Yes, I said “BS.” Let’s start at the beginning:
Question: What makes a problem a problem?
Before I answer this question, how would you answer it? Think of a recent situation you’d define as a problem. Got it? Now, describe that problem. For example, “I was frustrated because I was stuck in traffic.”
What was the problem? Being stuck in traffic wasn’t the problem. Being late wasn’t the problem. Was feeling frustrated the problem? Almost. My feeling or emotion of frustration (interpreted by my brain as a negative, painful emotion) resulted in my behavior (honking my horn).
But where did THAT feeling come from? It came from BS.
Answer: Bulls*&t? Could be. Belief System (which are often interchangeable concepts). My BELIEF (or my “rule”) was that if I was late to my meeting, then I would feel pain. Was that bulls%t? Maybe, maybe not.
Recent studies in the field of social cognitive neuroscience show our human brain works harder to avoid pain than to seek pleasure. My brain was working hard, very hard. Maybe as a child being late was severely punished. Maybe I had one negative experience being late for a meeting (and feeling embarrassed or ?) which combined to create a cellular memory (or rule so I didn’t let it happen again in the future) of pain so my brain could keep me safe.
So what makes a problem a problem is the not only the negative or painful emotion attached to it, but the rule or pattern your brain created when it connected the feeling to a situation in the past and projected it into the future.
So, why is this important? Empathy. The #1 secret to keeping cool under pressure is drumming up the feeling of empathy. Because of the wiring in our brain, we cannot feel empathy and angry at the same time … the experience of empathy occurs in a different part of the brain and we can’t feel both at the same time.
Next time a peer or colleague gets upset about a situation you feel is “no big deal” and you wonder why she’s so upset, just say “it’s not her, it’s just her brain.”
Perhaps empathy on your part could subvert a potential conflict or misunderstanding and you both could get the job done more easily.
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(originally posted at Lead Change Blog)
Whether you are a newly promoted manager, recently hired executive or have been in your position for some time, odds are if you are not ahead of the game, you may make one or more of these potentially costly mistakes:
What it looks like: You are the “new person on the block” and there is an unspoken awkwardness between you and your team. A sense of the “unknown” and maybe even some mistrust, depending on whose shoes your are filling and how he or she performed.
Our very social brains “circle” each other, feeling out the other person. Sounds creepy? No, it is normal for our mirror neurons to want to “see” the other person and attempt to predict what you are going to do or say next.
Yet, in this process and especially under stress (i.e., the unknown future), our brains often anticipate the worst case scenario, like “He’s too quiet … just like the last boss and we don’t know what he’s thinking … maybe he’s going to fire us all.” Or “She hasn’t asked us how we have been doing things well around here for years … she’s going to just do it her way no matter what we say.”
I have seen more senior leaders and CEO’s have two year old temper tantrums than my own children did at two. Why is this? My experience has been more senior executives get referred for performance coaching than mid-level managers due to their inability to manage their temper. Is it because top executives are unwilling (or unable?) to manage their emotions? Is it because they don’t see a need to do so and the stress builds up along the way until you explode? Or are managers more afraid of losing their opportunity for promotion if they show their frustration, and are therefore more proactive?
My guess: It is becoming increasingly difficult to manage the overwhelming responsibilities and variables inherent in the Top Dog position. Richard Boyatzis, author of Resonant Leadership and numerous research articles in area of Leadership Developement, describes “Power Stress” as a unique stress experienced by leaders who in addition to their everyday stress, feel additional responsiblity for the welfare and well being of others: employees, shareholders, etc. The cost of failing is higher, therefore the stress is higher. Stress results in dis-ease … put those two words together and you’ll get the wake up call physically in the form of high blood pressure, heart problems and other stress-related conditions.
Because of the mirror neurons described earlier, when you are come into the office with a scowl or bark at your staff or worse yet use sarcasm or criticism as a management weapon, because emotions are contagious, you’ve just infected everyone you come into contact with. Now your staff are “carriers” and spread the negativity like the flu to others, including your customers.
Have you ever noticed it’s easier to pay attention to what people do wrong than what they do right? This may be for several reasons. First, because our brains are hard-wired to notice the negative more readily and easily (especially under stressful conditions). Second, noticing the negative and ignoring the positive may have been learned. By this I mean your belief that your team doesn’t need recognition for doing their job, because that is what they are paid to do.
Research described in Amabile & Kramer’s book “The Progress Principle: Using Small Wins To Ignite Joy, Engagement, And Creativity At Work” demonstrates people NEED to recognize small progress and small wins. It truly is the little positive things that make a big difference in our internal world. Yet, ironically the small wins get overshadowed by the BIG screw ups (or even the little screw ups) we experience throughout the day both in our internal world or external environment. Small wins win BIG.
So focus on finding the small wins and acknowledging the progress we make is not a sign of weakness or patronizing … as long as it is genuinely felt and communicated.
What about the other mistakes not on this list? Yes, these are just the top three I’ve noticed recently with my coaching clients … what would you add to the list and more importantly what have you done to prevent or resolve the mistake?
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It’s about time caring and trust, those emotions that make us human, inspire us and motivate us, are recognized and acknowledged by leaders who are capable (and responsible) of leveraging human potential for the greater good (not just for the bottom line).