Ilan Zechory and Tom Lehman are not only self-described “best friends,” but also co-founders of Genius.com, a start-up that enables users to annotate song lyrics and other text available on the Internet. Like any two people in a close working relationship, they know conflict comes with the territory. They are also wise enough to know that conflict need not damage their relationship or their company.
After a recent blowup (the two entrepreneurs have opposite management styles and ways of approaching problems) they began seeing a therapist who counsels individuals, couples and some business partners. Once a week, they told The New York Times, they spend an hour articulating their differences and refining their ideas.
Their three big takeaways from the process: “Never let an opportunity pass to say something positive; walking away from a heated conversation doesn’t signal abandonment; and it is better to discuss a problem because it will surface anyway.”
We applaud these leaders, and we resoundingly agree with the lessons they have learned. The more that leaders take a productive approach to conflict, the more successful they and their organizations are bound to be.
We want to hear: Do you think people who work together should set aside time each week to creatively resolve conflict? Join the conversation by clicking "comments" on our Community of Practice Forum.
Today’s far-flung workforce teams have a wealth of tools for sharing information around the globe. But does the virtual experience promote optimum collaboration? Writing in the Harvard Business Review Dr. Karen Sobel-Lojeski, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Technology and Society at Stony Brook University, points out that, beyond data exchange, “Genuine collaboration is achieved through ongoing meaningful exchanges between people who share a passion and respect for one another.”
Such meaning can be eroded by “virtual distance”, says Sobel-Lojeski—by which she means “physical distance, operational distance, and affinity distance.” When she and her colleagues measured virtual distance around the world they found that when it was high, innovation fell by 90%, and cooperative behaviors and trust fell by 80%.
To restore true collaboration, she says, leaders must offer shared context. Even a simple thing like making sure team members know what local time it is for everyone else can help people feel respected. Of course, virtual distance can occur even among workers on different floors of the same building. It is up to leaders to be deliberate about facilitating communication to and among team members so that bonds can be built and maintained. The power of our PRES system and our model for Collaborative Problem Solving can help create greater “presence” and interaction even in remote settings. Remember: Behind every keystroke is a human being.
We want to hear: What has your experience been with virtual distance and how could it be improved? Join the conversation and click "comments" on our Community of Practice Forum.
For most of the 20th century, business schools strived to turn out managers; now they promise to graduate leaders. According to The New York Times, the trend can be traced back to 1977 when Harvard professor Abraham Zaleznik, published a paper entitled “Managers and Leaders: Are They Different?”
Many remain skeptical of goals to “educate leaders who make a difference in the world” (Harvard), develop “brave leaders who inspire growth in people, organizations, and markets” (Northwestern/Kellogg), and create “leaders of consequence” (Duke/Fuqua). They ask: Can leadership really be taught?
We believe leadership can be taught. Leaders need core communication skills to create cultures that breed both performance and engagement. The more that business schools incorporate skills like encouraging collaboration and harnessing the innate power of conflict, the more their graduates will be prepared to innovate and inspire.
We want to hear: Do you think leadership can be taught, and what specific skills should be the focus? To join the conversation, click "comments" on our Community of Practice Forum.
Teams can make great decisions – or truly awful ones. What differentiates smarter teams? In two groundbreaking studies, Carnegie Mellon’s Anita Woolley, M.I.T’s Thomas Malone, and Union College’s Christopher Chabris attempted to find out.
In one study, the researchers grouped nearly 700 subjects into teams of two to five members, assigning each team a diverse array of tasks. In the next study, 68 teams were assigned tasks – the difference being that half collaborated face-to-face and half online. In both studies, the more successful teams shared certain attributes: 1) team members communicated a large amount with each other; 2) they contributed more equally to discussions, and 3) team members possessed strong emotion reading skills*.
Teams with more women tended to do better, which researchers believe is because women score higher on tests of emotion reading, such as “ReadIng the Mind in the Eyes”. But emotional intelligence played just as strong a role online. What makes teams smart, they say, is not reading facial expressions, but rather a more general ability known as “Theory of Mind,” the ability to consider what others feel, know, and believe.
We have been researching and consulting with teams for decades and are thrilled to see so much of what we teach validated here. As teams—including remote teams—become increasingly crucial, the ongoing science of teamwork can help teams form and perform at optimal levels.
We want to hear: Are you part of a smart team? What qualities does your team possess that make it successful? Join the conversation and click "comments" on our Community of Practice Forum.
*For more on contributing effectively in team meetings, see our previous Communication Capsule.
We have long taught that breakthroughs are most likely to occur when criticism is fully heard and the positive potential of conflict is mined. In her new book, Collective Genius, The Art and Practice of Leading Innovation, Professor Linda Hill, faculty chair of the Leadership Initiative at Harvard Business School, says that leaders whose organizations innovate best are those who act as “social architects,” creating a safe collaborative space where team members can “keep pushing and challenging one another.”
The research of Hill and her co-authors suggests that successful innovation leaders have a capability they call creative abrasion: They are able to spark heated but constructive debates that amplify differences as opposed to minimizing them. “Conflict is what generates a marketplace of competitive ideas,” says Hill in an interview with strategy+business.
Generating a wealth of ideas is pointless without a second capability, creative agility, which Hill says “is about testing and refining ideas with feedback, reflection, and adjustment…The idea is to act and learn as quickly as you can, and then make necessary adjustments. When you do an experiment, it’s OK to get a negative outcome, as long as you learn from it.”
We want to hear: What do you think about the link between conflict and innovation? Can you give us an example of productive disagreement on your team? Join the conversation and click "comments" on our Community of Practice Forum.
With employment on the rise, turnover is once again a key concern for employers. As a preventive measure, reports The Wall Street Journal, companies like Credit Suisse are analyzing data predicting who might have an eye on the door.
What they are seeing is a multi-faceted picture of what motivates retention—or not. Factors like pay, or even workers’ relationships with their bosses, can be trumped by how connected employees feel to their teams. And, “at Credit Suisse, managers’ performance and team size turn out to be surprisingly powerful influences, with a spike in attrition among employees working on large teams with low-rated managers.”
While no single piece of data predicts retention with certainty, many of the numbers appear to highlight the power of employee engagement. When workers are bonded to their teammates and when those teams have effective leaders, the impulse is to see things through. The rewards go beyond the monetary: It is hard to put a price tag on the sense of self-worth, excitement, and accomplishment that engagement generates.
On the other hand, it is easy to put a price tag on unwanted attrition. The median cost of turnover for most jobs, says the Center for American Progress, is about 21% of an employee’s annual salary. William Wolf, Credit Suisse’s global head of talent acquisition and development, says a one-point reduction in attrition saves the bank $75 to $100 million annually.
We want to hear: Why do you stay at your job…or what has made you want to leave a job in the past? Join the conversation and click "comments" on our Community of Practice Forum.
Change can seem frightening. So it’s not uncommon for individuals—and organizations—to resist new ideas and default to justifying their current behaviors. However, a new study suggests that focusing on important values is a less threatening way to initiate new behaviors.
Researchers used brain scanning to observe how people respond when given advice about positive behavioral change (e.g. increased exercise). Before being given the advice, half the group was given a self-affirmation exercise involving thinking about a value important to them. The hope was that these kinds of thoughts would trigger activity in the part of the prefrontal cortex responsible for processing information about ourselves. Then each participant was tracked to determine whether or not they heeded the advice.
The result: Those primed with self-affirming thoughts not only displayed a lot more activity in this part of the brain, but also engaged in actual behavioral change in the following month. The control group showed no changes.
We believe priming for change with shared values can be incredibly valuable in an organization. Leaders can inspire others to embrace change by affirming the long-term goals of their organization and emphasizing the ultimate good that can be accomplished.
We want to hear: How have you been successful in initiating change—either on a personal or organizational level? What over-arching values have helped you navigate change? Join the conversation and click "comments" on our Community of Practice Forum.
The Oakland Unified School District, one of California’s largest school districts, is at the forefront of a new approach to school discipline. Instead of suspending or expelling students who get into fights or act out, its restorative Justice program seeks to resolve conflicts and build school community through talking in group interactions called “circling up.”
According to a recent NPR story the district’s as-yet unpublished research shows the percentage of students suspended at schools that have fully adopted the program has dropped by half, from 34 percent in 2011-12 to just 14 percent in the following two years. Data also show that chronic absence is down dramatically and graduation rates are up at restorative justice schools. The program’s success has inspired several other urban districts—including Chicago, Minneapolis, and Denver—to try some version of the approach.
Ta-Biti Gibson, one of the Oakland schools’ restorative justice co-directors, says, "Instead of throwing a punch, [kids are] asking for a circle. They're backing off and asking to mediate…peacefully with words. And that's a great thing." We agree! We heartily endorse having a protocol in place for talking out conflicts in schools—and anywhere else where differences typically have led to unproductive behavior.
We want to hear. What do you think of the circle up approach in schools? Is there another environment where you think this approach would be beneficial? Join the conversation and click "comments" on our Community of Practice Forum.
It’s been nearly 20 years since a landmark study found that by age 3, children from low-income families hear 30 million fewer words than more affluent peers, putting them at an educational disadvantage. Now, a growing body of research is showing that more language is not enough to overcome deficits. The quality of the communication between children and their caregivers is of much greater importance than the number of words a child hears. http://nyti.ms/1qFikJu
“It’s not just about shoving words in,” said Kathryn Hirsh-Pasek, a professor of psychology at Temple University. “It’s about having these fluid conversations around shared rituals and objects, like pretending to have morning coffee together or using the banana as a phone. That is the stuff from which language is made.” Her study showed that quality of communication resulted in 27 percent more expressive communication by children over the course of a year.
Experts recommend that adults keep kids engaged in conversation by asking questions, making comments, and inviting children to share their ideas. Using encouraging words is also important (researchers found that higher-income families provided their children with far more words of praise compared to children from low-income families). To help develop more advanced literacy skills, point out words that rhyme or start with the same sound. For more tips visit.
We want to hear: What tips do you have for teaching language skills to children, and do any of these tips apply to other situations? Join the conversation and click "comments" on our Community of Practice Forum.
“Like Barbie’s Dreamhouse and Hot Wheels, meetings at Mattel Inc. now come with instructions,” says the Wall Street Journal. The recent article refers to the toymaker’s new policy to streamline creativity and overhaul its meeting-heavy culture by limiting the number of people who may attend meetings (10, except for training) and decreeing: “There should be no more than a TOTAL of three meetings to make any decision.”
We agree that endless meetings can be a drain on productivity. Rather than setting strict limits on the number of meetings and participants allowed, we believe leaders should strive to make meetings smarter.
We’ve long recommended our PRES (Point, Reason, Example, Summary) model as a powerful way for meeting participants to get to the heart of any matter. We also recommend the “80/20 principle.” Identify the 20 percent of the discussion that captures 80 percent of the results. Empower participants to call “80/20” when they feel the discussion has reached a point of diminishing returns -- when people are repeating themselves without adding new information. We also urge leaders to ask every meeting participant to be searching for agreements that all group members support.
We want to hear! What do you think should be done to prevent “meeting creep” and make meetings more effective? Join the conversation and click "comments" on our Community of Practice Forum.
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.
A recent study by the research group Flurry found that mobile consumers spend an average of 2 hours and 57 minutes daily on mobile devices—continually stimulated by information. Yet studies also suggest we get our most original ideas when we stop being stimulated and let ourselves get bored.
A recent NPR story cited a study by U.K. psychologist Sandi Mann, who asked subjects to do something really boring and then try a creative task. Participants came up with their most novel ideas when performing the most boring task of all—reading the phone book. Mann says when we're bored, we're searching for something to stimulate us, noting, "We might go off in our heads to try and find that stimulation…and you start thinking a little bit beyond the conscious, a little bit in the subconscious, which allows different connections to take place.” Studies also show that smartphones impinge on our ability to do "autobiographical planning" or goal setting, which may keep us stuck in a rut.
Mann is now on a mission to “bring back boredom." As longtime advocates of the power of the pause and the benefits of silence, we endorse his vision. Visit this NPR link to learn how to track your Smartphone use.
We want to hear! When do you get your most creative ideas? If you’ve tried cutting back on cell phone use, did your creativity grow? Join the conversation and click "comments" on our Community of Practice Forum.
“Athletics teach you to maximize your strengths, while also asking you to compensate for your weaknesses by relying on the strength of others. [Sports] asks you to embrace and respect the unique skills and talents of your teammates and how what they bring to the table contributes to the overall success of the team.” So says Chris Smith, former college athlete and CEO of Athlete Network.
Writing in Fast Company, Smith says the following lessons, which generate success on the field, build better leaders off it:
Success is a “we” thing – It’s a result of how seamlessly you integrate with teammates or co-workers.
A Diverse Team is Strongest -- Tackling a problem or question from a variety of viewpoints, backgrounds, and perspectives is empowering.
Nobody Wants to Work with a Brilliant Jerk -- Talent will take you places; arrogance, close-mindedness and ego won’t.
We agree. Working toward a common goal and respecting others’ skills is as necessary in business as in sports.
We want to hear! What business lessons have sports taught you? 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.