Early discussions should touch on not only the risks of venting but also the danger of bottling things up. The tendency to signal irritation or discontent indirectly—through withdrawal, sarcasm, and privately complaining about one another—can be just as destructive as volatile outbursts and intimidation. It’s important to address the causes of disengagement directly, through open inquiry and debate, and come up with ways to disagree productively.
The benefits of anticipating and heading off conflict before it becomes destructive are immense. We’ve found that they include greater participation, improved creativity, and, ultimately, smarter decision making. As one manager put it: “We still disagree, but there’s less bad blood and a genuine sense of valuing each other’s contributions.”
Ms Hicks’s study, just published in Psychological Science, started off by doing what previous ones have done. She collaborated with a team of colleagues to round up 120 recently married local couples. The partners in these couples were then separated and each asked to fill in a questionnaire that inquired about how satisfied they were with their spouses and how often they had sex (a fact on which, despite what cynics might suspect, husband and wife generally agreed).
Ms Hicks, however, did not leave things there. She suspected the reason why past explorations of this subject have had mixed results is because many people want to believe their marriage is in a good state despite infrequent sex, or that frequent sex should not be important for maintaining a healthy relationship. Wanting to believe something is not, though, the same as actually believing it. So she needed a way to distinguish between the two.
Her answer was what is known as an automatic attitude test. Such tests measure instant feelings. Participants are shown an image and then presented with a word that is either positive (“wonderful”, “outstanding” or “charming”, for example) or negative (“awful”, “disturbing”, “horrible”). When they see this word they must indicate as quickly as they can, using a keyboard that measures their reaction time, whether it is positive or negative. Previous work has shown that faster reaction times to positive words and slower reaction times to negative ones suggest a participant has a positive attitude towards whatever he saw in the image. Slower reaction times to positive words and faster ones to negative words suggest the opposite.
To wield the test for her own purposes, Ms Hicks arranged for participants to work through several sets of words. The first set was a control, in which they ranked the words without seeing an image beforehand. The following sets were preceded either by another control (a picture of the participant him- or herself) or by a picture of the participant’s spouse.
Ms Hicks and her colleagues found that although the frequency with which couples have sex does not have much correlation with how satisfied they claim to be with their partner, it correlates well with their automatic attitudes towards one another. Those who said they had sex with their spouse two or more times a week reacted more quickly to positive words and more slowly to negative ones after seeing an image of said spouse. The opposite was true for those who had sex once a week or less. None of these effects emerged after people saw an image of themselves, or during the initial control.
Ms Hicks’s result does not mean the no-sex brigade are lying when they claim it does not signify. They may genuinely believe what they say. But it does suggest they are fooling themselves. And that is not a matter of mere prurience. If things do start to go wrong in a relationship, and the participants want to patch matters up, then understanding where the real problem lies is important. This is only a single study, of course. But if it is successfully replicated, marriage-guidance counsellors the world over might want to take note.
Step 1: Ask permission. Don’t just launch into your spiel. Say something like: “Our working relationship is important to me, and there’s something on my mind—can I talk to you about it?” If it’s a bad time, you don’t want to choose this moment for your chat; if it’s a good time, you’ve signaled your collaborative intent.
Step 2: Describe the “true facts.” The trick here is to pick one specific incident and describe what I call the “true facts”: the things you know for sure, stripped of emotion, interpretation, or generalization. For me, that meant not saying things like “Your edits suck” or “You’re not giving me enough space.” These statements are debatable, because the other person can say “That’s not true.” And because they’re so broadly critical, they’re more likely to put your colleague’s brain on the defensive—meaning they won’t be at their most expansive and generous as they respond. Instead, aim for something that feels more like “What I noticed was [fact, fact, fact].” Be as precise and concrete as you can, even if you think there’s a big issue at stake. In my case, I said: “I noticed that in the last presentation, you rewrote the headings on fourteen of the twenty slides. The sentences got longer and less to-the-point.”
Step 3: Say how the “true facts” made you feel, and why this matters to you. Just like the “true facts,” your feelings aren’t disputable, and describing them explains why you’re raising the issue. Research has also found that you lower your stress levels when you carefully label your emotions. So I said: “That made me feel worried that I’m not understanding what you want from me.” Here, it helps not to use aggressive language. I was angry, for sure—but when I asked myself what deeper fear was underneath that anger, I realized it was a genuine worry that I was falling short. It also helps to add a sincere explanation of why this matters to you, to convey that this isn’t about you whining. It doesn’t have to be complicated. I simply said: “And I care about doing a good job.”
Step 4: Ask for their perspective. When we’ve built up our courage to broach a difficult topic, it’s easy to forget that we may not have the whole picture. In fact, we rarely do; we all suffer from a phenomenon known to scientists as “selective attention.” So make sure to ask: “What’s your perspective on this?” Pay real attention to their answer, even if you disagree. The idea is to understand what lies behind their behavior, to give you a better idea of how to solve the problem. In my case, it became clear that my manager’s goal had been to add what he called “more nuance” to my rather black-and-white messages. He wasn’t a skilled writer, so his edits weren’t very effective. But once I understood his aim, I could better see how to meet both his needs and mine.
Step 5: Do some joint problem solving. Finally, decide together how to improve the situation. Try asking them for their thoughts on this first, before building on their suggestions. This isn’t about caving in to hierarchy; it’s because research shows that people feel far more attachment to any idea that they’ve had a hand in shaping. So before I said “okay, here’s what I’ll do differently in the future, and here’s how I’d like to get input from you,” it paid dividends for me to ask: “what can I do to introduce more of the subtlety you’re missing?”
Explain that you have a different opinion and ask if you can voice it. Restate the original point of view or decision so it’s clear you understand it. Speak slowly — talking in an even tone calms you and the other person down. Don’t:
Assume that disagreeing is going to damage your relationship or career — the consequences are often less dramatic than we think. State your opinions as facts; simply express your point of view and be open to dialogue. Use judgment words, such as “hasty,” “foolish,” or “wrong,” that might upset or incite your counterpart.
"Thank you for your transparency!" These words came at the end of a presentation I gave where I shared a new strategy—a strategy that would require change, including new roles and some sacrifice, from everyone. I wasn’t sure how everyone would respond but I knew I would have my best chance of successfully leading the…
Rebecca Spencer of UMass Amherst and her coresearchers, Uma Karmarkar of Harvard Business School and Baba Shiv of Stanford Business School, conducted a study in which they asked people to evaluate laptop cases for potential purchase. First, subjects were given pros and cons of the products to review. Some received the information late in the evening, shortly before they went to sleep, and others in the morning, when they had their day ahead of them. Twelve hours later, they were asked to choose a case and were also surveyed about the products and their satisfaction with their selections. The people who “slept on” their decision tended to feel worse about it.
The Challenge: Is the folk wisdom about thinking more clearly after a good night’s rest just a fable? Could it actually make your judgment worse? Professor Spencer, defend your research.
Spencer: It was evident that the people who made a decision the same day felt better about their choice than those who had slept on it. However, those who’d slept on it remembered more about the bags’ attributes. That surprised us. The fact that they knew more about the products would suggest they’d be happier with their decisions, but they weren’t.
HBR: Congratulations, your research invalidates age-old wisdom about making big decisions. I wouldn’t say that. I wouldn’t say there’s no value to sleep with regard to decision making. We know that when we sleep, the brain is doing some processing that helps give us a clean slate. At a neurological level, information begins to get cleared out of the short-term memory space and moved into long-term memory space. So the proverbial belief that sleep gives you a fresh start is true. It not only impacts how we take on new information but also appears to have some surprising influence on past information.
How does it influence past information? It wasn’t just that people who slept on it remembered more information. When we controlled for the number of positive and negative attributes in a follow-up study, we saw that folks who slept on it were more likely to remember the positive features and less likely to remember the negative ones.
Sleep makes us more positive? That’s what was so surprising. Many studies have shown that we remember more negative things after sleeping. Then again, many of those studies were comparing negative with neutral, not negative with positive. So in the context of decision making, maybe sleep does make us focus on the good.
Why would people who remembered more good things be less satisfied with their choices? It might be more difficult to make a decision by comparing good things with other good things than by comparing good with bad. I suspect that people are conflicted because after the fact, they think about the good things they didn’t choose. It may be—and this is something to study—that when we asked them, people felt they had made a poor decision, but over time they would come to decide that it was good.
I’d like to find a way to use your research to institute mandatory naps during the workday.
We have done a lot with naps. Naps are beneficial to adults, just as they are to little kids. What differs is that wakefulness is more detrimental to memory and information processing in kids, so it appears that naps do more for them. In this particular study, though, we eliminated people in the awake group who had taken a nap, so I can’t help you.
While Serna’s years in combat earned him three Purple Hearts and other military accolades, like many combat vets, he’s been unable to leave the battlefield behind him. Since returning to the U.S., the decorated Green Beret has suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, WTVD reported, and been charged with driving under the influence.
He entered the veteran’s treatment court program in Cumberland County, N.C., over which state District Court Judge Lou Olivera presides.
Serna has fought to stay sober, appearing before Olivera 25 times to have his progress reviewed. He confessed to Olivera that he lied about a recent urine test last week, according to WRAL.
In response, Olivera sentenced Serna to one day in jail.
The judge drove Serna to the jail in a neighboring county.
“When Joe first came to turn himself in, he was trembling,” Olivera told the Fayetteville Observer. “I decided that I’d spend the night serving with him.”
“Where are we going, judge?” Serna asked, the Observer’s Bill Kirby Jr., reported Wednesday.
Change management, as a formal discipline, has been around since the 1990’s. However references to change and change management can be found in the psychological literature more than 40 years earlier. Psychologists described “change” as the unfreezing, moving, and refreezing of thoughts or behaviors. These developments described how people internalized change and their experience with …
Via Alexis Assimacopoulos, Mark E. Deschaine, PhD
CEO biographies and leadership literature perpetuate this “just world” myth. Wanting to leave a positive legacy, CEOs rewrite their histories through rose-tinted lenses rather than telling how they politically outmaneuvered their peers to rise to the top. Using emotion, spin, or relationships to influence others feels unfair, even if there is convincing research that shows they can be effectively applied strategically and ethically.
We therefore self-handicap, shying away from using techniques that would otherwise expand the ways we can get ahead. We likewise dismiss “political people” as repulsive rather than stepping back and studying how they communicate, network, and strategically manage their careers. And we cherry-pick the research that supports feel-good leadership tactics. Positive psychology, for example, doesn’t argue that you should always be happy or praise indiscriminately, but that’s the message people take away — and misapply.
Young leaders need advice that’s more realistic, granular, and nuanced. I arrived at this conclusion long ago — regrettably later than I should have — during my corporate career. I could see that the smartest, most hard-working guys were not always the ones who got ahead. And over the last few years, building my executive coaching practice and teaching MBAs, I have been shocked by the lack of evidence backing up most career and leadership advice and the ease with which many coaches simply stick to unproven “feel good” aphorisms. Likewise, I’ve been surprised to see leadership coaches shy away from sound research with uncomfortable associations. For example, one student told me his professor did not want to teach a research-based persuasion technique after finding out that the CIA also used it. But the information itself was valid and worth studying.
I know I’m not alone in saying we need to pay more attention to interpersonal relationships and politics. Robert Cialdini’s book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion shows the tremendous benefits to understanding social psychology. The behavioral economists convincingly demonstrate how emotion, framing, and carrot-and-stick incentives can lead to “predictably irrational” behavior, as described in Dan Ariely’s book. Jeff Pfeffer has also written books on these uncomfortable truths: Power and Leadership BS (disclosure: I facilitate and coach in his Stanford “Paths to Power” course for executives, and I thank him for opening my mind on this topic). And Todd Kashdan, author of The Upside of Your Dark Side, provides hard evidence that brilliantly challenges prevailing advice in modern psychology.
But too often I see leaders and their coaches treating effective influence-building tactics as if they’re Machiavellian. I’m not arguing that we should be Machiavellian. We each choose if we want to rise in organizations, the path we take, and whether the ends justify the means. I am arguing, however, that if we want to avoid what happened to Jill, we need to spend much more time managing up and around — and employ techniques that may not feel intuitive. Herminia Ibarra, in her book Act Like Leader, Think Like a Leader, stresses how we need to try out different leadership styles and behaviors if we wish to grow — and that latching on to authenticity can be an excuse for sticking with what is comfortable. In fact, leadership may often feel uncomfortable.
There are many actions and interactions between businesses of all kinds. Few businesses stand alone without needing to obtain services or supplies from other businesses. Whether the businesses work under a binding contract or a simple verbal agreement, they are prone to disputes that can interrupt the work flow of both sides. When two entities are unable to come to an agreement on their own, they have two options available to them. One is to file a lawsuit and go through a lengthy litigation where a judge will settle the dispute. The other is to use a method of Alternative Dispute Resolution to get to a faster resolution. There are a number of reasons that ADR services are so valuable to businesses that rely on each other for profits. In many cases, the relationship between the businesses is a long and mutually dependent one that both sides want to continue with going forward. If they are unable to come to a fast, agreeable resolution, this may no longer be a viable option. Arbitrator and Mediator Daniel Yamshon explains that when people are given the opportunity to resolve their differences amicably, peace can be maintained throughout the process and for the [...]
How often have you heard somebody — a new CEO, a journalist, a management consultant, a leadership guru, a fellow employee — talk about the urgent need to change the culture? They want to make it world-class. To dispense with all the nonsense and negativity that annoys employees and stops good intentions from growing into progress. To bring about an entirely different approach, starting immediately.
It's commonly supposed that leaders are born and not made, but there is no real evidence for that. More realistically, leadership is a quality you discover in yourself, not by a sudden revelation but by a series of steps. Each step leads to the same conclusion: "I can do this." As you meet one challenge after another, you grow into leadership. The process is entirely personal and different from one individual to the next, which is why no university or business school course can actually produce leaders through a course on the subject.
Have you ever worked hard to improve a valuable skill and made real progress, only to have your development go unnoticed by the people who told you that you needed to improve? Perhaps this led you to look for a new job. Or maybe you’re a manager who’s been disappointed by poor performance and concluded that your low-performing employees are simply over-entitled? So you gave up on trying to help them improve and vented your frustration with colleagues behind closed doors.
Both of these commonplace experiences point to problems caused by a fixed mindset, in which we find it hard to believe that people can change. In the first scenario, an employee is judged as having low potential—and this assessment blinds leaders to the progress he’s made. In the second, the manager’s conviction that her employees will never change makes her less likely to engage in leadership behaviors that support development. The bottom line in both cases is that employees are less likely to reach their potential.
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