Rude and divisive workers can contaminate an organization’s culture—their disagreeable nature spreading like a virus. They sap productivity and sow discontent. Best to avoid hiring them in the first place, but how?
Writing In The Harvard Business Review, Christine Porath, a professor of management at Georgetown University and author of Mastering Civility: A Manifesto for the Workplace, offers this guidance:
In these unusual times, we may be spending more time than ever with family, and encounters with friends and co-workers might require lots of arrangements and negotiations. We might find ourselves butting heads about new topics, like sharing home WiFi bandwidth, helping kids homeschool, and wearing masks. That’s why NPR interviewed Kwame Christian, director of the American Negotiation Institute, about how we can have tough conversations without letting them boil over into full-blown arguments.
Christian’s technique revolves around a simple, three-step process:
When was the last time you turned a confrontation into a collaboration? To join the conversation, click "comments" above.
We’re getting used to wearing masks, but figuring out what we’re looking at can stump even experts in face reading. “We use face recognition in every aspect of our social interaction,” said Erez Freud, a psychologist with the Centre for Vision Research at York University in Toronto. In the faces of others, we find clues about their personality, gender, and emotions. “This is something very fundamental to our perception. And suddenly, faces do not look the same,” Dr. Freud said.
That’s why Dr. Freud and colleagues decided to study how masks impair facial recognition. They recruited some 500 adults to complete a common face memory task online. Participants viewed unfamiliar faces, then tried to recognize them under increasingly difficult conditions. Half the participants saw faces with surgical-style masks covering mouths and noses, and scored substantially worse. In fact, 13 percent of participants struggled so much they may as well have suffered from prosopagnosia, or face blindness. Authors at the University of Stirling in Scotland posted a similar study: 138 adults completed online face-matching tests. When masks were superimposed, people performed worse — even when the faces belonged to familiar celebrities.
One of the main takeaways has been that facial recognition happens holistically, or all at once; we don’t scrutinize people’s features piecemeal. But all isn’t lost. Research shows that out of all facial features, we rely most on the eyes. Even if we struggle to know who we’re looking at when only their eyes are visible, we may still pick up information about a person’s identity and emotions.
“We also use other cues, and we can fall back on some of those other cues if they are helpful,” said Marlene Behrmann, a cognitive neuroscientist at Carnegie Mellon University. For example, we might recognize people by the way they walk or talk, or by their facial hair or hairstyle.
Have you been having a difficult time recognizing masked faces? What cues do you use? To join the conversation, click "comments" above.
Garden-variety lies and corner-cutting are not uncommon, but where is the boundary between this sort of behavior and more egregious dishonesty? In a new paper, researchers in Spain have created what The New York Times calls “a field guide of lying and cheating patterns”…at least among participants in simple lab experiments”.
Researchers instructed 180 participants to perform a coin flip, electronically, and report the outcome. If heads, they won $5; if tails they won nothing. Unbeknownst to participants, the research team could track each coin toss. After the trial, the researchers factored out everyone who got lucky and flipped heads on their one try. The remaining participants fell into distinct groups. Some 20 percent were honest, flipping tails and reporting tails. Ten percent flat-out lied, rolling tails and reporting heads, for the reward. A third group didn’t bother to roll at all, and reported heads — they were “radically dishonest,” as the authors put it. Finally, about 8 percent flipped multiple times until they got heads, and reported that result to collect the cash. This group was termed “cheating non-liars.”
“This [last] group is the most interesting to us,” said lead author Dr. Pascqual-Ezama of Universidad Complutense de Madrid. “They’re willing to cheat, but they don’t lie about the last roll.” The mentality behind this behavior fits well into a vast literature detailing the psychological outs that people give themselves when cutting corners or breaking rules, small and large. Beginning in the 1990s, the psychologist Albert Bandura called these rationalizations “moral disengagement.” It’s a process of preserving self-respect by justifying cheating or worse, with thoughts such as, “Everyone cheats, why should I be shortchanged?”
Dr. Pascual-Ezama says coin-flips and dice-rolls are hardly a reliable guide for how people will behave in the world, where they face much greater, and often competing, social and professional pressures. “Still,” says the Times, “that 8 percent seems like a good group to interview about the developmental and childhood sources of compulsive lying-cheating syndrome. If they’d come clean, that is.”
How do you think you’d behave in an experiment like this? To join the conversation, click "comments" on above.
“The email greeting, no one’s favorite thing to write even in the Before Times, has been exposed by the pandemic for its stodgy emptiness; a hollow, yet necessary, formality,” writes New York Times “Smarter Living” columnist Tim Herrera. “But now we’re forced to consider what we’re actually saying when we’re really not saying much.”
“When the pandemic first hit, it felt so crazy, because there were deadlines that still needed to be met, so you were emailing people,” says Liz Fosslien, author of No Hard Feelings, which examines how emotions affect our work lives. “Like: ‘Hello, hope everything is OK given that the world is crumbling to pieces. Do you have that paper I needed?’”
So, what is appropriate now? How can we write an email and be casual without seeming inauthentic, or be personal without breaking boundaries? Should we try out a little humor, even though for many there’s not much that seems funny right now? According to Fosslien, a lot of that depends on your recipient.
Before sending your next email, give it what Fosslien calls an “emotional proofread.” Put yourself in the receiver’s shoes. Consider what you know about this person, your relationship with them, and what they might be going through. “A quick gut-check before you hit send could save the receiver from unintended anguish.”
Do you have a go-to email greeting you are using these days, and do you ever adapt it according to specific circumstances? To join the conversation, click "comments" above.
Many traditional teambuilding activities don't work the same with remote teams, but certain strategies can bring remote teams together. Heather Morgan, co-founder and CEO of Endpass and a serial software entrepreneur who has managed remote teams for a decade, has some culture-enhancing tips:
Darwin said the fittest survive, but what kind of fitness counts most? Brian Hare and Vanessa Woods, researchers at Duke University’s Center for Cognitive Neuroscience, believe species that have thrived and successfully reproduced haven’t done it by beating up the competition.
Their new book, “Survival of the Friendliest: Understanding Our Origins and Rediscovering Our Common Humanity,” posits that species endure — humans, other animals and plants — based on friendliness, partnership and communication.
“Dogs are exhibit A,” Hare says. “They are the extremely friendly descendants of wolves. They were attracted to humans and became friendly to humans, and changed their behavior, appearance and developmental makeup. Sadly, their close relative, the wolf, is threatened and endangered in the few places where they live, whereas there are hundreds of millions of dogs…”
The authors also point to the success of bonobos, apes that are often confused with chimpanzees. Chimps make war, but bonobos are natural sharers. “The most successful bonobo males have more offspring than the most successful alpha male chimpanzees.”
What does all this mean for us? For humans to continue to evolve successfully, Hare says, “friendliness is the winning strategy. Social problems require social solutions. The secret to our species’ success is the same as it is with dogs and bonobos. We are the friendliest human species that ever evolved, which has allowed us to outcompete other human species that are now extinct. When that mechanism is turned off, we can become unbelievably cruel. When it is turned on, it allows us to win. We win by cooperation and teamwork. Our uniquely human skills for cooperative communication can be used to solve the hardest social problems.”
Can you recall a time when friendliness helped you get ahead? To join the conversation, click "comments" above.
We all like to think we’d speak up if we saw something objectionable happening at our workplace—perhaps something ethically questionable or some evidence of discrimination. In fact, research suggests that most people tend not to act, and rationalize their inaction.
Writing in the Harvard Business Review, Heidi Grant, Associate Director of Columbia University’s Motivation Science Center and author of Nine Things Successful People Do Differently, offers suggestions for those who do want to be diligent employees and lend their voice to the conversation:
If you have spoken up at work, what were the results? To join the conversation, click "comments" above.
Holding audience attention during a presentation is always a challenge, and more so if you are giving it via Zoom. In a virtual setting, you cannot employ or read body language as much as you would in person, and your attendees might well be distracted by other things in their environment (kids, pets, beeping microwaves).
Writing in the Harvard Business Review, Carmine Gallo, instructor at the Harvard Graduate School of Design and author of Five Stars: The Communication Secrets to Get From Good to Great, offers tips for sharpening your presentation skills:
At a time when clear written communication is more important than ever, many of us may have temporarily lost our in-house editors—those co-workers we drop in on when we want a quick assessment of our first drafts. Learning to edit our own writing is a skill that will serve us well now and in the future.
Writing in The New York Times prolific freelance journalist Harry Guinness offers practical advice for DIY editors:
These days, anxiety is pretty widespread—and it’s tempting to want to soothe a co-worker or friend who is experiencing a high level of stress. But, as you may have noticed, telling an anxiety-ridden person to “calm: down” can backfire. A new study suggests that the most effective way to calm someone down is simply to reflect and validate their feelings.
To figure this out, researchers tested out a variety of approaches to comforting 325 married participants who volunteered to think about a fight with their partners and report on how various attempts by a friend to cheer them up made them feel.
Some of the approaches were "low person-centered,” meaning messages that minimized the person's distress or suggested they shouldn't feel so upset. Others were "high person-centered," i.e. they validated the person's stress, saying things like "you have every right to feel upset" or "it's understandable you are stressed out." The more empathic approaches were the clear winners.
The bottom line: Minimizing people’s emotions can come off as controlling and condescending. As columnist Jessica Stillman writes in Inc., “If you're genuinely interested in making someone feel a little better when they're understandably stressed out, give up on cheering them up. You mean well but they'll probably just feel like you're trying to push them around. A far better bet, science shows, is simply listening with empathy.”
When you’re feeling stressed and anxious, what kinds of interventions do you find helpful or less than helpful? To join the conversation, click "comments" above.
“The only way to win is to learn faster than anyone else.” So says Eric Ries, author of The Lean Startup. Unfortunately, the majority of training in today’s companies is ineffective. Although organizations across the globe spend hundreds of billions on training annually, surveys show 75% of managers are dissatisfied with their companies’ learning and development, and only 12% of employees apply newly learned skills to their jobs.
Writing in the Harvard Business Review, Steve Glaveski, CEO of the startup accelerator Collective Campus and host of the “Future Squared” podcast, points out the biological reality that we quickly forget most of what we learn if we don't use it. To get around the “forgetting curve”, we need to implement “lean learning”:
Can you remember a training situation where you remembered much of what you learned, and could apply it? What made that learning stick? To join the conversation, click "comments" above.
If you’re a leader who encourages people to speak up and contribute ideas, you may assume no one will remain silent when they have an idea you haven’t thought of, or spot a problem you haven’t noticed. That assumption seems reasonable, but research suggests that people are motivated to speak up only if they believe their contribution will have an impact on the organization, and that they will not be punished for their comment. By contrast, people fail to signal a problem or idea to the boss when they think there will be negative repercussions for doing so—like getting shunned or fired.
Writing in the Harvard Business Review Michael Parke, an assistant professor of organizational behavior at London Business School, offers strategies for managing both the “voice” and “silence” aspects of employee contributions.
To solicit voice:
To manage silence:
Governments and public health pronouncements aside, businesses can only reopen when their employees feel safe returning to work. In a recent survey of 735 U.S. employers conducted by the global human resources consulting firm Mercer, more than 45 percent said they are already struggling with workers who are reluctant to return to their workplaces because of fear of getting sick.
In a recent Inc. article, Peter Newell, a former Army colonel who spent years on wartime frontlines tackling ill-defined challenges in risky situations and who now runs the consulting firm BMNT, offers advice for navigating this unprecedented dilemma:
If your team is considering returning to the workplace, what are the greatest concerns and how are you addressing them? To join the conversation, click "comments" above.
Although companies benefit when employees speak up, many employees are reluctant to offer suggestions, opinions, or concerns. Two theories attempt to explain why: The personality perspective attributes this reticence to shyness and introversion; the situational perspective ascribes it to environments that discourage speaking truth to power.
The two are not mutually exclusive, but Subra Tangirala, Dean’s Professor of Management and Organization at the University of Maryland, and Hemant Kakkar, a PhD candidate in Organizational Behavior at the London Business School, wanted to test which one mattered more (https://bit.ly/2E4HDVN).
The researchers surveyed 291 employees and their supervisors (from 35 teams overall) from a manufacturing plant, and from their data concluded that “both personality and environment had a significant effect on employee’s tendency to speak up with ideas or concerns.” But they also found that strong environmental norms could override the influence of personality on employees’ willingness to speak up at work. Even if someone was quite shy, they spoke up when they thought it was strongly expected of them. (Tweet it!)
Say the authors, “This finding suggests that if you want employees to speak up, the work environment and the team’s social norms matter. Even people who are most inclined to raise ideas and suggestions may not do so if they fear being put down or penalized. On the flip side, encouraging and rewarding speaking up can help more people do so, even if their personality makes them more risk-averse.”
Do you feel your organization’s culture promotes or discourages employees from speaking up? What specific work environment practices contribute to this culture? To join the conversation, click "comments" above.
If you would like to learn more about creating a habit around masterful communication, check out our online learning programs.