Recognition as social lubricant

Photo by Shandi-Lee

The title of this post is taken from a post by Paul Hebert. Here is the gist:

… recognition is the lubricant for social interaction.  Making sure your employees have ways and methods of connecting and recognizing each other within and between organizational silos lubricates the interactions that must happen in order for innovation, engagement, and collaboration to occur.  It is very difficult to refuse a meeting or a conversation with someone who just recognized your work or highlighted how great you are in the company program or on the company intranet.  You can’t refuse a meeting if the person requesting it just gave you a big thumbs up in the Peer-2-Peer recognition program.

I have spending a major part of the last year reading, studying, thinking and writing about teamwork and collaboration. The more time I spend doing this, the more I realize that long-term successful team facilitation (read: great teamwork) is a journey into the path of most resistance. Teamwork is about interaction and relationships. Interaction and relationship causes friction. We are social beings and putting us with other people affects us and causes us to react. Emotions. Feelings. Thoughts. Urges.

Some of these reactions are positive. Joy. Meaning. Sense of progress. Some of them are negative. Tensions. Discomfort. Fear. Facilitating an effective team is about dealing with all of these issues and putting them on the table. This sounds simple, but it is usually the opposite of what we tend do, which is ignore, tip-toe around and hold back.

When done properly, going against the resistance, facilitating teamwork enables negative reactions to be dealt with in a safe environment and for positive reactions to be magnified in order to improve and sustain future interaction. While the fact that issues are suppressed and unattended will be familiar to many of us (even though they might not agree on the consequences of this habit), like in many other facets of life, taking deliberate time to deal with the positive is even more scarce, even though it has the potential to transform entire systems.

And this is where the quote above comes in. One of the most effective ways to use the positive not only as a leverage to more positive habits and interactions but also as a way to discuss the negative in a safe constructive environment, is recognition. Adopting mutual recognition habits can do wonders to the level of actual interaction between team members. As Hebert says, it might prove difficult for anyone who has just been recognized by a team member not to open up and expose himself to a more intense and difficult interaction.

Of course, I am not talking about a onetime event. Recognition has to be part of the habits and culture of team for it to truly work. What will happen if we take time each day (or each week) to recognize others in our team that for their unique contributions? What will happen if we start every meeting by recognizing what and more importantly who allowed us to reach this phase? What will happen if we recognize any mutual learning that occurs in our team or a regular basis? I suggest you try this magical lubricant and see its social effects yourself.


Are you managing like an artist?

Photo by Coolm36

I was watching the Israeli version of American Idol yesterday (roughly translated to “A Star Is Born”). I noticed a recurring theme. The main feedback the novice artists received is that they need to be more in touch with their feelings. To be truly themselves. The sing from within. To understand the lyrics they are singing and connect with it. When the feedback made one of the contestants cry, her coach told her – “Now, this is real, this is what I want to see on stage” (It sounds harsher than it actually was in reality).

I was watching all that and thinking – how many employees and managers are given (or giving) this advice? How many of us truly connect with who we are and what we are when we go about our craft? Does it really matter if you are a singer or a service provider? If you are a dancer or a carpenter? Shouldn’t we all aspire to produce Art?

I used to write a monthly column to the student newspaper during my undergrad years. I did a well enough job and the editor almost always published my columns with some alterations. One day I saw a number of student behaviors that really upset me. I sat down and wrote an entire column in an hour. I sent it to the editor. She wrote back to me after a few minutes. “Wow! I can almost feel the anger in your words! I am publishing it as is in the front page, in addition to your usual column in the back of the paper. Send me more stuff like that”. The day it was published I was terrified. How will people react? I actually wrote something against my the dominating culture. Some of my best friends were behaving in ways that were covered in my column. I got only positive reviews. I can’t really say that I changed the world, but it felt so good to truly say what I felt like!

A few days ago I finished reading The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement by David Brooks. As I understand it, Brooks tried to write a book that glorifies feelings and the unconscious. Not just gut feelings (like some think Gladwell’s Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking is about, which I am not sure it is) but of truly connecting with the wonderful creatures we are and making the most out the social relationships that are all around us, relationships that are based mainly on emotions. Brooks writes at the end of the book, after thanking his wife Sarah, that he may write about emotions and feelings, but that’s not because he is actually good at expressing them. It is because he is naturally bad at them.

I think there is a lesson there for all of us. Our culture tends to view emotions and feelings in a derogatory way. In the best cases, it something for artists. Not for professionals in other fields. I think this is because putting our true-selves into whatever we do is hard. Popular culture has a tendency to support the path of least resistance. The other path, which is much tougher to thread through comes with tremendous rewards. We can spot the singer who sings from the heart immediately because it resonates in our own social being. I think this is true for every profession and for every business. I am not surprised that Howard Schultz called his book: Pour Your Heart Into It: How Starbucks Built a Company One Cup at a Time

And for all you managers out there, my question to you: are you managing people like you manage artists – by pushing them to connect with their true feelings? Or are you producing more mindless, soulless cogs?


Listen only to the message; talk only to the person

Photo by AndYaDontStop

Last week I was preparing for a long drive with many people in my car. In order to make room for bags in the back of my car I took out the basketball I always carry there and put it on the back shelf near the back window. Some guy I don’t even know, who was standing near me, saw me put the ball near the back window and told me that it is dangerous because if I will have to make an emergency stop something not tied flying from the back of the car is like throwing a huge heavy brick inside the car.

And you know what? He was right. But I didn’t listen. Why? Because of the way he said it. He said it in a condensing way that meant the only thought I had was: “How obnoxious is this guy”. And for a minute there I thought about leaving the ball there just for spite. Who is this guy – I don’t even know him – to talk to me like that, and tell me what to do?

Luckily, I thought again. I decided to ignore that instinct and take the ball down. Tie it down so it would not pose a risk. Because no matter how unfriendly the guy was, he was right. And that made me think of two things:

1. We tend to think that if we just make a rational argument people will agree to it. If we just use the right line of reasoning people will see the light and come around. Unfortunately, people don’t work like that. They have many emotional barriers that prevent them from assessing the situation in a rational way. So it does matter how we say things. How we offer new ideas. How we criticize. It is not only the validity of our arguments that will determine whether or not we will be listened to, but also the way we present these arguments.

2. We need to try to separate the issue from the person. Yes, the remark I got about the ball in the back of the car could have been phrased better. If he would have approached me and asked me if he could make a suggestion instead of just saying it in a smug tone, I might have accepted it more easily. But did his tone change the fact that he was right? More importantly, did his tone change the fact that I was risking my life just to spite some guy I don’t even know? Sounds crazy, but we do it every day. How many bright ideas are we missing because we don’t like the person who raises them or the way he acts in meetings? What advice did we fail to take because we were too emotional to separate it from its source and evaluate it on its merits alone?

Do these two ideas seem to contradict each other? Maybe. F. Scott Fitzgerald famously said that “the true test of a first-rate mind is the ability to hold two contradictory ideas at the same time”. But I don’t think they actually contradict. As communicators, we have no control over what goes on the mind of the other person, but we need to make sure we do as much as we can to help him get the message. The same way, we do have control over what is going on in our mind. And we have to do everything we can to understand what the other side is saying. Isn’t that what communication is really about?


Change is hard – behavior change – not so much!

This amazing slide deck on the 10 top mistakes in behavior change from Stanford University’s Persuasive Tech Lab is important both for personal use and managerial use. It reminds of a many of the concepts so skillfully described in Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard. I thought I take a few and try to elaborate questions for managers of people:

1. Relying on will-power for long-term change: I know it happened to me before as a team leader. We sat together, analyzed our past behaviors and agreed we have to change a behavior. “OK”, we said together “Next time, we will just be more aware and do this thing. No excuses”. The problem is, that the behavior we wanted did not go unpracticed because of lack of motivation or a disagreement about its importance. Will-power if not enough. You and your team should ask yourselves: What is the practical way to make sure this will happen assuming we all lack will-power.

2. Attempting big leaps instead of baby changes: I love this one. Many time out of a truthful desire to make an impact, we set a grandiose plan to change everything. Change is hard. It takes time. Creating new habits require emotional strength. People can only focus on so much. Sit with your team and deiced on a gradual plan with milestones. Just like an avalanche – start small in order to finish big. The small things matter – big time.

7. Believing that information leads to action: This one took me a long time to learn and I still struggle with it from time to time. As quoted in The 7 Triggers to Yes: The New Science Behind Influencing People’s Decisions – “We are not thinking machines that feel. We are feeling machines that think”. Just because people are presented with the information does not mean they will change the behavior. You have to pierce through the veil of indifference. Ask yourself – is the problem in my team lack of information? Many times, you will discover they have all the information, they just don’t care enough.



Spreading positivity

Photo by tango 48


A short paragraph from the book Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard:

In a more exhaustive study, a psychologist analyzed 558 emotion words – every one that he could find in the English language – and found that 62 percent of them were negative versus 38 percent positive. That’s a pretty shocking discrepancy. According to an old urban legend, Eskimos have 100 different words for snow. Well, it turns out that negative emotions are our snow.

This reminded me of an experiment I heard about in a Judgment and Decision-Making class. People were shown different words. Some were positive (Baby, Fun, Happiness, Kitten, Smile, Sweet, Friend) and some were negative (Fear, Bomb, Rude, Thief, Shark, Cancer, Weapon). Each word was shown for 13.3 milliseconds. They were then asked two questions:

  1. What was the word?
  2. Was it positive or negative?

Most of the people could not recognize the words. However, they were able to determine much more accurately, if the word was negative than when it was positive. One possible explanation is that by evolution, we are wired to better spot negative and threatening things. If you miss that berry on the tree, that’s a shame. If you miss the Saber Tooth Lion lurking behind you, you might die.

But we shouldn’t let the fact that negativity controls our language and sub-conscious to allow it to control our lives. It just means we have to work harder. To think more closely on how we say things. To make an effort and look for the sliver-lining, the bright spots and the part of the glass that is half full.

We are not in the Savanna any more. There are no lurking lions. We are dealing with people who feed off relationships. Positivity is a contiguous thing but so is negativity.

What are you spreading? I sure hope it’s positivity germs…