In 1995, Emotional Intelligence: Why it Can Matter More than IQ by Daniel Goleman was published. The introduction of Emotional Intelligence (EI) generated a great deal of excitement and hope. Nearly twenty years later, it’s time to look at the progress and future of this work.
As a student of psychology and social systems, EI (Emotional Intelligence) concepts had immediate resonance with my experience and offered some of what I believed was essential for personal and whole systems change. At the time, there were no statistics to “prove” the efficacy of EI, no “ROI” (return on investment) data to sell skeptics on the value of people understanding their own emotional make-up and acting from that knowledge.
As I quickly began to integrate the concepts into my work, I could see the powerful impact this material had on the people I was working with. Turns out – a surprising amount of people in the workplace wanted to talk about feelings. They needed a framework and a sense of safety to give voice to what they were carrying around in their bodies.
The early days of working with EI were not easy, but gratifying. There were no “tools” or standardized tests to fall back on – just concepts and a willingness to deeply listen to emotionally hungry voices in the workplace. Aside from reassuring some people that EI wasn’t “therapy,” I found mostly receptive audiences who wanted more. There was little in the way of “how to” in the early days of EI – and quite frankly, there still isn’t.
Clients from tech, the law and the sciences often pushed back. I improved my skills in the art of non-resistance. I found myself gently making the case that there was a place for emotions in the workplace. In fact, the workplace was filled with emotions, though often not the ones that inspired, motivated and supported people. The “rational mind is everything” meme embedded in so many people challenged the idea that body/mind, thoughts/feelings were a unified system.
In 1998, Daniel Goleman released his landmark article in the Harvard Business Review, What Makes a Leader? The article established the “model” that most EI practitioners would use and offered research results from application of the principles in business settings.
This article and the release of his next book, Working with Emotional Intelligence, lent legitimacy to earlier assertions that EI trumped IQ as predictive of professional success. In his work Goleman was challenging the enduring belief that intellect and rationality alone were the keys to professional advancement. “They do matter,” Goleman stated in the article, “but mainly as “threshold capabilities, that is, they are the entry-level requirements for executives. ” Read more…
“You see everything is about belief, whatever we believe rules our existence, rules our life. Don Miguel Ruiz, author The 4 Agreements
“What’s the most resilient parasite? An idea. A single idea from the human mind can build cities. An idea can transform the world and rewrite all the rules. Which is why I have to steal it.” From the film Inception
Remember the film Inception? A riveting, mind-bending movie that raised fascinating questions about the potential of our dreams and the nature of our unconscious and subconscious worlds.
The film’s concept of “Inception” explores the idea of entering into another person’s subconscious mind (via their dreams) to implant an idea – a seed that takes hold and becomes a belief. From this seed grow thoughts, feelings and actions. The seed must be deeply planted, infused with emotion for the dreamer to live out their beliefs on a conscious level.
While the premise of the film is intriguing, the point of this article is not to examine the state of dream sharing technology – but to look at the underlying truth that beliefs are powerful motivating forces in our lives.
The idea that given the right emotional climate a belief, not of our own choosing, can drive our thoughts, feelings and behavior is certainly not new.
Beliefs, the thoughts we operate on as truth, are the engine that drives our experience. They form the basis for our thinking, shape our emotional responses and result in actions, in and out of our conscious awareness.
Beliefs drive our actions at work, in relationships, as parents, as friends, as citizens, as consumers – every choice and decision we make is the result of the patterns of our belief system.
Beliefs run the show. Trace the trajectory of a behavior and you’ll always find a belief underneath it.
Where Did Your Beliefs Come From?
According to Santosh Sachdeva, “a belief is nothing more than a generalization of a past incident.” Unlike the Inception story line, I’m not suggesting your beliefs were implanted through dream sharing or any such complex process. But experience by experience, starting at a very early age, you absorbed the beliefs of your caregivers. They modeled the world as they saw it – and impressionable little you – integrated their views and experiences.
Everything in your young world – family, culture, media, peers, institutions, games, music, stories, play and sports carried implicit and explicit messages about how the world works – how the world is. And unless you were an exceptional child – you bought it. It wasn’t until you began to mature – emotionally, developmentally and experientially – that you challenged some of those beliefs to suit who you thought you really were.
In this early conditioning phase you learned about the the world and what is happening in it, the universe, family, relationships, trust, health, work, money, emotions, what’s possible, what’s not possible, what has value, what does not, what’s right, what’s wrong, why you are here – essentially the meaning and purpose of everything. By the time you arrived at the tender age of ten, most of your values – which stem from your beliefs – had been formed.
From our beliefs, especially the core foundational beliefs; we construct a narrative about ourselves, others and the world.
- The world is a safe place. The world is a dangerous place.
- Life has order, meaning and purpose. Life is random.
- People are essentially good. People are essentially not good.
- Most people can be trusted. Most people cannot be trusted.
- I am capable of shaping my own experience. I am controlled by fate and have little control over it.
- I am competent, and strong. I am vulnerable and weak.
- Life can be enjoyable, easy and satisfying. Life is hard, struggle and unfair.
- Work is about making money. Work is about fulfillment and satisfaction.
Each of these core beliefs, grow hundreds of other beliefs. The important question is how much the beliefs you downloaded as a child reflect who you are now and who you want to be?
You Can Change the Story
We often live our lives as if our beliefs were facts. Few are. Beliefs are amazingly resilient things. That’s because from the time of their early “inception” they become neurally connected, fused to certain memories and emotions, and are practiced repeatedly as behaviors (even if the practice is simply mental).
Unless beliefs are explored, identified and traced for their inter-connections and examined – they go on running the show.
The bottom line is that our beliefs either empower – or limit us. The choice is ours. While many of the beliefs we acquired as children served us well – some are simply habituated patterns that sap our energies and continue to produce the same unwanted outcomes.
We are not suggesting that unraveling old, unsupportive beliefs is a snap, but it is possible (now there’s an example of a belief in action).
Keep in mind that beliefs are habits of mind – and as such take time, persistence and repetitive practice to shift. Start with the smaller beliefs first and you’ll find that even the tiniest branch of a belief has deep and extended roots.
- Start identifying your beliefs. Makes lists. You have beliefs about everything. Some support you, others don’t. Select the topics areas you want to understand better (your work, your health, your relationships in general or one relationship in specific) and begin to list everything you believe about it.
- Begin to differentiate between the beliefs you list that serve you and those that limit or drain you. Notice the energetic shift when you think and write about them.
- Indentify the emotion/s that you experience when you think of one of those beliefs (e.g. My new boss ______ is inaccessible, self-centered and a terrible listener) (emotions I feel when I believe this: frustrated, annoyed, anxious)
- Identify the behaviors you engage in when you experience this belief and the feelings associated with it (I don’t say anything; I talk nonstop; I complain to my co-worker)
Once you start this process you will begin to unearth a whole constellation of beliefs, many of which are interconnected. As in the example above, you will see that many of these beliefs have you locked into unsustainable ruts. They are unproductive and deplete your energies.
Even when we find ourselves in challenging external circumstances (like with a boss with isn’t a very accessible, empathetic or inquisitive person) holding on to certain beliefs will not improve the situation, it will likely exacerbate the problem.
When we work with beliefs, we are always coming up against the essential question of what is in our control – and what is not. This informs everything. In the case of the inaccessible boss, what we believe is in our power to change? The boss? The company policies or politics that hire certain types of people? Or, our behavior?
Exposing our beliefs – from the smallest to the deepest core beliefs – demands that we take much greater responsibility for what we think – feel – and ultimately do in any situation.
Once you get comfortable with the process, you will learn to look at all of your beliefs in this way.
- Identify the belief that is driving you
- Challenge its validity. Is it true? How do you know that?
- How is this belief connected to your other beliefs? Is it part of an old pattern?
- What are the feelings associated with this belief?
- Practice self-empathy. Try not to judge yourself for having this belief. Be compassionate towards yourself.
- Begin to reframe the belief. Using our inaccessible boss as an example, try some version of, “In the past when I have encountered people like my new boss, I’ve written them off and given up. This time I am going to explore the belief that I have the resources and skills to find ways to see him/her differently, practice new ways of communicating and stay positive and engaged in the process.”
I am not talking about sticking your head in the sand, compensating for the faults of others or pretending everything is all right, when it is not. What I’m suggesting is that the more we understand how our beliefs direct our thinking, feelings and behavior – the more choices and emotional space we create for ourselves.
One more thought about Inception. The movie’s tagline is: Your Mind is the Scene of the Crime. Intriguing thought, isn’t it? While even the most vivid imaginations can’t take responsibility for the external “realities” around us we can be sure of one thing – when it comes to what we think, what we feel and what we do – as the writers, the editors, the producers, directors and actors of our life stories, we play a huge role in our life’s outcomes.
Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment, subscribe, share, like and tweet this article. It’s appreciated.
Louise Altman, Partner, Intentional Communication Consultants
“Why is patience so important? Because it makes us pay attention.”
There’s an emotion that can make big changes in your life. It’s the emotion that many people I work with identify as the most desirable – in themselves – and in others. This emotion doesn’t have the transcendent quality of awe and wonder – it works more quietly to soothe your anxiety and help you to see yourself and your surroundings with more clarity. It’s the mouse that roars. Yes, it’s patience.
Before I make my pitch for more patience in your life, let me offer you some bona fides on my journey to developing more patience in mine. If you tend towards more impatience, like me, you probably noticed these energies in yourself as a child.
Are you familiar with the marshmallow test, (a study where children were asked to delay their gratification by giving them a choice – one marshmallow now or two if you wait)? The study, which measures and predicts self-control, is important because it alerts us to our natural tendencies towards patience or impatience. I imagine I would have been the kind of kid who not only ate the first marshmallow but went outside to get the teacher to give me a reason why I couldn’t have them both right now!
Patience, famously described as “virtuous,” is both an emotion and a skill. Our impatience is usually triggered by external stimuli that is outside of our control. Some of these “triggers” are classics: long lines, traffic jams, airline delays, unresponsive customer service – all very “first world,” issues.
If you experience impatience, perhaps even chronic impatience, you have your own list of items that trigger you. It’s wise to know what they are (this can be a long list) and to understand what you do when your buttons get pushed. Read more…
Most people don’t respond positively to feedback (a.k.a criticism).
The expanding knowledge we have about how the brain works is helping us to understand why.
Even under the BEST of circumstances, many of us find ourselves recoiling in response to hearing what others think about us. Our receptivity depends on context, relationships and circumstances – but the greatest factor is our emotional state.
We’ve all heard the term “don’t take this personally,” right?
Actually, I don’t know what that means. I think it’s a way we buffer the blow of being hurt or hurting someone else. Because the so-called “emotional” and “rational” brains are a unified system, we cannot not respond to what someone says (or does) devoid of its feeling content.
In his excellent synthesis of the latest social neuroscience, author David Rock, developed the SCARF model to understand the brain’s perception in relation to the social environment. According to Rock, “Two themes are emerging from social neuroscience. Firstly, that much of our motivation driving social behavior is governed by an overarching principle of minimizing threat and maximizing reward. Secondly, that several domains of social experience draw upon the same brain networks to maximize reward and minimize threat as the brain networks used for primary survival needs. In other words, social needs are treated in much the same way in the brain as the need for food and water.”
This process never stops. The brain never stops scanning for input to determine threat or reward whether we’re talking to our boss, best friend, significant other or granny.
Although responses will be mitigated by cognitive strategies that can have the effect of reducing the dissonance we may experience when we encounter unwelcome response from others, if the feedback/criticism is important enough, it can trigger a limbic response in us that engages the flight or fight mechanism.
While rationalization may ease some of the anxiety experienced, the limbic system responds to threat by triggering fear or anger in milliseconds. Stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline are secreted into the blood stream and accumulate in the amygdala. Because work is often a highly charged context for experience (given basic security and self-esteem needs) the workplace is often a stress producing environment even under the best of conditions. This can preset an atmosphere conducive to triggering limbic arousal. Read more…
When I wrote the original version of this article two years ago, I was experiencing many contradictory feelings and wondered – how can so many potent emotions sit side by side within me?
This week, I’m again experiencing a whirlwind of feelings, many in response to global events; the Boston Marathon bombings, an ugly and seemingly intractable battle over gun safety issues in the United States and a near paralysis on the part of leaders and most citizens in the face of the inevitable climate crisis we will all face in one form or another – to name a few.
Fortunately, I don’t get lost in sadness or despair, even when times are hard. I feel grateful to have developed an emotional resiliency that feels balanced in light of so much pain – and joy in the world. But I can, at times, feel a sense of vulnerability because of the limitations of my power to effect change. Popular TED talker (7 million +) and author of Daring Greatly, Brene Brown spoke about the complexity of allowing ourselves to feel vulnerable and joyful, “As someone who spent more than a decade studying fear, vulnerability, and shame, I never thought in a million years that I would say that joy is probably the most difficult emotion to feel. It’s hard to feel joy because we are so keenly aware that it’s fleeting. When we lose our tolerance for vulnerability, we lose the courage to be joyful. Joy is a daring emotion! We are going to let ourselves stop in a moment that won’t last forever, that can be taken away. We feel almost that “you are a schmuck if you let yourself feel too deeply because the bad stuff is going to happen.”
Ever feel this way? Of course you do. You do, because you’re a human who is experiencing a range of feelings that can often seem completely at odds with each other. Brene Brown struck a deep chord with her TED talk and her later work because individually and collectively we aren’t used to talking about emotions like vulnerability and shame that leave us feeling powerless.
The truth, as writer Susan Piver, shares is, we are vulnerable. All the time. It is the truth of the fragility of the human condition, except that we forget it, deny it, bury it. We delude ourselves with the trappings of external power, but we are never far from our vulnerability. Susan Piver reminds us that what is sweetest and most tender about us is also a source of power. But, most of the time, we don’t allow it. Mostly we don’t extend ourselves the gift of self–compassion or reach out to others for support when we feel emotionally weak or troubled.
We live in cultures that don’t respect vulnerability and sensitivity. It’s 2013 and we still don’t get our own human fragility and need for love and support.
People often ask – What do I do with my contradictory feelings? Which feeling do I pay most attention to? Do I have to choose one feeling over the other? Read more…
The Road Ahead
Quotes can have a wonderful way of reminding you of what is deep and important in your life. I like to think of quotes as guiding principles – reflections of values – actively lived or lying dormant waiting to be rekindled. We put quotes on walls and desks for a reason. Social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr and the new Queen of the block, Pinterest prominently feature quotations to address every facet of life. Quotes are snippets of borrowed stories we’d like to realize in our lives. Using quotations to inspire and enrich our work lives can energize and revive our sometimes weary spirits.
Here are 10 of my favorites:
1. “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.” Albert Einstein
There are several variations of this well-known quote by Albert Einstein, but this one is my favorite. It’s been a long-time mantra for my work because it reminds me that the process of learning is continuously evolving. Of that we can be sure. Even when we are stuck in old mindsets, life’s experience will undoubtedly show us sometime new. But I believe Einstein was aiming for something else with this idea. We don’t have to sit still and wait for our consciousness to evolve, but can actively seek the knowledge and experience to broaden our thinking – and feelings – within the course of every daily interaction with the world. Curiosity is the key and imagination is the guide. Certainly the good professor would agree. Read more…
I recently had the pleasant surprise of receiving a copy of Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hahn’s latest book, Work: How to Find Joy and Meaning Each Hour of the Day from the publisher, Parallax Press.
For those of you unfamiliar with the work of Thich Nhat Hanh, known as Thay in his circles, the Zen master, poet, peace and human rights activist was exiled from his homeland of Vietnam in 1966. In the early 60’s in Saigon, Thay founded the School of Youth for Social Services, a grassroots relief organization that helped to rebuild bombed villages and set up schools and medical centers. The work, based on the principles of nonviolence, led him to international recognition. During his exile, he traveled to the U.S. where he made the case for peace to Pentagon officials, most famously to Robert McNamara, a key proponent of the war’s escalation.
Thich Nhat Hahn’s teachings were instrumental in influencing Martin Luther King to oppose the Vietnam War publicly, helping to galvanize the burgeoning peace movement. The following year, Dr. King nominated him for the Nobel Peace Prize.
Since that time, Thay has become a renowned teacher combining threads from several Buddhists traditions to reach an international audience and thousands of retreatants at Plum Village in France and throughout the world. He’s authored dozens of books which have sold over two million copies in the U.S. alone including the classic, Peace is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life.
I’ve been attracted to the simplicity, practicality and sweetness of Thich Nhat Hanh’s work for many years. That’s why it’s a special pleasure to explore his wise principles as they apply to the topic of work.
There’s little I can say to add-on to this beloved teacher’s work – so I will let his words do most of the talking. This simple monk’s wisdom shows us a way to think, act and be in our work through the power of the present moment. Grounded in the real world, Thay teaches that no moment is ever lost – even if we “fail” to act mindfully. The next moment is another opportunity to compassionately start again. Our great gift, the power of choice, is always available so that we can begin anew. I like to think about these wonderful teachings as a North Star to help guide my work day.
Here’s a taste of this little gem of a book ~ Read more…
It’s getting difficult not to bump into the word mindfulness these days. While mindfulness is mostly associated with meditation, I like to think of it as a way of being in the world.
Mindfulness meditation “practice” is valuable – and it will likely have multiple ripple effects in every corner of your life. A new study at The University of Utah has confirmed its benefits and shown that mindfulness affects stress responses throughout the day. According to researcher Holly Rau, “People who reported higher levels of mindfulness described better control over their emotions and behaviors during the day.”
Magic? No. Methodical practice of retraining the brain to respond to stimulus differently builds cognitive flexibility in ways we are just beginning to understand.
In an age of looking outside of ourselves for solutions, mindfulness practice turn out to be the ultimate insider “strategy.” The magic of mindfulness is that it rearranges neural networks in powerful ways. And the great news is that we are the “tool” that makes it possible. Apps can remind us when to breathe, sit and slow down, but only we can make it happen. Read more…
Somewhere along the line I absorbed the nearly universal belief that hard work is a defining value of a person’s worth. Intellectually, I don’t buy into this meme – but emotionally I can feel its pull and weight for every hour “wasted” on “non-productive” work. Although the nature of work has changed dramatically since I was a child, the thinking that governs the value of hard work hasn’t changed much. If anything, it’s gotten worse.
In the “halcyon” days of my youth, most people generally worked 40 hours a week. Back then, white-collar “bosses” rarely asked workers to work late, and labor laws required hourly workers get overtime pay to compensate for their efforts. Most people expected to eat dinner at home with their families and weekends were nearly always reserved for family life and leisure. Hard work was expected, but the expectations of when and how it was done were very different.
In the highly publicized article, Nurse Reveals the Top 5 Deathbed Regrets – the subject of work shows up on the list at #2 – I wish I didn’t work so hard.
First, let’s define what work means. In most cultures work is still defined purely by economic value. When we work in a community garden, producing food for ourselves and perhaps a few neighbors, unless we receive payment for our lettuce, most cultures would not recognize this as work. Read more…
“The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity.”
I was a really curious kid. How about you?
They say all kids (and apparently cats) are curious. Of course that’s true (I mean about the kids, I don’t know enough about cats to make that claim) but I was a very curious kid. I always wanted to know WHY. Why is it raining here but not there? Why can’t I eat dessert before dinner? Why is the man down the street so grumpy? Is he sick? Will I get sick? Will I die if I get sick? As we all know the questions get more and more complicated.
The quality of the answers we got as children probably had a lot to do with the habits we formed about asking questions. At some point, most children lose interest in asking why. Even the most dedicated parents tire of responding to a barrage of questions and artfully (and not so) find ways to deflect their little ones’ inquiries.
Many people believe the nature of the average formal education can have the effect of shutting down imagination in favor of standardized learning. Albert Einstein famously said, “It’s a miracle that curiosity survives formal education.”
I’m a product of the generation that often had a handy proverb ready for inquisitive kids like me, “Louise, curiosity killed the cat.” I really never knew what that meant. We never had a cat, so I never had the chance to closely observe them (but this saying made me want to know more about WHY cats were so curious. I naturally concluded that dogs (the other pet of choice) must be as curious, but maybe cats were special. You get the picture.
This proverb has influenced thinking about curiosity for a long time. Although the origin of the modern version only appears in print in a Handbook of English, Irish, Scottish and American Proverbs around 1873, the older version dates back to the 1500’s even showing up in Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing , “What, courage man! What though care killed a cat, thou hast mettle enough in thee to kill care.”
The modern version seems to warn us of the dangers of too much unnecessary investigation or experimentation. We’re warned of the perils of being too pushy and nosy for our own good.
Fast forward to the 21st century and it turns out that this nosy kid’s insatiable curiosity is now considered a highly valued core strength. Science is discovering that curiosity turns on the brain and leads to creativity and innovation. The brain likes curiosity. It likes stimulation, variety and the new. What the elders of my childhood didn’t know was just how much brains love to learn. Brains are constantly seeking new information and making predictions based on that knowledge. In the process, neuroplasticity is strengthening neural networks and using the information to make even better predictions. Turns out curiosity feeds the cat! Read more…
Ask me what is most important.
And I will reply,
It is people,
It is people,
It is people
Recently, I have written about the need for new workplace models. From my point of view and those of many readers, there’s a clear consensus that what we have learned from decades of rigid, bottom line, often authoritarian management structures has not been conducive for real collaborative relationships.
The old models are broken: the new ones are still out of focus. In his excellent article Why Today’s Workplace Creates Emotional Conflicts: The Dark Side of Success, business psychologist Douglas La Bier writes, “The old style top down autocratic model doesn’t work very well anymore. Recent research found that men (who populate most leadership positions) are often socially conditioned to manage fear in ways that prime them to subordinate and harm others. This can reinforce wanting to perpetuate the old model.”
The research La Bier is citing points out that many men are conditioned to “manage their emotional manhood.” These ideas raise important questions about the roots of emotional repression within workplace systems. While the motivation to maintain power arrangements to protect position and profit are undoubtedly at the core of defending the status quo, emotional self-protection also plays a key role in keeping the “personal” out of the workplace. A completely misused and misunderstood term, the “personal” has become a euphemism for anything that has to do with human feelings, which are typically deemed as not pertinent to business matters. Read more…
“We sense we’ve reached the end of something.”
Lynne McTaggart, author, The Bond
In Part 1 of this article I explored some of the forces that have shaped our vision of workplace relationships. There’s an increasing amount of rhetoric in business conversations today about the importance of optimizing people to maximize their strengths and nurture passion and creativity. Hey, I’m all for it, but a part of me cringes as I imagine the proverbial pig with lipstick, to use a charming American colloquialism.
Changing the nature of relationships at work will require more than a new business strategy. Organizations are always looking for magic bullets. Change initiative programs alone will not transform individuals – and certainly not cultures. Transforming the nature of workplace relationships will require a sea change in the mindsets that shape organizational life. Governed by task orientation and subject to hierarchical structures, most work relationships today are still organized around competition.
The “norms” that shape individual perceptions, expectations and interactions within work settings are systemically driven. Obviously the obstacles and challenges to changing these norms are enormous. The first step has to be the wholesale examination of the thinking that governs an organization’s understanding of its purpose in concert with the dynamics of human relationships within that system.
Words are important, but words alone aren’t going to cut it anymore. Most people are fed up with facades and deception. “Disengagement” levels are at an all-time high for a reason. People are tired and weary but they are also a lot savvier than they were even a decade ago. The immediacy of social and 24/7 global media has brought the world to us and life will never be the same again. Read more…
In the late -1990’s I led a three-day seminar I had co-developed for the American Management Association on conflict management. From San Francisco to New York, I heard an endless array of workplace “war stories” over five years.
One woman’s experience remains with me today. (Sally) was distressed and sought out my advice at the end of the first day of the seminar.
Fresh out of school and only in her job for six months, Sally seemed bewildered by many of the conversations she listened to during the day’s team activities. “Everyone here seems unhappy. I’m here because I want to get a better understanding of how to get along with people at work. I know this is a course on conflict, but no one seems to have good workplace relationships. I may sound naïve but…is this the way it is everywhere?”
I really felt for Sally. Although I wanted to reassure her with positive stories of workplace goodwill and camaraderie, I had few to share from my brief time in the corporate sector. My later experiences working in nonprofit management weren’t much better. While passion for the cause often united my co-workers, they had many of the same relationship issues as my corporate colleagues.
I asked Sally the same question I will ask you – What did you expect? What did you think it would be like to work with and for other people before your first job? Who and what were your workplace role models?
Sally’s response was typical of many people I have since asked who’ve said – I never really gave it much thought. She asked me if I would pose the question to the group the next day.
While most people in the group echoed Sally’s answer – they had not thought about their expectations of working with others before they got a job – here’s a taste of some of the group’s responses.
- It’s difficult to trust other people at work
- It’s hard to have “relationships” because most people have an agenda
- I’m not there to have fun
- Work and social life don’t mix
- It’s better to leave personal relationships for outside of work
- I don’t have time for relationships at work
- Office politics (power) ruins relationships
The group’s attitudes about workplace relationships centered on two key areas – trust and time. This group, like many others that I work with, had much to say about why they feel what they feel about work relationships. Responsibility is usually squarely placed on bosses and co-workers and not personal behavior and organizational culture. While personality and communication issues are certainly contributing factors in many of these conflicts, they are not the whole story. Read more…
“This moment contains all the moments.” C.S Lewis
When was the last time you experienced joy?
To answer the question it helps to remember what joy feels like in your body. Like all other emotions, joy has its own unique biological signature. We memorize emotions in our bodies. With those emotions we experience less often, we may have to work a little harder to recall how they felt.
Maybe you’re asking – what does joy feel like to me? Try it. Recall the last time you felt joyful and try to feel it again. No, that doesn’t feel like joy, it feels like excitement, or a thrill or amazement – but not joy. Joy’s one of those all in emotions. When you’re in, at least for a brief time, you’re not in your head, you’re feeling it with your whole body.
Joy can move you so quickly that a cascade of other emotions show up – happiness, delight, awe, wonder and even relief or sadness. Usually by the time sadness has arrived, you’ve engaged your mind in why can’t this feeling last forever thinking. But – back to joy.
Often joy is fleeting.
The other night (a rather chilly one by California standards) I walked outside to the recycling bin (joy can appear in the most unglamorous places). In a hurry to get back into the warm house, I caught a glimpse of the sky – stopped and looked up. It was dazzlingly beautiful. Just thinking of it now fills me with well, - joy.
All was quiet and still. I stood there for a few moments looking at the cloud formations layered in red and pink hues ahead of the impending dark. My next thought was how extraordinary it was to be alive and part of the universe. As it goes with feelings – this lead to another feeling, one of gratitude for this speck of time – a sense of knowing I was part of this vast celestial majesty. Awe followed.
For many of us, joy’s reserved for the bigger events of life – weddings, births, landmark graduations, major achievements like finishing a marathon, passing a bar exam, getting a call that you’ve got the long-awaited job or your first book published. Some people recall feeling joyful at the first moment they saw the Grand Canyon or Mont Blanc in the Alps.
But joy’s often a surprise – a moment we’re taken off guard from our mental, emotional and physical routines (habits) “Joy is not just for the lucky few,” says James Baraz, founder of the Spirit Rock Meditation Center in California. “It’s a choice anyone can make.”
Brain researcher Jill Bolte Taylor shares her remarkable story (see her TED talk, one of the most popular ever given) of watching her own brain and body functions – motion, speech, self-awareness – shut down one by one after experiencing a stroke one morning. Her astonishing story chronicles her deterioration and recovery in amazing detail.
Jill’s story is especially compelling because she has expressed gratitude, not regret for her stroke. “It’s given me a whole new perspective on life. It’s made me an evangelist for a balanced brain. I want people to use both of their hemispheres. And I want them to recognize that they have more power over what’s going on between their ears than they ever had any idea. I think the more responsibility we take for what’s going on inside of our brains; the happier we are going to be. I am an advocate for joy.”
While Jill Bolte Taylor’s story is one of great tenacity and courage, the “skills” she speaks of are available to most of us. If joy is a choice, how do we make it? According to psychotherapist Donald Altman, being in a state of joy isn’t something we’re born with. The author of The Joy Compass: 8 Ways to Find Lasting Happiness and Optimism in the Present Moment, says that finding joy is a learned skill.
Every day, we have to cultivate the emotions that we want to experience more of. This takes a commitment to conscious thought and awareness and of how we process the external events of our lives. Reactivity usually doesn’t nurture joy.
There are eight abilities that we can learn to strengthen that can enable the flow of joy in our lives. Read more…
This is the third year that I’ve rerun this post.
Once again, it showed up in my top ten article views of the year and nearly every day there’s a search for “living in the four rooms.” Perhaps fans of this enduring work find their way to this blog. I hope so. There is clearly a draw to the wisdom captured by this simple, yet inspiring work by the late author, Rumer Godden and I hope I add something of value to it here.
More than ever we understand that life is more than the endless to-do lists we create and then relentlessly pursue to achieve “success.” As the poet Yeats said, “Life is not a problem to be solved, but a mystery to be lived.” If we can aspire to live from all the parts of our lives – we may find deeper rewards in all we do. There’s a gentle quality to these simple words and humble advice. And for all that we want and must to in 2013 – resting gently in each room – every day – is a wonderful place to start.
Everyone is a House with Four Rooms,
A Physical, a Mental, an Emotional and a Spiritual.
Most of us tend to live in one room most of the time,
But unless we go into every room, every day,
Even if only to keep it aired,
We are not Complete.
The turning of another year can be a perfect time to dive a little deeper into our multiple selves. A time to retrieve our personae and sit, quietly and without judgment – with our true self. Read more…
Well… here we are at the end of another year for the Intentional Workplace. Quite a remarkable one for most of us, wasn’t it? I said remarkable, not easy!
It’s always interesting to review what readers liked the most so I thought I would share this year’s top five articles. I’m gratified that the visitors to this blog increased significantly in 2012 and am very pleased that past posts got so much attention. Hope you enjoy re-reading these and discover other oldies in the process.
This post really took off in 2012. The full-out winner in number of views and usage requests. Yes, the topic of mindfulness is “hot,” and this article benefited from that trend. But I think it found such a large audience because it has some very useful ways to get more focused and conscious of the thinking process. The reality is that not everyone is going to meditate or a relaxation practice. But everyone can learn ways to become more aware of the pause between the thoughts, which is essentially the gift of meditation. It will change your life. No hyperbole there. Read more…
I wanted to share a poem about silence and peace. Not only ’tis the season, but we’re all in need of more of both. In this beautiful (regardless of your season or hemisphere) scene one can feel the solace of deep peace. In searching for words I come back to an old metaphorical friend, the late poet and great humanist, John O”Donohue. For those of you not familiar with this gifted soul, I believe you are in for a wonderful discovery. For those who know and love John’s work, as I do, revisiting his words are always a comfort.
John’s work still resonates with many of us today. His sudden death in 2008 left us wanting more of his beautiful words and lyrical voice. John understood the power of silence to ease the mind, soothe the heart and restore the body. It’s especially true at this time of the year as we transition into another. But I believe it is even more important after a year that shook the personal and collective foundations of many lives. For many of us it is a time for deep reflection. As John so eloquently wrote, “The tide you never valued has gone out. And you are marooned on unsure ground.” Read more…
“When patterns are broken new worlds emerge” Tuli Kuperberg
What does a “who dunnit” in a work team have to do with the conflict in the Middle East, or for that matter, any conflict?
Looking at today’s major political conflicts one easily sees that they are usually convoluted, long-standing and intractable. Working with many team and organizational conflicts one finds many of them to be convoluted, long-standing and seemingly intractable.
Most attempts at dealing with conflict boil down to these “strategies” Who did it? Who’s to blame? Who’s the victim? Who wins?
Despite all the win-win language adopted by groups and businesses over the years, too many people are sitting on too much neglected conflict.
It’s exhausting and explains why so much of the world deals with conflict by not dealing with it. In her recent article in Inc., A Conflict-Free Organization Isn’t Great, It’s Near Death, Margaret Heffernan writes, “In most businesses, people don’t know what to do with discord. In a Roffey Park survey, 57% of managers reported that “inaction” was their organization’s main method of conflict resolution, and cited “avoidance” and “pretending” it isn’t there” as a regular course of action.”
Conflict can only be postponed. Rarely does it heal on its own.
The three primary modes for dealing with conflict haven’t really changed – attack, avoid and defend are still the go-to positions for most individuals and organizations.
Conflict is still largely viewed as something to be “managed” and “resolved” (eliminated). Mostly that centers on two things, “stop the pain” and “help me find a way to get what I want.”
In their paper, Getting Past Conflict Resolution: A Complexity View of Conflict, authors, Andade, Plowman and Duchon wrote, “The traditional view of conflict, as a problematic condition always requiring reduction or elimination and whose conditions or outcomes can be predicted is compatible with a complex adaptive systems view of organizations. Conventional approaches to reducing conflict are often futile because the fundamental properties of complex adaptive systems are the source of much organizational conflict.”
When we do think about conflict, the prevailing view is that it’s a problem and as such, in a get-it-done world, it must be fixed. The “problem” is that conflict cannot be fixed. Fix-it strategies are doomed to fail because they use linear approaches that rarely work – in relationships, organizations and countries. These tired strategies are usually based on a reductionist model that seeks to understand relationships and issues by breaking them down into ever smaller pieces.
In my nearly twenty years of trying to understand and share what I know about conflict, I’ve consistently found a reliance on the mostly futile search for facts – if only we could get to the heart of the matter, we could solve the problem – is the predominant belief behind this thinking. Read more…
“Make the most of your regrets; never smother your sorrow, but tend and cherish it till it comes to have a separate and integral interest. To regret deeply is to live afresh.
We’re a long way from Walden Pond; even Thoreau’s contemporaries rarely lived such a contemplative life, but let’s take some time now to ponder two inter-connected emotions – guilt and regret.
Complex and deep, distinct in their qualities, both emotions are about loss. Both are akin to sadness as the wise Mr. Thoreau wrote. Both, as all emotions do, rely very much on the cognitive narratives we construct as we live. Guilt and regret belong in the category I call, emotions of comparison. Much of their life force is derived from our mental comparisons with the lives of others – what should and should not be.
Since the 1960’s gave us the term “guilt trip,” guilt’s never been the same. According to the dictionary it means “when someone tries to make you feel guilty for thinking, feeling and doing things a certain way.” The “social liberators” of the ‘Sixties’ weren’t having any of that post-Depression, post-WWII thinking about personal and social constraints. The straightjacket of guilt was off and guilt in its post-Victorian form hasn’t been seen since.
A hundred years ago Freud created an internal iconography about guilt that had previously only been transmitted through religious doctrine. Freud believed that guilt is an affective state experienced as internal conflict about something one believes is “wrong.” This feeling persists because, as Freud explained, we are in violation of our conscience (our inner moral code) engaged in the epic battle between our ego and our superego. While Freud rejected the role of God in this struggle, the harsh super-egoic stand-in was parental authority, broadly representing the rules and norms of society. Freud strongly believed that one of guilt’s purposes was self-punishment.
Although Freud, a brilliant explorer of the uncharted psyche of the late 1800’s, did not significantly advance his theories on the origins of guilt, recent neuroscience has shown connections between guilt and certain regions of the brain associated with anxiety and depression.
Carl Jung, who Freud once called his “adopted eldest son, crown prince and successor,” (before the rupture in their bond) had a dramatically different concept of the role guilt served in the individuation of the personal psyche. In his 1945 essay on guilt, Jung wrote,” Guilt has been a subject of special interest to me for many years. I learned that guilt is far more complicated than the conventional explanations for its psychic existence. The conventional view of guilt’s role is that it helps us remain “good.” Guilt keeps us within boundaries deemed acceptable. It helps us resist doing things that would disturb or harm our individual and collective interests.”
Jung’s subversive (at the time) contribution to our understanding of guilt’s purpose was clear; he did not believe we could grow without experiencing guilt.
Jung believed that we needed to be “bad” at times which he called “good guilt.” The “good” in doing “bad” comes from the freedom people experience when they break from oppressive rules that are not intrinsically natural to them. Jung gave the examples of divorces, separations from partners and friends and giving up family (read societal) approved careers or even marriages. Breaking with these conventions would have been far more guilt-producing in Jung’s times, but they still are emotionally costly for many people today. Read more…
As we approach the holiday season, lots of heart-felt stories about kindness and giving start to appear. Tis’ the season, so to speak. It’s a time when even the busiest and most cynical among us pause (even if only for a short time) and reflect. But too often, the feelings of gratitude that the holiday spirit may generate are focused only on family and friends. Gratitude, after all, is not an emotion most of us associate with the workplace.
But what if gratitude were commonplace in the workplace?
What do you think the impact of a culture of gratitude would be on well-being, relationships, cooperation, stress, creativity, performance and productivity?
Gratitude is a powerful emotion. A growing body of research within the past decade has demonstrated the significant physiological benefits to those experiencing gratitude. Studies at the University of California (Davis) and the University of Miami showed that experiencing gratitude balanced hormonal levels and led to the release of DHEA, “the anti-aging hormone.” Gratitude also boosts the immune system by increasing the LgA antibody. These studies found that engaging in daily “gratitude exercises” can raise the level of positive feelings.
When we activate and experience emotions like gratitude and appreciation, they can become more like our “default” emotions because neural networks are reinforced through repeated experience.
The mounting evidence shows that “gratitude represents the quintessential positive personality trait, being an indicator of a worldview oriented towards noticing and appreciating the positive in life.” (Journal of Personality and Individual Difference) Read more…
(Haraz N. Ghanbari – AP)
The times they a’changin, even if you are not ready.
While Mitt Romney did get 47% of the vote, it’s the other 53% of the electorate that showed up that is a huge part of the story. In his post-election coverage, The New Yorker’s editor Hendrik Hertzberg wrote, “Nearly as pleasing as Obama’s surprisingly easy reelection – and, to me at least, rather more surprising – was the electorate’s nearly across –the-board embrace of cultural and social liberalism and, implicitly, of secularism.”
This America showed up to vote in jaw-dropping pluralities that even the most hardened skeptic (well most) can’t deny. The headliner percentages for African-Americans (95%) Latinos (75%) Asian-Americans (75%) and young people (between the ages of 18 and 29) made up a bigger share of the electorate (to many an analyst’s surprise) than they have in past elections, with a 19% margin of support for the President.
Predicted, but still stunning, was the President’s support from woman, and in particular, single women. While women turned out in the same numbers as 2008 (54% of the electorate) the gender gap rose from 12% to 18% in this election. Of that number, two-thirds of single women voted for Obama. Interestingly, single people are now the majority in 15 states. One striking demographic shift in the crucial women’s vote is that these women are no longer white, married middle class suburbanites but a broad coalition of unmarried women, urban-dwellers, people of color and those under the age of 30.
Social issues reflecting the values of these voters also won big in this election. Four states, Washington, Minnesota, Maryland and Maine voted for marriage equality and two states, Colorado and Washington voted to legalize recreational use of marijuana. Senator-elect Tammy Baldwin (WI) will serve as the first openly gay member of the U.S. Senate and self-described bisexual candidate, Krysten Sinema from Arizona won a congressional seat. Though geography and politics divide support for these issues, the historic reversal of recent opposition to these measures and candidates is notable.
Changing cultural values and demographics are an undeniable factor in the recent election, and raise important questions about how they will affect the workplace of the not so distant future? How much of the 2012 vote will translate into policy changes is an open question, but surely this cultural and demographic tsunami comes with expectations that will shape how we work. Read more…
For Americans, this has been a powerful time to think about leadership.
Within a week, we have seen a large segment of our population ravaged by “superstorm” Sandy; a week later, a President re-elected. What do we want from our leaders? Who are they? What really matters to them – and us? What will leadership look like a generation from today? These are a few of the questions that many of us have asked.
For the first time, nineteen women will take their place in the United States Senate at a time of great division in the country. In yesterday’s election, men favored candidate Romney, while women favored President Obama by a margin of 19%. Fifty nine percent of white Americans voted for Mr. Romney, while ninety-three percent of African-Americans, sixty-nine percent of Latinos, seventy-four percent of Asian Americans and sixty percent of people under 30, voted for the President. One post-election tweet read, “Demographics trumped economics.”
Clearly, this data is a reflection of the beliefs, values and desires of the majority that voted for the President. While I’m not suggesting that political leadership is the same as organizational leadership, all leaders who do not grasp the importance of mental complexity at this time, will be increasingly unable to lead.
Just as the outcome of an election provides leaders with critical information that must shift and change the way they think and act if they are to stay viable, so should the constantly changing dynamics of organizational processes influence and guide leaders.
Old mindsets and practices are dying hard – but the evidence of their demise is all around us. Seems like an excellent time for thinking more deeply about what leadership will mean to us going forward.
Here’s a reprise of Conscious Leadership (april 2012) to add to the conversation.
My Google search for leadership turned up 499,000,000 results. It’s a well-covered topic with every nook and cranny explored.
What more is there to say? Read more…
Worry is a trap.
Lately, I’ve been falling into the worry trap too often.
I’ve found myself worrying about many things.
I worry about the outcome of the upcoming U.S. election.
I worry about the acceleration of the effects of climate change.
I worry about the inexplicable denial of climate change.
I worry about – OK, that’s enough because mental rehearsal is the engine that powers worry.
Despite many years of dedicated effort to raise my level of awareness and be less reactive to external events, I still can fall into the worry trap.
It’s dark in the trap. Sometimes it feels like a power outage, waiting….waiting…waiting for the lights to come back on. Waiting for the energy to shift.
In the worry trap, we’re always waiting for bad news, even before it arrives – and often it doesn’t. But we still worry.
But that’s the thing about worry. It’s often not about actual events. It’s about what we don’t know – and most important – what we cannot control.
The stark reality about worry is that – no matter how much of it we do – it will have no bearing on the real events we’re worrying about – real or imagined.
Worry is about control and how we handle our lack of it. .
Worry is highly correlated with trust, or lack of it – trust of others, trust of self – and trust of life in general.
Worry is the product of habit, and must be “treated” as such.
Worry’s roots are based in fear – and there, is the difficulty.
The neuroscience of fear makes clear that the brain’s hardwiring favors the instinct to troll for impending dangers. New York University neuroscientist, Joseph Ledoux has found that in the complex interplay of slower, conscious reason and quicker subconscious emotion and instinct, the basic architecture of the brain ensures we feel first and think second.
Our flight or fight sentry system is hardwired to detect “harmful” incoming stimuli well before our slow-poke thinking brain kicks in. Writing in the Emotional Brain, LeDoux states, “The wiring of the brain at this point in our evolutionary history is such that connections from the emotional system to the cognitive systems are stronger than connections from the cognitive system to the emotional systems.”
It’s easy to fall into the facts vs. feelings debate when discussing the irrationality of some worries. Read more…
No one can harm you , not even your own worst enemy, as much as your own mind untrained. And no one can help you, not even your most loving mother and father, as much as your own mind well-trained.
Before we begin, let me ask you an important question – what makes your world?
I know it’s a tough question – or maybe it isn’t? How much do you believe that it is you that makes your world? This is a crucial question for the conversation we’re about to have.
Unquestionably, the events we encounter every day play a major role in how our experience is formed. But what role does our interpretation of events play in shaping what we see, feel and know?
Do you, like me, believe that thoughts create our world and as such, are the most creative force we humans have?
This is not to say that emotions do not play a significant, even an equal role in forming experience – the fact is that the interplay between thought and feeling is still not fully understood. As neuroscience progresses, we will hopefully gain a better understanding of the relationship between cognitive thought, emotional response and experience.
In the past few years, there has been a steady stream of research emerging from neuroscience about the workings of the brain. But little, so far, has emerged about this wonderful thing we call the mind. To date there is no single scientific consensus on defining the mind.
While the insights of neuroscience hold enormous value and promise in our understanding of human behavioral dynamics it is important to understand that we are not our brains. Our brains, like computers, are tools that our minds use to express deeper experiences that transcend psychology and physiology.
Who’s Talking? Who’s Observing?
So where’s the narrative talking place? Read more…
Some of my colleagues may not like this but I have to share one of my pet peeves – use of the term “direct reports.”
A quick check of The Dictionary of Corporate Bullshit defines the term as “the junior staffer in a supervisory/employer relationship; a common term for the people “managed” by a particular person that underscores the senior person’s power over the staffers, just in case they forget, will frequently be used in the possessive sense, i.e., “My direct reports,” and may be irritatingly truncated to, “My directs.”
Stay with me now, I know the term is common, acceptable and not meant to be pejorative – but it triggers me each time I hear it.
Let me try to explain why.
Before we begin, you should know I don’t plan to rant on about it – but simply want to use the term as a jumping off point to talk about language – the power of words, personally and collectively.
I know you know what I mean because we all have words that trigger us – words that push our hot buttons. That’s the essence of the power of language – the ability to evoke deep feeling in a second. But I’m getting ahead of myself if I say much more now.
Here’s what got me started. Read more…
There’s lots of compelling information emerging from neuroscience about compassion.
That’s good news because, frankly, we need it.
You see, the really good news is that we’re hard-wired for compassion. Speaking at this summer’s conference in Telluride, Colorado, The Science of Compassion: Origins, Measures and Interventions, sponsored by Stanford University Medical School’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research, Stephen Porges, Ph.D. presented the following conclusions from his research:
- Compassion is a manifestation of our biological need to engage and bond with others
- Compassion is a component of our biological quest for “safety” in the proximity of others.
Summarizing the Telluride conference findings, Emiliana Simon-Thomas, Ph.D., Associate Director and a Senior Scientist at CCARE, the Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education at Stanford writes, “The discussions revealed growing consensus that the biological, physical and behavioral properties of compassion – the feeling we get when confronted with suffering , infused with the urge to help – have evolved to help us survive.”
What We Learn and What We Believe
As scientific consensus about compassion as instinct continues to solidify, humanity’s beliefs about the goodness of others seem to lagging behind the studies.
There’s a wonderful Buddhist teaching story that compares lunch in heaven to lunch in hell. Both places have the same set-up; large dining tables filled with delicious food. However, the forks are too long and it is impossible for the diners to eat with them. Those who dwell in hell live in eternal frustration and hunger at not being able to eat the food. Those who dwell in heaven, however, simply smile and use the long forks to feed each other. The meaning is simple; the same conditions can be experienced differently based on attitude and perceptions. Read more…
Monday September 3rd is Labor Day, a Federal holiday in the United States since 1894.
Hastily signed into law by President Grover Cleveland, historians note that Cleveland was eager to appease the growing labor movement after the deaths of workers during the Pullman Strike.
Labor historians consider the Pullman Strike a critical event in the history of the movement for workers’ rights in this country. The Pullman Palace Car Company manufactured railroad cars and operated them on thousands of miles of rails at the height of the 19th century American railroad boom. The company’s car porters, The Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, was a powerful African-American political group well into the 20th century. Read more…
I often write about emotions. In fact, at the heart of my work and this blog, is the effort to illuminate emotional life and provide a space for conversation about feelings. While many of the articles here have focused on specific emotions, anger, envy, jealously and resentment – and fear, especially fear – it’s time to shine the spotlight on a larger spectrum of emotions.
With this post, I’m introducing a year-long series on emotions. Each month, I’ll highlight one or two emotions. This month, I’m beginning with humility. In September, I will take a look at frustration and impatience, October’s focus will be on worry, in November guilt and regret and in December – joy and compassion.
In a competitive “Look at ME,” “What’s in it for ME” world where self-branding skills are sought and prized, the word humility isn’t commonly googled.
The term “humility” comes from the Latin word humilitas, a noun related to the adjective humilis, which can be translated as “humble,” but also as “grounded,” “from the earth,” or “low.” Because of the root derivation of the word, humility has often been considered submissive and meek.
In every religious tradition, Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Taoism and Hindu humility is among the highest virtues. In the Book of Proverbs, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” (Proverbs 3:34)
In Buddhism, humility is a path for release from the sufferings of the mind. According to the Mahayana teachings of Buddhism, the teaching of shunyata (Emptiness) human beings and things have no intrinsic existence in themselves. Their existence and “value” comes in being only in relative relation to other phenomena.
The ancient Greeks often wrote about the importance of humility. In Homer’s Iliad, the willful and arrogant Achilles took little notice of his comrades slaughtered at the hands of the Trojans. Obsessed with himself till the end, Achilles is killed by Prince Paris, the son of the Trojan king, whose arrows are divinely guided. Achilles is felled as much by his own hubris, as the arrow that strikes his famous heel. Read more…
Lately, the nature of positive thinking has been on my mind.
Two weeks ago, I wrote about it in Redefining Optimism in the Face of Reality. Then, last Sunday, I came across this article, “The Power of Negative Thinking,” in the most emailed section of the New York Times.
In the article, Oliver Burkeman author of the book, The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking, challenges many of the assertions of a virtual cottage industry of positive thinking promoters.
A quick Google search also turned up articles with titles like, “Visualize Success if You Want to Fail,” “It’s Time to End our Obsession with Positive Thinking,” and “Why Negative Thinking Makes the World a Better Place” and “Should Leaders Accentuate the Negative?”
A deeper search finds many titles warning of the “dangers” and “perils” of positive thinking. These eye-catching headlines all reinforce the theory that in journalism, what bleeds, leads – sensationalism sells.
Vociferous attacks on positive psychology began when psychologist Martin Seligman released his book, Learned Optimism in 1991. Critics, however, seem to be getting noisier and nastier in recent years – with recent attempts aimed at discrediting positivity altogether.
So what’s it all about? Is our attempt to devalue positivity a symptom of the Age of Cynicism with historically low trust levels and a precipitous decline in belief in religion? Have we been sold a bill of goods by self help gurus (a term used by others) and positive psychology enthusiasts – modern day “Svengalis” who feed us what we want to hear and believe? Read more…
Regardless of how you feel about the Olympics, the general consensus was that the London 2012 Opening Ceremony “Isles of Wonder” orchestrated by director, Danny Boyle, were an amazing spectacle.
Most critics agree that the Oscar-winning director of Slumdog Millionaire pulled off a fantastic accomplishment, balancing pressures from the notoriously conservative Olympic Committee and countless government officials while managing a cast of 10,000 volunteers and paid staff. Two years in the making, Boyle’s stellar achievement, viewed by over a billion people, was described as, “dazzling,” “witty” “stunningly indivualistic” and “astonishing.”
I’ll add my adjectives – thrilling and bold – to the chorus of surprised and delighted viewers.
But the jaw dropping pyrotechnics, intricate choreography and mosaic storylines weren’t the only things that generated a buzz. Watching it, I wondered – How did Danny Boyle pull this off? How big was his team and more important, what was their communication process?” Browsing online the next day, I could see that I wasn’t the only one wondering – how did he do it?
What are the leadership lessons here? Turns out there are quite a few. Read more…
“The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn.” Alvin Tofler, Futurist
Is it bold and daring to be optimistic in these times? Aurora, Syria, Climate change, High unemployment, EU meltdowns, Wall St. Corruption, LIBOR bank rate rigging – we could fill the page with reasons for short and long-term pessimism.
Optimism in the face of such dire realities seems a folly.
But even if we agree that the times are very challenging, even for those with very rose-colored glasses, are we implying that optimism is a choice? When we see the dark clouds rolling in, do we choose to dial back optimism in hopes of sunnier days ahead? Read more…
The habit of looking to the future and thinking that the whole meaning of the present lies in what it will bring forth is a pernicious one. There can be no value in the whole unless there is value in the parts.
BERTRAND RUSSELL, Conquest of Happiness
Tim Kreiders’ recent New York Times article, The Busy Trap, has generated a lot of buzz. Many bloggers did follow-up pieces on the theme that has struck a deep chord with readers. I have some thoughts on it myself.
In case you missed the article (maybe because you were too busy?) here’s the essence – there is an epidemic of busyness out there – people, either by choice or not – have less time for the “pleasures ” of life – and certainly no down time. We’ve lost the art of dolce far niente. Our social and family lives are suffering. Our kids are over-scheduled and who knows what this will do to their expectations of life and work in the future?
You get it? Busyness is like a plague that’s sweeping the land and we’re lost in a time famine. Not a pretty picture.
What are we doing with our precious 168 hours per week? And more important, who or what is compelling us to spend our time as we do? Read more…
While the blog is technically still on vacation, I couldn’t resist sharing a few thoughts triggered by some of today’s outrageous headlines with you. This isn’t light reading, I know. But while some of you are at the beach or sipping a cool drink reading a summer novel (I hope) the drive for control and power doesn’t stop.
Reading about the Libor scandal and the “leader” associated with it (for now), Barclays Bank former CEO Paul Diamond, I’m reminded that its time to dust off a post from late last year, Because I Said So: The Slow Death of Authoritarian Leadership. Now don’t get me wrong, I am not conflating the actions of Mr. Diamond with every leader still obsessed with control and adherence to the Theory X model of fear-based management. But one wonders how enlightened and transparent the cultures of organizations like Barclays and JP Morgan can be under the leadership of Diamond and Dimon.
Writing about Diamond in A Shame of Leadership, Anne Perschel writes “Dear Bob: The buck stops at your office door. You are responsible for setting the tone and the culture at Barclays. You are responsible for being responsible. “I did not know,” is not an excuse or a reason. You are responsible for creating a culture where behaviors that turn your stomach do not occur, and for creating a culture where others (many of them) would apprise you when such stomach turning behaviors do occur.” Right on, Anne.
While we’re at it … I’m going to rant for a minute about critical thinking. You know, the kind of thinking that we urgently need to solve the massive problems facing our world community. I’m no pedagogical expert, but it seems to me that critical thinking skills need to be taught right along side of reading, writing and ‘rithmatic. Surveys of U.S. citizens show that people’s knowledge of the basics is at an all time low. We’re not learning to analyze information and discern between fact and fiction. We’re not asking enough QUESTIONS. So I hope you’ll take another look at Question the Answers: Using Critical Thinking to Change Workplace Dynamics. Clearly some organizations believe critical thinking is a dangerous thing - dangerous to the status quo and maintenance of old power arrangements. Read more…
And now for something completely different….
It’s summer in this part of the world and the Intentional Workplace is taking a brief vacation (we’ll be back on July 14th). Since you probably already have your summer reading list (my stack is sky-high) you may want to consider watching a few great films during your holiday break. I know summer’s the time for the great outdoors, but when the evening comes….
Since reading and movies are both passions of mine, I thought I’d share a short list of some favorites. Fair warning: there are no summer blockbusters on this list. No Marvel Comics Super Heroes. No horror films. No action films. No cutting edge film technology. No animation.
I recently watched actor Alec Baldwin and his To Rome With Love co-stars, on the Charlie Rose show discussing their latest film directed by Woody Allen. Baldwin commented that one of his attractions to making films with the director is that Woody makes films about people – and that’s not too common these days.
So while I am not adverse to watching a few sci-fi blockbusters and action thrillers, I am far more interested in movies about people. Fortunately, despite Hollywood’s overdose on superheroes and teenage male addictions – movies from independent and international filmmakers have reshaped the landscape of cinema. Quality film abounds.
Here’s a short list of some films I recommend. Read more…
“There is no data showing that anxious, fearful employees are more creative and productive, but there is data proving that employees in a threatening environment are less engaged, less loyal and for the most part miserable.” Mary Prefontane
This post is inspired by Bill Maher. Yes, that’s right, Bill Maher, the irreverent, super-sharp, potty mouthed host of the long running HBO cable TV series, Real Time.
Every week Bill does something called New Rules, where he chooses a topic that he highlights with an outrageous and dead-on 3 minute rant. This week’s topic focused on the American worker and his/her curious relationship to taking time off from work. I’ll give you a few minutes here so that you can see the short clip.
Bill concludes that the American worker, “the most productive in the world,” is just plain scared. Too scared to take a vacation and too scared to relax – even for a day.
He points to other major developed countries where workers enjoy generous “holidays” and ample time off. Even tiny Sri Lanka, Maher extols, has 21 days paid vacation leave for their workers. What ticks off Maher is that far from being pissed off about their modest vacation benefits – many Americans aren’t even complaining, they’re criticizing other countries as being lazy and unproductive. Why don’t we get it – Maher asks. Read more…
There is little disagreement that effective decision-making is one of the most important tasks we must master to achieve success in every part of life.
If we were to take a survey in the average workplace to poll what people believed was most needed for effective decision-making, which of these do you think would top the list?
- Factual information?
- Risk assessment?
- Clear thinking?
- Limited emotional interference?
If you chose the last item, I’d like you to reconsider.
In his book, Descartes’ Error: Emotion, Reason and the Human Brain (first published in 1994) one of the world’s top neuroscientists, Antonio Damasio, profiled his patient, Elliott, one of his most well-known cases. Formerly a successful businessman, model father and husband, Elliott suffered from ventromedial frontal lobe damage as a result of a tumor and subsequent surgery for removal.
Following his operation, Elliot dispassionately reported to Damasio that his life was falling apart. While still in the 97th percentile for IQ, Elliot lacked all motivation. His marriage collapsed as did each new business he started. Damasio found Elliott an “uninvolved spectator” in his own life, “He was always controlled. Nowhere was there a sense of his own suffering, even though he was the protagonist. I never saw a tinge of emotion in my many hours of conversation with him: no sadness, no impatience, no frustration.”
It was clear to Damasio that as a result of his surgery, Elliot was incapable of making decisions, “Elliott emerged as a man with a normal intellect who was unable to decide properly, especially when the decision involved personal or social matters.” Even small decisions were fraught with endless deliberation: making an appointment took 30 minutes, choosing where to eat lunch took all afternoon, even deciding which color pen to use to fill out office forms was a chore. Turns out Elliott’s lack of emotion paralyzed his decision-making.
In the preface to the 2005 edition of Descartes Error, Damasio wrote, “Today this idea [that emotion assists the reasoning process] does not cause any raised eyebrows. However, while this idea may not raise any eyebrows today among neuroscientists, I believe it’s still a surprise to the general public. We’re trained to regard emotions as irrational impulses that are likely to lead us astray. When we describe someone as “emotional,” it’s usually a criticism that suggests that they lack good judgment. And the most logical and intelligent figures in popular culture are those who exert the greatest control over their emotions–or who seem to feel no emotions at all.”
Although neuroscience has built a strong body of evidence over twenty-five years to demonstrate the inextricable link between reason, emotion and decision-making most of mainstream culture still doesn’t get it.
Management “experts” are still recommending we keep emotion out of decision-making and that professionals leave their feelings at home when they are at work. Women, especially, wear the mantle of emotionality in the workplace and many still feel the need to compensate by subduing the expression of their feelings and thoughts. Read more…