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.

Be a coach, not a critic

In chimpanzee troops, the leader sits at the centre. About every 30 seconds, all the other apes orient themselves to him. They take their cues from him. When he’s stressed or nervous, so are they. When he’s calm, so are they.

Like the chimp troops, we need our leaders to remain calm and in good spirits. When you’re in good spirits, you lift everyone’s spirits. When you’re down in the dumps and feeling stressed, you lower everyone’s spirits. Your mood and the way you deal with staff affects the way they do their jobs and deal with each other and their customers.

On top of that, the brain is hard-wired to give more weight to negative messages than to positive messages. Whether you intend to send a negative message or not, and whether it’s verbal or nonverbal, your messages carry weight. No matter how considerate, constructive and tactful you aim to be, your words can all too easily dismay, distress or alarm. To counter that, your messages need to be cool, calm, collected and mostly positive.

And, of course, the tougher your message and the less people want to hear it, the more difficult it is to get across. And sometimes you need to give a tough message. which is when you want to be a coach, not a critic.

Here are five ways turn your complaints & criticism into constructive comments so that your words sink in rather than sting:

  1. Think about your goal, not the problem. Focusing on a problem keeps you stuck with it. Thinking about how to remove or avoid a problem is destructive and negative. Thinking about how to replace the problem with something you want is creative and positive. So think about what you want to happen or what you want to replace, say, an annoying behaviour with.Saying something like ‘We both want the same thing, here,’ works like magic. Mentally step back and talk about what you both want to show you’re both on the same side. ‘We both want a good working relationship.’ ‘We both want to make the changeover a success.’ ‘We both want to get this problem rectified.’ Now, you only have to work out how to achieve your joint aim.
  2. Focus on the future, not the past. Thinking about your goal automatically means you focus on the future. Coaches avoid post mortems except to see what everyone can learn from them. They keep their sights firmly on the next game, the next match, the next round. Why criticise someone’s mistake when you could show them how to get it right next time?

    LOSE THESE                             USE THESE
    You shouldn’t have …               From now on …
    You’ve done that wrong.          Try it like this.
    That isn’t right.                           Here’s what needs to happen.
    I’ve told you before not to …    Next time, try it this way …
    You never …                                 Could you please …?Outlining what you need to happen instead of blaming someone for something they’ve done or failed to do invites cooperation rather than resistance. It wins you support and improved performance.

  3. Be positive not negative. Thinking about your goal also puts you in the positive. Criticising gets people’s backs up and leads to arguments. Just what you don’t want in a professional relationship. Say what you want, not what you don’t want. Discuss what can be done, not what shouldn’t have been done or what not to do. Here are some ways to turn critical phrases into coaching phrases:

    LOSE THESE                             USE THESE
    Why can’t you …?                      How about …?
    This is difficult.                          Here’s how to do this. Watch carefully.
    We can’t do that because …     We can do that as soon as …
    You’re wrong.                             Here’s how I see it…
    We can’t do that.                        Here’s what I can do….
    No problem.                                It’s a pleasure!Finding solutions, not fault, strengthens working relationships and makes sure things are done right.

  1. Ask don’t tell. People tend to resist when they feel they’re told to do something, forced into something or given unasked for advice. Instead of demanding ‘Do it this way’, suggest: ‘How about…’ or ‘Would you mind…’.Try simply prefacing your comments to flag what you’re about to say or do. For example, asking ‘Would you mind if I make a suggestion?’ means you don’t ram unwanted advice down peoples’ throats.
  2. Be specific not general. You know what you mean, and you want to make sure others know what you mean, too.‘This report isn’t good enough – you’ll have to fix it!’ What specifically needs to be fixed? The layout? The content? The ‘voice’ or tone it’s written in? Is an Executive Summary needed? Perhaps more supporting data would help.Whether you’re being complimentary or constructive, say why. When you need to be constructive (that’s the coaching word for critical), say ‘because’ to take the heat out. When you offer a compliment, saying why you appreciate something sounds more sincere and makes it more likely that the ‘something’ will be repeated.

Coaching, not criticising smooths your professional relationships, brings out the best in people, and gets you more of what you want.

What time spells

A child asks Dad to play Scrabble or play catch and but he’s too busy. An employee stops by a manager’s desk for a quick chat and she carries on with what she was doing while listening with half an ear.

How aware are you of the messages you send people? Do they ever say ‘You’re an interruption’ or ‘I don’t care’, even when you don’t mean them to?

Everyone’s time is precious and that means everyone needs to choose how they spend it. And those choices are important.

Children spell ‘love’ differently that adults – they spell it: t-i-m-e. And to employees, ‘time’ can spell ‘I c-a-r-e’.

So this week, pause and give some thought to whether you’re spending enough of your time on what, and who, are most important to you. What you were doing can often wait when giving the gift of time spells ‘love’ to a child, or ‘I care’ to a friend or employee.

Increasing people’s commitment

When people feel committed to achieving results, they work whole-heartedly and do their best. Low or no commitment yields the bare minimum that comes from half-hearted effort.

Here are the important To Dos to increase people’s commitment:

  1. Paint the ‘big picture’ so they can share your vision.
  2. Help them see the ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ and involve them in helping you work out how to get there. (These first two To Dos are known as ‘engaging people’ in the jargon.)
  3. Match the work needed to reach the goal suits their skill set and personal inclinations.
  4. Next, ‘energise’ them. How does achieving the goal help others? (I posted about this 2 weeks ago.)
  5. Provide the resources – the time, effort, information, etc. – they need to achieve the goal; without this, they’ll feel like they’re beating their head against a brink wall – a sure way to sap the energy you’ve summoned.
  6. Show your appreciation for their contributions. Make it clear you prize what they’re doing because it’s helping to bring that light at the end of the tunnel ever-closer.

So there we have it, a simple enough formula that you can put to work tomorrow to bring out the best in your team:

Engage – Match – Energise – Provide – Prize

How to breed loyalty

Did you read my post How to Earn Your Team’s Devotion? I’d like to follow up on that today. It’s simple but not simplistic.

  • Be loyal.
  • Think of others as well as yourself.
  • Show you care about people.
  • Be considerate.
  • Tell the truth.
  • Keep your promises.
  • Be discreet.
  • Build people’s self-esteem, self-worth and dignity.
  • Tell people you appreciate them.

That’s all to do with trustworthiness, really, isn’t it. Trust is an absolute; you either trust someone or you don’t. Trust is fragile; it takes time to develop but seconds to destroy and once lost, it’s difficult to earn back.

I had a boss once who talked about trust like money in the bank. When you keep drawing on it without replenishing it, your account quickly empties. You make deposits with generosity, empathy, integrity and so on. When you don’t deposit enough, you can’t draw on it. (Unfortunately, it was just talk. I soon learned he didn’t keep his word and quickly lost trust in him. But that’s a different story and anyway, it’s a good analogy, that trust is like money in the bank.)

And then there’s competence. Can you deliver? You need be both trustworthy and competent to be an effective leader-manager.

 

The private, public and not-for-profit sectors are having a tough time of it, with layoffs, outsourcing, relentless change — in short, breaking the psychological contract, which looks a lot like not being loyal to employees. Not making enough deposits. Much of that can’t be helped. But the result is a trust account that’s in the red.

Except, that is, when the organisation has enough trustworthy and competent leader-managers. Then its trust account is likely to be in the black.

 

Add ten years to your life

A study from the Mayo Clinic proved that an optimistic attitude can extend your life by up to 20%. For most of us, that’s more than ten years. And not only does a rosy outlook help us live longer, it helps us enjoy our lives more. That’s because optimists are generally more active and mentally fit in their later years than old grumps.

Probably the easiest way to increase your positivity quotient and with it, your longevity and happiness quotients, is to surround yourself with other optimists, because good spirits are catching.

Another easy thing you can do is put your attention onto what is going well and what is good in your life. Now, for some people, that’s kind of hard. If you’re working in a toxic environment or burdened with working long hours just to keep up, keeping the chin up can be a challenge. Other people are just naturally pessimistic.

Whatever the cause, if you tend to see the glass half empty rather than half full, here’s what to do: Recognise a negative thought when you have one and immediately replace it with a more positive thought. You might reframe it, for instance, or take your mind to a happy place for a minute to reduce your stress level. Be diligent about this because after three weeks, it will have become a habit.

Are you a hard core pessimist? You might also need to take five minutes at the beginning of every day to actually write down something you’re looking forward to that day. And take five minutes at night to jot down five things you’re grateful for, maybe simple things like the great weather or your pretty garden, or big things, like your health and your family. Those two easy actions will dramatically boost your outlook on life and with it, your longevity.

The bottom line is: Our thoughts create our life, so, to live a long and happy life, think happy thoughts. It might sound simple, but it’s powerful and it works.

Plus, you’ll be a better role model to your team and your family.

 

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.