Give people ‘the finger’

We all like to think we’re in charge of our own behaviour but that isn’t always the case. The reason is – our brain. Our brain is filled with specialised circuits that do all sorts of things for us. Some of those circuits are called ‘mirror circuits’. The job of mirror circuits is called ‘interpersonal limbic regulation’ and they prompt us to respond to other people’s emotions and behaviour in kind. These mirror circuits are located in the limbic cortex, our ‘Caveman Brain’.

Some mirror circuits give us empathy for others – we see someone looking sad and our mirror circuits fire off sadness, so we sort of know how they feel. Or we see someone laughing and happy and we smile and feel happy, too.

Our mirror circuits fire off when someone treats us kindly, too. We want to return that kindness. That’s why being nice spreads around to others, like dropping a little pebble in a puddle – the ripples spread.

And here’s the rub. Our mirror circuits fire off when someone is rude, too. Here’s an example. I don’t know about the drivers where you live but I do know about the drivers in Adelaide. Lots of them are pretty rude. For instance, when you pull over to let someone through on a narrow street or in a car park, 49 out of 50 of them don’t lift a finger to say ‘Thank you’.

On Kangaroo Island, on the other hand, every driver lifts a finger to say ‘Hello’ to everyone they pass, never mind to say ‘Thank you’. So when you drive around Kangaroo Island, it only takes a couple of cars going by and lifting the ‘Hello’ finger before you’re lifting the ‘Hello’ finger too. Mirror circuits. People are friendly and you want to be friendly back.

And in Adelaide, when you’ve pulled over to let another driver through and you don’t get the finger-lift ‘Thank you’, the temptation is after one or two times, not to do the finger-lift ‘Thank you’ to the next driver who pulls over for you. That’s the temptation, thanks to those mirror circuits in our Caveman Brain.

Now of course, you know what’s coming, don’t you. Sometimes, we need to over-ride those mirror circuits so that other people don’t dictate our behaviour when that behaviour is rude or anti-social in some other way. We want to use our ‘Thinking Brain’ to tell our ‘Caveman Brain’ to pull its head in, so to speak. That way, we can be pleasant and polite even when someone else isn’t.

And to my mind, that makes for a better place to live, to shop, to drive and to work. Because giving people ‘the finger’ is catching. So give people the ‘Thank you’ finger and the ‘Hello’ finger every chance you have. Niceness is catching and we all want to live and work in a nice place.

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Emotional labour

Here we are in the service and knowledge economy. On the upside, it means less dangerous, demeaning and dirty labour than work in the agricultural and industrial economies. On the downside, it means more emotional labour (Arlie Hochschild’s term, in The Managed Heart). One can hurt your back; the other can hurt your psyche.

Two thirds of Australians are at risk of psychic hurt due to emotional labour. This is work that requires employees to hide emotions seen as unwanted and manufacture wanted emotions.

  • Retail and hospitality workers need to be cheerful to gain repeat business.
  • Health care professionals need to remain empathic yet neutral to ensure objectivity.
  • Police officers often need to seem angry to gain a confession.
  • Judges need to appear emotionally neutral so as not to influence the jury.
  • Office workers may be having a bad day but still need to be cordial and pleasant to their colleagues to grease the wheels of teamwork.
  • Customer service people need to be patient and helpful even to the biggest pains in the neck.

The difficulty is all this emotional dishonesty can be bad for employees and bad for organisations. For employees it can mean burnout, loss of job satisfaction and even damaged family relationships (when you’ve been pleasant to people all day, it can be tempting to drop your mask of sweetness when you walk through your front door). For organisations it can mean high staff turnover and disengaged employees.

Before moving on to possible remedies, or at least ameliorations, we need to distinguish between two possible ways of putting on the organisationally required ‘face’: surface acting and deep acting.

Surface acting is when you only disguise your feelings. It’s superficial. You paste on a smile and say ‘Yes, certainly, M’am’ through gritted teeth. But you still want to put your fingers snugly around M’am’s throat.

Deep acting is where you consciously control your feelings. You might recall a happy experience to put you in a cheerful mood. You might see the difficult person you’re dealing with as a frightened child to boost your empathy (reframing). The desired emotions follow naturally.

With surface acting, you don’t kid yourself about how you really feel and most of the time, you don’t kid other people, either. It demands more energy and effort and leads to more health problems, too–greater emotional exhaustion, feeling like a non-person, depression and anxiety, to name a few.

With deep acting, you actually feel the emotion you’re portraying and because it’s more genuine, it’s more believable, both to yourself and to others.

So, given that you’re likely to carry out emotional labour yourself and to be leading and managing people carrying out emotional labour, how can you lessen its negative effects while still displaying the behaviours and attitudes demanded by the organisation? Here are five steps you can take.

  • Recruit the right people. Look for people who share your organisation’s values and whose temperaments and attitudes lead them to naturally display the desired behaviours. Look for people who don’t ‘wear their hearts on their sleeve’ and who have a track record of successfully regulating their emotions.
  • Train people in deep acting. Trained imagination, role play and reframing are three techniques that work.
  • Let people de-brief after a hard day or a hard encounter. Recovery short-circuits burnout, leading to increased performance. People can also learn from each other this way, too.
  • Encourage healthy off-the-job activities (exercise, sport etc.) and a healthy life style (healthy eating, work-life balance etc.) to further replenish depleted resources.
  • Recognise the value of emotional labour.

Is it ever OK to lie to a customer?

If you’re like me, probably your first instinct is to say, ‘NO!’ But read on. I will tell you a true tale.

A couple of weeks ago, I popped into the Health Food shop to buy one of those little sticks of salt that you use as a deodorant. They were sold out of the one I like (made in Queensland–support home-made and it’s a good product).

The man behind the counter said, ‘Yes, we seem to be out of that one. I’ve ordered some and they should be in next week.’

I let two weeks go by and stop in again. A different man and a woman are behind the counter this time. The place on the shelf for my little salt stick is still empty. ‘Not in yet?’ I say?

‘I told you you should have done an order!’ barks the man at the woman.

‘Oh, that’s OK,’ says I. ‘They were ordered a couple of weeks ago so they should be in soon.’

‘Oh? Who told you that?’ says the man.

‘The other man’ says I.

‘Huh! He doesn’t know how to do orders!’ and turning to the woman says again, ‘I told you to do those orders ages ago. Now look.’

At which point, I crept out of the store.

Back to my question: Is it ever OK to lie to a customer? My answer is yes, when it stops you and your business looking like total dills. No need to make the other employee look stupid. No need to start a blue in front of a customer.

What I think they should have said was something like, ‘Gee, you’re right we’re out. I’ll phone the supplier and see if we can have some shipped quickly. Can you wait until next week?’

Have I gone back there to buy my salt stick? Nope. Went to another Health Food shop.

 

 

The answers

How did you do on last weeks pop quiz on management trends, then whens and the whos? Here are the answers:

1.  Scientific management                             a. 1911, Frederick Winslow Taylor

2.  Servant leadership                                    b. 1970, Robert Greenleaf

3.  The balanced scorecard                           c. 1992, Robert Kaplan and David Norton

4.  Beaucratic management
and hierarchies theory                              d. 1922, Max Weber

5.  Business process re-engineering              e. 1990, Michael Hammer

6.  Big data analytics                                      f.  2011, lots of really smart people

7.  Australia industrialises                               g. 1920s, William Lawrence Ballieu and the
Collins House Group

8.  Power with, not power over                       h. 1920s, Mary Parker Follett

9.  Emotional Intelligence                                i. 1995, Daniel Goleman

10. The hierarchy of needs                              j. 1943, Abraham Maslow

11. Management as a profession                    k. 1946, Peter Drucker

12. The Hawthorne experiments                      l. 1924, Elton Mayo

13. Total Quality Control                                  m. 1950s W Edwards Deming and others

14. Moments of truth                                       n.  1989, Jan Carlzon

15. Action Centred Leadership                        o. 1973, John Adair

16. Hygiene factors and Motivators                  p. 1959, Frederick Herzberg

17. Expectancy theory of motivation                 q. 1964, Victor Vroom

18. Empathic leadership                                    r. 1945, Sir Edward ‘Weary’ Dunlop

19. Transformational leadership                         s. 1978, James McGregor Burns

20. The continuum of leadership styles              t. 1958, Robert Tannenbaum and
Warren Schmidt

21. Management Grid                                        u. 1964, Robert Blake and Jane Mouton

22. Theory X, Theory Y                                       v. 1960, Douglas McGregor

23. Task-readiness theory                                  w. 1960s, Paul Hersey and Kenneth
Blanchard

How much do you know about past and current management trends

Let’s find out! Your task, should you choose to accept it, is to match each management trend with the date and person it’s most associated with.

For example, number 1, Scientific Management, was kicked off in 1911 by Frederick Winslow Taylor, so on you’d write 1–a on a piece of paper. Who do you associate Servant leadership with? Write the letter of that date and person beside number 2. And so on.

Good luck. Answers next week.

Management trend                                    Date and person most associated with it

1.  Scientific management                             a. 1911, Frederick Winslow Taylor

2.  Servant leadership                                    b. 1964, Robert Blake and Jane Mouton

3.  The balanced scorecard                           c. 1990, Michael Hammer

4.  Beaucratic management
and hierarchies theory                               d. 1924, Elton Mayo

5.  Business process re-engineering              e. 1964, Victor Vroom

6.  Big data analytics                                      f. 1989, Jan Carlzon

7.  Australia industrialises                               g. 1945, Sir Edward ‘Weary’ Dunlop

8.  Power with, not power over                       h. 1943, Abraham Maslow

9.  Emotional Intelligence                                i. 1920s, Mary Parker Follett

10. The hierarchy of needs                              j. 1978, James McGregor Burns

11. Management as a profession                    k. 1959, Frederick Herzberg

12. The Hawthorne experiments                      l. 1970, Robert Greenleaf

13. Total Quality Control                                  m. 1946, Peter Drucker

14. Moments of truth                                       n.  1960, Douglas McGregor

15. Action Centred Leadership                        o. 1992, Robert Kaplan and David Norton

16. Hygiene factors and Motivators                  p. 1960s, Paul Hersey and Kenneth
Blanchard

17. Expectancy theory of motivation                 q. 1922, Max Weber

18. Empathic leadership                                    r. 1958, Robert Tannenbaum and
Warren Schmidt

19. Transformational leadership                         s. 1973, John Adair

20. The continuum of leadership styles              t. 1950s W Edwards Deming and others

21. Management Grid                                        u.  2011, lots of really smart people

22. Theory X, Theory Y                                       v. 1920s, William Lawrence Ballieu and                                                                                the Collins House Group

23. Task-readiness theory                                  w. 1995, Daniel Goleman

 

How to deal with whingers, angry people and chronic complainers

Just about everyone has to deal with, or even work with, with whingers, angry people and chronic complainers. Sometimes you can shrug your shoulders and walk away. Sometimes you can’t–you need to stick it out and deal with them. When that happens, try this:

First, don’t take it personally. That’s just the way some people are and they’re probably the same with everyone, not just you. Or maybe they’re having a difficult day; they might have just had some bad news or be feeling unwell. So don’t take their whinging, anger or moaning personally.

Instead, take a deep breath. This delivers oxygen to the thinking part of your brain so that you can think more clearly and keep your cool. While you’re taking that deep breath (or three!) remind yourself that this poor person is probably doing the best they can. They just lack the skills to behave or communicate more effectively.

Next, put your filters up. Imagine a big screen between you and this person, filtering out their nastiness, their emotionalism, or whatever it is that’s making them difficult to deal with. This big screen is only letting through the facts and the important information you need. You can make your screen any colour you like–mine is gold!

With your bug screen up between you, you can safely let them have their full say. Try to listen with them, not against them. And don’t interrupt, even when you disagree or believe they’re wrong.

When they finish, recap what they’ve said to let them know you’ve heard them and understood their point. At the very least, they may stop repeating it and allow the conversation to progress sensibly.

Just one more thing to think about: sometimes people who annoy us are really holding up a mirror; what we’re seeing or experiencing is really a reflection of ourself and nothing to do with the person we’re dealing with.

Ahhhhh–that makes you think, doesn’t it?!

Help your team provide sensational customer service

I’ve just read a terrific blog on customer service. It makes the great point that even when you’re engaged in performing a short, specific task for a customer, it’s still important to build a relationship.

Here’s a bonus: With the best will in the world, the odd ‘customer from Hell’ does exist. If some of your customers ever ‘get to you’, check this blog out. It has some hilarious customer stories that may make you feel better. At least they will give you a good laugh and brighten your day!

Discussion questions

Ask your employees to read the Whose customer is it anyway? blog and work through the three questions at the end of the blog with them.