesses. Self-regard is often associated with feelings of inner strength and self-confidence (Multi-Health Systems, 2011).

“Self-regard is the ability to respect and accept yourself—essentially liking the way you are. To have healthy self-regard is to appreciate your perceived positive aspects and possibilities, as well as to accept your negative aspects and limitations and still feel good about yourself . . . This conceptual component of emotional intelligence is associated with general feelings of security, inner strength, self-assuredness, self-confidence, and self-adequacy” (Stein & Book, 2011, p. 68).

In The EQ Difference, Lynn (2005) describes different voices that are part of our internal dialogue. The ones that I believe apply to today’s post are the victim voice (you’re a victim, it’s never your fault), the failure voice (you’re a failure), the self-doubt voice (“a future-focused pessimist waiting to kill your tomorrow” [p. 64]), the famine voice (there never is & never will be enough), the comparison voice (compares everything with what others have), the envy voice (being jealous you don’t have what others have), and the bad luck voice (everyone else gets good luck, except you).

If you struggle with self-regard (i.e., feelings of inner strength and self-confidence), you may notice that a number of these internal “voices,” not only appear but, dominate your mind.

We all, to some extent and on some level, have one or more of these internal dialogues going on in our mind. The difference is that individuals with well-developed self-regard know their strengths and weaknesses, and still like themselves, warts and all [an expression meaning including qualities or features that aren’t attractive or appealing] (Stein & Book, 2011). And, by doing so, they’ve learned to quiet the sometimes noisy voices in their heads.

“Because individuals with healthy self-regard know their strengths and weaknesses and feel good about themselves, they have no trouble openly and appropriately acknowledging when they have made mistakes, are wrong, or don’t know all the answers. Feeling sure of oneself is dependent upon self-respect and self-esteem, which are based on a fairly well-developed sense of identity. People with good self-regard feel fulfilled and satisfied with themselves” (Stein & Book, 2011, p. 68).

What about self-regard and leadership? Individuals with low self-regard tend to doubt their own abilities and second guess their decisions, and this doubt holds them back from effectively and confidently leading a team (Multi-Health Systems, 2014).

In FYI: For Your Improvement (a guide for coaching and development), Lombardo and Eichinger talked about the importance of self-knowledge and why knowing yourself is vital to success in work and in life:

“Deploying yourself against life and work is greatly helped by really knowing what you’re good, average and bad at, what you’re untested in, and what you overdo or overuse. Known weaknesses don’t get you in as much trouble as blind spots. You can loop around and compensate for a known weakness. A blind spot is the worst thing you can have. You can really get into performance or career trouble with a blind spot, because you don’t know or are unwilling to admit you’re not good at it” (Lombardo & Eichinger, 2000, p. 328).

When you like yourself—warts and all—and hold yourself in high self-regard, you know your strengths, weaknesses, and limits. You seek feedback and are able to learn from mistakes. You’re open to criticisms, receptive to discussing your shortcomings, and are not defensive (Lombardo & Eichinger, 2000).

People with high self-regard, those with inner strength and self-confidence, don’t (1) blame others for their own mistakes, (2) go out of their way to hurt or discredit people, (3) feel the need to put others down to feel better about themself, or (4) inflate themselves or act like a know-it-all in order to prove their worth.

“The real champions in life are so humble and gracious. They just continue doing what they do without all the posturing. If you’ve got the real thing, you don’t have to flaunt a loud imitation.” -Denis Waitley

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.
Leadership + Talent Development Advisor

References

Bar-On, R. (2006). The Bar-On model of emotional-social intelligence (ESI). Psicothema, 18, supl., 13-25.

Lombardo, M. M., & Eichinger, R. W. (2000). FYI: For Your Improvement: A Development and Coaching Guide (3rd ed.). Minneapolis, MN: Lominger Limited, Inc.

Lynn, A. B. (2005). The EQ Difference: A Powerful Plan for Putting Emotional Intelligence to Work. New York, NY: AMACOM.

Multi-Health Systems (MHS). (2011). EQ-i 2.0 User’s Handbook. Toronto, Canada: Multi-Health Systems.

Multi-Health Systems (MHS). (2014). EQ 360 Leadership Report. Toronto, Canada: Multi-Health Systems.

Stein, S. J., & Book, H. E. (2011). The EQ Edge: Emotional Intelligence and Your Success (3rd ed.). Mississauga, ON: Jossey-Bass.

Book Review – Servant Leadership in Action: How You Can Achieve Great Relationships and Results

Servant Leadership in Action is a collection of 42 essays (ranging from 2.5 pages to 8 pages) from servant leadership experts and practitioners, co-edited by Ken Blanchard and Renee Broadwell. The book is organized into six parts. Part One, “Fundamentals of Servant Leadership,” describes basic aspects of servant leadership. Part Two, “Elements of Servant Leadership,” highlights some of the different points of view of servant leaders. Part Three, “Lessons in Servant Leadership,” focuses on what people have learned on a personal level from observing servant leadership in action. Part Four, “Exemplars of Servant Leadership,” features people who have been identified as classic servant leaders. Part Five, “Putting Servant Leadership to Work,” offers firsthand accounts of people who have made servant leadership come alive in their organizations. Part Six, “Servant Leadership Turnarounds,” illustrates how servant leadership can dramatically impact both results and human satisfaction in organizations.

I wasn’t sure if this would be the kind of book I would enjoy or find value in because it’s a collection of essays. But the topic of servant leadership has been top of mind for me for the past few years, so I thought I’d give this book a chance and hopefully glean some useful information about servant leadership and its application to the workplace.

Even though Robert Greenleaf (1904–1990) is credited with launching the modern servant leadership movement in 1970, the idea behind servant leadership is very old. Valeri (2007), in his doctoral dissertation, wrote that the origins of servant leadership can be traced back at least 2500 years ago, starting in ancient Greece and Rome. Robert Greenleaf was the person who coined the term “servant leadership” and articulated it for modern time (Greenleaf.org, 2016; Keith, 2018; Spears, 1998).

Greenleaf’s thinking was inspired by and made clear in the 1960s thanks to a short novel called Journey to the East by Herman Hesse. It’s a story about Leo, a servant who accompanied a group of people on a spiritual quest. Everything was fine until Leo disappears, which then led to the group falling apart and the journey abandoned. The people in the group learned that they couldn’t make it without the servant. After years of searching, the story’s narrator finally locates Leo and finds out that Leo, whom everyone had thought to be a servant, was, in fact, the head of the religious order that sponsored the original journey (Spears, 1998).

“After reading this story, Greenleaf concluded that the central meaning of it was that the great leader is first experienced as a servant to others, and that this simple fact is central to his or her greatness. True leadership emerges from those whose primary motivation is a deep desire to help others” (Spears, 1998, p. 4).

I thought a background explanation about servant leadership from Blanchard in the first essay (“What Is Servant Leadership?”) is important:

“When people hear the phrase servant leadership, they are often confused . . . The problem is that these folks don’t understand leadership—much less servant leadership. They think you can’t lead and serve at the same time. Yet you can, if you understand that there are two parts to servant leadership: a visionary/direction, or strategic, role—the leadership aspect of servant leadership; and an implementation, or operational, role—the servant aspect of servant leadership.” (Blanchard & Broadwell, 2018, p. 7).

“Once people are clear on where they are going, the leader’s role shifts to a service mindset for the task of implementation—the second aspect of servant leadership. The question now is: How do we live according to the vision and accomplish the established goals? Implementation is where the servant aspect of servant leadership comes into play” (Blanchard & Broadwell, 2018, p. 9-10).

I am not a huge fan of edited books because the ones I’ve come across do not gel well together. Edited books can be messy and difficult to read when different authors and writing styles are thrown together with no editorial oversight to ensure consistency in tone and/or message. I was pleased to see that this didn’t happen with Servant Leadership in Action. The editing was well done and reading the chapters, written by different authors, felt seamless, almost as if written by the same person. This is no easy feat to achieve and I commend Blanchard and Broadwell for the great job co-editing this book.

The essays by Colleen Barrett (president emeritus, Southwest Airlines), Cheryl Bachelder (former CEO, Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen), Dave Ramsey (a money management expert & author), Phyllis Hennecy Hendry (CEO, Lead Like Jesus), and Jon Gordon (author) were all enjoyable and instructive. I also liked and found great value in Rico Maranto’s essay (“Waste Connections: A Servant Leadership Success Story”) about how top leaders can make servant leadership come alive.

In her essay, “Treat Your People as Family,” Colleen Barrett wrote about the incredible impact that servant leadership had on the 40+ years of success at Southwest Airlines. Admittedly, she shared that they didn’t know until much later on that it was called that. “But while our recognition of the term Servant Leadership might have come late, for over four decades Herb and I have said that our purpose in life as Senior Leaders with Southwest Airlines is to support our People. To us, that means treating People as family” (Blanchard & Broadwell, 2018, p. 183).

Colleen recalled a fabulous story that one of Southwest’s new leaders told her about his best example of a servant’s heart, which he saw Herb Kelleher (founder of Southwest Airlines) model.

“He watched Herb talk to a Mechanic in worker’s clothes for at least fifteen minutes—even though there were literally hundreds of People circling Herb for his attention. Herb never looked over the guy’s shoulder to see who else might be there, and never diverted his eyes from this man while they were talking. Herb was courteous to everyone who was trying to shove the guy out of his space so that they could fill it, but he gave this man his time. It was clear to this new Leader that Herb had no hierarchical concerns—he was completely interested in what the Mechanic was trying to tell him. That had a profound impact on this Leader, and he remembers it to this day. He has been with us more than twenty years now” (Blanchard & Broadwell, 2018, p. 187).

In Cheryl Bachelder’s “Serve the People” essay, she shared about the transformation at Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen, from a struggling brand and company to a prosperous enterprise. I really like what Cheryl wrote:

“When this story began, we didn’t know it would be servant leadership that drove success. We didn’t have a plaque in the office that stated our purpose and principles. What we did have was a team of leaders who were willing to focus their passion and ambition on the success of the people and the enterprise before their own interests” (Blanchard & Broadwell, 2018, p. 230).

From 2007 to 2016, under Bachelder’s leadership, Popeyes flourished, “with restaurant sales, profits, and unit growth rates that were the envy of its competitors” (Blanchard & Broadwell, 2018, p. 230).

In his essay (“Leading is Serving”), Dave Ramsey shared the lesson he taught his teenage son about the heavy responsibility of being a servant leader. Ramsey explained to his son (as they were walking toward Dave Ramsey’s company’s picnic) that as president and CEO of the company, he bears the responsibility to not just the employees of his company (the adults) but also to those employees’ children (the 97 kids seen running around the picnic): “Those kids’ parents make a living, have a future, and those kids have a future partly because of how I act. If I misbehave in my personal life, if I fail in areas of integrity, if I screw up, it will mess up a ton of lives. As a servant leader, I understand that I am at least partially responsible for those little kids” (Blanchard & Broadwell, 2018, p. 197).

Ramsey took it a step further. He told his son that, even as a teenager, the son also bore the responsibility of being a servant leader, that “if he went out and acted crazy, he could impact those kids’ lives” (Blanchard & Broadwell, 2018, p. 197) too. For instance, if the son were to get drunk, drive, and kill someone, the family would get sued and some of the employees working for his dad’s company might have to be let go. “As my son, he gets to enjoy the benefits of our success, but he also shares in the responsibility of servant leadership. He needed to know, even as a teenager, that the decisions he makes and the actions he takes have an impact” (Blanchard & Broadwell, 2018, p. 197).

Some of the essays really touched me. One such essay was by Phyllis Hennecy Hendry (“A Lesson From My Father”) about how her father, a pastor, taught her, when she was eight years old, “the simple act of caring for someone and how serving people changes everything—literally” (Blanchard & Broadwell, 2018, p. 117). She recounted the many Saturday morning visits to the home of “a crotchety old man” (Blanchard & Broadwell, 2018, p. 116) whose “wrinkles met in odd places around his face” (Blanchard & Broadwell, 2018, p. 116) and how you can serve and meet people where they’re at. The simple and consistent act of visiting this grumpy old man every Saturday morning eventually led him to change his crabby ways — smiling a lot more and hugging them, and eventually introducing both Phyllis and her father to others as his “good friends.” The essay was about how this old man came to accept Jesus, but the way Hendry told the story, through the eyes and experience of herself as an 8-year-old girl, made it very powerful and its servant leadership lesson applicable in many areas.

Jon Gordon shared an emotional story in his essay (“Little Things and Big Things”) about his late mom making a sandwich for him even though she was tired and, unbeknownst to him, was battling cancer:

“Looking back, I realize she wasn’t just making me a sandwich. She was showing me what selfless love and servant leadership were all about. At her funeral, many of her real estate clients and colleagues came up to me and shared countless stories of all the selfless acts of love my mom did for them as well . . . We often think that great leadership is about big visions, big goals, big actions, and big success. But I learned from my mom that real leadership is about serving others by doing the little things with a big dose of selfless love” (Blanchard & Broadwell, 2018, p. 134).

Finally, in his essay (“Waste Connections: A Servant Leadership Success Story”), Rico Maranto (Servant Leadership Evangelist at Waste Connections) wrote about how senior leaders at Waste Connections made servant leadership come alive by: (1) introducing a vision, purpose, and values, (2) conducting servant leadership training, (3) distributing a servant leader newsletter, (4) distributing a servant leader survey, (5) creating a Servant Leader Playbook, (6) creating servant leadership awards, (7) getting self-serving leaders off the bus, and (8) hiring for character.

Rico shared a great story and perfect example of what it is to live a servant leadership mentality and culture:

“One of the company’s division vice presidents (DVPs) had been recognized two consecutive years at the annual managers’ meeting and seemed to build good relationships with his employees. He achieved impressive results and spoke like a servant leader when talking with senior leadership. Everyone thought he was a good servant leader—everyone but his employees. In their servant leader surveys, they described a very different manager—one who was egotistical and hypocritical” (Blanchard & Broadwell, 2018, p. 236).

When that division vice president’s true character came to light, Rico recounted that Ron Mittelstaedt, CEO and Founder of Waste Connections, said this:

“Servant leadership isn’t about worrying up; it’s about worrying down. It’s not about what your boss thinks of you; it’s about what your people think of their boss. If we have a cancer in our culture, we have to cut it out” (Blanchard & Broadwell, 2018, p. 236).

What I Did Not Like: In a few of the essays, I was unconvinced that the authors effectively or at least cogently tied their thoughts and previous work to servant leadership in their essays. When authors toss their writings in without fully thinking through and making a strong case for how their work connects or is related to servant leadership, then their essays came across as disorganized ramblings.

Takeaway: I found Servant Leadership in Action to be an enjoyable collection of essays that kept me interested in the subject of servant leadership regardless of where I was in the book. Blanchard and Broadwell did a nice job setting up the book’s structure and dividing the essays into six parts/sections, starting with describing the basic aspects of servant leadership and ending with showing the readers how servant leadership can dramatically impact both results and human satisfaction in organizations. The essays are interesting and varied enough that you can skip around, reading what interests you, and still learn about servant leadership. If you like reading about servant leadership and do not mind a sprinkle of religious stories, then I think you will really enjoy this book.

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.
Leadership + Talent Development Advisor

References

Blanchard, K., & Broadwell, R. (2018). Servant Leadership in Action: How You Can Achieve Great Relationships and Results. Oakland, CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers.

Greenleaf.org [Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership]. (2016). Robert K. Greenleaf. Retrieved from https://www.greenleaf.org/robert-k-greenleaf-biography/

Keith, K. M. (2018). Definition of Servant Leadership. Retrieved from toservefirst.com/definition-of-servant-leadership.html

Spears, L. C. (1998). The power of servant leadership. San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers.

Valeri, D. P. (2007). The origins of servant leadership (Doctoral dissertation). Retrieved from www.greenleaf.edu/pdf/donald_valeri.pdf

Disclosure: I received Servant Leadership in Action: How You Can Achieve Great Relationships and Results as a complimentary gift, but my book review was written as though I had purchased it.

Workplace Friendships: The Benefits and Challenges

Workplace Friendships: The Benefits

When you work in close proximity to other people in an organization, it’s inevitable that friendships begin to develop. Morrison and Terry (2007) wrote that “people are motivated to make friends for the rewards they provide, be they social or more tangible and functional. Thus within the workplace too, it is reasonable to assume that some people make friends so as to enhance their own working conditions” (p. 39).

Workplace friendship involves a workplace/organizational peer that we believe we’d be friends with even if we didn’t work together, that we consider the person more than just a coworker, and that we feel that we know each other really well (Morrison & Terry, 2007).

Reich & Hershcovis (2011) wrote that workplace friendships are voluntary relationships where people interact as unique individuals rather than as occupants of organizational roles (coworker or supervisor). We form and maintain workplace friendships to enhance our social support and our job success. But most of all, we make friends at work to help us satisfy our need to belong (Reich & Hershcovis, 2011).

Workplace friendships are linked to increased job satisfaction, job involvement, job performance, team cohesion, organizational commitment, and decreased intentions to turnover (Reich & Hershcovis, 2011).

Interestingly, Morrison (2009) discovered that while women are more likely to see workplace friendships in terms of the social and emotional support in times of stress, men tend to view workplace friendships in terms of the benefits to their own career or in helping them complete a task or the job duties.

Workplace Friendships: The Challenges

Although the benefits of workplace friendships are many, there are also difficulties or challenges, including blurring of boundaries, having to devote time to the friendship, and distraction from work — all of which can cause distraction and anxiety, ultimately resulting in reduced work outputs (Morrison & Terry, 2007).

Workplace friendships fail for five main reasons (Sias, Heath, Perry, Silva, & Fix, 2004):

  1. problem personality
  2. distracting life events
  3. conflicting expectations
  4. promotion
  5. betrayal

Personality and life events can end a workplace friendship when they distract employees from their work. Betrayal can certainly destroy a workplace friendship. It makes sense that after a betrayal, it can be very difficult to regain trust. In the case of promotion, it becomes much harder to maintain an equal relationship balance because now one person (the promoted individual) has formal authority over the other.

Workplace Friendships: Tricky but Worth It

Seppala and King (2017) explained there’s always the potential of workplace friendship fallout and there are “real entanglements that can arise when the boundaries between work and friendship become blurred.” However, given that belonging is a fundamental human need and that we spend a large part of our time at work, the workplace “is an ideal place to foster the positive connections we all need — not just for our well-being but also for our productivity and health.”

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.
Leadership + Talent Development Advisor

References

Morrison, R. L. (2009). Are Women Tending and Befriending in the Workplace? Gender Differences in the Relationship Between Workplace Friendships and Organizational Outcomes. Sex roles, 60(1),

Morrison, R. L., & Terry, N. (2007). Too Much of a Good Thing?: Difficulties with Workplace Friendships. University of Auckland Business Review, 9(2), 33-41.

Reich, T. C., & Hershcovis, M. S. (2011). Interpersonal relationships at work. In S. Zedeck (Ed.), APA handbook of industrial and organizational psychology (Vol. 3, pp. 223-248). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Seppala, E., & King, M. (2017, August). Having Work Friends Can Be Tricky, but It’s Worth It. Harvard Business Review, https://hbr.org/2017/08/having-work-friends-can-be-tricky-but-its-worth-it

Sias, P. M., Heath, R. G., Perry, T., Silva, D., & Fix, B. (2004). Narratives of workplace friendship deterioration. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 21(3), 321–340.

Conversation Killers: Interrupting/Monopolizing, Minimizing/Discounting, Opposing/Arguing, and Not Paying Attention

There are four types of people who destroy and neutralize a conversation dead in its track. These types can be distinct but often I find that they tend to blend together. For instance, a person who interrupts or monopolizes a conversation may also minimize or discount what the other person is saying. Or someone who enjoys arguing may also not be listening to much of the conversation since this person focuses on only one point or phrase to argue about while ignoring everything else.

1) Interrupting and/or Monopolizing

“A conversation requires a balance between talking and listening, and somewhere along the way, we lost that balance.” -Celeste Headlee, 10 Ways to Have a Better Conversation [TED Talk]

Another way to describe an individual who monopolizes a conversation is what’s called conversational narcissism. Conversational narcissism is a pattern of talking in which people find polite ways to shift the focus of the conversation to themselves.

Example of conversational narcissism:

A supervisor tells you she was very ill from meningitis and almost died in the hospital. You respond with: “Oh I had meningitis when I was younger and I thought I was going to die.” You shifted the attention of the conversation about the supervisor almost dying from meningitis to yourself and your story (i.e., I had meningitis too).

“If they’re talking about the trouble they’re having at work, don’t tell them about how much you hate your job. It’s not the same. It is never the same. All experiences are individual. And, more importantly, it is not about you. You don’t need to take that moment to prove how amazing you are or how much you’ve suffered. . . . Conversations are not a promotional opportunity.” -Celeste Headlee, 10 Ways to Have a Better Conversation [TED Talk]

2) Minimizing and/or Discounting

Back when I worked as a therapist, I learned about not minimizing or discounting the feelings and thoughts of my clients. Minimizing or discounting another person sounds something like this, “Oh, don’t worry about it. It’s nothing. You’ll get over it.”

In the workplace, I sometimes hear one person minimizing, discounting, or dismissing what another person is saying. The person doing the minimizing, discounting, or dismissing might be the boss, a co-worker, or even a subordinate. And, when I’m not careful, I am as just as guilty as anyone else of falling into one of these conversation-killer traps.

Example of Minimizing and/or Discounting:

A woman shared that she had just been laid off. A friend, uncomfortable with seeing her friend in distress and wanting to help her feel better, replied: “You know it could have been so much worse. At least the company gave you a 4-week severance package. Many people don’t even get that. You get paid for a whole month while looking for a job. So cheer up! It’ll be fine.”

Regardless of the level or position in an organization, the outcome is that the person on the receiving end of the invalidation is left feeling unheard and frustrated.

Validation is a critical tool used often in counseling sessions. While this quote about validation was written to help guide therapists, I’ve included it here because I believe it’s instructive for everyone to understand just how important validation is: “Validation . . . simply means communicating to the [person] that his or her responses make sense, are understood, or are in a sense reasonable” (Robins & Rosenthal, 2011, p. 171).

3) Opposing and/or Arguing

This person will disagree and argue with you, usually just for the sake of arguing. He will reject or oppose anything that someone else is saying or suggesting, and no amount of evidence or data will convince him to change his mind. This type of individual will only give up reluctantly and often do so by blaming the unreliable source of where he got his information.

Adam McHugh (in his list of the 12 usual suspects of bad listening, “How to Be a Bad Listener”) describes one type of bad listener who is keen on disagreeing. These individuals listen for a word, phrase, or topic that they want to argue about. And even if they do agree with most of what someone else is saying, they will nitpick over that word, phrase, or topic that they do not agree with.

4) Not Paying Attention

One of the most egregious mistakes in a conversation is not paying attention. For instance, when you talk to someone and he’s looking around or at something else, it’s quite obvious that this person is much more interested in anything else but listening to you. It’s ironic because often I don’t think the person making this mistake (i.e., not paying attention) realizes he’s doing it (i.e., clueless to the fact that he’s not paying attention). But here’s the reality: Human beings, even children, can tell when you are not paying attention to them while they are talking.

Not paying attention includes something experts call “pseudolistening” or pretending to listen. Pseudolistening is when we pretend to listen but we’re thinking about something else. We pseudolisten when we’re not interested in what is being said or when we’re familiar with the information and so don’t need to give our undivided attention (Wood, 2016).

When you pseudolisten, you risk missing important information because you weren’t actually paying attention.

“Pseudolisteners often give themselves away when their responses reveal that they weren’t paying attention. Common indicators of pseudolistening are responses that are tangential or irrelevant to what was said” (Wood, 2016, p. 173).

Why We Need To Listen

“To be listened to is a striking experience, partly because it is so rare. When another person is totally with you—leaning in, interested in every word, eager to empathize—you feel known and understood. People open up when they know they’re really being listened to; they expand; they have more presence. They feel safer and more secure as well, and trust grows. This is why listening is so important . . .” (Whitworth, Kimsey-House, Kimsey-House, & Sandahl, 2007, p. 31).

In the book, A Manager’s Guide to Coaching: Simple and Effective Ways to Get the Best Out of Your Employees we’re reminded that:

“Often, when we listen to someone, we’re only partially listening, because we’re thinking of our reply or judging their comments. We often miss what’s in between their words, or even a key idea” (Emerson & Loehr, 2008, p. 103).

“The key to successful listening is to remove all distractions, sit back, and focus 100% on [their] words, emotions, and body language” (Emerson & Loehr, 2008, p. 105).

“By listening and allowing [people] to feel heard, you’re giving them the confidence that their words and ideas have merit and that they can figure things out for themselves” (Emerson & Loehr, 2008, p. 105).

“Listening is more than hearing, and it is definitely more than waiting for the other person to take a breath so that you can speak again. It is the ability to temporarily forget the future and the past, and collapse your focus to a single point, a single person—here and now” (Burnison, 2013, p. 174).

Why People Interrupt/Monopolize, Minimize/Discount, Oppose/Argue or Not Pay Attention

People Interrupt/Monopolize, Minimize/Discount, Oppose/Argue or Not Pay Attention for several reasons: (1) Not caring – There are some people who simply do not care (or care very much) about other people, (2) Is impatient or in a hurry – These folks are in a rush to solve problems or to get to solutions. Impatient people provide answers, conclusions, and solutions too early in the process. (3) Monopolizing the conversation – Shifting the conversation to their own topic or what’s called “conversational narcissism.” (4) Misguided compassion – Unlike those who don’t care, people who do care may try to “help” others feel better so they skip over the validation part, thereby discounting or invalidating feelings, and go straight to offering solutions or words of consolation. (5) Fear of or discomfort with emotions or conflicts – These individuals do not know how to deal with strong emotions or conflicts and will try to avoid strong emotions and conflict when in conversation or interaction with others.

Suggestions For Improvement & Development:

In FYI: For Your Improvement (a guide for coaching and development), Lombardo and Eichinger (2009) shared a great tip in helping us to better understand others: Avoid early solution statements and extreme positions. While the answer might be obvious to you, and might make perfect sense to someone in your field, it may either mean nothing or will be jarring to people in another function. Lay out your thinking, explain the alternatives, and keep them as maybes. Then invite them to apply their perspective to it. If you fire out solutions, you’ll encourage them to reply in your terms. You’ll never learn to understand them.

Another useful advice Lombardo and Eichinger (2009) discussed is what to do when you’re viewed by others as being insensitive: Seek to understand before you seek a solution. You might be seen as someone who jumps to conclusions and solutions before others have had a chance to finish their statement of the problem. Take the time to really define the problem. Let people finish. Try not to interrupt. Don’t finish other’s sentences. Ask clarifying questions. Restate the problem in your own words to everyone’s satisfaction.

If you are struggling with being interpersonally savvy (relating to others; building & maintaining rapport), Lombardo and Eichinger (2009) offered this: Tailor your approach to fit others’ needs. Too busy to pay attention? Too quick to get into the agenda? Do you devalue others and dismiss their contributions, resulting in people feeling diminished, rejected and angry? Do you offer answers, solutions, conclusions, statements, or dictates early in the transaction? That’s the staple of people with a non-savvy style. Not listening. Instant output. Sharp reactions. Read your audience. Always select your interpersonal approach from the other person in, not from you out. Your best choice of approach will always be determined by the other person or group, not you.

A useful resource similar to Lombardo and Eichinger’s FYI book is Awaken, Align, Accelerate (2011), a leadership development and coaching guide from MDA Leadership. According to the Awaken, Align, Accelerate book, if you talk over or interrupt others or if you spend more time talking than listening and you fail to draw others out or ask ineffective or too few questions, then this is a problem that will need to be remedied (Nelson & Ortmeier, 2011).

Takeaway: If you do not listen in a conversation, it is very easy to derail and wreck it. The first and most obvious way is by interrupting or monopolizing the conversation. A second, more subtle but just as harmful, way to kill a conversation is by minimizing, discounting, or dismissing what another person is sharing. The third way to end a conversation or turn it into a heated exchange is by arguing with or outright opposing what another person is saying. The fourth way to wreck a conversation is failure to pay attention to what the other person is saying. These conversation killers negatively affect your ability to understand another person and can also weaken or cause irreparable damage to your relationship with them.

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.
Leadership + Talent Development Advisor

References

Burnison, G. (2013). Lead. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.

Emerson, B., & Loehr, A. (2008). A Manager’s Guide to Coaching: Simple and Effective Ways to Get the Best Out of Your Employees. New York: AMACOM.

Headlee, C. (2015, April). TED Talk. 10 Ways to Have a Better Conversation. https://www.ted.com/talks/celeste_headlee_10_ways_to_have_a_better_conversation

Headlee, C. (2017, September 21). Why we should all stop saying “I know exactly how you feel.” Retrieved from https://ideas.ted.com/why-we-should-all-stop-saying-i-know-exactly-how-you-feel/

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