When was the last really great conversation you had? When was the last terrible talk you had?
The chances are pretty good that both happened with the same person, since most of us find we regularly communicate well with only a small handful of people on matters that are close to our hearts. And it is the same person or people that tend to rile us up when we are not feeling that "click" that comes from good connection. When I work with couples seeking to resolve their divorce dispute through collaborative practice, I survey each partner in order to understand their perception of their own and their partners communication style. The goal of collaborative coach facilitation is NOT to reunite the couple and repair the rift that has led them to select divorce (although truth be told some couples have decided against divorce after learning skills from their collaborative coach); rather the goal and the purpose of the information I collect is to better understand the areas of strength and challenge that might impact the couple's ability to directly confront the myriad decisions that lay before them as they disentangle the life they built together. From the simple to the complex, a couple's communication pattern can forecast areas that will prove easy and challenging as they make the decision to dissolve their union.
There are 11 areas that I examine with each partner prior to the start of the collaborative process. Each area represents a communication method that in and of itself predicts very little about potential "hot spots". What can be very revealing however is the pattern of these 11 areas and the ways in which both partners report themselves and their partner's patterns. Knowing that one partner has a habit of leveling while another partner tends to withdraw helps me to shape 5-way meetings so that the information that needs to be heard can be heard in a way- and at a pace- that is most helpful for shared decision making.
Take a look at the list below. What approach do you recognize as your primary approach; which one is your "pet peeve" when selected by your partner? I evaluate my clients using a standardized measure; but you can learn a lot about your particular approach by reviewing and reflecting on these for yourself. And, if you happen to be in the middle of a conflict with someone with whom a long-term connection is necessary, consider what changes you might make to help decrease the negative conflict and open up productive dialogue. We can't control others, but there is a lot we can do to select a different pattern for ourselves.
Leveling:Being Open, honest, and clear about your thoughts and feelings
Emotional Expressiveness: Being comfortable with expressing and expressions of emotions and affection.
Validation: Acknowledging and giving full credit and value to another's experience and perceptions.
Love and Affection: Expressing and being comfortable with expressions of love and affection.
Editing: Leaving out thoughts, feelings, or information in order to shield your partner, or yourself from your partner's reaction.
Negative Escalation: Adding negative statement upon negative statement and increasing the degree of conflict
Negativity: Finding problems and blame with every statement or suggestion offered by partner.
Feedback: Asking questions about your partner's position in order to better understand their statement.
Stop Actions: Stopping conversations when conflict has gotten heated and agreeing to return to the topic once calmer.
Focusing: Maintaining the dialogue on the single topic that is being addressed and preventing the conflict from spreading to other tangential topics.
Withdrawl: Refusing to engage on a topic and ceasing dialogue and interaction.
(adapted from Allerano & Markman, 2006)
When was the last time life called on you to be lovingly and patiently accepting of imperfection? How good were you at answering that call? I bet it depends on who was on the other end, and how long that particular phone was ringing.
Compassion is a quality that is gaining new attention because it seems to sit at the heart of so many human experiences and its presence, or absence, can tell us a lot about what might follow.
In crisis, compassion can be the quality that assists a first responder in dealing professionally with a suspect. Doing so may allow more successful prosecution, and ultimately the justice that a more adversarial response may have garnered. Compassion for the crisis survivor goes another way too; when we can see our own actions in a compassionate light we have a better time coping with the emotions and guilt that frequently arise as a result of traumatic events.
In relationships, compassion is the skill that gives us pause when we are feeling most frustrated at our partner or child. Just as most healthy people would not fault a dog for wanting to sniff the ground, compassion allows us not to fault our partner for sometimes being selfish, sometimes not listening, sometimes not following through. When we respond with compassion we elicit the type of relational response we were craving to begin with.
When we try to connect across divides, be they class, gender, or race; compassion helps us to develop awareness and understanding of our own and others biases, which in turn helps us to select different responses than we might otherwise have generated.
Looking at relationship and stress response outcomes, those with higher self-compassion often report more positive outcomes. There is truly something powerful about the ability to see imperfection and tolerate and embrace it anyway.
You can turn compassion into a powerful tool for yourself, and the more you try it, the greater the rewards. Compassion is a quality that can be cultivated. Small steps to increase your awareness and acceptance of imperfection, in the environment, yourself and other people, can result in big gains in areas of decreased stress, increased productivity, and increased positive interactions. Think about how much energy and time you would save when you stopped trying to change things that can not be changed and instead moved into where things are as they are. Curious about how self-compassionate you are with your own imperfections, Dr. Neff has a useful tool I use in my coaching practice and in areas of my research. Her copy for the general public can be found here. She also has a great book you may want to read.
Compassion doesn't mean lack of excellence or surrender. Progress can happen even when imperfection is tolerated and social science research, and your own memories of loved ones who guided you, confirm that progress is more durable, more fun, and more contagious when true understanding and concern has directed it forward.
I was thinking once again about the many service offerings BDSinsight has and it struck me one day after sitting behind an older driver (who lacked my sense of urgency when responding to a green light) how compassion is a thread that runs through each of the areas we serve. Culture and diversity, crisis, and conflict management are all enhanced when we can bring compassion. Here are some great TED talks that share lessons learned by others about compassion's role.
This is the inaugural post of my new website. In a few more days I will enter my prior posts into the archive. If you have been reading along you may have noticed that my posts have focused on a variety of human resource topics. From time to time they also shared thoughts on current events, in my life or in the news. It was nice getting an audience, and the blog helped me open some other writing opportunities for myself. I will keep blogging. But this entry, and this new site, represent a narrowing of focus and a clarification of my mission and vision for BDS Insight.
I am not an organizational psychologist that can help a hi tech company recruit and select talent.
I can do that, but it isn't where my passion rests. And that was the lesson of the past year and a half of finding my way to my mission.
If you have had a chance to poke around my new site you have no doubt noticed a number of service offerings. To some it may seem there is little in common in these threads. Culture and diversity, on-site trauma response, coaching and training, and collaborative law facilitation. It hardly seems my focus has narrowed. But the common thread in these is me. My background, talents, interests, and experiences are all represented in these practice areas. Over the past 18 months I have clarified and credentialed myself to deliver these services well.
In the recent words of Dustin Pedroia "I don't have to do everything I do. It's just that I like it."
And like it I do, but also I have lived it, learned from it, and listened to or lectured about it over the past many years in such a way that this feels like the right time and the right way to bring these parts together.
I know a lot about helping people through hard times.
I know a lot about setting goals and knocking them out of the park.
I know a lot about getting people who don't agree, to find ways of agreeing.
I know a lot about how important people are, and how easy it is to miss what is important to them because of blindspots and uncertainty.
I hope you will think of BDS Insight when you or a company you know needs insightful, smart, well-grounded, and science driven support for issues related to crisis, culture, or conflict resolution.
If you are a C-Suite-er looking to rise, an A-lister looking for perspective, or a First Responder exhausted from your work, I hope you'll call me for some coaching support and strategies to sustain your passion.
If you are a couple seeking a different kind of divorce, or a company attempting to settle without litigation but with advocates, I hope you will make use of my collaborative coaching services.
Call this a refresh, rebrand, or pivot; to me it just feels like a perfect fit. Looking forward to our future work together.
This week it seemed my news feeds were advertising the latest stories about happiness, tips, tricks, and how to’s. It didn’t matter if the source of the information was from a business journal, a relationship columnist, or a parenting forum; the hot headlines were each shouting about the latest research, anecdote, or personal journey to achieving lasting happiness. One columnist quipped that workers who were happiest were the ones doing the least amount of work, while a marriage counselor released research to suggest that happy couples have fewer episodes of forgotten kindnesses shared between them. And how can you escape the battering-ram of happiness when it comes to children? This past weekend was a celebration of Easter for many, Christians and seculars alike, with toothy smiles of overflowing baskets and chocolate bunnies missing ears. All around us we get fed stories of the centrality of happiness to our relational and occupational existence.
While I sure like feeling happy, happiness isn’t the point. If you are basing your company’s, you own, or your marriage’s success on a measure of happiness you are absolutely going to be disappointed. And the level of disappointment is not a predictor of your future happiness, but it is an indication of how well you will weather the ups and downs that lay ahead.
Want your work, relationship, company, or kid to turn out great? Focus on purpose and meaning instead of happiness. When we experience a sense of importance in what we do and who we spend our time with, we are not only more likely to spend our time doing or being with those tasks or people, we are more likely to be better at it, create more pleasurable experiences for others, and basically be more pleasant to be around. If we worked harder to help our children think about their experiences from a meaning-based perspective, instead of a function-based one (wasn’t that fun?), we would do much to create resilience in them when they face challenges that are not easily conquered.
I have recently seen the intersection of these ideas come to the fore as I dig deeper into an emerging area of law. Collaborative Practice is the process of two (or more) parties agreeing to forgo litigation in favor of jointly creating a resolution. The parties are represented by counsel, and the process is facilitated by a specially trained coach facilitator who has both a mental health and mediation background. The coach’s role is to handle the emotional labor involved in helping the parties identify their needs and move towards a resolution that best meets their shared interests. Collaborative law is seeing a surge of interest in family law matters, due in no small part to the very lengthy hearing process and collateral damage associated with litigated divorces. In civil disputes there is a rich history of success for collaborative law, but fewer seem aware of its power as a tool for change.
In seeking to resolve disputes, happiness as an end goal is usually a non-starter. There has been a long history of hurt and bitter feelings, and parties often wish separation rather than union as they work through a collaborative process. But flipping this desire into a goal of feeling valued, feeling heard, and leaving a lasting impression of one’s commitment or integrity may make the two parties more likely to come to agreement because of a shared vision.
Last week’s unfortunate unfolding of Adria Richards’ tweet heard ’round-the-dev-world and this week’s responses to gaming leaders stepping down in response to sexist party events underscores that workplaces are once again facing the strains between status quo and inclusivity. These efforts to frame distance and dispute from a meaning-based, rather than happiness-based, space may result in more human, and humane, responses to each other and to our roles and responsibilities.
I’m really not against having fun! But in the spaces where my work is conducted: leadership coaching, collaborative law process, and company culture and inclusivity, I far too often see the cost of focusing almost exclusively on “happy” to the detriment of “fufilled”. You can click on a lot of recent headlines to learn tricks to happiness, but you will need an endless loop of headlines to hold onto that feeling once achieved. Instead, look to create a map to meaning and your search efforts are likely to be less exhausting and more rewarding than you (or your company, partner, or child) felt possible.
Want to read more?
Petersen, Park, & Seligman (2005). Orientations to happiness and life satisfaction: The full life versus the empty life. Journal of Happiness Studies.6:25 41
When I teach students in my undergraduate psychology course about culture, I always start with helping them learn about their own. Many times students who are members of a majority group will have difficulty identifying what aspects of their routine, clothing, and diet represent their culture. Turn the tables and assign them an “exotic” culture to research and they easily spot the cultural indicators. Culture is invisible, at least our own often is. We are so steeped in our culture we hardly notice it other than to observe when something different intersects with it.
The same is true for corporate cultures, which is today’s hip way of referring to human resources, physical plant, and corporate governance procedures. Culture is now currency in many sectors, with conferences, webinars, and initiatives all focused on defining, spreading, or improving the invisible essence of a company. In some ways these efforts are about branding, but the branding effort is internal rather than external. Savvy businesses in the day of social media are furthering the internal branding effort, the Culture effort, into a strategy to engage external audiences more deeply than pure marketing or product might do. The most successful Culture practices are translating to the outside observer as authentic, organic, and participatory atmosphere within the organization.
The Circus Hotel and Apartments is a series of hostel, hotel, and flats designed to immerse the traveler into the life of Berlin, Germany. Rather than a box with a bed, the hotel aimed to create a community of travelers that would learn and support each other, while becoming a meaningful, if temporary, part of the community in which it operates. Resources are used to spread this message to workers and to patrons. A hotel magazine connects the traveler to staff, who are columnists, featured guests, and contributors. Add to this a set of policies around uniforms, customer responsiveness, and community participation and the experience for the visitor is one of belonging, even if they have never been. And, it works, the Circus has been able to grow and expand despite economic challenges, they are committed to a living wage for their staff, and place an emphasis on sustainability. They have staff that are committed to their vision and the community. And under the hood, the imperfections that exist are part of the tapestry that makes up their Culture.
How do you take these lessons into your own organization? My students always struggle at first when labeling their cultural indicators, how would your employees and leadership team fare when asked this of your organization? How about if you turn the tables and frame it as a question about the competition’s culture, or a client partner’s culture? Often this is easier and may be a starting point for your organization to conduct a Cultural inventory of its people and practices. Once there is widespread recognition of what your organizational culture really is, you can begin to enhance or message the culture more easily.
What is the value of identifying Culture within an organization? It can lead to some high profile industry wide notice, which in turn can lead to talent finding you rather than you hunting talent. These certainly are great benefits, but an additional, and I think more important one, is that knowing culture allows you to better understand the transitions and challenges that will arise in the organization. By knowing that your organization is shaped by a leadership vision of independence and autonomy, you can predict that growth, which will bring with it additional regulatory demands, will likely be difficult for staff. Using culture to frame the challenge and the opportunities it presents will assist in shaping a productive response to the change.
A word of caution. Remember that earlier point that effective organizational culture is often organic and authentic? Sometimes cultural pride can transform our replication efforts into repetition or sloganeering. Avoid treating your organizational culture as an object to be manipulated or messaged or you will devour whatever amount of commitment your employees and stakeholders have provided. “Cultural Evangelists” are trendy now, a designated staff person that is in charge of programming and spreading the message about your corporate culture, and in charge of alerting leadership to problems within the cultural fabric of the company. But the real staying power of spreading your culture lies in the people and the positions you already have. Empower them with ownership of the environment they share, and allow authentic expressions of support, and you won’t need an “evangelist” to spread the word; you’ll have missionaries in spades.
I am sitting in a cafe about 5300 miles from my home in New Hampshire and reading news of a young mother’s murder while on holiday in Turkey. A few days before I left New Hampshire my local paper reported on my trip and the fact I would be traveling with my family for the next 5 months. I went online to locate the story so I could share it with my family through email and I noticed a comment following the article. In it a man scoffed at the travel plans, warned (us?) that the US would not be able to help us if we needed it, and sarcastically implied we were entering this experience with blindness and folly. It struck me as incredibly ironic coming only a couple of weeks after school children in a safe community only 2 hours from our home were gunned down. Is there real safety in the world? Was I being irresponsible for bringing my family?
And then the news of Sarai Sierra’s trip and death. Why would a mother leave her children, why was she gone so long, what was she really up to? The insinuations and accusations were flying as the search for her revved up. I myself had a thought that perhaps she was trying to get away. But then they found her, dead, and likely killed the few hours before she was to board a plane home, early, to surprise her son for his birthday. And I felt my heart break for her, for her boys, and for everyone she was inspiring with her journey.
Because she is me, I am her, and our choices really not so different. I am sure some will take her death as proof that she was selfish or that these kinds of choices are inherently fool hardy. And I think about the father soldier who will not return, about the business traveler dad that has to be on location for months at a time, and about the young woman pursuing a high stakes career with travel that is deciding not to have a family. I think about the ways in which their choices are seen as necessary sacrifices and how some herald their decisions. But not so for a mother, and I can’t be sure that a mother of children any age would be judged less harshly.
As I was thinking about Sarai’s life and her decision to travel for a month to a part of the world she did not know I was struck by the choices she must have had to make. Her boys were 9 and 11, on the verge of teenage years, but well after the demanding toddler and kindergartner years. She started her family in her very early 20′s, when many are still figuring out what they want to be when they grow up. I imagined her as a selfless mother, captured by photos of her children that then flourished into photography as a passion. I imagined her planning meticulously, and deciding that the time was perfect, her boys back in school after the holiday break, she would be back in time for winter break and birthdays, and still time with them in school to edit and work on the fruits of her trip before summer came crashing in and she was back to schlepping active boys to and fro.
My husband and I talked about her trip, talked about her leaving her boys. We brought our 5 children with us on our adventure; we judged her. And I reminded him of our privileged ability to pay for the tickets that were not already covered in my travel grant, talked about the choices a parent faces when trying to time their lives and their children’s lives. When is a parent allowed to place priority on their personal or professional development? Would this have been any different if her boys were in college? Worse if they were infants and toddlers?
I am sad for her family. But I do not want her death to be a warning to ambitious parents, mothers or woman who might be mothers, to not pursue their passions. You can place your children’s activities and interests above your own, lots of women do and our US culture praises this. But if you feel empty, exhausted, resentful, shortchanged- are you really giving your best to your family? Does the choice really have to be so black and white? Can’t we cheer on parents, dads and moms, who pursue their passions AND try to negotiate the shifting sands of parenting as best they can? She is a heroine, and I will think of her often as my children are offered opportunities to change their lives. I hope they are always ready to love others and follow their dreams, and I will pray they are as safe as can be while still being part of the world.
A post I hope you won’t need but should know anyway: Getting through tragic events with your workers
We are all still reeling after not one-but two- mass shootings in the space of a week. While the communities of Oak Creek and Sandy Hook are working to piece back together the feeling of normalcy that will never fully return, you might be in a position to ask “what if” regarding your community and your company. This is a post I hope and pray you never need to read or recall. At the same time I am a realist and whether the event is something like a mass shooting or an unexpected car accident that affects a department, the chances are high that you will face unexpected events that affect the company. Here are some tips that might help you care for your employees and assist them, and yourself, in returning- however tentatively- to typical operations. For this conversation I am breaking the advice down into “before”, “immediately after” and “longer term”.
Have a Call Tree in place: No matter your size company, there should be in place a system that allows you to easily touch base with employees during times of emergencies. Likewise, you should know information about your employees that alerts you to check on them if their partner’s business or children’s school has been effected by an event. There should be people who know and have relationships with every member of your staff and ideally you will develop a culture where these relationships are not entirely restricted to certain departments. As in investing, the adage in relationship and social capital is diversify, diversify, diversify. If you can’t say this about your organization now is the time to invest in cross-relationship processes.
Connect with the Community
Does your organization know clergy from surrounding churches? Does your company know local massage and wholistic health training programs? If not, reach out now as connecting with them after an event may mean your employees have easy access to spiritual and physical rejuvenation when they need it most.
Open dialogue within the company
Communication is key, and of course communication can feed rumors. If you have the ability to speak with the employees affected you should ask them what information you can share company wide, how they might like people to reach out to their families in the next few days, and whether and what information your company is at liberty to share with clients or customers. If you can’t speak directly with the employees affected it is best to confirm within the company that the company is aware and reaching out. There should be a contact designated who can field inquiries from employees and you might establish a mechanism for comments and support to be offered that doesn’t burden the family or employees affected.
Offer tangible short term supports
Homemade meals delivered, a housekeeper or laundry service, a short term stay at a local hotel or car rental for out of town family, a nanny service to allow parents to deal with paperwork and legal matters without distraction, a weekend away to a local resort for the family effected. All of these are incredibly gracious gestures that can help a struggling family enormously as they try to move forward with their lives. The message conveyed should not be one of ‘let’s throw some money at it” but rather “hey, you have a lot to focus on right now, let me help”. While some of these offers may be dismissed, any or all of them can make a meaningful difference when someone is in crisis.
Support the supporters
Pay attention to who on your staff is lending a helping hand, fielding information calls, or contacting next of kin. These folks are likely doing ok when they are doing the tasks that need to be done, but their own personal needs can easily slip under the radar. Offer a dinner out for them or some movie passes. It will be a good reminder that their own personal lives are also worth attending to and may be just the recharge they need to continue to be helpful to others.
Allow people to return to normal, even if you can’t imagine how you would
Within reason allow your employees most affected by the incident to return to their duties as they wish to. Obviously if there is some sensitive or precision duty assigned to that individual a cooling off period might be in order. If you feel a reason to suspect someone’s professional ability folllowing a loss or traumatic incident, allow them to perform less central activities first as a way of assessing how they are handling those aspects. In general, work can be a wonderful and meaningful way of coping with loss. Denying access to the worker role can be damaging for the worker and their colleagues. There is a wide range of normal responses and work is one point on the spectrum of normal.
Be genuine, speak as a person, and if in doubt just listen.
It can be so unsettling to feel you have no idea what to say. That’s ok, accept that there really are no words that can fix the wrong that has happened. It IS unimaginable, it IS unfair, and it ISN’T right. Those are not platitudes, that are just true. Beyond that you will need to rely on your relationship with the employees to know what to say next. If there is something personal you can offer than do it, otherwise just be a presence and ask what they need right now as a worker and as person. Listen to what they say. Do what you can.
Facilitate long term supports
Therapy, housing help, locating a vehicle. There are so many ways that people can use support long after an event occurs. Have a system in place that reminds someone in your organization to check on the needs of those affected 6 weeks after the incident. If another short stay at a hotel is needed, offer that, as it may be helping far-away family be available to offer extra support. If the temporary housing has led to other challenges you might be able to facilitate a better solution. Now that time has passed their may be greater clarity about the needs at stake.
It’s natural to feel unprepared to respond to such events when they effect our employees. But if you think very practically about the needs we all share: food, shelter, safety, and support you can identify very reasonable and meaningful ways to support your employees through the unimaginable.
There has been a great deal of buzz in NH regarding the recent announcement by Dyn, an internet-as-a-service infrastructure company based in MHT. They announced a $38million investment round and are putting together the company’s first board-of-directors. I have been writing recently about board planning and diversity and it’s exciting to see a great company take the next step. I am fond of Dyn, my family has been connected to the company for 4 years during a time of tremendous growth and change. And I know something about the challenges and opportunities the company has faced these past few years. Whenever a company goes through rapid change they face a sometimes uncomfortable spotlight. Their recent investment round has certainly placed them ever more squarely in the spotlight and changes like this are an opportunity to reflect on lessons learned. Dyn is certainly doing that, and their CEO Jeremy Hitchcock’s recentblog post attests to this as well. A strong effort has been made internally and externally to contextualize for employees, managers, clients, and future employees what Dyn stands for and where Dyn stands today. There are some great lessons other organizations should take from Dyn’s recent example, and surprisingly none of them are about what to do with $38 million.
Keep your friends close, and your friend’s friends closer.
When Dyn announced their relationship with North Bridge they reported that they had previously entertained investment and acquisition offers, none of which quite encapsulated the full magnitude of what Dyn’s executive team and co-founders were seeking to accomplish. Their announcement emphasized that the relationship with North Bridge came out of mutual interest and shared vision. We can learn from this in taking from it the value of knowing who our champions are and who our champion’s champions are. Using this information can give us immense insights into what opportunities might become available to us in the near future. Knowing this can help us recognize them when we see them.
Keep the conversation going, but know when to stop talking.
Dyn reported they had worked with a number of potential partners and advisors in coming to their current plan. They also ended a lot of conversations and closed some doors. This lesson not only applies to the conversation their executives had with outsiders, but I would guess it applies equally well to their own internal conversations. Moving their company to the next level after years of consistent growth was probably not an easy or uniform experience. Any such change is bound to come with growing pains and internal stressors. But finding that unique balance between talking it through and making the tough call is the hallmark of collaborative decision-making.
Relationships hold value; Value relationships
Again and again in Dyn’s public announcement there was a clear tone and attention paid to the people that make up Dyn. Other public events and statements the company has offered over the years have garnered them attention as being a “Best of” company, and even “the most democratic” company. It is evident that Dyn cares about their employees, they take a personal interest in what makes their employees tick and provide opportunities for them to share what matters to them with others. This creates an incredibly rich environment for relationships that in turn sets the stage for retention and productivity. This sort of value cannot be accounted for on a spreadsheet but it offers a huge return within an organization.
Your message needs to be shared and transmitted.
There is a fine line between “buzz” and “rumor”; in one case you want to build some level of interest and excitement around your information, on the other hand you don’t want to create anxiety and disruption within the system while information is being shared. Dyn messaged the opportunity and the implications by sharing transparently with followers. There is a culture that exists within the company of providing information as it is available while appreciating facts on the ground can, and often do, change. Developing your talent to appreciate flexibility and transparency requires messages of assurance and relationship. Governing an organization from a rigid paradigm won’t allow for this type of adaptive response.
Connections inside are mirrors to opportunities outside.
Do you have a company where people feel supported, feel they can make mistakes and take accountability for them, feel they can make changes and have an impact on the company itself? If you do then your employees are able to signal a sense of connection, trustworthiness, and capability that your competitor may not be able to convey. The neuroscience on relationships and behavior is incredibly powerful; people who are emotionally supported and feel connected to others perform their work behaviors better. Dyn gets this and it may be a big factor in their success thus far; they trust their employees to perform their roles, and to fill in for others, and then get out of their way. Sometimes this scores them a big win, and probably sometimes it looks like a strike. What will help them as they navigate the next set of changes is keeping this goal in mind. The degree to which they can retain employee autonomy and accountability through interconnected relationships will be a big predictor if they can remain in the eyes of their clients as accessible and accountable.
It is so great to hear about the success of high tech companies that do great work, and even better to know the work is in the service of a rich and vibrant entrepreneurial ecosystem. And as someone who is in the business of advice and insight I find in this story a great example of my main take-home points: relationships are powerful and necessary and investing in people to be more effective in navigating those relationships can yield powerful rewards.
It’s 11pm, the client presentation is at 10am tomorrow, and your team is still stuck on which target to lead with. There are clear pros and cons to both strategies, and the stakes for missing the mark are high as you close out the quarter. What is the best course of action for you to advise at this point? A)Play a quick game of chess to see what percolates B)Call a loved one and check in with how they are doing C) Watch the nightly news and reconvene in an hour or D)complete a tangles puzzle and get together in the morning?
If you answered D because you think creativity requires stimulation you are wrong, but you selected the best answer anyway! Turns out that having a break from problem solving actually increases performance, but what you spend the break doing matters. How so? Recent research supports the use of “mind wandering” tasks to promote creative problem solving. While A-C represent mental breaks, none of them could be described as mind wandering. The game of chess requires mental engagement and focus to be done well, the family call opens doors to emotional conflict and this can interfere with creativity, while the nightly news combines these scenarios in that there may be emotional and personally relevant information to process from the news report while at the same time those things that are not particularly personal may require a greater degree of cognitive engagement to understand. It is only answer option D that provides a target for mental effort in the form of a low stakes puzzle without the risk of emotional engagement. The combination appears to be powerful in leaving our minds open for problem solving below our conscious awareness. Baird and his colleagues at UC Santa Barbara investigated this in a college sample provided the “unusual use” task. If you have ever attended a creative kids program you have probably completed this familiar task: name as many uses as possible for the following item… Participant’s in their research were provided this task and then given one of four experimental conditions. One group engaged in a series of arithmetic calculations, one group went from this task immediately into the task again, one group was allowed to rest, and one group engaged in an undemanding task. It was the final group, those that engaged in an undemanding task, that had the most responses in the second round of the UUT procedure.
What does this mean for you? If you can’t set up a home laboratory for yourself to perform undemanding tasks how can you improve your own problem solving abilities? Turns out Baird and his colleagues identified an important component of the undemanding task that might be more easily replicated at home: the degree to which your mind wanders during the task is the key to increasing creative performance following the task.
So, whether its tangles, word find, Sudoku, or mandalas you can increase your creative output by taking a break and performing an activity that is low in cognitive effort but more engaging then simply resting. Find your mind wandering and that’s an indication that you are on your way to creative solutions.
Baird, Smallwood, Mrazek, Kam, Franklin & Schooler (2012) Inspired by Distraction: Mind Wandering Facilitates Creative IncubationPsychological Science 0956797612446024, first published on August 31, 2012 doi:10.1177/0956797612446024
It has been many years since I have had to listen to detailed stories of trauma. In my research and clinical practice things have moved along in such a way as to remove me from much of the crisis and direct service work into a greater level of administration and management. So when I attended a conference recently wherein I learned some innovative ways of working with staff who have high rates of burnout I had an experience that reminded me the power of having skills, even when you don’t need them in your everyday work.
Having signed up for all the organizational related topics I was a bit unprepared for the impact of the video used to demonstrate a realistic job preview (RJP) for a child protection worker position. For the rest of the day, as I learned about how to use content mapping to evaluate mission oriented training I couldn’t stop thinking of some of the troubling details of child abuse shared during the RJP video. I was having trouble staying in the moment, distancing from negative emotion, being patient with myself as I processed the emotion that needed to be processed. After all, the details were true, had really happened to real children, and could not be ignored. In short, I was having a hard time using the techniques I had advocated others use for the past decade and a half.
While I was busy learning new techniques in RJP and content mapping what I really needed was a refresh in mindfulness and emotion regulation training. And eventually with time, perspective, lots of exercise (which resulted in this stunning Triathalon Finish!), I was able to get the desired perspective I needed. It didn’t happen within the day of the conference, and it did take up more space in my head than I wanted it to for more time than I wanted it to. What it didn’t do is paralyze me, make me unable to tolerate reminders, or continue finding joy in the simple things. And this is the point, isn’t it, of learning skills throughout our careers? We may not utilize all the skills in our day to day, and we might not acquire them for our own benefit. We may have learned them intending only to share or train others in them and yet, when we need them, there they can be found. Ready, able to be accesed, and resulting in tangible differences in our ability to do the main tasks of our role.
It is worth taking stock of the skills we have picked up along the way and to determine whether we have empowered those we lead with similar tools. We may not see them using the tools in their day to day, but when most needed they could be there ready and waiting.
Besides the links above, you may want to read up on RJP. If you need help with these, or other talent development needs, let us know: firstname.lastname@example.org
*Effects of Realistic Job Previews on Multiple Organizational Outcomes: A Meta-Analysis Jean M. PhillipsThe Academy of Management Journal
Vol. 41, No. 6 (Dec., 1998), pp. 673-690
Loretta L.C. Brady, Ph.D., APA-CP is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist, Professor, Entrepreneur, and Diversity Columnist.
All entries posted and archived on this blog are subject to all rights reserved,
Loretta L.C. Brady, Ph.D., APA-CP, 2011-2014