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The Path to Happiness May Be . . . Backward?

Contemplative Girl at Forest Bridge with Stone Path over Creek Diptych

You know those days when everything seems to go wrong? When you tell yourself you are not going to trip on that extension cord, you are not going to mention that painful topic to your friend, you are not going to burn your hand on that pan you just pulled out of the oven—and then you do all three simultaneously?

There’s a scientific explanation for this phenomenon. Harvard Professor of Psychology Daniel Wegner calls it ironic process theory, and it has to do with the backfire effect of thought suppression. Ironically, trying to quash a specific behavior or thought tends to trigger that very action or thought.

The preposterous blunders that riddle the plots of sitcoms and screwball comedies may have a basis in reality, after all.

The White Bear Challenge

“Try to pose for yourself this task: not to think of a polar bear, and you will see that the cursed thing will come to mind every minute,” Fyodor Dostoyevsky wrote in Winter Notes on Summer Impressions over a century and a half ago. Wegner confirmed this hypothesis in white bear challenges conducted at Harvard’s Mental Control Laboratory.

Wegner uses the term “the precisely counterintuitive error” to describe the experience of being irresistibly drawn to the result we’re seeking to avert.

Edgar Allen Poe calls it the “imp of the perverse,” and it also accounts for those strange, self-destructive impulses we experience when in proximity of danger, such as being tempted to leap off a cliff or unlatch the car door while hurtling down the freeway.

Metacognition Malfunction

Wegner traces the cause of this phenomenon to a malfunction in our metacognition process. Thinking about thinking is a handy talent, but it can short-circuit when we apply it to thought suppression.

Like a self-reflexive programming script that gets stuck in an infinite loop, the self-monitoring process dominates our consciousness. This means we constantly think about the thought we are trying not to think about as our brain reminds us not to think about it.

The Power of Suppression

Practicers of reverse psychology, advertisers and romance novelists all understand the power of suppression. Tell someone not to do something, and they’ll be tempted to do it—even if the thought never occurred to them before.

Experiments reveal that grieving individuals who try to suppress their grief take longer to recover from loss. Subjects told to repress sexual thoughts show higher levels of arousal than those told not to suppress such thoughts. The hearts of anxiety disorder patients beat faster when they are listening to a relaxation tape. When two groups of people are told about the same unhappy event, the group told not to feel sad ends up feeling worse.

The Antidote

What does ironic process theory have to do with happiness? Journalist Oliver Burkeman argues that it could hold the key to a counterintuitive approach to happiness. Drawing on several millennia’s worth of philosophy, religion and science as well as his own international adventures, Burkeman explores this theory in The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking.

Quoting John Stuart Mill (“Ask yourself whether you’re happy, and you cease to be so”), Burkeman suggests we can only glimpse happiness in our peripheral vision—never directly. Just as looking at the sun can blind the viewer, seeking happiness through get-happy-quick schemes not only fails to produce it but may even result in greater misery.

Where Positive Thinking Goes Wrong

The cult of positive thinking (different from the scientifically based positive psychology movement) that has dominated the self-help shelves for decades may be causing more harm than good.

Research shows that daily affirmations can escalate self-critical thoughts among those with low self-esteem. This is because we tend to reject messages that contradict our sense of self, according to self-comparison theory.

In The Optimism Bias: A Tour of the Irrationally Positive Brain, neuroscientisit Tali Sharot writes that optimists—while healthier and happier—may not be as grounded in reality as pessimists, overestimating the degree of their control over circumstances.

Barbara Ehrenreich even goes so far as to suggest that the corporate pressure to be yaysayers instead of naysayers helped trigger the recent Global Financial Crisis in her book Bright-Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America.

The Benefits of Negative Thinking

Burkeman posits that continual attempts to suppress negative feelings such as insecurity, fear of death, uncertainty, failure and sadness may be a primary cause of unhappiness.

Surprisingly, the path to happiness may lie in not only acknowledging but actively embracing these negative feelings, thus sapping them of their destructive power.

In our next post, we will explore actions you can take to practice the negative approach to happiness.

Wednesday
16
July 2014
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Blue Ocean Leadership: 4 Steps to Boosting Employee Engagement

Surfer on a Blue Ocean Wave
There are half a trillion reasons why every American should care about employee disengagement. They’re called dollar bills, and that’s how many the US economy loses annually because of the 20% of discontented employees who undermine workplace productivity, according to Gallup’s 2013 State of the American Workplace report.

That counterproductive 20% is abetted by the 50% of apathetic employees who simply punch the clock and then count the minutes until they can punch out.

What about the remaining 30%? Those are the lonely few who are dedicated to doing the best job they can.

And why do you think one-fifth of the American workforce is so discontented? You guessed it. Poor leadership.

Blue Ocean Strategy

INSEAD professors of strategy and management; codirectors of the Blue Ocean Strategy Institute in France; and Blue Ocean Strategy authors W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne offer some fresh ideas about how to reinvigorate the dispassionate 70%. They wrote about their findings in the May 2014 issue of Harvard Business Review.

Originally designed as a marketing model aimed at converting noncustomers into customers, Blue Ocean Strategy translates surprisingly well to the workplace. Viewing leadership from this new perspective, Kim and Mauborgne realized the fifth of disengaged employees represent the leaders’ noncustomers. That’s when they decided to apply their marketing strategy to building employee engagement—with stellar results.

Think about leadership as a service employees either buy or don’t buy. What can turn those non-buyers into loyal customers?

3 Leadership Approaches

According to the authors’ hundreds of interviews with managers and employees over the past decade, the following leadership approaches can help trigger the conversion.

1) Focus on acts and activities.

Instead of worrying about what kinds of people leaders should be, concentrate on what actions they can take to boost employee motivation and productivity. Actions are not only easier to change than personality traits, but they are also more measurable.

2) Tap into market realities.

Translated to the workplace, this means asking employees what leaders are doing wrong as well as what they could start doing to inspire employees to thrive.

3) Distribute leadership across all management levels.

Often organizations focus on executive leadership, but it’s the middle and frontline managers who tend to know employees better. By distributing leadership responsibilities across the top, middle, and frontline managers, organizations can access a deep well of often-untapped talent, thus enhancing engagement across the organization.

4 Steps to Stronger Leaders and More Engaged Employees

1) Recognize your leadership reality.

You have to understand where your leadership stands before you can plot a strategy for improvement. By using analytic visuals called As-Is Leadership Canvases, organizations can assess employees’ perceptions of how the top, middle, and frontline managers spend their time and energy. A cross-section of 12–15 respected managers leads this companywide conversation, with three subteams each focused on a different level of leadership. The team then compiles Leadership Profiles after a month to six weeks’ worth of interviews. These profiles identify the 10–15 dominant leadership acts and activities at each level based on how frequently they were mentioned during the interview process. The As-Is canvas charts these factors on the horizontal axis of the grid, while the degree to which leaders practice them is registered on the vertical axis. Typically, 20 to 40% of the acts managers tend to practice offer little value to employees, while on the flipside, 20 to 40% of the acts employees consider valuable are underpracticed by managers.

2) Develop alternative leadership profiles.

Once the team understands what managers are doing poorly as well as what they could be doing better, they can visualize positive alternative profiles. The team looks for cold spots (time-consuming acts that yield few benefits) and hot spots (actions not currently being taken that have the potential to energize employees). A second round of interviews is conducted to create the Blue Ocean Leadership Grid featuring these four areas:

a) Eliminate wasteful acts and activities.
b) Reduce not terribly beneficial acts and activities.
c) Raise existing beneficial acts and activities.
d) Create new beneficial acts and activities.

This grid is used to draft two to four possible To-Be Leadership Profiles.

3) Pick To-Be Leadership Profiles.

These aspirational leadership profiles are then presented at a “Leadership Fair” by the subteams. Participants include top, middle, and frontline managers as well as board members. The original senior team presents the As-Is canvases, establishing the need for change. This is followed by the subteams’ presentation of the To-Be profiles for each management group. The attendees vote on their favorite leadership profile, and the senior executives then ask attendees what prompted their votes.

4) Institutionalize new leadership practices.

The selected To-Be profiles are distributed to the top, middle, and frontline leaders, and meetings are held to discuss the actions that should be eliminated, reduced, raised, and created. Monthly follow-up meetings document employees’ feedback on their managers’ progress toward the new profiles. This routine check-in reinforces the desired changes and encourages accountability.

Fair Process

The principles of fair process—engagement, explanation, and expectation clarity—govern the four steps of Blue Ocean Leadership. Employees and managers at all levels feel ownership in the process, thus overcoming resistance to change and creating a sense of buy-in. Crucially, fair process fosters trust across the organization.

Get Started

Are you ready to try out Blue Ocean Leadership at your organization? Contact me at 541-601-0114 or chris@capiche.us to start the conversation today.

See the Blue Ocean Leadership website for more details.

Wednesday
02
July 2014
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The 5 Languages of Appreciation: Motivating Employees by Developing a Culture of Appreciation (Part 2)

Happy Employees Shaking Hands

In this post, we pick up the conversation about Dr. Paul E. White and Dr. Gary Chapman’s The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace begun in our last post.

The 5 Languages of Appreciation

Words of Affirmation

This is the most common form of appreciation expressed in the workplace, and it is especially important to practice with individuals whose primary language of appreciation is verbal praise.

Here are a few ways to apply words of affirmation in the workplace:

  1. Praise individual employees for specific accomplishments.
  2. Notice and affirm personal character traits.
  3. Focus on positive personality traits that benefit the workplace.

When you praise positive behavior, the employee is more likely to repeat that behavior.

Praise and recognition can be public or private; introverted employees may prefer a quieter approach, while others will feel most appreciated when praise is shared in front of coworkers.

Individual, one-on-one expressions of appreciation are the most valued and thus the most effective approach. Sending emails or texts thanking an employee for a particular project or praising a specific characteristic are also effective. In a world where nearly all written communication is digital, handwritten notes can be especially meaningful.

Quality Time

If an employee’s language of appreciation is quality time, she will respond positively to the following actions:

  1. Offer your undivided attention, like so:
    • Maintain eye contact while talking.
    • Don’t multitask.
    • Listen for thoughts and feelings.
    • Affirm those feelings—even if you disagree.
    • Observe body language and respond accordingly.
    • Don’t interrupt (the average person listens 17 seconds before interrupting—try to beat that record).
  2. Find opportunities to create shared experiences.
  3. Engage in small group dialogue.
  4. Be in close physical proximity while accomplishing projects.

Working side by side on a shared goal creates a sense of quality time, even if you are working independently.

Physical presence isn’t enough to create a sense of quality time, however—you need to be emotionally present, too.

Acts of Service

For those who value acts of service, actions speak louder than words. Here are several ways to express appreciation to those who fall into this category:

  1. Ask if they want help.
  2. Offer your service voluntarily.
  3. Cultivate a cheerful attitude while helping out.
  4. Do it their way (you want them to feel the task is done “right”; otherwise, the service could backfire and make them feel they’d be better off doing it themselves).
  5. Complete what you start so they’re not left with an unfinished task (or warn them in advance that you can only help with a portion of the project, asking if they still want your help).

Receiving Gifts

A thoughtfully chosen gift suited to the individual can have an enormous impact on people whose primary language is tangible gifts. On the other hand, a poorly selected gift can give offense.

We are not talking about raises or monetary gifts; it has to be personal to the individual for it to be perceived as an expression of appreciation.

Here are a few tips on gift-gifting:

  1. Reserve gifts for those who list gifts as their primary or secondary language as gifts will likely have little impact on others.
  2. Give a gift the person values.
  3. Gifts are not always a thing; it can also be an experience like tickets to the theatre or a favorite sporting event.
  4. Time off from work can be a greatly appreciated gift.

Physical Touch

While there can be appropriate expressions of physical touch in the workplace—a friendly high-five, pat on the back, handshake, fist bump, hand on the shoulder or hug during a personal tragedy—this appreciation language is the trickiest to apply in a work environment.

The interpretation of touch varies widely according to individuals, the organizational subculture, and a person’s history with abuse. The risk of physical touch being perceived as sexual harassment is high in a culture where touch has been so highly sexualized.

Our research reveals that touch is the least important language for the workplace setting. Individuals who may have a primary language of physical touch in their romantic relationship may have an entirely different language in the workplace.

For those who do value touch as an expression of appreciation, however, affirming, non-sexual touches can be important.

The safest way to tell whether touch is an appropriate form of expression for that individual is to observe the employee’s behavior to see if he uses physical touch as an expression of appreciation to others. If a person stiffens in response to touch, that’s a good indication they are uncomfortable being touched.

3 Ways to Discover a Person’s Primary Language

Three-quarters of people intuitively express appreciation in their own language. This raises two significant points: 1) you can usually guess a person’s language of appreciation by observing how they express it to others and 2) just because you convey appreciation through your preferred language does not mean the recipient will feel appreciated. If you do not share the same language, the expression will fall on deaf ears.

To informally assess a person’s language of appreciation:

  1. Observe their behavior.
  2. Listen to their requests.
  3. Notice what they complain about (this usually reveals emotional hurts related to their language of appreciation).

MBA Inventory

Chapman and White developed the Motivating by Appreciation (MBA) inventory to help individuals and organizations assess employees’ languages of appreciation. It costs $10 to take the standard test, but you will get an access code for free with your purchase of The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace.

After completing the MBA inventory, you will receive a report detailing your primary language, secondary language, and least valued language. The report also contains an action action checklist that others can reference as they learn how to express appreciation to you.

Individuals may wish to take the MBA inventory and then forward the report to their supervisors to open the lines of communication about appreciation.

Even better is if an organization decides to embark on an assessment process together. I would be happy to help facilitate the assessment and implementation process. If you are interested, give me a call at 541-601-0114 or email chris@capiche.us.

More Details

Visit the Appreciation at Work website for a list of resources, assessments, training tools and videos on the research presented in The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace.

Your Results

If you take the MBA inventory, tell us how it goes! We’re eager to hear how communicating appreciation plays out in your workplace and life.

Wednesday
18
June 2014
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The 5 Languages of Appreciation: Motivating Employees by Developing a Culture of Appreciation (Part 1)

Circle of Happy Coworkers

We’ve been exploring how understanding people’s primary love languages can help us develop stronger relationships in both our personal and professional lives. Now it’s time to examine those principles specifically in the context of the workplace.

For years, Dr. Gary Chapman had been wanting to apply the concepts developed in The 5 Love Languages to the workplace, but it wasn’t until he met psychologist and organizational consultant Dr. Paul E. White that he knew he’d found the right coauthor for this project. Their research culminated in The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace: Empowering Organizations by Encouraging People.

The Value of Appreciation

7 Habits of Highly Effective People author Steven Covey argues that psychological survival—feeling appreciated, understood, and affirmed—comes second only to physical survival in human needs.

Even so, employers who are myopically focused on the bottom line may not recognize the value of cultivating appreciation in the workplace. As we’ve repeatedly discussed in this blog, however, the recent wave of scientific research on happiness teaches us that investing in employee happiness, job satisfaction, and strengths yields higher profits and productivity, making this a win-win goal for everyone at the organization.

Why People Leave

A four-year study conducted by one of the leading exit interview firms reveals that managers could not be more wrong about the reasons employees leave. As many as 89% of managers believe employees leave their company for monetary reasons, but the fact is only 12% reported money as their cause of departure. A staggering 88% of employees said they left for other reasons—the number one cause being not feeling valued.

This is not an unusual phenomenon. Nearly 70% of US employees reported to Gallup that they receive no praise in the workplace. This lack of recognition creates a climate of discouragement and makes it difficult for organizations to retain quality employees.

According to research, employees favor recognition by supervisors over colleagues by a 2:1 margin. When that recognition is withheld, emotionally starved employees may start looking elsewhere for fulfillment.

The High Cost of Turnover

It is estimated that the cost of labor turnover on the US economy is $5 trillion a year. The loss of productivity, eroding morale, and time involved in hiring and training takes a hefty toll on an organization, especially when turnover is frequent. Far more cost-effective would be to invest in the people already there.

Managers’ Concerns

Employees who do not feel emotionally supported by their supervisors are far more likely to experience burnout. Employee turnover not only damages morale but also the financial health of the company.

In polling organizational leaders, White and Chapman discovered that managers’ five greatest concerns about employees are:

1) employees getting discouraged

2) employees experiencing burnout

3) employees feeling overwhelmed

4) the organization losing the positive culture built up over the years

5) managers not knowing how to encourage employees with limited financial resources

Developing an environment of appreciation helps combat all of these concerns.

Authenticity Is Key

Retaining your best employees begins with genuine, individual expressions of appreciation in the employee’s preferred language. Efforts to express appreciation must be specific to that person.

Authenticity is key. That’s why attempts to institute a companywide recognition policy often backfire—if expressions of gratitude are obligatory, employees will perceive those gestures as insincere, sparking resentment toward both their managers and the organization.

Culture of Appreciation

Establishing a culture of appreciation is a different story. By encouraging everyone at the company—supervisors and coworkers alike—to express gratitude and respect through the individual’s primary appreciation language, employers can boost job satisfaction and subsequently retention and productivity.

Stay Tuned

In our next post, we will examine the five languages of appreciation in detail: 1) words of affirmation, 2) quality time, 3) acts of service, 4) receiving gifts, and 5) physical touch. We will also share tips on how to gauge a fellow employee’s language of appreciation—and look at tools you can use to help cultivate a culture of appreciation at your workplace.

More Details

Visit the Appreciation at Work website for a list of resources, assessments, training tools, and videos on the research presented in The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace.

Wednesday
04
June 2014
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Let Me Count the Ways: 5 Love Languages for Better Communication

Couple Kissing in the Park
In our last post, we explored tips on building better relationships from couples guru John Gottman, PhD. We will continue this theme by drawing lessons on better communication from the #1 bestseller on marriage and adult relationships.

And while this may seem like a stretch for a business coach and consultant to be delving into, it’s not. When I coach, I coach the whole person. How you show up at work is affected by what’s happening in your personal life and vice versa. Please read on and see how this information can make your life better and more fulfilling in all aspects.

Over two decades after its original publication, Dr. Gary Chapman’s The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love That Lasts not only tops the marriage and relationships category, but it is also the #1 bestseller in both Relationships and Religious Studies—and it currently ranks #45 of all Amazon book sales (see Top 100 Books).

Clearly, Chapman is onto something fundamental, even life-transforming. So what’s the big secret? It’s simpler than you’d think. Practicing it is another story.

In-Love Phenomenon

Two years. That’s the average lifespan of the in-love phenomenon according to research conducted by psychologist Dr. Dorothy Tennov.

After the biological buzz fades, we need to make ongoing efforts to achieve a sustainable, mature love that is capable of surviving the 69% of unresolvable marital conflicts; the accumulation of irritations we may have once considered adorable quirks; the vicissitudes of time; and the daily stresses that life, work and family place on the relationship.

Love Tank

Gottman’s principles of positive and negative sentiment override can be mapped to Chapman’s metaphor of the love tank. When your love tank is full, you are more forgiving of your partner’s foibles because your emotional needs are being fulfilled (positive sentiment override). As poor communication erodes the relationship (negative sentiment override), the gas in your love tank dwindles, eventually reaching Empty.

How does a couple maintain a full love tank—or replenish an empty tank? By understanding and practicing each other’s primary love language, Chapman contends.

The 5 Love Languages

Each of us feels loved in different ways, and Chapman categorizes those ways as 1) words of affirmation, 2) quality time, 3) gifts, 4) acts of service and 5) touch.

Words of Affirmation

People for whom words of affirmation is their primary love language perceive compliments as expressions of love. This is not about flattery, generic praise, or simple thank-you’s—although expressing gratitude is always important. This is about specific praise of specific features and behaviors.

Contrast a generic response like “Nice” with a particular comment like, “I really respect how sensitively you handled that situation—you diffused the tension with humor and grace.” What the second phrasing tells the recipient is that you not only affirm and approve of her behavior but also that you noticed it. It is a way of letting her know she is not alone and that her efforts are appreciated.

Sincere, kind, and encouraging words do wonders to fill the love tank of a words-of-affirmation person. At the same time, negative and hurtful words can have a deeply damaging effect.

If the person you are trying to communicate with falls into this category, always remember, words are important.

Quality Time

Workaholics may think they are expressing their love by working hard to provide for their families, but what they often fail to realize is their partners would rather have fewer amenities in exchange for more quality time with their loved one.

Although watching favorite shows and movies together is enjoyable, this is not what Chapman means by quality time. You may both be in the same room, but you are focused on the television—not each other.

Rather, by quality time Chapman means one-on-one encounters where you have opportunities to look into each other’s eyes, discuss meaningful subjects and experience shared passions. These are the types of bonding experiences you practiced when first dating.

Cultivate your curiosity about your partner’s inner life, history and experiences and ask questions reflecting that interest. Find a shared hobby, project or even chore you can collaborate on. You may be surprised by how much closer you feel after performing a task together, whether it’s as simple as washing the dishes or as involved as rebuilding an engine.

Gifts

For some people, gifts are a tangible expression of love. No matter how small, a gift communicates to your partner that you took time out of your day to think of him.

The more thoughtful and specific the gift, the more meaningful it will be. Maybe your partner cut his finger on a faulty can-opener in the morning. Bringing home a new one that evening tells him you noticed and empathized with his frustration.

Pragmatic individuals often cannot understand why giving their partner a bouquet of flowers matters because all they see is ephemera that will end up in the garbage days later. What they don’t recognize is the feeling of appreciation that wells up in the recipient, who sees not the dying stems but the beauty that symbolizes their partner’s love.

Acts of Service

Living daily life can be exhausting, especially for those who feel they are shouldering the burden of household responsibilities. Housebound partners may develop resentment for the working partner, who feels they have fulfilled their responsibility by trekking to the office each day and doesn’t see why they should help around the house as well.

For those who speak the love language of service, even the smallest contribution can alleviate stress and convey love. Cleaning the litterbox, washing the car, emptying the dishwasher—just 10 minutes of your time can lift the spirits of your beloved. It’s tells the other person you know and appreciate the stresses they are under, and you are doing your part to help relieve those stresses.

Touch

This seems like an obvious expression of love, but there are people who haven’t grown up with touch as part of their emotional vocabulary, so they may not realize how meaningful it is to their partners.

A person whose primary love language is touch may feel slighted or neglected by someone who doesn’t think to express their love through handholding, hugs or back rubs. The withholding partner may be completely oblivious to this effect and thus may be perplexed when conflict, resentment, or passive-aggressive behavior emerges.

All of these are a sign of a depleted love tank, and a gentle touch is the first step toward replenishing it.

Appreciation in the Workplace

Although the love tank metaphor is geared toward romantic relationships, it can easily be mapped to parent-child, sibling, friend, coworker, and employer-employee relations. In the workplace environment, it would be called the “appreciation tank.”

Indeed, Chapman has written a book specifically applying the above principles to that context: The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace: Empowering Organizations by Encouraging People.

We will explore this book in my next blog post. Chapman and coauthor Paul E. White show how coworkers and managers can use the appropriate language to express their appreciation, letting colleagues and employees know they are valued.

As we have repeatedly explored on this blog, feelings of being valued and appreciated are crucial to employee happiness—and ultimately productivity, performance and loyalty.

I encourage you to begin practicing languages of love and appreciation in all of your relationships. When you match the right behavior to the recipient’s language, she will not only feel valued, but you will experience the reciprocal effects of kindness and gratitude.

What is your primary love language? You can take the tests for Love, Apology, and Appreciation at the 5 Love Languages website. Have fun!

Wednesday
21
May 2014
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How Do You Build Relationships?

Take This Waltz Still

How healthy are your relationships? At work, at home, with friends, with relatives, with neighbors? The ability to develop strong relationships is the final reward in becoming emotionally intelligent. It flows naturally out of the first steps: be self-aware; regulate and motivate yourself; and exhibit empathy. With those in place, you are ready to benefit from strong relationships.

We can learn much about building healthy relationships from the research conducted by relationship expert John Gottman, PhD. Although his work focuses on couples, his findings can be mapped to any relationship, from coworker to friend to parent.

In his lecture Making Marriage Work, Gottman summarizes the key discoveries made during three decades’ worth of studying more than 3,000 couples with collaborator Bob Levenson.

Gottman and Levenson can predict the likelihood of divorce with 94% accuracy. How? By studying how a couple argues.

The Four Horsemen

Gottman contrasts how masters (successful couples) and disasters (those heading for divorce) handle conflict in a relationship by examining what he calls the four horsemen of the apocalypse:

1) Criticism

Disasters: Complain in a way that suggests their partner’s personality is defective (“You did this terrible thing. What is wrong with you?”).

Masters: Discuss how their partner’s behavior makes them feel (“You did this thing, and it made me feel this way.”)

2) Defensiveness

Disasters: Meet a complaint with righteous indignation (often delivering a counter-complaint) or play the innocent victim (whine that they didn’t do it).

Masters: Accept responsibility, even if it’s only for a small part of the problem.

3) Disrespect/Contempt

Disasters: Feel superior to their partner and regard them with contempt, usually practicing name-calling and insulting.

Masters: Feel respect for their partner; they thank their partners for small things with affection and appreciation. Instead of scanning the environment for things to criticize, they scan for things to praise.

4) Stonewalling

Disasters: Withdraw emotionally from conflict (no eye contact, facial movement, or vocalization); the speaker doesn’t think they’re getting through, which intensifies the conflict.

Masters: Base their relationship on friendship and intimacy.

Friendship

How does a couple establish a healthy friendship? Gottman outlines three critical factors:

1) Love maps. Masters spend time enhancing their internal roadmaps to a partner’s inner psychological world, getting to know their loved one’s dreams, hopes, values, stresses, and fears by asking thoughtful questions.

2) Fondness/admiration. Masters communicate affection and respect in small ways (“Thank you”; “I’m proud of you”; “I respect and admire you”), and they express appreciation for specific behaviors and traits.

3) Bids for emotional connection. These subtle calls for attention can result in a turning away (disasters give little or no response) or a turning toward (masters may offer an enthusiastic response that reciprocates the bid for connection). As bids for connection are rejected, the bidder doesn’t rebid. This painful lack of connection leads to gradually diminishing communication and levels of trust.

Just because the masters practice the above behaviors doesn’t mean they don’t argue. They do, however, experience a positive sentiment override when conflict does arise, so they are more likely to respond with humor and understanding in situations that would make disasters (negative sentiment override) react defensively.

Practicing gentleness in presenting concerns to the partner (softened startup) is another key to successful relationships.

For the marital conflicts that are unresolvable (69%) due to fundamental personality differences, masters can move past gridlock to dialogue by examining the subtext of what they’re arguing about. When they understand the life dream and personal philosophy that lies behind each position, partners can come to appreciate and empathize with the other’s perspective.

Physical abusers always reject their partner’s observations and never accede a point, whereas masters graciously accept influence from their partner.

Calming down is another habit masters practice during conflict. When tempers flare and your heart rate exceeds 100, your body pumps out adrenaline, your arteries constrict, you start sweating, and your blood pressure increases. All of these physiological changes prevent you from processing information clearly, being creative, and solving problems. By stepping away and self-soothing, you can return to the conversation with a cooler head and increased chances of reaching consensus.

In a 2010 blog post, Collaborative Couples Therapy developer Dan Wile gives some wonderful examples of how couples bid for emotional connection in their daily lives. As I suggested to my Working with Emotional Intelligence class, you may wish to read this piece and then take notice of your pattern of bidding and response. How do your patterns serve you? Your relationships? Are you surprised?

I encourage you to take stock and make the changes that will serve you and all those you are in relationship with. Be self-aware, be self-motivated, practice empathy and develop stronger relationships. Life’s better that way.

Thursday
08
May 2014
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How Do You Influence?

Two Men Talking


“The greatest ability in business is to get along with others and to influence their actions.” —John Hancock


In the Working with Emotional Intelligence master’s course, we have discussed many different aspects of self-awareness, managing our own emotions, developing empathy for others and using listening skills that deepen empathy and understanding of others. These emotional intelligence competencies strengthen our interactions with selves and others since we function, learn and grow within the context of relationships.

In our everyday lives—both work and personal—we also have the opportunity and desire to influence others to make things happen. This can occur either consciously or unconsciously, and in so doing, we can achieve differing degrees of effectiveness and success.

What can we really do when it comes to influencing others? Will offering advice be effective? What about convincing the other person of your point of view and desired action? What if that advice, point of view and action aligns with your values and not the other person’s values? What if it does? And how can you find out?

This week, my students began by assessing two relationships in their life and their level of influence within those relationships. If you want to play along, here are the questions to ask:

On a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being very low and 5 being extremely high:

  1. What is the level of trust in our relationship? (For example, this person knows I have his or her best interests at heart; I earned this trust by modeling integrity and ethical behavior.)
  2. What level do I know and understand this person’s values and passion? (This could be about life in general or the situation that you wish to influence.)
  3. Does this person perceive I have understanding, knowledge and competency in the area I would offer influence? (The person knows to ask you for advice or that any advice coming from you is that of a mentor with a great deal of competency in the subject area.)

After identifying these aspects of your levels of influence within the relationship, explore ways you can strengthen your foundations to build effective and positive influence. What actions can you take to move the scale closer to 5? Observe what comes naturally for you and what areas you consciously need to change.

Remember the importance of sincerity and how we are hard-wired to be in relationship. Our brains can filter out “schmoozing” and insincerity that may be used to manipulate instead of influence.

What have you discovered? Please let us know by commenting below.


“Leadership is influence.” —John C. Maxwell


Tuesday
15
April 2014
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Walk a Mile in My Shoes

Person Walking on Beach

“You never really know a man until you understand things from his point of view, until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” —Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird

“Seek first to understand and then seek to be understood,” Stephen R. Covey’s fifth habit from his book 7 Habits of Highly Successful People is easier said than done. To truly grow and succeed in this habit, we must recognize how we empathize and how we can sincerely enhance that ability.

An exercise to help achieve that is to walk a mile in another person’s shoes—or sandals—a practice dating back to Roman times and earlier. By putting yourself in another’s place and experiencing what he or she may be going through, you increase the emotional intelligence competence of empathy.

This week, my Master in Management students are practicing empathy—understanding another person’s views of life.

Empathy SidebarIf you are game to play along, here’s your assignment: choose a person and situation, and then experience what it is like to fully understand that person’s feelings, needs and how they are responding or reacting to a situation. Observe and sincerely attempt to understand their perspectives without judgment. This will require being present to the person, reflecting and practicing active and empathetic listening. Inquire how they are feeling and see how close you are to understanding what they are experiencing during the situation. Notice how this makes you feel and how the person responds to you.

It is important to be sincere. If your intentions are sincere, then you will communicate in a meaningful way. This week, you will be listening to people and yourself much more carefully. Since you are practicing new habits, your old mental models may inhibit your ability to fully understand from another’s perspective. Notice when that happens and what those models may be, if they block your understanding and how you feel as a result.

After reflecting and even partaking in this exercise, what have you learned about others? About yourself? What do you plan to change? Please let me know.

After self-awareness, self-regulation and motivation, empathy is the next step in true emotional intelligence. Developing and growing relationships follows. Stay tuned.

Thursday
03
April 2014
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Develop Positive Rituals to Increase Emotional Intelligence

Meditation in the Workplace

As we begin to understand our responses to situations, we can more effectively regulate and manage our emotions. My Master in Management class, “Working with Emotional Intelligence,” encourages students to build more awareness and confidence in their ability to understand and strengthen their emotional intelligence.

Our habits are expressed through four domains: physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. Every thought, feeling and action has an energy consequence; it can either be energy-producing or energy-draining.

We can manage this flow of energy through oscillation—cycling between expending and renewing our energy—which leads to high performance when balanced. Positive rituals or habits enhance and renew our energy levels and are the key to sustained high performance and focused full engagement. The feeling that accompanies these positive routines and sustains the energy renewal is that of appreciation or gratitude.

My challenge to the students this week: Explore your habits or routines that enhance or renew your energy levels. What fills you up and helps you restore your balance, sense of confidence and balance in life?

Look at all of the domains: physical, mental, emotional, spiritual. What are the routines for each?

If you do not have any, what would you like to incorporate or practice?

Physically, perhaps a walk around the block or a 10-minute stretch twice a day will renew your energy levels. Examples of emotional boosts include writing or journaling for 15 minutes each morning or evening with a focus on that which brings you joy or gratitude (see my blog post What Went Well). Positive mental rituals could be researching something you are passionate about or strategizing action steps to reach a goal. The spiritual focus could be meditating, positive affirmations or prayer.

I encourage you to practice one or two of these behaviors. As you practice them, take the time to feel the sense of appreciation and gratitude for this gift to yourself. Let that feeling soak into all of your senses and let yourself be with it for as long as possible. Please share your experiences.

Wednesday
19
March 2014
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Hughesisms: Work Ethic Trumps Talent

Businessman Drawing a Colored Graph on Glass

In this post, I am sharing a column written by a student in the Southern Oregon University Master in Management program who also happens to be editor of the editorial page of the Salem, OR, Statesman Journal. Give this a read; I’ll share my reflections at the end. Enjoy.


Hughesisms: Work Ethic Trumps Talent

Written by Dick Hughes, statesmanjournal.com

Need a Laugh?

I consider myself fairly smart … in some ways.

Thus it was disconcerting last week when I heard people of average intelligence outperform people with high IQs 70 percent of the time. But that statistic does not surprise me. As a friend at a high-powered think tank in Washington, D.C., once told me, “We have bright interns, and we have hard-working interns. Rarely are they the same.”

Another relevant statistic: Emotional intelligence is twice as important as expertise in almost any job. That assumes, of course, that the person in the job has at least the minimum level of competence. From then on, it’s all about the person’s work ethic and ability to work with others.

This is true in hard science, social science, business, nonprofits and government. Success in life comes down to relationships.

The good thing is you can expand your emotional intelligence if you work at it.

Some politicians and community activists mistakenly think their ideas are so brilliant that others will automatically see the inherent wisdom of them and embrace them. Wrong-o. You have to be able to sell your ideas, which means having established trust, understanding and rapport with your audience.

The private sector is the same.

I was academically smart but also was the kid who, starting during kindergarten naptime, was always in trouble for talking too much and being disruptive because of my boredom in class. In retrospect, I firmly believe my career was set back at least five years because I had not yet learned to truly work hard, to be disciplined in my use of time, to collaborate with others and to combine self-confidence with a striving for humility. (I know; “trying to be humble” seems like an oxymoron.)

Academics came so easily that I achieved good grades without needing to learn and employ those essential traits, despite the best efforts of my teachers and parents. (That also could explain why Stanford University rejected me three times, twice putting me on wait lists. I’M NOT BITTER ANYMORE. But I digress …)


Note from Chris Cook

This winter, I am teaching a Southern Oregon University course on emotional intelligence (EI) for a cohort of working professionals in Salem, OR. The author of this editorial is a member of that cohort, and I enjoyed how he made the connection between our exploration of EI and his life’s work experience.

How do you see the applicability of EI in your life—as a working professional, family member or community leader? Please share your stories here.

Printed with permission of the Statesman Journal.
Wednesday
12
March 2014
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