Week 52

Here are some highlights for leading into Week 52 🙂

  • Clear Leadership by Gervase Bushe

    Interactions between people are based on stories they’ve made up about each other that they haven’t checked out directly with the other person. I call this condition “interpersonal mush,” and I am convinced that collaboration is not sustainable in interpersonal mush.

  • Clear Leadership by Gervase Bushe

    I was once talking to an executive team about these ideas and saying that the problem with learning from our collective experience is that everyone is having a different experience.

  • Clear Leadership by Gervase Bushe

    As human beings, we appear to have a deep need to make sense of ourselves and of others. When we make sense, we explain our experiences within a framework that gives consistency and meaning to what we perceive. … When we try to make sense of other people’s behavior, we almost always make up a story about it. … Sense making is making up a story about other people’s experience (what they are thinking, feeling, and/or wanting) to fill in the gaps in our knowledge.

  • Clear Leadership by Gervase Bushe

    When I mess up (such as missing a deadline), I can almost always show you how it was caused by the situation I am in. When I see you mess up, however, I assume it is because you have some kind of defect (you have no sense of time, you’re overemotional, you lack some skill or knowledge, and so on).

  • Clear Leadership by Gervase Bushe

    We are sense-making beings. Nothing you or I can do will change that. As sense-making beings, we are compelled to make sense of people and events that are important in our lives. We do this by making up a story about what is going on inside them, which lets us fill in the gaps of what we think we know. Those stories then become our reality, and future sense making is based on them.

  • Clear Leadership by Gervase Bushe

    As human beings, we face a dilemma. We want two things that seem to be opposite or mutually exclusive. On the one hand, we value our individuality, our ability to be self-defined, to find and walk our own path. On the other hand, we value belonging, having others who care about us, both for the intimacy and for the sense of community. … Looked at from the flip side, we fear the isolation and loneliness that too much separation from others could bring, but at the same time, we fear the demands for conformity and the feeling of being stifled by others’ expectations that comes with close relationships. … This set of contradictory pulls, what I think of as the paradox of individuality versus belonging, is at the heart of much of the unproductive behavior in organizations. It is the source of two key anxieties that affect people’s behavior. One is separation anxiety, the fear of being isolated and alone. The other is intimacy anxiety, the fear of being too close and suffocated. … Separation anxiety is that tug to give in when you see the disappointment in someone else’s eyes. It’s the part of you that is willing to let go of rationally determined goals and plans when it appears that others will disapprove or feel hurt or reject you. Intimacy anxiety is that desire to push away when you feel crowded and closed in. It’s the part of you that stops listening to others, gets annoyed, and wants to take action without any more input from those whose cooperation you need.

  • Clear Leadership by Gervase Bushe

    In general, I’ve found that people initially love managers who create no anxiety for them, who make few demands, and who search for consensus on all issues. Over time, however, they get impatient with the lack of clarity and action from such managers.

  • Clear Leadership by Gervase Bushe

    One of the ways that people often confuse the boundary between themselves and others is found in the phrase “you make me …” (angry, sad, happy, upset, mad, whatever). When I say this, I am saying that you are creating my experience. I am confusing you with the person who really creates my experience, me. The logical extension of the principle that I create my own experience is the principle that I am responsible for the impact you have on me. You are not making me feel or think or want anything. I make myself do those things.

  • Clear Leadership by Gervase Bushe

    A self-differentiated person takes the position “I am responsible for the impact you have on me, and I am responsible for the impact I have on you.” You’ll notice that whether it’s me impacting you or you impacting me, I take responsibility. This is a fundamentally empowering position, and it is the position from which to lead learning in teams and organizations. It is not about blame. It is not about who did what to whom. As you deepen your inner game of leadership, you’ll come to realize that such questions are of little value. Blame keeps you in a disempowered state, feeling you are a victim of forces larger than yourself, and you learn nothing about how to get more of what you want.

  • Clear Leadership by Gervase Bushe

    Self-differentiation comes from realizing that what we see in others is mainly ourselves, reflected back to us.

  • Clear Leadership by Gervase Bushe

    A more common problem is confusing observations with thinking. Consider each of the following statements and pick out the observations: I observe you are upset. I observe he is hungry. I observe her working hard. None of them is an observation. They are all thoughts. They are interpretations of some behavior, a story made up about another person’s experience, or a judgment about another person’s behavior.

  • Clear Leadership by Gervase Bushe

    Feelings are composed of two things, sensations and emotions. These are both feelings because we actually feel them in the body. Emotions have sensations associated with them. If you can’t feel it in the body, it is not an emotion. But emotions are different from sensations because a judgment about your state of being is associated with them. Emotions have an explicit message connected to them, whereas sensations don’t.

  • Clear Leadership by Gervase Bushe

    The fourth element of experience is wanting—the desires, intentions, motivations, aspirations, needs, and wishes you are having moment to moment as well as the objectives, targets, ideals, and goals you are pursuing. … Learning to delay gratification has many very good consequences, but it also has the negative consequence of making us less aware of our current wants. … By the time we reach adulthood, most of us are so confused that we are often much clearer about what we don’t want than what we do want.

  • Clear Leadership by Gervase Bushe

    One rule of partnership is that people have to say what they want. The second rule is that they shouldn’t expect to get it. … As a clear leader, you have to lead in creating a culture of clarity by telling the truth about your own wants and being genuinely curious about the wants of others. People are only going to be as forthright as you are, so you need to think hard before censoring your wants, especially if you don’t want others to censor theirs in return.

  • Clear Leadership by Gervase Bushe

    By naming the feeling we reduce its power, and we can take it into account in making decisions, which are then more likely to be implemented.

  • Clear Leadership by Gervase Bushe

    But people can increase their awareness of their wants by assuming that they are having wants in every moment and then paying close attention to what is motivating them.

  • Clear Leadership by Gervase Bushe

    The rule of clear language is very simple—say “I” when you are talking about your own experience. It is so simple, yet the impact is so profound on both you and your relationships that if you don’t currently use I-language, it may be the single most important thing you can do to increase your self-differentiation and ability to learn in partnership. … One reason is that you-language makes it easier not to take responsibility for our experience. If it is outside ourselves, we don’t have to hold ourselves accountable. … Another reason is that you-language and we-language helps us avoid responsibility for our opinions and judgments.

  • Clear Leadership by Gervase Bushe

    Mental maps are the outcome of learning from experience. … Like any map, they are a symbolic representation of the territory, but, in the words of the great semanticist Alfred Korzybski, we often mistake the map for the territory. … The stories we make up about people are not random. They come from the maps we have developed about people in general acting in the situation we are making sense of. These are often called “biases” or “perceptual filters.” They have a profound effect on our experience. When we don’t have a map, we feel confused, our sense making is more tentative, and we seek out other opinions. When we have a well-ingrained map, we apply it automatically, without even noticing that we are doing it.
    … Good maps are valuable because they help us operate effectively. We don’t have to relearn everything from scratch. But maps also cause problems because they focus our attention. We tend to see only what is on our maps and miss what isn’t. When we mistake the map for reality and are not aware of doing it, that distorts our perceptions. This can cause us to see people doing things they didn’t do and hear them saying things they didn’t say as well as to not see things they did do and not hear things they did say.
    … If I think my map is the reality, I won’t be interested in hearing about alternative maps.

  • Clear Leadership by Gervase Bushe

    If I’m overcome with joy, I might jump up and down and do a little dance. When I’m hurt, I might cry. When I’m angry, I might yell or at least speak in an angry tone. But that is not useful for gaining clarity, especially in nonintimate relationships. Instead, you must describe the emotion without expressing it.

  • Clear Leadership by Gervase Bushe

    What happens when someone, especially someone with authority, asks you a question? If you are like most people, you start to make up a story about where the question is coming from, why the question is being asked, what kind of answer the person is looking for, and so on. When you ask a question without first making a statement about the context and reason for the question, you create interpersonal mush.
    … If you are going to lead learning, you need to be the first to make statements about what is going on inside you before asking others about what is going on inside them. And to keep clearing out the mush, you need to preface questions with declarative statements about why you are asking the questions.

  • Clear Leadership by Gervase Bushe

    One of the things I have noticed about effective leaders is that they are naturally curious. They are always open to learning and will take every opportunity to gather different people’s observations and opinions. Everyone has some curiosity, but disconnection, fusion, and reactions to unconscious anxiety can push a person’s curiosity away.

  • Clear Leadership by Gervase Bushe

    Letting people have whatever experience they are having is the most fundamental and, for many people, the most difficult part of making it appealing for others to tell you the truth of their experience. Listen to their thoughts without trying to change their minds. Listen to their feelings without trying to make them feel better. Listen to their wants without feeling responsible for satisfying these wants for them. … Many people report that they become physically agitated when they listen to someone else’s experience without being allowed to express their opinions about it. So I have to wonder if their desire to fix the other person’s experience is based on concern for that person or is really an attempt to take away their own anxious feelings. The Curious Self needs to park that kind of reactivity. And it is even more difficult to let other people have their experience when they are describing their less-than-perfect experience of you—which is most likely exactly what you are going to hear about in a learning conversation.

  • Clear Leadership by Gervase Bushe

    I think reactivity is one of the key reasons we have learned not to be descriptive about our experience. In the past, when we’ve told people “the truth,” some have gotten reactive—angry, defensive, upset, and so on. So we learn to be very cautious and parcel out our truth in small bites, to see what happens. … The key behavior that lets us know we are being reactive is that we are no longer curious about the other person’s experience. Curiosity goes out the window, and I’m either trying to get you to change what you said or withdrawing from the interaction.

  • Clear Leadership by Gervase Bushe

    When people are learning, they do not perform very well. When people are performing very well, they probably aren’t learning much. This inverse relationship between learning and performing creates numerous problems for managers who are trying to increase organizational learning, and it is one of the reasons why really efficient, high-performance organizations have such a hard time learning, adapting, and innovating. People who can’t tolerate poor performance are allowing no room for learning.

  • Clear Leadership by Gervase Bushe

    Defensive projection is a process that helps people keep the parts of themselves that they don’t want to acknowledge out of their awareness. If I don’t want to see my own pettiness, for example, it takes some energy and effort. A part of me wants to be aware of my pettiness, and another part doesn’t. Defensive projection is a kind of mental sleight of hand that lets me take my pettiness and put it onto you. You carry it for me so I can be aware of the pettiness, but instead of seeing it in me, I see it in you. I dislike you for being petty, but at the same time, I find ways to encourage your pettiness so I can continue to project it onto you.

  • Clear Leadership by Gervase Bushe

    Shame is that part in each of us that feels unworthy, small, and inadequate. Guilt is the feeling that we have done something wrong, but shame is when we are what is wrong. … If I try to insult you about something that you don’t buy into, it will just roll off your back. The only insults that hurt are the ones you buy into.

  • Clear Leadership by Gervase Bushe

    Gershen Kaufman has argued that the number one way a child learns shame is when she asks a question and doesn’t get a response. … Each of these responses is based on one of the seven basic ways in which I have seen people defend themselves against feeling their shame. Kaufman has described them as withdrawal, perfection, contempt, anger, power, humor, and shaming others. … Withdrawal. If I am not visible, I won’t be shamed. … Perfection. If I am perfect, you can’t shame me. … Contempt. If I don’t have any respect for you, then you can’t shame me because your opinion isn’t worth considering. … Anger. If I become enraged when you try to shame me, I’ll scare you into stopping. … Power. If I have power, then you won’t dare to shame me. … Humor. If I keep everything light and a joke, then you can’t shame me. … Shaming others. If I do some mental maneuvering, I can avoid shame. Whenever some shame comes at me, I just pass it along before it can land. … I’d also like to point out that the more we understand and accept our own shame, the easier it is to understand and work around other people’s shame. Recognizing the shame that underlies another person’s arrogance (contempt), fear (perfection), tantrum (anger), accommodation (withdrawal), or intimidation (power) helps me be less reactive to his behavior.

  • Clear Leadership by Gervase Bushe

    But the number one reason people use shame is to try to motivate change.

  • Clear Leadership by Gervase Bushe

    Simply put, if you focus on what you like, appreciate, and want more of, others are much more likely to be interested in partnering with you than if you constantly point out what you don’t like, deprecate, and want less of.

  • Clear Leadership by Gervase Bushe

    You don’t have to share goals, but you do need to share common or complementary interests to be in partnership.

  • Clear Leadership by Gervase Bushe

    If you choose the path of appreciation, you can’t also choose the path of scientific doubt.

  • How to Have a Good Day by Caroline Webb

    Most of it sits in the part of the brain called the prefrontal cortex, and it goes by a lot of different names. In scientific circles, it’s sometimes known as the “controlled,” “explicit,” or “reflective” system. Daniel Kahneman calls it the “slow” system, because it’s indeed the slower of the two systems. I’m going to refer to it as the deliberate system. This deliberate system is broadly responsible for the sort of grown-up behavior that would surprise us in a toddler (or even a teenager): reasoning, self-control, and forward thinking. … In short, the deliberate system is responsible for putting us on our best behavior. When it’s in full control, it makes us wise, self-possessed, and reliable. But let’s be honest: we’re not always like that. That’s because our deliberate system has several limitations. … First, it has limited capacity, because it relies heavily on something called working memory. … But our deliberate system isn’t actually doing anything in parallel at all; it’s switching from one task to another and back again. It gets tired pretty easily, too. If we don’t regularly rest and refuel our brain, the quality of our reasoning, self-control, and planning declines sharply. And overexertion in one part of the deliberate system can deplete our abilities in other areas.

  • How to Have a Good Day by Caroline Webb

    The answer lies in the brain’s heroic second system, which I’ll call the automatic system. Like the deliberate system, it goes by a lot of different names. Some scientists call it the “reflexive system,” while others give it animalistic names like the “chimp” or the “elephant.” You might know it as the “subconscious.” Daniel Kahneman calls it the “fast” system, since it operates so much more quickly than the sophisticated-but-slower conscious mind. … There are a few ways that our automatic system lightens the load on our deliberate system. Perhaps the most obvious is the way it takes care of our more familiar tasks by turning them into autopilot routines. … Our automatic system is also capable of doing multiple things in parallel, unlike our “one thing at a time, please” deliberate system. … That’s already quite useful, but there’s another way the automatic system saves us mental energy, which is this: it rapidly sifts through information and ideas, prioritizes whatever seems relevant, and filters out the rest. … Similarly, your brain’s automatic system adopts some easy shortcuts to keep your mental inbox a little slimmer—shortcuts that are mostly helpful but occasionally a little off base. Behavioral scientists have identified hundreds of these shortcuts—which they call heuristics—and given them labels you might recognize: confirmation bias, groupthink, priming, and so on. I’ll talk about several of them in detail later in the book (and there’s a glossary at the back). But what all these shortcuts have in common is this: they direct our deliberate system’s conscious attention toward things that feel comparatively easy to wrap our heads around, while deprioritizing anything that feels harder to grasp. … As a result, the startling truth is that we don’t experience the world as it is; we’re always experiencing an edited, simplified version. … Like our perceptual shortcuts, these decision-making shortcuts are mostly helpful in everyday life. … But taking shortcuts is less ideal when making our more important decisions.

  • How to Have a Good Day by Caroline Webb

    Throughout the book, I use the term defensive mode to describe the times when we’re focused on protecting ourselves, and discovery mode to describe those times when it feels as if the world is on our side. … When those survival circuits pick up any sign of potential danger, they work fast to defend us by launching a fight, flight, or freeze response. That means we might hit back (fight), run away (flight), or stand still as we try to work out the nature of the threat (freeze). … This defensive response is a good example of the brain’s powerful automatic system taking control. Here, it’s not just affecting our perception or choices, as I described in the last section; it’s driving our immediate actions as well. …
    This kind of rapid response is impressive. But there are a couple of challenges with the way our survival circuits leap diligently to our defense. First, their speed often comes at the expense of accuracy. It’s as if they have a mantra of “better safe than sorry.” … The second challenge is that when you’re threatened, your brain powers up for that defensive response by shifting resources away from its sophisticated-but-slower deliberate system. Dialing down the part of your brain responsible for existential reflection is helpful if you’re being chased by a tiger on the savannah. But if the “threat” you’re facing is one that requires a thoughtful approach rather than a footrace—perhaps it’s criticism from a customer or a deadline that’s moved unexpectedly—it’s not great that you’ve just taken your strongest cognitive skills offline.

  • How to Have a Good Day by Caroline Webb

    In reality, decades of research suggest that the way we treat our body has a huge effect on the way our brain performs, thanks to the way it affects the brain’s blood flow, the balance of its neurochemicals, and the degree of connectivity between different brain regions. As a result, studies have found we can reap immediate intellectual and emotional dividends from investing in exercise and sleep, or even from taking a moment to breathe deeply, smile broadly, and stand a little taller. … The way you treat your body has a direct, immediate impact on your brain’s performance, affecting both its cognitive and emotional functions. Specifically, your brain’s deliberate system performs far better when you’ve had enough sleep, some aerobic exercise, and a few moments of mindfulness. Mimicking the physical actions associated with feeling happy, confident, and relaxed appears to tell your brain that you are in fact happy, confident, and relaxed, creating a self-fulfilling loop.

  • How to Have a Good Day by Caroline Webb

    Now, we can’t switch off our automatic system’s filtering function—by definition, it’s automatic. But we can adjust the settings, by being more proactive in defining what our brain sees as “important” each day. If we do that, we can affect what our conscious brain gets to see and hear. …
    This type of selective attention is what scientists call inattentional blindness—that is, we see what we’ve decided merits our attention, and we’re remarkably blind to the rest.

  • How to Have a Good Day by Caroline Webb

    Like our priorities, concerns, and moods, our assumptions are another selective attention filter that our automatic brain uses to simplify our experience of the world. It works like this: If we encounter some information or behavior that matches what we’re expecting, our automatic system will probably make sure we’re aware of it. If, however, we encounter something that runs counter to our expectations, our automatic system will tend to disregard it. Known as confirmation bias, this is a cognitive shortcut that saves us considerable mental energy, since it stops us from having to develop a new mental model about the world every time we run into evidence that contradicts our beliefs. … One helpful sign that you may be falling victim to confirmation bias is when you catch yourself using what I call absolute language: words like “never,” “always,” “completely,” “totally,” “absolutely,” or “definitely,” perhaps with a dash of “terrible” or “awful.” The author Theodore Sturgeon once wrote, “Nothing is always absolutely so,” and he was right—very little in life is truly completely good or bad. So the use of absolute language is a flashing neon sign that you’re probably seeing only part of the picture.

  • How to Have a Good Day by Caroline Webb

    Or to use psychological terminology: intrinsic motivation—where we’re doing things because they feel personally meaningful or satisfying—tends to lead to higher performance than the kind of extrinsic motivation that comes from seeking to meet other people’s expectations. In fact, extrinsic and intrinsic goals work so differently that they’re processed in different parts of our brain. Requests from other people activate brain areas strongly associated with self-control and self-discipline; by contrast, goals we set for ourselves engage areas associated with our desires and needs. They feel like things we want, rather than things we have to do. … Not everything on our to-do list can be an act of personal passion. But the science tells us that we’re more likely to get something done if we take a moment to think about why it matters to us personally.

  • How to Have a Good Day by Caroline Webb

    That’s because it contains a clear “when-then” rule, which says, “when X happens, then I will do Y.” This kind of rule—known to scientists as an implementation intention—takes much less effort for our brains to handle than an abstract concept like “being collaborative,” since it leaves no doubt about what to do when the time comes. By bridging the gap in our brain between abstract hopes and concrete steps, the “when-then” formulation creates a well-known recipe for meeting our goals.

  • How to Have a Good Day by Caroline Webb

    I don’t always see people applying these brain-friendly essentials, so here’s a checklist for you to consider:

    • Write it down as soon as it comes to mind. Never waste your brain’s precious working memory by trying to hold your tasks or ideas in your head. Use your intelligence for getting things done, rather than trying to remember what you need to do. That means having a process for capturing to-dos as soon as they occur to you, even if you then end up transferring them to a master list.
    • Only keep today’s tasks in view. You might have a grand list of tasks you’d like to complete in the coming weeks or months. But once you’ve decided what you really need and want to get done today, work off that list, and hide the rest. As long as your longer-term items are visible, they’ll use up a little of your brain’s processing capacity—and may even depress you a little if your long list is very long.
    • Make it satisfying to check off. If you’re online, give yourself a box to check, and a ping or a swoosh to hear. If you’re working on paper, give yourself the satisfaction of a big bold line through everything you’ve done. The more rewarding it feels to track your progress, the more your brain will tend to spur you toward getting things done.
    • Be realistic about what you can do in a day. Progress feels good to your brain’s reward system; failure doesn’t. Do you have five things you’d like to tackle today, but know you probably only have time for three? It’s better to feel great about nailing three tasks. If you succeed and find you’ve got more time, you’ll be flushed with motivation to seek out one or two more tasks.
    • Include mind-body maintenance. Put exercise, rest, and other physical health goals on your list alongside your other tasks. If you take a moment to put “take a walk” on the list, you’re way more likely to build it into your day rather than let it be crowded out by other demands—just as defining goals for anything makes it more likely you’ll get it done.
  • How to Have a Good Day by Caroline Webb

    If you play a sport like golf or tennis, have you ever tried to imagine yourself hitting a perfect shot before you swing your arm? If you think it helps, research suggests you’re probably right, for two reasons. First, our brains activate in much the same way when we’re visualizing something as when we’re experiencing it for real. Researchers have found the overlap to be between 60 percent and 90 percent. Second, the more we rehearse a particular behavior, the stronger the associated neural pathways become in our brain—making it easier for us to summon that behavior when we most need it. It’s why practice makes perfect. So when we take the time to visualize ourselves handling a situation with aplomb, we’re effectively giving our brain the chance to rehearse—making it easier for us to fire up the right neural connections when we’re in the heat of the moment.

  • How to Have a Good Day by Caroline Webb

    And yet research unequivocally shows that multitasking damages our productivity—which means, to put it bluntly, it lengthens our days. Trying to do more than one thing at once not only slows us down, but causes us to make more mistakes—with the resulting rework slowing us down even more. We feel busier, but we’re doing less, and doing it less well. … René Marois, director of the Human Information Processing Laboratory at Vanderbilt University, showed that people doing two tasks simultaneously took up to 30 percent longer and made twice as many errors as those who completed the same tasks in sequence—findings that have been replicated time and again by other scientists. Other research has found that multitasking also hurts the quality of our decision making. … Meanwhile, a study of Microsoft employees found that after they were interrupted by an email, it took them fifteen minutes to fully regain their train of thought, whether they replied to the email or not. Instant messages weren’t much better; it still took more than ten minutes to get back into the groove. … Multitasking more frequently doesn’t make you better at it, either. In fact, habitual multitaskers have been found to take longer to switch between tasks than occasional multitaskers—perhaps because they’ve lost the knack of focusing for any length of time. And ironically, research suggests that people who are most confident of their ability to multitask are in fact the worst at it.

  • How to Have a Good Day by Caroline Webb

    But another reason so many of us often feel overloaded is because of something called the planning fallacy. This describes the fact that we typically expect tasks to take less time than they actually do, because we base our estimates on one standout memory—our best past experience—rather than the average time it’s taken us to do similar tasks in the past. (That’s one of the brain’s common automatic shortcuts, to rely on a single example rather than bothering to calculate an average across multiple data points.) As a result, we tend to set excessively optimistic expectations for ourselves. If we’re already busy, that means it doesn’t take much to unbalance us: a colleague who’s on vacation, a looming deadline, an unanticipated problem, or simply saying yes to something we really should have dodged. There’s some obvious advice that flows from acknowledging the existence of the planning fallacy: when you’re estimating the amount of time a task is going to take, balance your brain’s natural optimism by imagining a scenario where things don’t go entirely your way. Then plan for something close to that. The fallacy exerts such a strong pull on our brains that this will probably leave you with an estimate that’s fairly accurate. (And imagine how great you’ll feel if you finish it sooner.)

  • How to Have a Good Day by Caroline Webb

    What’s the smallest first step you can take to move things forward? … The “smallest step” question also reduces the load on your brain by redirecting effort from something it finds difficult (conceiving of an unknown future) to something it finds easy (thinking about an immediate action to take).

  • How to Have a Good Day by Caroline Webb

    This kind of unruffled communication of boundaries is powerful because people’s brains treat ambiguity and uncertainty as a threat. By contrast, clarity is strangely calming, even if the message isn’t exactly what people would like it to be.

  • How to Have a Good Day by Caroline Webb

    Most of the tasks we avoid are ones that promise long-term benefits—better relationships, career success, personal satisfaction—while requiring immediate effort from us.

  • How to Have a Good Day by Caroline Webb

    Sometimes we weigh the pros and cons of doing a task. But how about the pros and cons of not doing the task? What are the implications of letting the status quo persist? That’s something we typically don’t evaluate at all. Known as omission bias, this phenomenon is another source of procrastination, since it often makes the choice to do nothing look more attractive than it actually is.

  • How to Have a Good Day by Caroline Webb

    And it’s even more powerful to publicly commit to getting something done, because our brain’s threat-perception and reward systems are so highly responsive to our social standing. It matters to us whether we’re respected by others. So by telling people about our plans, we add social costs to not following through; none of us much wants to look foolish or lazy to other people.

  • How to Have a Good Day by Caroline Webb

    In all the empirical studies on psychological well-being, one thing emerges as a reliable foundation for happiness: the quality of our relationships. And given that we spend a third of our life at work, or thinking about work, it’s not just our family and friends who matter. Our interactions with colleagues and customers are also hugely important. A good conversation at work can encourage us, amuse us, or fill us with pride and purpose. It can make all the difference to the way each day feels.

  • How to Have a Good Day by Caroline Webb

    In fact, our brain’s automatic system saves a lot of mental effort by using the shortcut of assuming that other people are fairly similar to us. Not identical, obviously. But we tend to assume that others share our preferences and perspectives, and that everyone understands and values things just as we do. This projection bias, as scientists call it, means that we don’t always listen that closely to what others are saying. … So if we show some real curiosity about other people, they’re going to find it rewarding to talk to us. And that’s a fine footing for a good conversation.

  • How to Have a Good Day by Caroline Webb

    His research has showed that less than an hour of reciprocal disclosure is enough to create remarkable closeness between strangers. On a scale of 1 to 7, hundreds of volunteers rated their “deepest” relationship as a 4.65 for closeness. After talking about their answers to personal questions for forty-five minutes, random pairs rated their closeness as 3.82—not all that much lower. The upshot: if you’re trying to build rapport, be willing to reveal a little of yourself. … One last thing I should mention: technology keeps us connected—but it can also undermine rapport if you let it subtly compete for your attention, however much effort you’re putting into asking quality questions, creating a sense of in-group, and using reciprocal disclosure. In a study by British psychologists, merely having a phone visible on the table led people to feel less of a connection with a stranger they’d been asked to talk to.

  • How to Have a Good Day by Caroline Webb

    Mathematical psychologist Anatol Rapoport showed that recognizing this fundamental truth—that it’s unlikely either side is 100 percent wrong—is the key to resolving conflict.

  • How to Have a Good Day by Caroline Webb

    If you find it too difficult to “step back and reset” in the middle of a tense conversation, don’t despair. You’ve got at least a couple of other options. One is to simply excuse yourself for a few minutes. Everyone needs to go to the bathroom from time to time, so just use that as a convenient excuse to regroup. The second option is to perform your “step back and reset” out loud. … Not only does this kind of candid disclosure give you a chance to reset your approach, but it can also—as we saw in Chapter 8 on building rapport—deepen the level of trust and openness in the conversation.

  • How to Have a Good Day by Caroline Webb

    But psychologists have shown that autonomy is one of the most fundamental motivating forces in life. Give someone space and responsibility, and they feel competent and respected; take it away, and their enthusiasm collapses. Many managers know this instinctively, and research confirms that this can make all the difference to people’s performance, especially when tackling challenging tasks that require perseverance.

  • How to Have a Good Day by Caroline Webb

    Fairness is a powerful social force. When it’s present, it helps us feel good about being part of society, makes us willing to contribute and compromise. When it’s absent, we struggle. … Their work shows that fair offers activated people’s reward systems, while unfair offers required people to engage their brain’s self-control circuitry to overcome their annoyance and swallow the unfairness. In other words, people’s brains had to divert some precious deliberate system capacity to staying calm in the face of the injustice. (And that’s when there’s just $2 at stake.) … You can’t avoid the fact that decisions sometimes benefit certain people more than others. But you can demonstrate that the process behind the decisions is fair. That means being as transparent as possible about the reasons for your decisions when you’re navigating difficult waters. Like this: Explain the factors being weighed, and why they are relevant criteria for the decision. Show how the options are being assessed against those criteria. Discuss any dilemmas you face in making the decisions, and how you’re handling them. Your colleagues might not like the eventual outcomes of your choices, but behavioral science suggests that they’ll be far more supportive if they can see that your decision-making process was fair.

  • How to Have a Good Day by Caroline Webb

    As a result, psychologists have long observed something they call the Einstellung effect, where having an existing solution in mind makes it harder for us to see a radically different but better way to solve our problem.

  • How to Have a Good Day by Caroline Webb

    Economist Ting Zhang and her Harvard colleagues, in a series of experiments, found that one subtle shift better enabled people to find ways to resolve dilemmas like this. The shift was this: Don’t ask, “What should I do?” Instead ask, “What could I do?” Why did Zhang find that a “could” question worked better for people trying to square the circle? Her finding makes sense when we keep our discover-defend axis in mind. Just thinking about “shoulds” can set us on edge, by making us feel constrained and obligated.
    … The word “could,” however, primes us with a sense of possibility, autonomy, and choice. By keeping us in discovery mode, it encourages us to summon our wisest, most insightful selves.

  • How to Have a Good Day by Caroline Webb

    If we don’t stop to think about what they know or feel, our automatic system takes the projection bias shortcut, which means we generally assume that others see the world as we do. And that shortcut can cause us to suffer from what scientists call the curse of knowledge, where assuming that others know what we know leads us to overestimate how well we’ve communicated. … In practice, that means: Before you open your mouth or start typing, always take a moment to put yourself in the listener or reader’s shoes. Think about what that person is likely to know or feel about the topic at hand. If you’re talking to someone in person, find out where he or she is starting from (“Before I launch in, tell me what you already know about XYZ”), and periodically check to see whether you’re successfully landing the points you’re trying to make (“Let me pause there before carrying on—does that makes sense? Is there anything I’m missing?”). Don’t talk for more than five minutes without checking in. Find out what the other person wants to know next, and respond accordingly.

  • How to Have a Good Day by Caroline Webb

    A powerful way of quickly reducing our levels of worry, anger, or frustration is to do what behavioral scientists call affect labeling. Years of research suggests that if we can name the negative emotion we’re experiencing and describe succinctly what’s causing that feeling, we can reduce its hold on us.

  • How to Have a Good Day by Caroline Webb

    So let’s remind ourselves—what is mindfulness? It’s centered on the following steps: pause for a moment; choose to focus on something with all of your attention; and if your attention drifts away, just return it to your point of focus without judging yourself. Most people who practice mindfulness choose to observe their breath, because it’s entirely portable and something we never have to fumble for. So breathing exercises have come up several times in the book so far. But our single point of focus can be just about anything. We can pay close attention to a picture or a plant in our workplace, or each mouthful of the food we’re eating. Whatever we choose to observe, we’re being mindful of something that we might not have otherwise stopped to notice, and we’re creating a moment of stillness in the daily whirlwind of our lives.

  • How to Have a Good Day by Caroline Webb

    One of the easiest ways to lift your spirits is to think about things you’re glad about. Psychologists often call this the “gratitude exercise”; I refer to it as the “three good things,” since that’s a good description of how it actually works. Which is simply this: take a moment to think about three positive things that have happened to you. And yes, you will feel better as a result, even if the good things aren’t very big. … So whenever you need a burst of energy, think of three things that have gone well today, things you’re grateful for, or simply moments that made you smile. (Some German researchers found that asking people to think of three funny things was as effective as thinking of three good things.) On so-so days, I find my list can include tiny wins such as “remembering my umbrella.” But it still works. And once you start thinking of good things, even if it feels hard initially, your associative brain will often trigger a cascade of other positive memories from the day—things that you might otherwise have all but forgotten about. Here are some ideas to help you get the most out of this technique: Schedule a daily calendar reminder to prompt you to review your good things each day. Keep a notebook where you can write down your good things. Try it with your partner or your children as an upbeat way of ending the day, or when you’re lying in bed and ready to fall asleep. Use a short version at the beginning of meetings, to help put everyone in a good mood (and create a discovery-mode thinking environment, as I said in Chapter 10).

  • How to Have a Good Day by Caroline Webb

    If I ask how happy you are today, there are two types of happiness that you’ll subconsciously evaluate. There’s instantaneous happiness—the experience of how happy you are right now, as you answer the question. And then there’s remembered happiness—your memory of what’s happened in the day so far, and how it makes you feel as you look back on it. Of the two, research has found that remembered happiness has the bigger impact on our sense of well-being—after all, it’s the story we tell ourselves about our day.
    … But what we remember about the quality of our day isn’t typically the sum of everything that’s happened. Instead, we tend to rate experiences as an average of the most intense moment (the peak) and how it finishes (the end). That’s what scientists call the peak-end effect. That’s our brain’s automatic system economizing on mental effort again, by creating a simple version of reality to file away in our memory banks—one that relies on just a couple of data points, rather than requiring us to recall and evaluate every single moment.

  • How to Have a Good Day by Caroline Webb

    If you value the sender, don’t sit on his or her email. People’s brains see social exclusion and uncertainty as a threat, and you pose that threat in a minor way every time you delay in responding to an email. The sender doesn’t know if you’ve got it, read it, hated it, thought it foolish, ignored it, or deleted it. That’s not good for your relationship. So, for people who matter to you: Send a short, positive email response within twenty-four hours if possible. The longer you leave it, the more you’ll feel obliged to write at greater length. If you’re not ready to respond to their request, send a one-line acknowledgment: “Thanks for your email. I look forward to getting into it in detail.” If you don’t even have time to send a one-liner, consider setting up an automated email response explaining that you’re going through a busy period and conveying your likely response time. While I was working on this book, creating an auto-response that said “I’m busy but I’m not ignoring you” allowed me to process my email when I was properly able to engage with it. If you get an unmanageable amount of incoming mail from strangers or casual acquaintances, draft some polite, standard email responses that you (or an assistant) can quickly paste and send.

  • How to Have a Good Day by Caroline Webb

    A typical reason we leave email unanswered is that we don’t want to deal with the issue that it presents, which is usually the need to dodge or challenge what someone is proposing: “No, I’m afraid I won’t be able to meet your deadline” or “No, I don’t think we should be going with the high-cost option.” Our heart sinks as we think about writing back, so we put it off for another day. Here, it’s helpful to use the “positive no” technique I described in Chapter 6. A reminder of how this works: Start with warmth. Say something appreciative, or at least thank the sender for the email. Your “yes.” Tell the other person about something that you’re positively committed to—a goal, a priority, an appointment. Your “no.” Then explain that this positive commitment means you need to decline the person’s request or suggestion. End with warmth, by wishing the other person well with his or her endeavors. We’re so used to starting with “I’m sorry” that the positive no often requires a rewrite of your email before you send. If you catch yourself typing those words at the beginning of an email, pause and consider whether there’s an opportunity for a more positive opening.

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