Tag Archives: Coaching

Video: When I Grow Up

Note: You can also watch it directly on Vimeo.

“When I Grow Up” is a very short and wonderful video about the power of dreams. The story follows the imagination of a young boy and his dreams for his future. The message is a nice reminder to all of us, young and old, to never stop following our dreams.

Here are lines from the video:

Life is an adventure filled with amazing possibilities.

How about becoming a world famous explorer?
You could be an underwater adventurer.
Maybe even a hero of the untamed wild west.
You could always travel with the circus.

So explore a world that’s waiting to be found.

And though you may fall or the going gets tough, keep pushing on because there’s a world full of mysteries for you to solve.

So fire your engines.
Gather your courage.
Let go of fear.
And dig deep inside.

Because it’s never too soon to shoot for the moon.
So chase down those dreams.

Direction, Animation, & Story by Colin Hesterly.

Your Negative (But Honest) Feedback Might Just Set a Narcissist Off

narcissistic

Stock photo: Narcissism

How many times have you heard a supervisor or coworker say: “I welcome any feedback.” On the surface the statement “I welcome any (or your) feedback” suggests someone who is receptive to getting feedback. It might also imply that people are welcomed and invited to come share about problems, issues, and/or concerns.

Myers (2010) said feedback works best when it is presented in an honest and specific manner. However, there’s a caveat: Even when the feedback is delivered honestly and specifically, the reaction of the receiver to that feedback might not always be what you would expect.

There is research (Bushman, Baumeister, Thomaes, Ryu, Begeer, & West, 2009) suggesting that individuals high in narcissism and self-esteem are more likely to either retaliate or be aggressive toward those who give feedback that the person with high narcissism and self-esteem perceived to be critical or insulting.

Simply stated, if you have a narcissistic boss or colleague with very high self-esteem (yes high, not low; there are narcissists with low self-esteem¹), be careful the type of feedback (especially if it’s critical or negative) you share with them. If they perceive your comments/statements as threats to their inflated egos (researchers call it the threatened egotism hypothesis), then there’s a good chance their reactions (words and/or behaviors) will be aggressive².

“[N]arcissists with high self-esteem are eager to dominate their social environment and claim the admiration to which they apparently feel entitled, and when their interaction partners fail to cooperate, they may turn aggressive” (Bushman et al., 2009, p. 441).

Interestingly, the researchers “found no support for the view that low self-esteem causes aggression. . . . On the contrary, low self-esteem reduced or eliminated the independent effect of narcissism on aggression” (Bushman et al., 2009, p. 441).

¹Bushman and colleagues explained that, “Narcissists with low self-esteem may be shy, socially anxious and unconfident, and preoccupied with their own possible inadequacy, but they are still highly self-absorbed” (p. 441).

²Aggression is defined as, “Behavior directed toward the goal of harming another living being who is motivated to avoid such treatment” (Baron & Branscombe, 2012, p. 322).

References

Baron, R. A., & Branscombe, N. R. (2012). Social psychology (13th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.

Bushman, B. J., Baumeister, R. F., Thomaes, S., Ryu, E., Begeer, S., & West, S. G. (2009). Looking again, and harder, for a link between low self-esteem and aggression. Journal of Personality, 77(2), 427-446. doi:10.1111/j.1467-6494.2008.00553.x

Myers, D. G. (2010). Social psychology (10th ed.). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.

Good Liars: Their Characteristics and Why They are So Hard to Detect

Liar | Credit: Jacopo Comanducci

[NOTE: This post was updated December 2017]

Politicians and car salesmen are notorious for being dishonest. But what’s often overlooked are skilled liars who might be a coworker, a supervisor, a top executive, a family member, or even a neighbor. It isn’t until a major scandal, like the ones involving Ponzi schemers Allen Stanford and Bernie Madoff, that people take note that lying is more pervasive and much more difficult to detect than we think.

The scandal in 2009 involved CEO Allen Stanford and other top executives of Stanford Financial Group. They were charged and convicted of fraud for scheming investors (for more than two decades). Allen Stanford was sentenced to 110 years in prison for a $7 billion Ponzi scheme.

The NY Times article said: “Prosecutors argued that Mr. Stanford had consistently lied to investors, promoting safe investments for money that he channeled into a luxurious lifestyle, a Swiss bank account and various business deals that almost never succeeded.” It also stated that Stanford was convicted “of running an international scheme over more than two decades in which he offered fraudulent high-interest certificates of deposit at the Stanford International Bank, which was based on the Caribbean island of Antigua.”

And, even as he made his final statement in court, Stanford continued to lie by saying: “I’m up here to tell you from my heart I didn’t run a Ponzi scheme.” The federal prosecutor called his statement “obscene” and said this: “This is a man utterly without remorse . . . from beginning to end, he treated all of his victims as roadkill.”

But a scandal in late 2008 is perhaps even more outrageous and infamous. It involved Bernie Madoff, wherein he lied, stole and laundered money, and deceived thousands of investors out of billions of dollars. Even more incredible was that the scheme lasted for two or even three decades! Madoff was sentenced to 150 years in prison for his Ponzi scheme.

An article in Scientific American led me to a book by professor Aldert Vrij called “Detecting Lies and Deceit” (Vrij, 2008). Professor Vrij defines deception or lying as:

“a successful or unsuccessful deliberate attempt, without forewarning, to create in another a belief which the communicator considers to be untrue” (Vrij, 2008, p. 15).

Dr. Vrij identified three different categories that make detection of lying challenging: (1) a lack of motivation to detect lies; (2) difficulties associated with lie detection; and (3) common errors made by lie detectors. I want to focus on “good liars” (identified on pp. 378-381), one of the seven reasons listed under “difficulties associated with lie detection.”

“Good liars are those people: (i) whose natural behaviour disarms suspicion; (ii) who do not find it cognitively difficult to lie; and (iii) who do not experience emotions such as fear, guilt, or duping delight when they are lying” (Vrij, 2008, p. 378).

CHARACTERISTICS OF GOOD LIARS

There are 8 Characteristics of Good Liars (Vrij, 2008, p. 378-379):

(1) Being natural performers: “Directed gaze to a conversation partner, smiling, head nodding, leaning forward, direct body orientation, posture mirroring, uncrossed arms, articulate gesturing, moderate speaking rates, a lack of ums and ers, and vocal variety” are often associated with being honest and likable.

(2) Being well prepared: “Good liars therefore say as little as possible or say things that are impossible for others to verify. The less verifiable information is given, the less opportunity it provides for the lie detector to check.” The better the preparation (and the more believable the lie), the easier it is for good liars to lie effectively.

(3) Being original: People who are especially good at lying are mentally creative and original. They’re able to offer a convincing and credible answer in almost any situation.

(4) Rapid thinking: Good liars are quick to respond to a question because waiting too long to answer would arouse suspicion. Thus, being able to think quickly is an important characteristic.

(5) Being eloquent: Being eloquent, in the context of being a good liar, means that you provide a long-winded, intentionally vague response to avoid answering the question. Good liars might even say something that, on the surface, sounds plausible, but actually does not answer the question. Just imagine a skilled politician dodging a question and you get the idea.

(6) Good memory: Good liars must have a good memory or else they risk getting caught in their web of lies. They have to be able to recall what they’ve previously said so they can repeat theta same information without contradicting themselves.

(7) Not experiencing guilt, fear, or delight: “Deceiving others is made easier if the liar does not experience feelings of guilt, fear or delight, because in that case there will not be any emotional behaviour that needs to be suppressed.”

(8) Good at acting: If a person is not a “natural performer” (the first characteristic listed) or they are not especially skilled at masking their guilt, fear, or delight when lying (the seventh characteristic listed), then being a good actor is a must. Good liars are masters with excellent decoding skills. They can adapt to quickly to disarm suspicion.

SPOTTING LIARS DIFFICULT DUE TO LIE DETECTION MISTAKES

Under “Common Errors Made by Lie Detectors”, Dr Vrij explained that, in addition to lie detection being difficult, those who play the role of lie detectors also make SEVEN mistakes. I’ll just mention five mistakes below.

(1) Examining the Wrong Cues: Lie detectors (referring to people whose job is to spot liars, such as police detectives) might look at the wrong cues. For instance, one police manual says that liars tend to look away and make grooming gestures. But a lie detection study, Dr. Vrij found that the more police officers endorsed the lie cues promoted in that police manual, the worse they were at detecting suspects who lied and suspects who told the truth.

(2) Neglect of Interpersonal Differences: There are large differences when it comes to people’s behavior, speech, and physiological responses. “The result is that people whose natural behaviour looks suspicious (e.g., people who naturally avert their gaze or fidget a lot) are in a disadvantageous position, because they run the risk of being falsely accused of lying . . . Introverted and socially anxious people in particular run such a risk” (Vrij, 2008, p. 383).

(3) Neglect of Intrapersonal Differences: “Not only do different people respond differently in the same situation (interpersonal differences), the same person also responds differently in different situations (intrapersonal differences). Neglecting or underestimating those intrapersonal differences is another error that lie catchers make. The failure to control adequately for intrapersonal differences is one of the main criticisms of concern-based polygraph tests” (Vrij, 2008, p. 383).

(4) Use of Heuristics: Following general decision rules (heuristics) can easily lead to mistakes and biases. For example, facial appearance heuristic is the “tendency to judge people with attractive faces or baby-faced appearances as honest” (Vrij, 2008, p. 385). And the fundamental attribution error which occurs when we form impressions of others and then overestimate their character factors while underestimating situational factors. Thus, if we believe someone to be trustworthy, we will judge that person a telling the truth in any given situation. On the other hand, if we think someone is untrustworthy, we’ll tend to judge that individual as dishonest in any given situation. “Obviously, trustworthy people are not honest all of the time and untrustworthy people are not always dishonest” (Vrij, 2008, p. 385).

(5) Overestimating the Accuracy of Lie Detection Tools: We tend to overestimate the accuracy of lie detection tools. However, despite the belief that polygraphs or fMRI brain scans are effective, Dr. Vrij argued that “every single lie detection tool used to date is far from accurate and prone to errors” (p. 386).

Polygraphs measure finger sweating, blood pressure, and respiration. Dr. Vrij explained that one of the most frequently used polygraph test today is the Comparison Question Test (CQT), also referred to as the Control Question Test. I would recommend reading Ch. 11 “Physiological Lie Detection: The Concern Approach” of his book for a detailed explanation about the CQT and the criticisms of the CQT. Professor Vrij (pp. 304-305 citing Iacono [2000]) contended there are three reasons why the CQT is controversial: (i) there is no consensus amongst scientists that there exists an adequate theoretical foundation for its application; (ii) the polygraph profession operates outside the scientific environment and is practiced most by law enforcement officials trained at freestanding polygraph schools that are unrelated to universities; and (iii) polygraph tests can have profound consequences for individuals subjected to them. [***It is not the intent of this post to argue for or against the merits of the CQT because I do not possess expertise in this area. However, the criticisms about the CQT are worth noting.]

According to Dr. Vrij, when we try to deceive others, we activate higher centers of the brain. fMRI scans (when used to detect deception or lying) are supposed to reveal this. However, “different people tested in the same situation revealed different patterns of brain structure and area activity when they lied (interpersonal differences) and the same person shows different patterns of brain structure and area activity when he or she lies in different situations (intrapersonal differences)” (Vrij, 2008, p. 371). Therefore, Dr. Vrij argued, fMRI scans aren’t much different from the traditional polygraph lie detectors.

“So far, research has not yet shown that the fMRI technique does produce more accurate results than traditional polygraph testing, and I therefore do not recommend using such scans in real-life settings for lie detection purposes” (Vrij, 2008, p. 372).

The sad reality is that there are very skilled liars who are able to effectively lie for years or, in the case of Allen Stanford and Bernie Madoff, even decades before they’re caught. And, I suspect, there are many other good liars who have never been and probably will never be caught.

A 2016 study in Nature Neuroscience discovered that our brain actually adapts to being dishonest, and that habitual lying can desensitize our brains from “feeling bad,” and may even encourage us to tell bigger lies in the future.

Bottom line: Good liars (those with natural behavior that disarms suspicion, who do not find it cognitively difficult to lie, and who do not experience fear, guilt, or delight when they are lying) can be hard to spot because they’re very skilled at the art of lying. Even polygraphs and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scanning techniques will not adequately identify those who are good at lying because these lie detection methods have important limitations.

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

References

Bering, J. (July, 2011). 18 Attributes of Highly Effective Liars. Scientific American. Retrieved from http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/bering-in-mind/2011/07/07/18-attributes-of-highly-effective-liars/

Bernard, S. (February, 2009). Baylor alum accused of money fraud. Retrieved from http://www.baylor.edu/lariat/news.php?action=story&story=56377

Garrett, N., Lazzaro, S. C., Ariely, D., & Sharot, T. (2016). The Brain Adapts to Dishonesty. Nature Neuroscience, 19, 1727–1732.

Healy, J. (June, 2009). Madoff Is Sentenced to 150 Years for Ponzi Scheme. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/30/business/30madoff.html

Henriques, D. B., & Healy, J. (March, 2009). Madoff Goes to Jail After Guilty Pleas. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/13/business/13madoff.html

Iacono, W. G. (2000). The detection of deception. In J. T. Cacioppo, L. G. Tassinary, & G. G. Berntson (Eds.), Handbook of psychophysiology, 2nd edition (pp. 772–793). Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.

Krauss, C. (June, 2012). Stanford Sentenced to 110-Year Term in $7 Billion Ponzi Case. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/15/business/stanford-sentenced-to-110-years-in-jail-in-fraud-case.html

NY Times. Bernard L. Madoff. Retrieved from http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/people/m/bernard_l_madoff/index.html

NY Times. Robert Allen Stanford. Retrieved from http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/people/s/robert_allen_stanford/index.html

Vrij, A. (2008). Detecting lies and deceit: Pitfalls and opportunities (2nd ed.). West Sussex, England: John Wiley & Sons.

Book Review-The Orange Revolution

I’m a very picky book reader. Prior to reading “The Orange Revolution: How One Great Team Can Transform an Entire Organization,” I had actually started and given up reading several other business books. But “The Orange Revolution” restored my belief that business books can be entertaining, researched-based, and instructive.

Culling research from a 350,000-person database (employees from 28 industries) by the Best Companies Group, as well as from their own interviews with exceptional teams at leading companies, the authors found that breakthrough teams had not only remarkable leaders, but also team members, all of whom share similar characteristics!

These characteristics comprised what Gostick and Elton called “The Basic 4 + Recognition” (p. 45):

  • Goal setting (knowing where you are going)
  • Communication (wise use of your voice and ears)
  • Trust (believing in others and being trustworthy)
  • Accountability (doing what you say you will do)

Plus

  • Recognition (appreciating others’ strengths)

From the first few pages, Gostick and Elton’s writing style immediately caught my attention. Their story about Thomas Edison’s success in creating the incandescent lightbulb set a beautiful tone throughout the book. Although Edison is almost universally thought of as the one person who invented the incandescent light bulb, it was his team working together under his supervision that made it a reality! That’s right, Edison envisioned it, but it took a team of remarkable “assistants” who made it happen. In fact, Edison searched for men of integrity, who were hungry for knowledge and who expected excellence. He would then put them into small teams, gave them a goal, and let them independently pursue it. Edison did not do it alone. He had help from a breakthrough team.

“By creating an Orange culture that not only expects but also nurtures competency, and then combining it with a high regard for team members, breakthrough teams generate a self-perpetuating collaborative energy” (Gostick & Elton, 2010, p. 42).

A world-class team is not about who is on the team, but rather what the team can do. Gostick and Elton discovered that six core traits defined breakthrough teams: (1) they dream ambitious goals; (2) they believe in one another and what the team can accomplish together; (3) they take calculated risks but (4) measure their results; (5) they persevere even when conflicts or challenges occur; and (6) they tell stories that illustrate what they’re trying to achieve.

Indeed, it is this last trait that, in my opinion, separates “The Orange Revolution” from the sea of business books out there. Stories are amazingly powerful and Gostick and Elton did a masterful job incorporating incredible stories into their book.

According to the authors, all breakthrough teams follow The Rule of 3 (p. 16):

  • Wow—Breakthrough teams commit to a standard of world-class performance.
  • No Surprises—All team members are accountable for openness and honest debate, and each knows what to expect from the others.
  • Cheer—Team members support, recognize, appreciate, and cheer others and the group on to victory.

But more than any other story, the one about Patrick Poyfair’s Arsenal Strikers (a second girl’s Double A soccer team created for girls who were told they weren’t good enough to be in the first soccer club) really touched me. It’s in the last chapter of the book so I don’t want to give the story away. Since my summary here won’t do the story any justice, I’ll just briefly say this: The power of cheering for one another transcends the workplace and into the home and our lives outside of work. It’s so inspiring to hear about breakthrough teams, but it is even more empowering to know that we can create and be a part of our own breakthrough teams.

Gostick & Elton (2010) showed that “soft” ideas such as recognition, goal setting, trust, etc. can “actually drive competency every bit as much as technical ability” (p. 45).

Summary: One of the best and most practical business books I have ever read. This is a book I would definitely take with me if I were stranded on an island somewhere and could only bring three books. Well written and witty, with amazing and uplifting stories to inspire and warm the heart. Gostick and Elton have done a wonderful job convincing me, “how one great team can transform an entire organization.” My highest recommendation!

References

Carrots.com. The Orange White Paper. http://www.carrots.com/public/files/whitepapers/Orange_White_Paper.pdf

Gostick, A., & Elton, C. (2010). The orange revolution: How one great team can transform an entire organization. New York: Free Press.

Lack of Career Advancement Leads to Turnover Despite Training


Photo: movin’ up

According to the American Society for Training & Development, U.S. organizations spent about $171.5 billion on employee learning and development in 2010. But what good does it do a company if the very workers the organization spent money on to train will quit and take their newly acquired training with them?

I came across an article in the Wall Street Journal titled, “When Training Leads to Turnover” and found it interesting. However, it’s important to note that the title is a bit misleading since training (by itself) does not lead to turnover. Rather, it’s the idea that without an opportunity to advance/move up in a company, employees (even those who have received training) are more likely to leave compared to those who have opportunities to advance in the organization. As Silverman later clarified in the WSJ article, “employee turnover can increase after training if a company fails to also provide career development and opportunities to get ahead.”

Kraimer, Seibert, Wayne, Liden, and Bravo (2011) discovered that employees who’ve been trained by their company will leave if they do not see any chance to advance. On the other hand, workers who see a career opportunity within the organization will stick around. Thus, it would have been more fitting to label the WSJ article “When Lack of Career Advancement Leads to Turnover.” But then that wouldn’t be as eye-catching. In fact, the research study the WSJ cited is titled, “Antecedents and outcomes of organizational support for development: The critical role of career opportunities.” Note the last part of the title, “The critical role of career opportunities.”

Training does not occur in a vacuum and, by itself, is not enough to retain employees, if those employees do not see career opportunities in their future.

Researchers defined two important concepts: (a) organizational support for development (OSD) as “employees’ overall perceptions that the organization provides programs and opportunities that help employees develop their functional skills and managerial capabilities” (Kraimer et al., 2011, p. 486); (b) perceived career opportunity (PCO) as “employees’ belief that jobs or positions that match their career goals and interests exist within the organization” (Kraimer et al., 2011, p. 486).

Most notably, the researchers found that development support was associated with reduced voluntary turnover when perceived career opportunity was high, but it was associated with increased turnover when perceived career opportunity was low. In other words, even when organizations provide programs and opportunities to help employees develop their skills, if employees perceive that career advancement opportunity is low, they are more likely to leave.

Practical Implications: “Organizations should seek to manage employees’ perceptions of career opportunity if they wish to retain career-oriented employees. If organizational career paths do not lead to opportunities that match those desired by employees, they may choose to look for alternative jobs in the hopes that another organization will offer more desirable job paths. Given the high costs associated with staffing and turnover, expenditures for development support may be well justified, but only when employees perceive that there are career opportunities within the organization that match their career goals and interests. When many employees do not perceive desirable career opportunities, our results suggest that development support may simply provide them with the mobility capital to leave…” (Kraimer et al., 2011, p. 496).

References

American Society for Training & Development (ASTD). 2011 State of the Industry Report.

Kraimer, M. L., Seibert, S. E., Wayne, S. J., Liden, R. C., & Bravo, J. (2011). Antecedents and outcomes of organizational support for development: The critical role of career opportunities. Journal of Applied Psychology, 96(3), 485-500. doi:10.1037/a0021452

Silverman, R. E. (2012, June 25). When training leads to turnover. The Wall Street Journal [Online]. Retrieved August 2, 2012, from http://blogs.wsj.com/atwork/2012/06/25/when-training-leads-to-turnover/

Cognitive Dissonance When Firing Family or Friend

Photo: Conflicts

I was contacted by a career advice reporter with FINS.com, the jobs and career website of The Wall Street Journal, for my thoughts for an article about why workers struggle when they have to fire someone with whom they have a close personal relationship. While I’m glad to see my name mentioned, I feel that much of what I shared with her was left out of the article. Two things did manage to make the cut – cognitive dissonance and the mention of the Parker and McKinley (2008) article. However, without offering more details, I’m afraid that readers of that article might miss my message.

Here is what I emailed her:

We spend a great deal of time working alongside others at work. In fact, if you consider that the typical worker spends 8 hours a day at work, it means that many of us spend more face-time with our colleagues than with our own families.

A more specific explanation of why workers struggle when they have to fire someone with whom they have a close personal relationship is something called cognitive dissonance. It’s a state of tension, which we want to avoid, that occurs when we perceive an inconsistency between our beliefs, feelings, and behavior.

So, if we spend a great deal of time with someone and have developed a close relationship with that person, then it is understandable that having to turn around and fire that individual would create conflicts or tensions between what we are required to do (i.e. the act of firing someone) and our feelings (i.e., that person I must fire is a friend or someone I care about).

Parker and McKinley (2008) wrote about how employees who assist in the implementation of layoffs at their organization (i.e., they help the company lay off other employees) experience cognitive dissonance. They maintained that the longer you spend with the employee being terminated, the greater the odds of you experiencing cognitive dissonance when you need to let that employee go.

Parker and McKinley (2008) said in order to help reduce cognitive dissonance, the one terminating (the agent) might subscribe to an ideology of shareholder interest (the belief that shareholder value should be the main criterion for management decision-making). If the layoff agent is a strong believer in this ideology of shareholder interest, he or she would regard the increase of shareholder wealth as the first priority of management and thus back or defend actions that enhance shareholder wealth.

Basically, according to cognitive dissonance theory and the article by Parker and McKinley, the person who must fire a coworker can change the way he or she thinks about firing or letting someone go and rationalize that while the layoff or termination of a coworker might harm that individual employee, it would have positive consequences for the overall organization.

Reference

Parker, T., & McKinley, W. (2008). Layoff agency: A theoretical framework. Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies, 15(1), 46-58. doi:10.1177/1548051808318001

Citation to FINS article:

Eggers, K. (2012, June 29). How to fire your dad. FINS Finance – Career Advice. Retrieved from http://www.fins.com/Finance/Articles/SBB0001424052702303649504577493183038820606/How-to-Fire-Your-Dad

Does Time of the Day Impact Moods at Work?

Photo: Monday again

It’s probably safe to assume that most, if not all, of us have at one time or another, wondered whether our moods are influenced by the time of the day or the day of the week. Well, wonder no more.

According to Robbins and Judge (2009), people are more likely to be in their worst moods (i.e., highest negative affect and lowest positive affect) early in the week and in their best moods (i.e., highest positive affect and lowest negative affect) late in the week.

What about time of day? Does it make any difference if someone is a “morning” person versus another who might be an “evening” person? Robbins and Judge said that no matter what time we go to bed in the evening time or when we wake up in the morning, our levels of positive affect peak about midway between the time we wake up and the time we go to sleep.

Watson (2000), in his book “Mood and Temperament,” said this:

“Although different people reach their acrophase [peak time or time at which the peak of a rhythm occurs] at different times and show somewhat different curves over the course of the day, our analyses have demonstrated that this basic circadian rhythm—that is, low Positive Affect at the beginning and end of the day, with a peak occurring somewhere in the middle—is remarkably robust and generalizable across individuals” (p. 116).

What implication does this have in the workplace? Well, as many of us can already confirm, Monday morning is not a good time to deliver bad news. And in terms of time of the day, employees will tend to be more positive from about midmorning going forward and (certainly not surprising) later in the week.

References

Robbins, S. P., & Judge, T. A. (2009). Organizational behavior (13th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall.

Watson, D. (2000). Mood and temperament. New York: The Guilford Press.

Book Review-The Advantage

I was excited when I received Patrick Lencioni’s “The Advantage” on my doorstep. I eagerly opened the box, removed the book, and began reading. Truth be told, I initially struggled because I am accustomed to theories and research-based books and had to fight off that mentality because Lencioni’s “The Advantage” isn’t based on research, and wasn’t meant to be. As he explains, “Because I’m not a quantitative researcher, the conclusions I draw here are not based on reams of statistics or finely crunched data, but rather on my observations as a consultant over the past twenty years” (Lencioni, 2012, p. xvii). I appreciated his upfront honesty.

Lencioni said that most organizations have plenty of talent, intelligence, and expertise to be successful. What’s more, he contends that almost every organization has access to the best ideas and practices about technology, strategy, and many other topics because information is everywhere and easy to locate. However, what many organizations lack is organizational health.

Organizational health is about integrity—whole, consistent, and complete. An organization is healthy “when its management, operations, strategy, and culture fit together and make sense” (Lencioni, 2012, p. 5).

Healthy organizations have the following qualities:

  • Minimal Politics
  • Minimal Confusion
  • High Morale
  • High Productivity
  • Low Turnover

What “The Advantage” is, is a call to action and a blueprint about how to go from an unhealthy to healthy organization. It’s simple and practical, and it won me over. The real-world examples and true client stories were particularly compelling because they reinforced the concepts and brought them to life.

Lencioni offered his “Organizational Health Model” which consisted of four disciplines: (1) Build a Cohesive Leadership Team; (2) Create Clarity; (3) Over-Communicate Clarity; and (4) Reinforce Clarity.

In addition to the emphasis on creating and maintaining a cohesive team, Lencioni contends that there are six critical questions that a leadership team must rally around and clearly answer. They include:

  • Why do we exist?
  • How do we behave?
  • What do we do?
  • How will we succeed?
  • What is most important, right now?
  • Who must do what?

“Most organizations are unhealthy precisely because they aren’t doing the basic things, which require discipline, persistence, and follow-through more than sophistication or intelligence” (Lencioni, 2012, p. 148).

By eliminating politics and confusion from an organization’s culture and environment, a healthy organization will almost always find a way to thrive and succeed because, without politics and confusion, it will tap into and use every ounce of “knowledge, experience, and intellectual capital that is available to [it]” (Lencioni, 2012, p. 11).

Whether you are the CEO of a Fortune 500 company, the pastor of a medium-size church, or the president of a small volunteer group, Lencioni’s “The Advantage” is your road map to both the ins and outs of what healthy organizations do and the costly mistakes that unhealthy organizations make.

Reference

Lencioni, P. (2012). The advantage: Why organizational health trumps everything else in business. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Disclosure: Although I received Lencioni’s “The Advantage” as a complimentary gift, my review and recommendation were given as if I had purchased it.

Overreliance on Computer May Leave You Ill-Suited for High-Trust Jobs

[NOTE: This post was updated March 2018]

Many of us have seen, heard, or read about the computer geek who is so consumed about interacting with his computer that he forgets how to interact with other people in a real-world situation. Well, there’s actually research to confirm this! But what is really surprising is not just anecdotal but goes far beyond it. It is estimated that 20% of all digital natives* satisfy the clinical criteria for pathological Internet use (Mullen, 2011).

*Digital natives: collectively include the youngest of the 50 million members of Generation X (i.e., Americans born between 1964 and 1980), the members of Generation Y (or “millennials,” born between 1981 and 2000), and those born since 2001.

Citing research studies supporting the notion that developing minds are highly susceptible to external influences and that “certain digital activity (e.g., electronic gaming) can suppress and temporarily turn off the frontal lobe in young brains, the region responsible for cognitive and sensory integration and decision making” (p. 2014), Mullen maintains that “long-term excessive electronic exposure can have severe consequences to the development of nonverbal communication skills, empathy, and interpersonal relations” (p. 2014).

The short of it is this: The neural pathways required to sharpen and polish the interpersonal skills, empathic capacities, and effective personal intuitions are frequently “left unstimulated and underdeveloped in digital natives” (Mullen, 2011, p. 2015).

Much of our human communication in a face-to-face (FtF) setting is nonverbal. Think about the facial expressions, hand gestures, and other nonverbal cues we send out and receive from others while we’re talking. It is not surprising, then, to learn that those who spend a prolonged period of time interacting with other human beings through computer-mediated communication (CMC) miss out on the more subtle nuances of human interactions.

So what, you might ask? Consider this, digital natives who depend too much on computer-mediated communication (CMC) will tend to miss nonverbal cues indicating deception and insincerity. The ramifications, for the digital natives who are employees and for their employers, are that “many who have been raised in the Internet Age may be ill suited for high-trust professions involving the establishment of FtF relationships.”

As Mullen states: Those who have an overreliance on computer-mediated communication (CMC) will tend to miss out on much of the “real” message, have difficulty sorting out the “felt” from the “false” facial expressions. In essence, they have “no opportunity to pick up on nonverbal cues indicating deception, discomfort, doubt, or insincerity on the part of their interlocutor” (Mullen, 2011, p. 2023).

Neuroscientists and researchers argue that empathy (our ability to understand someone else’s point of view) is crucial to our moral reasoning, ethical sensitivity, social influence, and development of healthy interpersonal relationships. Our sense of empathy is developed through our accumulated face-to-face (FtF) interactions from the time we’re born through young adulthood. However, those who depend too much on computer-mediated communication (CMC) will tend to miss out on much of the “real” message and have difficulty sorting out the “felt” from the “false” facial expressions. In essence, when computer use is excessive and FtF interaction decreases, these individuals have “no opportunity to pick up on nonverbal cues indicating deception, discomfort, doubt, or insincerity on the part of their interlocutor” (Mullen, 2011, p. 2023).

“Today’s young digital natives may be ill-suited for jobs in high-trust fields such as diplomacy and sales, because prolonged exposure to computers is reconfiguring their neural networks and possibly diminishing their empathy and social skills, says John K. Mullen of Gonzaga University. With 55% of person-to-person communication being nonverbal (tone of voice, inflection), overreliance on computer-based interactions may hamper an individual’s ability to judge intent and influence others, Mullen suggests” (HBR Daily Stat).

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

Reference

Mullen, J. K. (2011). The impact of computer use on employee performance in high-trust professions: Re-examining selection criteria in the Internet age. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 41(8), 2009-2043.

A Positive Mindset and Happy Attitude Help You Succeed at Work

happiness is” by Melissa Deakin

In his book, “The Happiness Advantage” (2010) Shawn Achor asserts that happy employees can actually help improve an organization’s bottom line. Achor says we often think that if we work hard and become successful, then we’ll be happy. But, he argues (convincingly I might add) that the formula is backward. Instead of success first and happiness second, it should be happiness first, and then success.

In a related Harvard Business Review article, Achor (2012) cites a meta-analysis of 225 research studies that found happy employees have about 31% higher productivity, 37% higher sales, and three times higher creativity! As he says in his book, “happiness leads to success in nearly every domain, including work, health, friendship, sociability, creativity, and energy” (Achor, 2010, p. 21).

The best part is that we can all adopt a more positive way of thinking and a happier attitude. The human brain is amazing because it possesses something scientists call neuroplasticity, a big word meaning that our brains are malleable—capable of changing and adapting throughout our lifetime.

One great tip Achor offers in his book is a technique called “The Tetris Effect,” a way to train the mind to concentrate on the positives instead of the negatives in our daily life. He recommends this:

Write down THREE good things in your job and life that happened today (do this each day). This forces your mind to look back on your day for positives, potentials, and possibilities. These three things can be simple, small things—things that made you smile or laugh, things that brought a sense of accomplishment or hope, etc. It doesn’t have to be anything deep or profound, only specific.

While this exercise might seem silly, Achor (2010) cited a research study that found people who “wrote down three good things each day for a week were happier and less depressed at the one-month, three-month, and six-month follow-ups” (p. 101). That’s incredible!

The lesson is this: The better we become at scanning our world for good things to jot down, the more good things we’ll see, by habit. To help you stick to this exercise, pick the same time each day to do this.

References

Achor, S. (2012). Positive intelligence: Three ways individuals can cultivate their own sense of well-being and set themselves up to succeed. Harvard Business Review, 90(1/2), 100-102.

Achor, S. (2010). The happiness advantage: The seven principles of positive psychology that fuel success and performance at work. New York: Crown Publishing Group.

The 5 Whys (and Some Limitations)

Why” by Willbryantplz

I came across this video on the Harvard Business Review website called “The 5 Whys.” Sometimes, a video helps explains an idea better/clearer than just written words alone. However, in oversimplifying a concept, we may sometimes leave out a critical analysis of its weaknesses as well as devising strategies to address them.

The 5 Whys or asking why a problem exists five times is borrowed from the Toyota production system (mentioned in the book “The Toyota Way”). The idea is to get to the root cause, by going deeper with each “Why?”, of what caused something to fail (whether it’s a server crash or product that doesn’t work) and then fix that root cause.

“Behind every seemingly technical problem is actually a human problem waiting to be found.” -Eric Ries, entrepreneur-in-residence at Harvard Business School

Had the video used a more interactive graphics that simulates/moves as the speaker is talking, I think that would be even better. That said, here’s the link to that video (sorry, there was no link on HBR to the flash video for WordPress).

5 Whys: Ask 5 Times (here’s an example from Eric’s April 2010 post):

  1. A new release broke a key feature for customers. Why? Because a particular server failed.
  2. Why did the server fail? Because an obscure subsystem was used in the wrong way.
  3. Why was it used in the wrong way? The engineer who used it didn’t know how to use it properly.
  4. Why didn’t he know? Because he was never trained.
  5. Why wasn’t he trained? Because his manager doesn’t believe in training new engineers, because they are “too busy.”

Nothing is a perfect system and the 5 Whys is no exception. In fact, the more I think about asking “why” the more I think back to my time in undergrad studying philosophy. If we’re not careful, we can easily fall into the trap of asking an endless series of hypothetical/conceptual whys with no pragmatic solutions (this was the reason why I switched from philosophy to psychology).

Anderson (2009) had this to say:

“Under a 5 Whys approach, it is possible to get to root causes in a relatively short period of time. However. . .ease of use and speed also need to be balanced with the risk of failure from recurrence of the problem should the 5 Whys fail to find the true root cause.”

Here is Anderson’s critique of the 5 Whys (in his own words):

  • Using 5 Whys doesn’t always lead to root cause identification when the cause is unknown.
  • An assumption underlying 5 Whys is that each presenting symptom has only one sufficient cause. This is not always the case and a 5 Whys analysis may not reveal jointly sufficient causes that explain a symptom.
  • The success of 5 Whys is to some degree contingent upon the skill with which the method is applied; if even one Why has a bad or meaningless answer, the whole procedure can be thrown off.
  • The (5 Whys) method isn’t necessarily repeatable; three different people applying 5 Whys to the same problem may come up with three totally different answers.

Anderson points out that it’s extremely important to understand the difference between root causes and causal factors. “Causal factors are those factors that contribute to the occurrence of a problem, but are not necessarily the initiating cause of a problem—the root cause. Therefore, causal factors and chains need to be analyzed further to determine their root causes.”

“A robust problem-solving method must be adept at not only identifying a problem’s causal factors, but equally adept at uncovering the root causes that underpin the causal factors.” -Stuart Anderson, president of Kaizen Solutions Inc.

References

Anderson, S. (December, 2009). Quality Digest – Root Cause Analysis: Addressing Some Limitations of the 5 Whys. Retrieved from http://www.qualitydigest.com/inside/fda-compliance-news/root-cause-analysis-addressing-some-limitations-5-whys.html

HBR – The 5 Whys
http://blogs.hbr.org/video/2012/02/the-5-whys.html

HBR – The Five Whys for Start-Ups
http://blogs.hbr.org/cs/2010/04/the_five_whys_for_startups.html

Using Reappraisal to Handle an Angry Face


Thinking” by Hans Kristian Aas

An interesting study by a team of researchers (Jens Blechert, Gal Sheppes, Carolina Di Tella, Hants Williams, and James J. Gross at Stanford University) has found that when you tell yourself (i.e. reappraise) that someone is mean to you is simply having a bad day, you may be able to fend off bad feelings.

Reappraisal isn’t anything new. It goes by the name of reframing and is used by cognitive-behavioral psychologists to help clients reframe a distressing problem using a more positive perspective, making it a more a manageable one.

Professor Gross discussed this idea of reappraisal in the book “Developing Your Conflict Competence” by Craig Runde and Tim Flanagan. In it, he talked to one of the authors about using cognitive reappraisal by challenging the way you initially interpret things you see. “Cognitive reappraisal involves using alternative interpretations of the meanings about situations” (Runde & Flanagan, 2010, p. 50).

Runde and Flanagan (2010) said: “Reappraisal (also known as reframing) involves a cognitive process through which the facts underlying a conflict are reexamined for nonthreatening, alternative explanations” (p. 49). Incredibly, brain imaging seems to support this and indicate that, with practice in reappraising/reframing your thinking, your negative feelings will be reduced while more positive feelings will surface (Ochsner, Bunge, Gross, & Gabrieli, 2002).

Ask yourself the following:

  • “Is it the only way of seeing the situation?”
  • “Are there rational, nonthreatening ways of understanding the matter?”

In the study by Blechert and colleagues, participants were shown a series of angry faces and the reactions of the participants were assessed. When participants were told that the angry faces had a bad day, but that it had nothing to do with the participants personally, the participants were able to fend off bad feelings the next time they saw that same angry face. However, when the participants were told to only feel the emotions brought on by seeing an angry face, they remained upset by that face when it was shown to them again.

Bottom line: Blechert says, “If you’re trained with reappraisal, and you know your boss is frequently in a bad mood, you can prepare yourself to go into a meeting” and not be negatively affected by your boss’ bad mood.

References

Association for Psychological Science. (November, 2011). Press Release. The Brain Acts Fast To Reappraise Angry Faces. http://www.psychologicalscience.org/index.php/news/releases/the-brain-acts-fast-to-reappraise-angry-faces.html

Ochsner, K. N., Bunge, S. A., Gross, J. J., & Gabrieli, J. D. E. (2002). Rethinking feelings: An fMRI study of the cognitive regulation of emotion. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 14(8), 1215-1229. doi:10.1162/089892902760807212

Runde & Flanagan, (2010). Developing your conflict competence: A hands-on guide for leaders, managers, facilitators, and teams. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Weisul, K. (November 2011). How to handle an angry boss. Retrieved from http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-505125_162-57329138/how-to-handle-an-angry-boss/

Employees Misbehave When They Are Bored

Bruursemaa, Kesslerb, and Spector (2011) conducted a study in which they found that employees who were bored are more likely to also misbehave. Previously, counterproductive work behavior (CWB) were viewed as made up of five types: abuse against others, production deviance, sabotage, withdrawal, and theft.

In this study, the researchers added a sixth type, horseplay. Bruursemaa, Kesslerb, and Spector (2011) studied responses from 211 participants recruited via email in North America. They discovered that being prone to boredom (boredom proneness) and job boredom was strongly associated with certain types of counterproductive work behavior (CWB).

This is actually not surprising to me. In my previous job consulting with educators about classroom management, special education issues, and students with behavioral problems, one of the first things I do when I observe students in the classroom is to watch what they do when they are bored. It never fails because once boredom kicks in, whether it’s because the task is too easy, too hard, uninteresting, etc., the student will almost certainly find a way to misbehave.

Reference

Bruursemaa, K., Kesslerb, S. R., & Spector, P. E. (2011). Bored employees misbehaving: The relationship between boredom and counterproductive work behavior. Work & Stress, 25(2), 93-107. doi:10.1080/02678373.2011.596670

Bosses and Powerful People Do Not Listen


Photo Credit: I’m Not Listening by Suwani

A recent study found that the more power people have, the more likely they will discount advice due to an elevated sense of confidence in their own judgment.

Across four studies, researchers found that “the psychological experience of power elevates confidence and exacerbates the already strong tendency for individuals to overweight their own initial judgments and insufficiently incorporate input of others.” Furthermore, the researchers discovered that “power can lead people to be less open to factual advice, even when that advice can help achieve accuracy objectives and improve performance.”

Study 1 (a field survey): people who see themselves in a power position were viewed by their colleagues as overly confident and less likely to accept advice.

Study 2 (an advice-taking task): those with more self-perceived power also had more confidence in their own judgment and were less willing to adjust their answers in the direction of an advisor.

Study 3 (advice taking experiment): priming a high power mentality increased confidence in a person’s initial answers and led to that person being less willing to accept advice.

Study 4 (experiment with analysis of judgmental accuracy): even with higher confidence levels, higher power individuals had significantly less accurate final judgments than lower power participants.

Take-Away: Power increases a person’s tendency to overestimate his/her own initial judgment. What this means is that powerful decision makers can also be the least accurate.

Reference

See, K. E., Morrison, E. W., Rothman, N. B., & Soll, J. B. (2011). The detrimental effects of power on confidence, advice taking, and accuracy. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes. Advance online publication. doi:10.1016/j.obhdp.2011.07.006

Cut the Clutter – Get Rid of the Nonsense

I hate clutter. If I see clutter, my natural instinct is to clean it up, get rid of it, and/or organize it. I hate clutter so much that I have volunteered to help clean apartments and homes of people who were messy. When I begin a new job, one of the first things I do is to cut the clutter of the individual who came before me and then proceed to declutter unnecessary and/or redundant tasks.

Peter Drucker, the father of management, said that the most serious symptom of poor organization occurs when there’s an increase in the number of management levels. Drucker said it’s best to have the fewest possible management levels and build the shortest, viable chain of command. In other words, cut the clutter.

The crazy thing is that poor organization doesn’t just happen in large, multinational corporations. It can also occur in small to medium-size organizations. I have seen this in the private and nonprofit sectors, from organizations with 10,000+ employees to churches with just 100 parishioners.

I once asked employees at a mental health clinic why mail took so long to arrive at their office. Their answer was that all mail was routed through the central office located in another city, which are then sent to their office. Although one would think that sending and receiving mail should be a priority when it comes to the mental health and welfare of patients, this clinic continues to stick to its “pony express” method. Ironically, while everyone hated that mail took so long and they hated that it “needed” to be routed through the central office, no one ever did anything about it. So the senseless, extra step continues and the clutter lives on.

At another organization, a multinational financial services company, mail delivery is a daily challenge. At one large office complex, there are three buildings with a ridiculous numbering system that employees and mail staff alike cannot seem to figure out. The problem: The rooms aren’t number correctly but rather entails a fondness for decimal points, such that a room number looks something like this: 100.578. In addition, there doesn’t seem to be a rational, logical numbering of rooms. What’s more, there are cubicles with no numbers at all. Thus, every time the mail room staff drops off mail, mistakes are made. The craziest part is that the mail room staff are not employees of the company but rather employees hired by a contractor.

I’m sure there must be sane, reasonable explanations (I’m being sarcastic here) to why there is so much clutter in organizations. And for those who work in such environments, it may be status quo. But if you don’t stop and figure out why something that seems unnecessary, redundant, or nonsensical (like the mail being routed through one office before being sent to another office) is done, then you’re not taking the time to help declutter your organization. It’s easy to say, “Hey, it’s not my job.” The problem is that this type of mindset does little to help an employee thrive in the organization.

Again, we can turn to Peter Drucker for insight and wisdom. Drucker said that employees need to succeed and achieve, and can do so by learning to manage themselves. One question that Drucker advised us to ask ourselves is, “What is my contribution?” If we see that our role in an organization, any organization, is to ask and answer this question, then cutting the clutter and getting rid of the nonsense should be everyone’s job.

Reference

Drucker, P. F. (2008). Management (Revised ed.). New York: HarperCollins.