Self-Defeating Habits of Otherwise Brilliant People: Part Three

Part three of three. Thanks for joining us, if you missed part two, click here.

FDR’s View

Lucky for us we had someone who took the third assumption view, FDR, said ‘it is the system not the people’. He did work to change the laws and he signed into law more legislation than any president prior to him in his first 100 days of office. 

Venting is a sugar high

Yes we know venting is an easy way to bond. In many organizations it is a source of entertainment and it relieves boredom on the job. 

Which behavior is human nature?

Here is another question, which behavior is human nature - hostility or connection? Actually, it is both. Part of our human nature is hostile and part of it is connection.


You may be familiar with Einstein's thoughts on this matter. 
“Any intelligent fool can make things bigger and more complex and more violent. It takes a touch of genius - and a lot of courage - to move in the opposite direction.”
I would also insert the word skill.

Not all assumptions are equal

Our brains focus more on the negative than the positive, which is just the way we are hardwired. Negative experiences stick with us longer. 

The Negativity Bias of the brain

Part of the reason is that years ago, when sudden death was a constant threat, that was part of the brain’s job. Fight or flight response is part of what' kept us growing in terms of population and what kept people on this planet. 

Unfortunately it doesn't help us today. When we are facing the frustration of a coffee pot that a colleague failed to fill and left on the burner. When we let that aggravate us and our heart speeds up. Did you know you can no longer hear when your heart is beating faster than 100 bpm? The other thing that we know about anger is that it impairs our memory. And cortisol and adrenaline flood our system and that doesn't help us in terms of overall health. 

As a matter of fact, research says every time we get angry, every time we flood; we have 1/1000th of a heart attack. More figuratively than literally, but it isn't beneficial. 

You might know about the amygdala, it is that little red spot identified there. It helps us and keeps us safe, so if you are in danger...flood. But if need your pre frontal cortex to think, then flooding is counterproductive. 

What can we do to move to the positive end of the continuum?

How can we move from one end to the positive? How can we take ourselves and our group from that negative to that high positive? 

Avoid Venting

First, we want to avoid venting. So the next time someone comes to your office or calls you on the phone, or wants to engage you in a complaint session about another individual. Here is how you can respond. Do the following instead and you can remember this by the acronym EASE. Empathize, appreciate, speculate, and explore. Empathy sounds like,

“Wow that’s a touch situation, I am sorry to hear that.” 

“That is really bad.”

“Thank you very much for bringing this forward, and you have worked here a long time and I really appreciate the opportunity.”

“Why do you think that would happen?” 

“What would be that person’s motivation?” 

“Wonder what is going on?” 

Then you can begin to explore and learn more and maybe you walk out of the meeting with an assignment. Maybe you decide we have to look into this. It is a way to begin to look at what is possible as opposed to that other person is wrong or I am wrong. 

Connectedness is nature’s antidote to stress

We know that connectedness is nature’s antidote to stress and you see it every time a natural disaster happens. People pull together and part of the reason is that it is very similar to that runners high, called helpers high. The same biochemical action takes place in our bodies, as do when we are feeling good on the run, and when we are helping people. 

So pay attention, because you will know feelings of euphoria, and our endorphins kick off and all good things happen in our body. As a matter of fact there is some research that bears this out, and I found this quite interesting. Michael Norton at the University of British Columbia said to this dodgeball team that was winning half their games. Take 5 bucks and spend it on yourself, there was no change in the number of games won. But when they spent that same 5 dollars and that isn’t a great amount to spend on someone, they increased their winning percentage by 30 percent. That gift giving changed how they felt about one another. 

So here is another photo of people reaching out and helping each other, without any need for a response. They are doing it out of the goodness of their heart, there is no payback expected. So we can also override the negativity bias and calm our nervous system by practicing gratitude. As a matter of fact, research with Gallup said that for every positive action in a workplace...three positives for one negative. We want to make sure we adopt some mechanism to help us be grateful. So I am going to invite you to think about your own self or possibly about your team and how you can implement a gratitude practice. You may already be keeping a gratitude journal where you are writing down 3-5 things things you are grateful for each day. And it’s really not so much writing as it is going back and thinking about them. Thinking about the good things that we have and reinforcing those good concepts can be hugely important because we know that both of these things are human nature. 

Which behavior is human nature?

So which one wins? Well, as the ancient Chinese are fond of saying ‘there is two dogs inside every man, the one that dominates is the one that is fed’. So we want to feed that high positive side. The other interesting fact is that reciprocity is really the most reliable predictor of behavior. We often see someone else’s behavior as a validation of our assumptions, but it really is a reflection of our own. 

Story time

So we are going to tell a story about a true case. This company had two divisions, construction and architecture. The fact was the architects designs were always over budget - that was a fact. Now the construction manager’s opinion was that the reason for this was that architects were arrogant and they lived in a fantasy land. This is an example of first assumption thinking, blaming other people and unfortunately they began to lie to the architects. And when the architects saw this happening, what did they do? Well, they ignored their warnings and it just got worse and worse every year. Eventually the group was able to shift and say, I wonder what is going on? So instead of blaming and inflaming, they moved to look for that baby in the backseat, then a difference was made. Now the other thing we know is that this is often easy to do within our own department, but this was two separate parts of an organization - architect and construction. 

Here is what was discovered. Architects were rewarded for recognition. When customers said to them build me a library, here is what they had in their heads. Now construction managers were rewarded for being on time and under budget. So when customers said to them build me a library, here is what they had in their head. I’m sure you can begin to see a bit of disconnect happening. 

Is there anything wrong with being on time or under budget? No. Is there anything wrong with being innovative or beautiful? Of course not, those are valuable goals and important to an organizations success. But when we don’t communicate and understand that other person’s perspective, that can be the cause of the problem. 

What we know is that when we begin to form teams of a cross functional basis and share information, it is important to get everyone on the same page. In this case they formed the cross functional design team and helped the architect understand and gave them information and cost estimating, that is what they were lacking. And that was a big cause of the problem in the organization. 

So remember venting and personality based problem analysis is really the sugar high, it is a great way to bond. But they are a dead end solution with no resolution. They destroy trust and morale. 

5 Causes of Workplace Tension

So here are the 5 true causes of workplace tension. 

1) It’s not the people, but there is a constraint or pressure hidden from view.
2) Lack of skill insight or courage. 
3) Performance measures that cause tension.
4) There are workflow or system problems. 
5) Negative reciprocity or fear. 

Make a note of those 5 ideas and the next time someone comes to you complaining about somebody else, be able to step back and look for the reasons for the problem.

Let me share a couple more thoughts as we wrap up. Remember, the enemy is that first assumption thinking. That looking to blame someone else, or blame yourself. It is when I am inflammatory, I am angry and flooding, when factions are formed and when people are fearful. If I can look for the reason, if I go there first and repeatedly, I will be a lot better off. Research shows us that it is really only a few times, as a matter of fact only 3%, where there is something wrong with that person. In other words there is a substance abuse problem. Or there is something else impacting their ability to do their job.
When I can show appreciation, build respect, acknowledge the work of my people, recognition, all those are ways to amplify and move a group from negative to positive. 
Remember to use your emotions as a signal. When you become frustrated, and begin to feel that angst, when you find your temper rising. Or you are looking to blame someone else. Know that that can tell you something is going on and I need to shift to look for that reason and become calm, curious, and concerned. 

You will face a frustration, I guarantee it. After we hang up, something is going to happen this afternoon. It might not be a car stuck in traffic, but you will make an assumption. So if you can learn to look for that baby in the backseat, as soon as you feel irritated, get curious instead and feed the right dog.

Thanks for joining us for the three part webinar on 'Self-Defeating Habits of Otherwise Brilliant People'.