We recently wrote about Harvard professor Amy Cuddy’s research on “power poses” and how striking an expansive pose before a high stakes interview or presentation can boost confidence. (Stand with your limbs stretched out from your body, hold your head high, and it’s hard to feel insecure!) Now we’d like to take this concept a step further.
In a recent talk on body/mind alignment and its importance in conveying our messages, Stanford professor and social psychologist Deborah Gruenfeld cited research showing that in group settings (like meetings), those with high status assume more expansive body postures than those with lower status.
On a subliminal level, people decide in microseconds who is—and isn’t—worth paying attention to. If you want your words to resonate, align them with your body posture. A few subtle changes can make all the difference. Moving your elbows away from your body or draping an arm across a chair can increase your perceived status, while contracting your limbs, bowing you head, or turning one foot inward can lower it. When verbal and non-verbal messages align, our impact is greater.
Share your experience: Have you equated higher status with expansive body postures when you observe work colleagues? What happens when you try altering your own non-verbal body posture? Join the conversation and click "comments" below.
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.
In his TED talk, Jason Fried, software executive and author of Rework, lambasts meetings as “toxic, terrible, poisonous things” that stifle productivity. He recommends finding ways to eliminate meetings, including more instant messaging and emailing.
Our take: Yes: Too many meetings are dysfunctional time bandits. But rather than abolishing meetings, make meetings great! Meetings should become places where differences of opinion yield better decisions and where the end product is far richer than any single contributor could have conceived.
Some keys to facilitating better meetings: Make the goals of the meeting clear. Tap the synergy of a group through rituals that invite quieter people into the conversation. Listen actively to whomever is speaking, including asking clarifying questions and paraphrasing before disagreeing. When you hear a good idea, acknowledge it. When group members realize they are influencing each other, energy, momentum and morale soar.
Please share your experience: What do you do to make meetings productive, inclusive and energized? Join the conversation and click "comments" on our Community of Practice Forum.
Women best men when it comes to effective leadership. So says the third annual Ketchum Leadership Communication Monitor, a survey that tracks responses from more than 6,500 individuals around the world, examining perceptions of leaders in business, politics, community, non-profit, and organized labor organizations.
Specifically, female leaders around the world topped their male counterparts in four out of seven metrics of effective leadership: “leading by example,” “communicating in an open and transparent way,” “admitting mistakes,” and “bringing out the best in others.” A fifth metric—“handling controversial issues or crises calmly and confidently”—placed males and females near even.
Beyond gender distinctions, the data has important takeaways for all leaders. Those who are respectful and reinforcing, who are willing to admit mistakes, and who openly lead by example will blaze a path to the future. “It’s not about a value judgment on either gender, it’s simply saying what matters to the world now is systematically being displayed more by female leaders than male leaders,” said Rod Cartwright, director of Ketchum’s Global Corporate & Public Affairs Practice.
Please share your thoughts. Do you admire leaders (male or female) who exemplify the traits Ketchum respondents identified? Do you consider yourself such a leader? Join the conversation and click "comments" on our Community of Practice Forum.
Want to motivate your kids to help out? Try defining them as “helpers.” So says a new study in the journal Child Development. Experimenters divided 100 preschoolers into two groups. Half got a talk about helping; the others heard about being helpers. While the children were playing, those who got the talk about being helpers dropped their toys to help 20 percent more often.
The difference is nuanced, but important. When you want to reinforce a moral trait (like being a “helper” or “giver”) use nouns—not verbs! Being called a helper makes kids feel they're embodying a virtue, says Christopher Bryan, one of the psychologists behind the study. Conversely, if you want to reinforce skill-based behavior it’s best to focus on specific detailed actions and effort. (As we mentioned in a previous Communication Capsule, rather than offering vague “Good job” kudos to kids, we reinforce their hard work and the specific activities that helped them achieve success: "Wow, how did you do that? Could you show me how to do that?")
By the way, the moral motivation phenomenon isn't unique to kids. In a previous study, Bryan found that asking grown-ups, "How important is it to you to be a voter?" was more likely to get them to the polls than asking them about the importance of voting.
We want to hear! What happens when you motivate kids, or adults, by using virtue-based nouns? 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.
We hope this week’s Communication Capsule gives you a boost. Your feedback on our Forum is welcomed and valued.
Here’s looking at you! When someone makes eye contact, they are perceived as more connected, as well as more trustworthy and likeable. We’ve long discussed the value of eye contact, and now it turns out that this basic mode of communication is so powerful it even has an impact on our relationship with “brand mascots.”
In a study published last month in the journal Environment and Behavior, researchers at Cornell manipulated the gaze of the cartoon rabbit on Trix cereal boxes and found that adults were more likely to choose Trix over competing brands if the rabbit was looking at them rather than away. Researchers also found that the eyes of characters on boxes of cereal marketed to kids were directed downward—to meet the upturned gaze of little tykes in grocery aisles.
If marketers know how to invoke the power of eye contact, we should all be conscious of its impact. Eye contact activates the parts of the brain that help us to more acutely and accurately process another person’s feelings and intentions. It gives us, as The New York Times put it, “a cognitive jump start.”
So, look up from those mobile devices and connect! You will not only be perceived as more aware and empathic—you actually will be.
Please share your experience: When you consciously make an effort to increase eye contact, what do you notice about the outcome? Join the conversation and click "comments" on our Community of Practice Forum.
Parents from virtually all backgrounds place high importance on raising caring children. So what kind of messaging is most effective when it comes to influencing our children to be generous and kind? Role modeling!
In a classic experiment, psychologist J. Philippe Rushton gave 140 elementary and middle school children tokens for winning a game, which they could keep or donate to an impoverished child. They first watched a teacher play—and regardless of what the teacher said, or did not say, about the virtues of generosity, children donated significantly more than the norm when they saw the teacher behaving unselfishly.
Adam Grant, a professor of management and psychology at the Wharton School and author of Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success, notes, “If you don’t model generosity, preaching it may not help in the short run, and in the long run, preaching is less effective than giving while saying nothing at all.” In short, when it comes to passing on our values, actions speak louder than words.
We want to hear: How do you encourage your children to be compassionate and giving? Join the conversation by clicking "comments" below.
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.
Ignoring your kids in favor of your cell phone? Research shows what your gut may already tell you: it hurts their feelings. In researching her book The Big Disconnect: Protecting Childhood and Family Relationships in the Digital Age, psychologist Catherine Steiner-Adair interviewed 1,000 children between the ages of 4 and 18,about their parents' use of mobile devices. The language that came up over and over and over again was "sad, mad, angry and lonely." Some gleefully told how they tossed a parent's phone into the toilet or hid it in the oven.
If you’d like to preserve your cell phone—and, oh yes, your family relationships—we recommend setting an intention to pay attention to your kids when you’re together. We agree with Steiner-Adair when she says, "We are behaving in ways that certainly tell children they don't matter, they're not interesting to us, they're not as compelling as anybody, anything, any ping that may interrupt our time with them.” Small wonder that children (and spouses and friends and colleagues…) may act out more to get a crumb of our attention.
We want to hear: Have you experienced “disconnects” because you’re preoccupied with technology? Are you doing anything to modify your behavior? Share your responses to the weekly discussion question here.
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.