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.
Not everyone we work with will be our best friends, and some may prove challenging to get along with; still, we often must rely on our co-workers for our own efforts to succeed. If a relationship at work proves troublesome, our natural inclination is avoidance. But this can be self-defeating.
Writing in the Harvard Business Review, Dorie Clark, strategy consultant and Adjunct Professor at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, advises acknowledging your own role in the tension, mentally pressing a “reset” button, and changing the relationship dynamic by avoiding past patterns.
We completely agree. We have long said that while we cannot change another other person, we can always change the way we react to that person. The first step is taking accountability for your part in the tension. Be observant as to how your reactions could be making a tense situation worse. Understand yourself and you will gain insight into the dynamic. Change your behavior and change the dynamic. You may not gain a BFF, but you can gain respect and cooperation
Please share your experience: What has worked for you in repairing damaged relationships at work? Join the conversation and click "comments" on our Community of Practice Forum.
We so often present idealized versions of ourselves to others. If we feel disappointment, envy, or anxiety, we don’t want to let on. But research shows that sharing our vulnerabilities is actually of immense value.
Consider this study: Arthur Aron, director of the Interpersonal Relationships Lab at Stony Brook University, paired students who were strangers and gave them 45 minutes to ask each other a series of questions. Half were given superficial questions (e.g., a favorite holiday or TV show), the other half’s questions gradually became deeper (e.g. the role of love in their lives, the last time they cried in front of someone else, whose death would impact them most). Afterward, Aron’s team asked the participants to rate how close they felt to their partner. Pairs from the second group formed much deeper bonds. Some started lasting friendships; some perceived their connection to their study partner as one of the strongest in their lives.
So, contrary to what we may believe, presenting a “totally together” version of ourselves actually separates us from others. We may fear that if people find out “who we really are”, they’ll distance themselves. In fact, our authenticity and vulnerability—our sheer humanity—breaks down barriers.
Please share your experience: When has sharing vulnerability resulted in a stronger connection? Join the conversation and click "comments" on our Community of Practice Forum.
Those who react defensively to criticism are less happy with their jobs, have lower performance ratings, and lower self-esteem than their colleagues. So says recent research by PsychTests AIM Inc. of Montreal, which provides psychological assessment products and services to H.R. professionals.
This study captures what we have long believed: Those who not only tolerate but also learn from criticism ultimately are the better for it. Most of us have been conditioned to react defensively to criticism since toddlerhood. We have learned over our lifetime to explain our actions: to our parents, teachers, bosses, colleagues and relatives. We want them to understand that our actions were based on the circumstances we faced – not our bad motives or lack of commitment. When our energy is spent trying to get our critics to understand us, we are doomed to failure – because they will never hear us until they believe we understand them. So our model for responding to criticism is counter-intuitive: It teaches how to get the critic to “tell me more” rather than “hear me out.”
Please let us know your thoughts: What has been your experience with receiving criticism in productive ways? Join the conversation and click "comments" on our Community of Practice Forum.
Although research consistently shows that listening is critical to leadership effectiveness, many leaders still appear to be lacking in this area. A recent study conducted by the Center for Leadership Development and Research at Stanford Graduate School of Business showed that boards of directors gave poor listening grades to CEOs. In fact, “listening” and “conflict management” were the skills least mentioned as strengths of the over 160 CEOs in the study.
Writing for the Harvard Business Review Amy Jen Su and Muriel Maignan Wilkins, founders of Isis Associates consulting, note that many people overestimate their listening abilities. Listening suffers when we are preoccupied with our own performance; when we are too busy anticipating what will be said next and how to respond; and when we are not open to having our minds changed.
Please share your experience: Whether or not you consider yourself a good listener overall, what have you noticed that either interferes with or promotes good listening? Join the conversation and click "comments" on our Community of Practice Forum.
We all have what the Harvard Business Review calls “default behavior,” moments when we let our visceral automatic pilot usurp reason. These default reactions can lead to impulsive decisions. A study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that highly experienced parole judges reasoned more carefully at the start of each workday and after meal breaks, when on average they granted parole to 65 percent of applicants. But as their sessions wore on, favorable parole judgments fell to an astonishing 0% prior to each food break.
Whatever drives us toward default—be it hunger, fatigue, or a certain type of person who “rubs us the wrong way”—is not serving us. One big reason, in our opinion, is that during default moments we are listening less and cutting off the flow of new information. Lee Newman, Dean of Innovation and Behavior at Madrid’s IE Business School suggests three steps for overriding your automatic pilot response:
1) Know your default triggers.
2) Anticipate and mentally rehearse your overrides.
3) Design your days to minimize triggers at high-stress times.
We want to hear: What drives you into “default” mode and what are you doing to regain control? Are you doing anything to modify your behavior? Join the conversation and click "comments" on our Community of Practice Forum.
There are seven words you cannot say on network TV (and, no, we are not going to name them!). Likewise, there are some words and phrases that should not be said at work -- or perhaps anywhere. One phrase that stands out to us, among the seven nominated by Ilya Pozin, CEO of Open Me and columnist for Forbes, Inc. and Linked In, is:
“It’s not my fault.”
Trying to shift blame to work colleagues, or even to surrounding circumstances, is not constructive
communication. On the other hand, those who calmly and non-defensively address mistakes are respected for their character. They signal they are willing to shift course after missteps and that they have more at stake than their egos. Please let us know your thoughts: When has owning up to a mistake served you well and enhanced your credibility?
Talk more about what you like. This seemingly simple communication choice can have an impact on every aspect of your professional, interpersonal, and even internal life.
Noticing and telling people what you appreciate and admire about them creates satisfaction and loyalty at work (Forbes’ research shows that “recognition rich” cultures have a dramatically increased retention rate). It enhances your own and others’ sense of belonging (a need so basic it is listed just above “safety” and “survival” on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Human Needs). It strengthens your most intimate relationships (John Gottman’s marital research concludes that couples in strong marriages scan the universe for what they appreciate about each other where marriages on the brink find partners noticing what annoys them.) Talking about what you like also helps keep you in a positive frame of mind, since you will be training yourself to seek out and notice what you find to be good and valuable.
In short, you will be creating a happier milieu and mindset. And since happiness has been shown to spread through social networks, there is simply no telling how far this simple practice can go.
We want to hear: Try it for a day, a week, or a month and let us know: How is simply talking more about what you like making a difference? Share your responses to the weekly discussion question here.
Known as America's "winningest coach,” and dubbed Coach of the Century by ESPN, John Wooden brought the UCLA Bruins an unparalleled ten NCAA basketball championships. Most notable in his formula for success: It's not about going for the win—it's about the details: not only concerning basketball moves but also more “invisible” details, like how to put on socks and shoes! Wooden is positive that it is the details that bring achievement. In the process of getting the details right, the wins come.
We couldn’t agree more. The latest research on “grit,” which we have referred to in recent weeks, is showing that focusing on the “how” of what we do—and reinforcing in others the drive to work on process and perseverance—will yield lasting rewards. In the words of John Wooden, “It’s the little details that are vital. Little things make big things happen.”
We want to hear: Can you share an example of how getting the details right resulted in success? Share your responses to the weekly discussion question on our Community of Practice Forum.
We recently posted about the benefits of constructively praising children by acknowledging their effort rather than blanketing them with gratuitous comments like: “You’re smart” “You’re good at that” and “Good job!” Po Bronson, author of Nurtureshock: New Thinking About Children, presents fascinating evidence for this approach here.
As grandparents, we too are rethinking the ways in which we praise. A recent weekend began with our grandson becoming frustrated when he was unable to complete tasks easily (from building a train track to shooting a basketball). His refrain of despair in such situations: "I can't do it!" So as a family, we committed to reinforcing effort vs. results: “It makes sense that you can’t do it yet—you only practiced a few times.” Or: “I noticed that when you were having trouble putting the track together you kept trying to figure it out and then you realized you just needed to turn that one piece around.” By the end of the weekend, after six missed basketball shots in a row, he said: "I just haven't practiced enough to get it right so I need to keep trying." Pretty amazing!
We want to hear: Are you rethinking the ways in which you praise your kids/grandkids—or perhaps youngsters that you teach or coach? What kinds of results are you having? Share your responses to the weekly discussion question here.
For years we’ve spoken and written about the profound impact of nonverbal communication on our ability to persuade. In a recent Ted talk, Harvard Business School professor and researcher Ann Cuddy presents evidence for a direct link between body, mind, behavior, and outcomes.
Not feeling powerful? Cuddy says “Fake it ‘til you make it—or, better yet, ‘til you become it.” Before entering a high-stress situation where others will evaluate you—like a job interview or presentation—Cuddy suggests striking a “power pose,” such as Starfish (arms up in victory pose) or Superman/Superwoman (hands on waist/chest out). Doing this for two minutes (in private:) will lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol. According to Cuddy: “You’ll feel better about yourself and others will experience you as more dynamic. The end game: more success!”
We want to hear: Give power-posing a two-minute try. Does it boost your confidence and up your game? Share your responses to the weekly discussion question here.
We recently came across a quote from a trainer of first responders:
"In emergencies, we tend not to rise to the occasion, but to fall to our level of training."
We were curious about the quote’s origin, but although we found it frequently cited in the training of firefighters and soldiers, it was always attributed to “Unknown.”
Well, our hats off to “Unknown.” The reason we teach communication as a set of observable, conscious skills is because thorough and reinforced training inoculates us against the pernicious effects of high-stress events. With proper training, we are far more likely to default to intentional, constructive communication behaviors, even when those around us may be “losing their heads.”
We want to know: Tell us about a time when you successfully used a conscious method of constructive communication when the going got toughest. Share your responses to the weekly discussion question here.
We know how important it is to be constructive in our communication with others, so why not try being this way when we communicate with ourselves? We expend a lot of mental energy and jeopardize our peace of mind and productivity by comparing ourselves negatively to others, or by creating “stories” about other people who we feel “lack respect for us,” or “lack compassion,” or “cannot be trusted.”
We all have an inner critic and an inner cynic, and silencing these voices is not necessarily easy. But since we can’t change something until we’re aware of it, try keeping track of how often you criticize yourself or impugn others over the course of 24 hours. Noticing the pattern of our negative thoughts and feelings—about others as well as ourselves—is the first step to realizing they are manifestations of our own internal fantasy life, which can fuse us to unhappiness with no basis in truth.
We want to know: Have you tried tracking your self-judging and other-judging thoughts? What were the results? Share your responses to the weekly discussion question on our Community of Practice Forum.
Most Americans are suspicious of one another in everyday encounters, according to an AP-GfK poll conducted in October 2013. Only a third of Americans say most people are trustworthy. About 50 percent felt that way in 1972, when the General Social Survey first posed the question. Now nearly two-thirds of us (a record high) say, "you can't be too careful.”
Although the results of this study might seem depressing, they are related to a cornerstone concept we have been teaching for many years: Trust is not a prerequisite for communication—it is a byproduct of communication. The implications of this are vast. Until we begin to communicate—in conscious and respectful ways—with people who have different opinions and worldviews, we are doomed to relationships fraught with mistrust and misunderstanding. It is when we begin to build communication bridges with people that we are able to create trust—even from conflict.
We want to hear: Do you recall a time when communicating with someone you did not especially trust at first ultimately led to a more trusting relationship? Share your responses to the weekly discussion question here.