A deliberate management out-of-body experience

Photo by AndYaDontStop


This is the fourth post in a series of post I am writing after reading Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking by Malcolm Gladwell (for former post see 1, 2, 3).

In the book Gladwll describes what he calls the love lab. It is a long experiment conducted by John Gottman from the University of Washington. Since the 1980s Gottman has been watching married couples in a small room after telling them to have a normal conversation around everyday issues. He then videotapes them and examines the conversations. He developed a system, almost like a Morse Code to interpret the real undercurrent emotions of the marriage and he is able to predict, with amazing success rate, if a couple is going to survive or divorce.

There are a lot of interesting things about this experiment. Here is one of the things that struck him as particularly interesting:

What people say about themselves could also be very confusing, for the simple reason that most of us aren’t very objective about ourselves… that’s also why Gottman doesn’t waste any time asking husbands and wives point-blank questions about the state of their marriage. They might lie or feel awkward or, more important, they might now know the truth… “Couples simply aren’t aware of how they sound,” says Sybil Carrere. “They have this discussion, which we videotape and then play back to them. In one of the studies we did recently, we interviews couples about what they learned from the study, and a remarkable number of them – I would say a majority of them – said they were surprised to find either what they looked like during conflict discussion or what they communicated during conflict discussion.”

Conflict discussions, positive or negative, are something we have at work places every day. How aware are people about the way they look or what they communicate during these everyday interactions? If the workplaces is in any way similar to the relationship between married couples – and in many ways I believe it is – the answer is not very much.

However, let us take this another level. How aware are you to the way you look or what you communicate as a manager every day? What kind of body language do you use? What is your choice of language? Your tone of voice? How much do you let your employees talk? When do you interfere?

There is a lot to be gained from taking an outside objective look at how we behave. The objective videotaping is a great idea and I am sure it could also be used in the managerial space. Have you ever thought about recording a meeting and then asking all the employees, including yourself, to watch it and come up with suggestions and feedback?

But  using a videotape, while a great idea by itself, is just a tool that represents an approach. When is the last time you tried to get an outside view, objectively, on your business, your processes, your strategy, the way you interact with other people?

This is what I wrote a while back that I think connects perfectly to this idea of seeing ourselves from the outside:

It is quite clear (or is it?) that if we want to understand our customers, we need to act like customers – try to acquire a service or a product from our own company. However, the same could be said about you as a manager. Can you put yourself in your employees’ shoes and try to “acquire” feedback, recognition or just time with you.

Yes, I know, the comparison is not complete and you cannot disguise yourself as a mystery shopper in order to obtain feedback from… well, you. This line of thinking might only manifest itself as a mental exercise. But, if you think about it carefully, I am sure that you can come up with ways to actually try to acquire management services from yourself (start by examining you schedule and how much of it is dedicated to being with your employees, and which ones).

However, what is more important is the frame of mind. The understanding that as managers, we are there for our people and to help them excel, we need to try and see things from their perspective.

It turns out that seeing things from other people perspective is really mind-blowing. So maybe managers should proactively instigate, for themselves and for their employees, a deliberate out-of-body experiences.


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