In parts of India and Southeast Asia, monkeys are sometimes trapped by placing food in a vessel that has an opening just wide enough for the monkey to reach one hand through. Smelling the morsel inside, a passing monkey will reach in and grab hold of it, forming a fist—only to discover that it cannot pull its clenched fist back out through the hole. If the monkey remains clinging tightly to the food, it is caught. This attachment trap is often a springboard for discussions on a core philosophical principle: that by clinging to external sources of satisfaction, we lose our freedom. http://www.rubinmuseum.org/brainwave.
The Attachment Trap is also relevant to communication. When we cling to a particular attitude about a person (“I don’t get along with him; we will always argue.”) or a situation (“My co-workers don’t take my ideas seriously and never will”), we remain stuck in a paradigm that we are helping to create. When we relinquish biases that are based in the past or on incomplete information, we free ourselves to create new possibilities. Opening our fists equates to opening our minds.
We want to hear! What experiences have you had with un-attaching from an attitude or belief? Join the conversation and click "comments" on our Community of Practice Forum.
Good communication and interpersonal relationships are as important for families and schools as they are at work. Aggression and coercion are harmful to the wellbeing of adults and children in any setting. The principles we teach to help make work environments more nurturing are the same as those prevention scientists are now following to help families and schools become more nurturing.
In his new book, The Nurture Effect, Anthony Biglan, Ph.D., a senior scientist at Oregon Research Institute, describes numerous family and school programs that help reduce the use of coercive behavior. For example, beginning in the early seventies, psychologist Gerald Patterson began to observe moment-to-moment interactions between family members. Patterson and colleagues showed that the main reason families interacted aggressively was that each person got a brief respite from others’ adverse behavior by engaging in adverse behavior themselves. A child might do something a parent didn’t like and the parent might say something nasty or raise their voice. Often the child would cry or whine and the parent would escalate even to the point of hitting, and the child might then desist. The parent’s aggression just got reinforced! Likewise, a mother might ask a child to do something and the child might whine. Perhaps the mother became more demanding. If the child further escalated, screaming or breaking something, the parent might back off. This time the child’s adverse behavior got reinforced.
Our communication programs develop skills for responding to others’ adverse behavior in ways that don’t escalate conflict, but instead promote patient listening and cooperative problem solving. Now family and school programs greatly increase positive reinforcement in order to generate more prosocial behaviors. As Biglan writes, “There is a growing understanding of the importance of prosocial behavior and values, and a growing movement to make all of our environments more nurturing. As this movement progresses we will see lower levels of conflict and problem behavior than we have ever seen in history.”
We want to hear! What proscial skills do you use in the workplace that might also also be effective at home and in schools? Join the conversation and click "comments" on our Community of Practice Forum.
As Valentine’s Day approaches, consider giving your loved ones these gifts – each with more staying power than flowers, cards, and chocolates:
1. Listen when your impulse is to argue. Listening, a rare and pure gift from the heart, requires us to be quiet long enough to ponder our partner’s message.
2. Edit accusations that could make your partner feel put down and judged. Instead, describe your feelings. “I feel lonely” has a different ring than “you’re selfish and unresponsive.”
3. Acknowledge your role in a problem. Every issue has another side. When we describe how we contributed, even unintentionally, to a problem, we encourage our partner to hear us out.
4. Agree on a solution. Reach an explicit, collaborative agreement about what each of you will do differently in the future.
5. Follow up on your agreements. Many attempts at resolving conflict end in failure and fighting, but following up proves your commitment to view conflict resolution as a process rather than a one-shot deal.
As marriage and business partners for 40 years, we can attest that while confronting issues is never easy, avoidance is worse. And we still endorse chocolate too. It’s good for your heart.
We want to hear: What communication behaviors would you like to change in your relationships this year, and what steps are you taking to do so? Join the conversation and click "comments" on our Community of Practice Forum.
We all resolve to build new habits, but many of us lose steam before long. Writing in Entrepreneur, behavioral scientist James Clear offers three tips to stick with it.
1. Start with a really easy habit. Our example: Suppose you want to have more engagement with the people you work with. Making it a habit to say “good morning” to your team members is a simple starting point.
2. Figure out what’s holding you back. Clear says it’s our judgments about ourselves and others that get in our way. Our example: “I am too introverted to be more interactive with co-workers.” Or: “If I become more interactive they might think I’m being insincere.” Of course these are not sound rationales. Everyone is more nuanced than that!
3. Develop a failure fallback. No one changes a habit without setbacks. When (not if!) it happens to you, get back on track as soon as possible.
We want to hear! Are you building any new good habits so far this year? What techniques are you using for making them permanent? Join the conversation and click "comments" on our Community of Practice Forum.
If you’re familiar with bifocal eyeglasses, you know they allow you to view the same scenario from different perspectives. Anthony Kronman of Yale Law School uses “bifocalism” as a thought-provoking analogy. As he put it: “Anyone who has worn bifocal lenses knows that it takes time to learn to shift smoothly between perspectives and to combine them in a single field of vision. The same is true of deliberation. It is difficult to be compassionate, and often just as difficult to be detached, but what is most difficult of all is to be both at once.”
Seeing a situation from another’s perspective is key to any successful negotiation, compromise, or conflict resolution. Recently writing in The New York Times, David Brooks posited that we get better at this skill as we age (http://bit.ly/bifocialism ) But why wait?
We can aid detachment by asking ourselves, “How would an outsider view the situation?”, or “How would I view this if I set my emotions aside?” As for compassion, it is essential to remember that all of us have our own perspective, because everyone is unique. As Anais Nin said, “We don’t see things as they are, we see things as we are.” We view situations, through the prism of our own experiences, values, and culture. We may never fully be able to step into another person’s world, but we can set a goal to regard our own perspectives as just one way of understanding, among many other ways.
We want to hear. Do you find it easier to view situations with detachment and compassion as you mature? If so, why do think that is? Join the conversation and click "comments" on our Community of Practice Forum.
Image Credit: Thomas Hawk https://www.flickr.com/photos/thomashawk/
This New Year, consider making a resolution to practice 12 months of healthy communication. Most people navigate through important moments of communication on automatic pilot, reacting from emotion rather than intention. But we can transform our relationships by getting off autopilot and being proactive with positive communication.
As communication researchers and partners in work and marriage for over 40 years, we’ve experienced both the joy and challenge of personal and business communication and have found some simple steps to resolve conflict and build trust in relationships:
*Listen when your impulse is to argue.
*Edit accusations that might make someone feel put down, and instead describe your feelings.
*If you have a grievance, pinpoint details and specific examples.
*Acknowledge your role in any problem.
*Reach explicit, collaborative solutions that specify what each person will do differently in the future.
Confronting issues is never an easy matter, but avoidance can be hazardous not just to our relationships but also to our own health.
Here’s wishing you a happy, healthy, communicative 2015!
We want to hear. Do you have a New Year’s resolution that could lead to stronger communication? Join the conversation and click "comments" on our Community of Practice Forum.
Image Credit: Joan M. Mas https://www.flickr.com/photos/dailypic/
Whenever we ask people to share stories about stressful family encounters at the holidays, we are amazed at the outpouring of fraught memories. But reliving the conflicts of holidays past won’t help us deal with the present. This season, try something new. When Uncle Joe or Aunt Blanche blurts out an unwelcome opinion, resist the temptation to engage in point/counterpoint. This quickly devolves into a situation where everyone feels the only way to “win” is to get louder and LOUDER!
Instead, ask for more information about your relative’s point of view—and actually listen to that information. (Do this even if the point of view they are sharing is a direct criticism of you.) Only true listening can provide you the information you need to have influence. And it is only when your “opponent” feels heard that they will even begin to consider another point of view.
*avoid conversation killers like “You always…” and “You never…”;
*tell the other person you understand how they came to feel the way they do;
*own your part of the situation and acknowledge how you may be contributing to it.
Be realistic: You are not going to achieve perfect harmony with everyone at the dinner table. But with a little resolve you can certainly improve your batting average. Happy holidays!
We want to hear: How did this advice work for you this holiday season? Join the conversation and click "comments" on our Community of Practice Forum.
Image Credit: Michael Porter https://www.flickr.com/photos/libraryman
Can you work well on teams, solve problems, and communicate well with people inside and outside your organization? If so, you possess the top three skills employers are seeking in today’s job market.
We were delighted to see the “big three” when The National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), a non-profit group that links college career placement offices with employers, surveyed hiring managers from large companies like Chevron, IBM, and Seagate Technology about what skills they will prioritize when recruiting from the class of 2015 (http://bit.ly/topjobskills). But we were certainly not surprised! We have devoted our entire research and consulting careers to developing programs that teach these very skills because we believe they are key to organizational performance and culture.
So grads—and all job-seekers—take note: Employers emphasize universal skills that are applicable across all disciplines and industries. No matter what you studied in school, no matter what your field, it is crucial to demonstrate to employers that you can collaborate creatively and communicate effectively. Stress accomplishments that show these abilities on your resume, in your cover letters, and during your interviews. These initial points of contact are opportunities to show prospective employers just how well you communicate.
We want to hear! If you are hiring, how do you screen applicants for these skills? If you are job-seeking, how are you demonstrating these skills? Join the conversation and click "comments" on our Community of Practice Forum.
A massive Gallup employee engagement survey found that there is no more important job satisfaction predictor than whether an employee has recently had a conversation about how they’re doing on the job. Yet a large percentage of employees at all levels crave more feedback from their managers than they receive. This is what Anna Carroll, author of The Feedback Imperative, found when she interviewed 2100 individuals in the workplace. (http://bit.ly/morefeedback)
Feedback is information, and all of us--especially Millennials--are used to processing massive amounts of it daily. So why are employees kept in the dark about their own performance? Carroll says many reasons are emotional: Fear, avoidance, and fight-or-flight stress on the part of managers prevent them from delivering feedback--sometimes outsourcing the process completely and promoting “an anonymous feedback culture.”
One excuse managers give is that feedback will cause unhappiness and lead to turnover. But exactly the opposite is true. We believe the dissatisfaction caused by lack of feedback dissipates when managers are properly trained in the art of giving feedback, including our Raising Delicate Issues model.
We want to hear. Are you getting enough feedback from your manager? How would you improve the feedback process in your organization? Join the conversation and click "comments" on our Community of Practice Forum
Image Credit: Het Nieuwe Instituut https://www.flickr.com/photos/thenewinstitute/
Are you getting enough acknowledgment for your hard work and commitment? If not, it could be because you are reluctant to take credit. A study in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin suggests the “Imposter Syndrome” might be at play. That’s when high-achieving people don't feel they deserve the success that they have earned and so they divert the credit onto others.
Sure it’s great to be a team player, but a little self-promotion can also be important. A recent article by Cornell psychology professor Peggy Drexler (http://bit.ly/brag3) suggests three ways to highlight your accomplishments: 1) acknowledge your achievements internally; 2) inform your boss directly of exactly what you did even while acknowledging your team; 3) enlist a “co-bragger” to call out your successes while you do the same in return.
We have long pointed out the many benefits of acknowledging co-workers, but failing to acknowledge yourself is needless self-handicapping. Owning your success need not undermine your team, and it isn’t boastful if it’s true.
We want to hear: Are you ever reluctant to point out your own accomplishments—and, if so, why? Have you seen others being successful at self-promotion while still being team players? What might you do to promote yourself going forward? Join the conversation and click "comments" below.
Image Credit: Dan Meineck
About 70% of changes in all organizations fail, says research from McKinsey and Company (http://bit.ly/1woQGIJ). Rick Maurer, author of Beyond the Wall of Resistance, cites one of the key reasons: Many organizational cultures function with two opposing sets of rules.
The “official” rules—often appearing on company websites and employee handbooks—are the ones where the organization claims to value innovation, teamwork, inclusiveness, and open communication. The “unofficial” rules—often learned the hard way by those who follow the first set and find themselves in the proverbial doghouse—are change-blockers. They reward conformity, competitiveness, even secrecy. (http://bit.ly/1BS1ijE)
We have, unfortunately, witnessed this too many times. Successful change is enabled by a climate of engagement and dialogue in which new ideas and creative collaboration are encouraged—and not just espoused. Leaders who genuinely want to facilitate change in a world where change is critical to survival must courageously assess whether counter-productive rules exist, and do all in their power to align their organization’s aspirational goals with its real ones.
We want to hear. Can you give us an example of any unwritten rules you have run up against, and how those rules had an impact on organizational change? Join the conversation and click "comments" on our Community of Practice Forum.
When we find ourselves in conflict with a co-worker we tend to attribute it to personality differences. Even if we don’t know the other person very well, we may jump to conclusions based on limited exposure, perhaps stereotyping them as a “micromanager”, or “competitive.” But although it’s cognitively efficient to categorize, labeling is toxic in conflict resolution.
Writing in the Harvard Business Review, organizational consultant Ben Dattner points out that management and corporate culture may inadvertently create conflict between individuals. For instance, roles and levels of authority may not be well defined, or individuals’ interests may be truly opposed because they have been given incentives to compete rather than collaborate.
To assess whether a conflict is situational, start by asking yourself, “What conflicts might be experienced by any two people in the roles we have?” Then ask your colleague the same question. You may find common ground and can jointly approach those in leadership to reconsider the dynamics that are generating the conflict.
Please share your experience. Have you ever found yourself in conflict with a colleague because of a situational circumstance? What did you do about it? Join the conversation and click "comments" on our Community of Practice Forum.
Are anti-bullying policies stopping workplace bullying? Not according to a survey recently conducted by Joseph Grenny and David Maxfield, co-authors of the books Crucial Conversations and Influencer. Ninety-six percent of respondents said they had experienced workplace bullying, and indicated that most of the alleged bullies had been in their positions for over a year (89%), or over five years (54%). Only 6% said their companies’ anti-bullying policies prevented bullying.
The sad truth is that many who feel bullied don’t do anything about it. They try to avoid the problem, but the unintended consequence of avoidance is perpetuation. “Silence is not golden. Silence is permission,” says Maxfield.
We agree: What we permit, we promote. So it’s important to know your workplace policies and document incidents of bullying (e.g. browbeating, intimidation, sabotaging). Perhaps most effective of all—if you do not feel at risk doing so—is addressing (in private) the person you believe is abusing power. If you choose to do this, try our models for raising issues and responding to criticism. Then ask what you can do to improve communication going forward so that the pattern doesn’t repeat.
We want to hear: Are you aware of workplace bullying and, if so, do you and those around you tend to confront or avoid the problem? If you have addressed the situation, what has been the outcome? Join the conversation and click "comments" on our Community of Practice Forum.
In what Politico calls “The knock down drag-out fight that led to a VA deal,” Congress, on the verge of its August recess, finally approved a bill to reform the Department of Veterans Affairs. The deal emerged after leaders of a conference committee—Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.)—publicly battled it out over differences on how to pay for the bill.
But the “grenades” that were hurled turned out to be largely cathartic. Two days after the worst of the slug-fest, Sanders informed lawmakers a deal was at hand after a final call with Miller during which the two went over a checklist of priorities and agreed on details.
We've been working with Congress for the past ten years and while we don't recommend the bare knuckles rhetoric that produced the VA funding bill, it's hard to argue with success. Of course, it didn't hurt that the failure of Congress to pass this bill before leaving for summer recess would have resulted in a firestorm from veterans and their many supporters. Neither did it hurt that congress is at a 12% approval rating while veterans are at 74%. Still, anything beats silence and stonewalling: No problem that required consensus ever got solved by avoidance!
We want to hear: Can you recall a time when mixing it up with an adversary proved a necessary prelude to resolving a contentious issue? Join the conversation and click "comments" on our Community of Practice Forum.
Negative conversations nag at us—for chemical reasons. The cortisol (stress hormone) they produce can stay in our system for over 26 hours, keep us on edge, and color the way we react to further communication. Positive conversations produce the feel-good hormone oxytocin, but this metabolizes much faster than cortisol, so the effect doesn’t linger as long.
Writing in the Harvard Business Review, consultant Judith E. Glaser, author of Conversational Intelligence and biochemist Richard D. Glaser (we have no relation to either) cited their survey research asking managers how often they engaged in positive conversational behavior (e.g. showing concern for others, and painting a picture of mutual success) versus negative (e.g. mistrusting others’ intentions and just pretending to listen).Those surveyed contended that they engaged in more of the positive, though 85% admitted to “sometimes” engaging in the negative.
As the authors point out, “when leaders exhibit both types of behaviors it creates dissonance or uncertainty in followers’ brains, spurring cortisol production and reducing C-IQ (conversational intelligence).” Nobody’s perfect, but leaders should be mindful of the power of chemistry. Take an extra moment before you speak: try to quiet negative impulses and communicate your best intentions. The positive, productive reaction you unleash, cognitively and chemically, will be your reward.
Share your experience: Do you notice lingering positive effects when you communicate in positive ways, and vice versa? What are you doing to shift the balance toward the positive? Share your responses to the weekly discussion question on our forum: Community of Practice Forum.