Every single person could become more effective and more able to relate to others by developing greater understanding about – and practical capabilities in – their own and each other’s happiness and wellbeing.
We have a tendency to overestimate our “mindreading” abilities, ascribing to people intentions they don’t have, based on our projections of how we would act in a certain situation and on our assumption that others think like us when they don’t. We also err in the other direction: exaggerating perceived differences between members of other social groups and ourselves, which can lead to stereotyping.
The sad conclusion is that we may underestimate the richness and variety of other people’s minds (while not depreciating our own), creating misunderstandings and even dehumanisation To counteract this, we need to better understand the way our minds work and consciously deeply listen to those who are different than us.
Vertical development comes about when we understand the role physiology and emotion play in decision-making and that unless we can consciously control our physiology and emotion, we will continue to fall prey to sub-optimal decision-making across society.
Those who aren’t aware of the place of physiology and emotion won’t even know they’ve made a sub-optimal decision.
The quality of the thinking – and by extension the decision-making – of the 500 people who run the 147 companies who control the multinationals affects the lives of us all. And the quality of this thinking is inextricably linked to the physiology and emotional states in which these people operate.
True equality isn’t just a numbers game. Of course we need more women in senior positions and in the boardroom, but a seat at the table isn’t enough. What is more important is creating a business environment where female leaders have visibility, a strong voice and a central role in driving the future of the company.
If you really want to take advantage of this new science – rather than falling back on the old Maslow pyramid of hierarchical needs – you should focus on: autonomy, relatedness, and competence.
Autonomy is people’s need to perceive that they have choices, that what they are doing is of their own volition, and that they are the source of their own actions. Relatedness is people’s need to care about and be cared about by others, to feel connected to others without concerns about ulterior motives, and to feel that they are contributing to something greater than themselves. Competence is people’s need to feel effective at meeting every-day challenges and opportunities, demonstrating skill over time, and feeling a sense of growth and flourishing.
A survey carried out by The Institute of Leadership Management (ILM) in 2013 found that 31% of respondents stated that the one thing that would motivate them to do more at work was better treatment by their employer. A more motivated workforce ultimately makes for a more profitable and successful organisation.
Even small companies, maybe more so than big, must attract people not just on the job but with the purpose and mission of the organisation. We’re coming out of a recession and are now in a global values system of giving back, taking care of the environment, being part of a global community. In some way these are memes that we’ve become attuned to.
Young people today – and we know this from the data – don’t only want work they like but they want something that’s bigger than them. They want to make a difference. Maybe it’s always been true but it’s particularly true now.
Positive education rests on the premise that teaching skills that promote positive emotions, relationships, and character strengths and virtues also promotes learning and academic success. And a rising epidemic of young mental health problems and a narrowing of the school experience makes the need for a new approach to education urgent…
Nearly all of the above words are a mashup from our highlighted stories in the new Happiness At Work #119 and give us this week’s headline.
Here then are these top stories that I have spliced these lines from…
International Positive Education Network: New Global Campaign Group Challenges Narrow, Exam-driven Approach to Education
A new global organisation, the International Positive Education Network (IPEN), has launched, with support from Dallas-based Live Happy LLC. IPEN’s campaign calls for a radical shift in how young people are educated.
IPEN’s campaign is built around evidence showing that developing pupils’ character strengths and wellbeing are as important as academic achievement to their future success and happiness.
With a rising epidemic of young mental health problems and a narrowing of the school experience, the need for a new approach to education is urgent.
IPEN is calling on like-minded individuals and organizations to sign our Manifesto for Positive Education and demonstrate the strong desire for change we believe exists around the world.
Commenting on the launch, James O’Shaughnessy, chair of IPEN and former director of policy to UK Prime Minister David Cameron, said:
“Young people are crying out for a new approach to education, one that prepares them to live a good, meaningful life that is full of purpose.
“That is where positive education comes in. It supports intellectual development and the cultivation of the mind, but it places equal value on the development of character strengths to help young people flourish.
“We are calling on everyone who supports this broader approach to education to sign our Manifesto and make their voices heard.”
Martin Seligman, Senior Adviser to IPEN and the Zellerbach Professor of Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, said:
“The high prevalence worldwide of depression among young people, the small rise in life satisfaction, and the synergy between learning and positive emotion all argue that the skills for flourishing should be taught in school.
“There is substantial evidence that students can be taught good character, resilience, positive emotion, engagement and meaning, in such a way that also supports and amplifies their academic studies.
“By taking this broader approach – which I call positive education – we can give our young people the skills and knowledge they need to thrive.”
Positive education challenges the current paradigm of education, which values academic attainment above all other goals. Drawing on classical ideals, we believe that the DNA of education is a double helix with intertwined strands of equal importance:
- Academics ~ The fulfillment of intellectual potential through the learning of the best that has been thought and known
- Character & Wellbeing ~ The development of character strengths and well-being, which are intrinsically valuable and contribute to a variety of positive life outcomes.
The IPEN Vision
We want to create a flourishing society where everyone is able to fulfil their potential and achieve both success and wellbeing. Every institution in society has a moral obligation to promote human flourishing, and none more so than those responsible for educating young people – families, schools and colleges.
The IPEN Mission
People flourish when they experience a balance of positive emotions, engagement with the world, good relationships with others, a sense of meaning and moral purpose, and the accomplishment of valued goals.
The aim of positive education is to equip young people with the knowledge and life skills to flourish and contribute to the flourishing of others.
Unless we can show that the arguments for positive education are true in practice, as well as in theory, then we will not deserve to change education in the way the International Positive Education Network (IPEN) is proposing. This post, therefore, tries to answer some of the most burning questions with the strongest evidence currently available to support our proposition. Its structure is based on the kind of questions we tend to experience when discussing positive education with an interested but sceptical audience.
Positive education represents a paradigm shift: away from viewing education merely as a route to academic attainment, towards viewing it as a place where students can cultivate their intellectual minds while developing a broad set of character strengths and virtues and wellbeing. This in a nutshell is the ‘character + academics’ approach to education.
Positive education rests on the premise that teaching skills that promote positive emotions, relationships, and character strengths and virtues also promotes learning and academic success. So it is important to argue that, aside from its own intrinsic value and the wider benefits it brings, educating for character and wellbeing can help the quest for academic excellence. School interventions that focus on social emotional learning, character development or wellbeing have been shown to increase academic performance as an outcome. A report by Public Health England has shown that an 11% boost in results in standardised achievement tests has been linked to school programmes that directly improve pupils’ social and emotional learning.
Further evidence suggests that positive educational interventions have been found to increase facets of the student experience that contribute to academic success such as:
- Engagement in school
- Academic expectations
- Perceptions of ability
- Life satisfaction
- Classroom behaviour
In separating mental health and wellbeing from academic achievement we are ignoring the fact that depression has been on the rise since World War II despite increasing national wealth, and even worse, almost one in five will experience a major depressive episode before graduating from high school.
This is deeply worrying in itself, but it directly impacts academic achievement too. Adolescents who experience poor mental health at ages 16 to 17 have been found to be less likely to obtain higher education degrees than adolescents without such challenges, suggesting that mental health problems during secondary school have lasting implications for achievement later on in life.
The raw intelligence of an individual is an important determinant of future success and wellbeing but it isn’t the only thing that matters. Research by Angela Duckworth has shown that the character trait called ‘grit’, or passion and perseverance for a long-term goal, is a better predictor of some success outcomes than IQ. And James Heckman has show that character traits are malleable or ‘skill-like’ and can be improved with good teaching and practice. In a meta-analysis of positive education interventions, researcher Lea Waters found that interventions targeting students’ character can indeed lead to development of character strengths.
So even if our characters and IQs are partially determined by genes and upbringing, then there is still plenty of room for improvement.
We strongly favour rigorous, stretching academic development as an essential route out of poverty. But on its own it is not enough. Carol Dweck has popularised a construct called the ‘Growth Mindset’, which is the belief that intelligence is malleable and can be changed through hard work and perseverance. It stands opposed to the ‘Fixed Mindset’, which is the belief that intelligence is inherited and cannot be changed. Blackwell, Trzesniewski, and Dweck supported this research in their study, which found during difficult transition periods at school, students who have a growth mindset displayed superior academic performance even though the students entered with equal skills and knowledge. Additional research has found this effect was especially prominent in students who have a stereotype against them, such as being female or from a minority.
A note of caution must be sounded, however. Impressive as these results are, Dweck and her fellow authors note that, “believing intelligence to be malleable does not imply that everyone has exactly the same potential in every domain, or will learn everything with equal ease. Rather, it means that for any given individual, intellectual ability can always be further developed.” What this means is that, like academic education, character education can make us better version of ourselves, but it cannot change everything about us.
Dr Alan Watkins is an ex-physician dedicated to transforming business and society by vertically developing business leaders. Vertical development is, according to the Global Leadership Foundation, “building our ability to distinguish and let go of our own limited thinking and perceptions.” Alan’s book, Coherence, is a how-to guide.
“People think things but they don’t really understand the phenomenon of thinking and what determines it,” explains Alan. “We don’t just ‘have a thought’ – every single thought we have occurs in a context of our biology and our emotional state. Both are crucial to not only what we think but how well we think it.
“Despite this, we over-privilege cognition and under-privilege emotional regulation.”
Poor thinking comes as a result of incoherence in our biological and emotional signals. You see this problem in children. Those who are bullied, agitated, nervous or upset simply cannot learn. They lose the cognitive capacity to take in and assimilate new information.
As adults, we less commonly face bullying peers or overbearing teachers. Yet the problem presents in a different way and has far-reaching consequences.
“Part of my mission is to reduce suffering on the planet and we believe big business, while it could be an incredible force for good, is often the source of the greatest suffering. Some of the companies we work with have 650,000 employees, so when leadership is wrong it affects the lives of 650,000 people.
“Furthermore, business determines outcomes on the planet. A study in New Scientist in October 2013 analysed 40,000 multinationals and found 147 companies basically controlled those multinationals. Assume you have two or three power brokers in each of those 147 companies and you find you have around 500 people that run the planet.”
Basically, the quality of the thinking – and by extension the decision-making – of 500 people affects the lives of us all. And the quality of this thinking is inextricably linked to the physiology and emotional states in which these people operate. That’s why Alan focuses on leaders.
The problem is more acute because of globalisation and the ever-increasing complexity and uncertainty of the world around us. To make optimal decisions, we must consider ever more variables and consequences.
“The amount of pressure and the intensity of business structures these days is so overwhelming. Robert Kegan, professor of education at Harvard, says most leaders these days are ‘in over their heads,’ dealing with a level of complexity that they literally can’t cope with.”
Alan’s model of decision-making looks like a pyramid and is built on layers. At the bottom is physiology, topped with emotion, then feeling, and then cognition. Finally comes the decision we make. We think we’re clever for ‘coming to’ a decision, when in reality it’s heavily influenced by the bulk of the pyramid that has come before.
What is emotion really? According to Alan it’s the ‘tune’ played by all the various physiological parts of the body interacting in a multitude of ways, like an orchestra. The feeling is our conscious awareness of this tune.
In order to adapt and become better at thinking and better at decision-making, we need an orchestra that is aligned, tuneful and rhythmic rather than one that is erratic. This is effectively ‘coherence’ throughout the system. With that comes a solid, stable breeding ground for clear thought production.
The pyramid is a two-way street. Our thoughts and feelings can influence our physiology and our emotions. When we remember a stressful occasion we feel our body lose coherence. Our heart rate intensifies. Our pupils dilate. We can’t think straight.
It feels like we have no control of our physiology and our emotion.
Alan teaches people the skills they need to take back conscious control of their physiology and emotion and therefore prepare themselves for different situations depending on what type of thinking or emotion is needed. About to go on stage to make a presentation? You need to put yourself in a ‘passionate’ state. About to make a big pitch to a client? You need to put yourself in a ‘competent’ state.
One of the biggest influencers of our system coherence is heart rate variability. A smooth, consistent, rhythmic heart rate can actually entrain the rest of our physiology to ‘beat in time.’ And the best way to influence our heart rate variability is through breathing to a set pattern.
What else can we do? Better emotional literacy and management is key. Alan says that if he could only teach his children one skill it would be emotional management. This is the ability to identify, classify, deconstruct and invoke emotions at will.
This is important because unless we know how we’re feeling at any one time then how can we know how our thinking is affected? And from that, how can we know which emotional state we need to be in?
In his book Coherence, Alan distinguishes between two emotions, frustration and disappointment. They feel very similar. But while frustration should encourage you to push forward and tackle obstacles, disappointment is designed to make you take a step back and reassess before deciding on a new course of action.
How can you come to an optimal decision if you can’t differentiate between the two? The decision you make, however rational you think it is, will be created in the context of the emotional interpretation you make, yet you’ll feel like you’ve come to the decision through rational cognitive process.
Once we understand and can label a wide range of emotions, we can better identify how we feel and ensure we are aware of how this affects the decisions we make.
“If you transform your own capability, your whole orientation and the whole way you perceive yourself and your own identify and the world around you, the situation, transforms. You see it completely differently, it’s like moving from black and white to colour.”
This vertical development comes about when we understand the role physiology and emotion play in decision-making and that unless we can consciously control our physiology and emotion, we will continue to fall prey to sub-optimal decision-making across society.
Those who aren’t aware of the place of physiology and emotion won’t even know they’ve made a sub-optimal decision.
Every single person could become more effective and more able to relate to others by vertically developing along the lines of emotional regulation and system coherence.
Learn more ways to improve your workplace wellbeing with The Ultimate Wellbeing Toolkit – a practical learning hub brought to you by financial protection specialists Unum, designed to equip HR professionals with the skills and knowledge they need to show employees that they are valued. You can also find out more information about the Institute of Leadership and Management.
Showing your staff that you care about them simply makes good business sense. Staff who feel that their employer cares about them are likely to be more engaged and productive.
A survey carried out by The Institute of Leadership Management (ILM) in 2013 found that 31% of respondents stated that the one thing that would motivate them to do more at work was better treatment by their employer.
In short, a more motivated workforce ultimately makes for a more profitable and successful company.
So what does a caring employer look like? Below are some practical tips to help managers increase caring while boosting productivity and profitability:
1. Thank the people who put you there
First, consider who your organisation has to thank for its success and how you can demonstrate your appreciation to these key stakeholders, whether it’s the employees, suppliers or communities you operate in. This means taking the time to understand their needs and aspirations and meeting them. This could include:
- Structured praise and recognition/development opportunities/team-building days
- Charitable donations to the local community/allowing your staff to volunteer with community projects
2. Nurturing relationships is not just a “nice to have”
ILM research reveals managers find working relationships (within teams and with customers and suppliers) increasingly important. Developing and maintaining good working relationships are the key means of, not distraction from, doing real work.
Organisations are using the strength of working relationships as a market differentiator. Managers should take time to properly engage with colleagues and understand their aspirations and concerns. Twenty-nine per cent of managers have had training in relationship management.
3. Keep lines of communication open
In a world of digital working, with more people working flexible hours, you might not be the same location as your staff as often. Therefore communication has become a top priority. It’s not surprising that communication has been noted as the top skill managers would like to develop.
However, recent ILM research has noted that this is also the skill which managers state their peers tend to do most badly.
The key to communicating well is fostering good two-way communications. It’s essential that people feel consulted and listened to.
4. Help your managers manage
Communication, planning, and leadership and management are all cited as being increasingly important but they can be hard to achieve, especially in large organisations.
Training and qualifications will help, especially for people who are newly promoted into management: frequently they are promoted on the basis of technical/subject ability and left without support when it comes to putting management and leadership into practice.
ILM has found that only 57% of organisations have a leadership and management talent pipeline, even though 93% recognise that a lack of management skills is affecting their business.
5. Find out what your employees value
We know from ILM research that the top-ranked (by both managers and employees) performance motivator is job enjoyment.
- Only 13% of employees rated bonuses as a top motivator
- 59% of employees rated job enjoyment as a top motivator
- 31% of employees identified better treatment from their employer; more praise and a greater sense of being valued would make them more motivated.
This could be non-financial recognition and reward, improved office environments, team and company away days or schemes to encourage innovation and creative thinking.
Think how jobs are structured and what opportunities there are to provide development – whether formal training and qualifications or informal opportunities such as secondments or varying the projects or roles of each staff member.
6. Ensure everyone works towards the goals of the business
Have clearly stated values and work out with everyone what those look like in practice (abstract words on posters or screen savers are not enough).
This will help everyone to pull in the same direction and will also help people applying to work for your company to gauge their suitability.
Having a clear vision which managers can pass on to staff will help everyone to work towards the same thing. ILM research also indicates that it will improve staff positivity and performance.
Specific training and development will help aspiring and current organisational leaders to turn dry objectives into something tangible that their people can reach.
Understanding the psychology of criticism can help you give better feedback and better deal with negative reviews…
by Courtney Seiter
Josh Bersin, founder of Bersin by Deloitte, shares his insights from their Global Human Capital Trends study with 1700 organisations around the world and his observations of current trends and movements…
…It would be nice if employees took a holistic view of their job and their company but most don’t. Most go to work, try to do the best they can, and hope they get paid well, then they go home.
We must build a work environment that works and select for people who suit our culture. Job fit is not just skills and capability but cultural fit e.g. we’re a fun-loving company, we’re a serious company, we work late, we don’t work late etc.
All these are cultural things. These statements will attract different people. If you don’t characterise your culture, you’ll get some percentage of people leaving because the company just isn’t for them.
We have to build organisations that attract the right people.
I think cultural fit does not mean uniformity of thinking and uniformity of race, gender etc. So most of the time when you look at culture you’re looking at behaviour that crosses different work styles and thinking styles.
Deloitte is at its roots a financial services accounting firm, so there’s a certain amount of rigour, quality etc. That doesn’t mean you need to be this race or this gender but you do have to be comfortable with that culture.
A lot of innovative companies have cultures that are very open. One of Zappos’ culture attributes is ‘we like wacky people,’ and they are saying, we want you to be yourself, it’s ok to be different, to look different. Culture doesn’t mean we’re all the same.
Even small companies, maybe more so than big, must attract people not just on the job but due to the purpose and mission of the organisation. Some people will go to work and do their job anywhere – some engineers, for example, even though might be making a nuclear bomb.
Young people today – and I know this from the data – don’t only want work they like but they want something that’s bigger than them. They want to make a difference. Maybe it’s always been true but it’s particularly true now.
We’re coming out of a recession and are now in a global values system of giving back, taking care of the environment, being part of a global community. In some way these are memes that we’ve become attuned to.
The word talent has been overused so it’s now a buzz word. But more and more economic studies are showing a higher and higher percentage of the economy is driven by services, intellectual property, creativity and innovation – things that require human beings.
At the same time there are the machines that are as smart as people – like Watson from IBM – starting to replace white collar jobs. So you go to a fast food joint and there’s no one there to take your order, you just press a button. And that’s happening in law and accounting and almost every other discipline.
Companies are realising they have to look for people who are creative and self-learners. There’s an accelerating obsolescence of skills. If you’re a software engineer and you don’t know machine learning, you’re falling out of the mainstream. The rate of change in all these technical disciplines is going up.
Companies want to hire self-learners who are passionate about their domain, hard-working, collaborative, creative and want to stay ahead.
More and more learning is pull-driven – by the person. The training department still has to do a lot of formal training but they have to create a learning environment where they can learn on their own. Otherwise, staff will go outside and learn it somewhere else. That’s why MOOCs are so big and all these online learning systems – people are scrambling around trying to keep their skills and careers modern.
Deloitte just published this study from the Center for the Edge based on profiles of personalities at work. One is called the Passionate Explorer – these are people who are domain experts who love their domain and who continually educate themselves in their domain. Around 15-20% of the workforce falls into this category.
They aren’t always the most execution-focused people, but companies realise you need some of these people in your organisation.
“You don’t need to have a plan to succeed” ~ Dr Suzy Walton
The “what are you going to do with your life?” question pops up at a worryingly young age, and while it’s wonderful if you have a clear passion and vision for your career path, it can be hugely intimidating for those of us who have never really had a clue.
Setting goals for yourself can be a positive step forward, but it can also leave you blinkered and unable to see the unexpected opportunities that might come your way. Trying to stick too rigidly to a plan can also mean that if life throws you a curveball, it can knock you sideways. Being open to change and accepting that things don’t always work out the way you thought they would could be the key to a happier life and a more exciting, varied career path.
“Sometimes you need to pretend to have authority” ~ Anne-Marie Huby, founder of Justgiving
When asked how she dealt with the difficulties of asserting yourself as a young person in a new role, Huby’s advice was clear: “pretend to be the person you want to be.”
Self-doubt is one of the biggest career stallers out there. You could be brilliant at what you do, but if you don’t act with conviction then others will doubt you and your leadership. If you have trouble being authoritative and believing in yourself at work, perhaps its time to see how far a little acting takes you, and how quickly the way you project yourself becomes the reality.
“You have to speak up if you want to get noticed” ~ Dr Leah Totton, winner of the Apprentice and founder of Dr Leah Clinics
If you work in a company where good work is always rewarded and credit is always given to the right person, then you’re one of the lucky ones. For most of us, sitting back and hoping that someone notices that we’ve been in the office since sunrise isn’t the route to career success. If you want to stand out from the crowd and prove that you deserve that promotion/pay rise/investment then you have to stand up for yourself so that you can be heard over the noise.
“Starting a new business always takes longer than you think” ~ Pippa Begg, director of Board Intelligence
For many women, entrepreneurship offers a rewarding alternative to the corporate rat race. Running your own business is often painted as the perfect situation, offering motivation, job satisfaction and the opportunity to set your own rules. The reality however, can be more challenging than you could possibly imagine.
“People will tell you that it takes twice as long as you think it will to get your first client,” said Begg. “Forget that – it takes at least five times longer.” It took Board Intelligence over a year to get its first client; a time frame that would have left many entrepreneurs ready to give up. For Begg and her business partner, a firm belief in their proposition kept them going, and a few years down the line they boast an impressive lineup of clients.
“Diversity is a seat at the table; inclusion is having a voice” ~ Cindy Miller, president of European operations at UPS
Miller joined the famously male-dominated company she now runs 25 years ago as a package car driver and worked her way up to her current position. She described her first promotion to manager, and how she later discovered that she had been fourth choice for the role, behind three men.
She spoke about current company developments, including mentoring, support and community building for female employees, emphasising the importance of cultural changes as well as practical ones.
True equality isn’t just a numbers game. Of course we need more women in senior positions and in the boardroom, but a seat at the table isn’t enough. What is more important is creating a business environment where female leaders have visibility, a strong voice and a central role in driving the future of the company.
What you can find amongst this week’s toolbox of practical techniques
24 SMS ‘ till Christmas is the initiative from Happy Newcomer that presents a movie and a song that reflect the spirit of each the 24 Character Strengths from Seligman & Peterson’s model that we are using more and more.
In this week’s collection you will find the next six Character Strengths:
- Love of Learning
- Social Intelligence
- Zest & Enthusiasm
Employee engagement is an individual experience, and here are three types of conversations that will give you critical engagement-boosting information from your employees…
1. The “Start, Stop, Continue, Increase” Conversation
Here’s how this conversation might sound:
Lisa, one of the things I like to do with each new hire is get specific feedback on how I manage … specific feedback on what works for them and what doesn’t. So, with that in mind, I’d like to get your responses to the following questions:
- First, what’s one thing that I do that is really helpful in terms of bringing out the best in you that I should keep doing?
- The second question I’d like to get your response to is ‘What’s one thing I do that irritates or frustrates you, so that would be the one thing I should STOP doing, if I want to bring out the best in you?
- The third question I’ll be asking is, ‘What’s one thing you recommend I START doing, because by doing this, I will make the biggest positive impact in your work experience and in my ability to bring out the best in you?’
- Finally, what’s something I do that is really positive, but, I could be doing it a lot more?
Those are the four questions I’d like to get your take on. So, here they are on a sheet of paper. To give you some time to think rather than catch you off guard, how about if you think about your answers and then we can go through them next week when we meet?”
Because most employees have never been asked such questions, and because many people need time to think through their questions and responses, you will get better quality answers by letting them reflect on their answers.
2. The “What Would Be Most Helpful?” Conversation
This is a more focused, situation-specific request for feedback on your management style.
So, here’s how it might sound:
When I asked you to go search out that difficult answer, was that helpful or would it have been better for me to have teamed you up with Joe?”
Asking “What would be most helpful?” in the conversation gives you valuable information you can use to tailor your approach to each specific employee. As we discussed in our previous article, each employee has their own unique combination of motivators, de-motivators, preferences, and aspirations.
One size does not fit all, and your ability to bring out the best in each employee depends on your ability to tailor your approach to meet each employee’s unique combination.
Asking this also strengthens your relationship with the employee. Even if they don’t have a ready answer, your asking the question demonstrates that you want to manage that employee in the way that works best for them. It communicates that you care enough to want their feedback.
Also, the courage and humility demonstrated in such a request engenders tremendous respect and appreciation in the employee.
3. The “What would You Like to Know About Me?” Conversation
This conversation is especially useful for new employees. It saves them from the unnecessary anxiety caused by an uncommunicative boss who won’t express explicitly what they want from their employees and what makes them happy.
Here’s an example of how this conversation might sound:
Just as we’ve been having conversations about what works best for you and how I can bring out your best, I’d like to have what I call a “What Would You Like to Know About Me?” conversation with you. I have found this to be really helpful with new employees.
This is where they ask anything they want about what I look for most in my team members, my core values, specific business goals, things that drive ME crazy as a supervisor … that sort of thing. So with that in mind, what would you like to know about me that you would find helpful?”
Besides helping them get to know you, this question also allows you to model that it’s beneficial to be direct and open about who you are and what you want. This is a subtle invitation to the employee to do the same with you.
Berkley’s Greater Good editors, Jill Suttie, and Jeremy Adam Smith list their top picks from the previous year – perhaps one or two of these might make a good gift for someone you care about about. This might well be yourself of course…
Trust is the social glue that allows us to do more together than we could ever do alone. But trustworthiness is a moving target, argues psychologist David DeSteno, dependent on our moods, circumstances, and competing needs; therefore, it’s best to learn how trusts works if we want to connect with others without being taken for a ride.
As social animals, we’ve developed shortcuts for knowing whom to trust—“gut reactions,” based on subtle cues, like folding arms across one’s chest or leaning back—that signal someone is untrustworthy. While some of these can be quite accurate, others are subject to manipulation and prejudice, which DeSteno demonstrates with ingenious science experiments. Some of his findings fly in the face of conventional wisdom—most notably, the view that trustworthiness is a fixed trait. Instead, he argues, being trustworthy depends on an internal calculus, where we weigh the benefits versus the costs of acting with integrity in any given situation.
Our ability to predict our own trustworthiness—like trusting ourselves to refrain from adultery—is hampered by our inability to predict future cost/benefits and by our tendency to rationalize our own behavior. He argues that we should work toward nurturing our trusting nature and our trustworthiness if we want to succeed in life and contribute to a more harmonious society.
Mindwise: How We Understand What Others Think, Believe, Feel, and Want by Nicholas Epley
Though we humans are equipped with a brain specially attuned to predict what others are thinking, feeling, and planning, there are many cases in which our “mindreading” powers lead us astray. Social psychologist Nicholas Epley presents fascinating research on how our social brains work and why we sometimes can’t look beyond our own preconceptions.
Epley suggests we have a tendency to overestimate our “mindreading” abilities, ascribing to people intentions they don’t have, based on our projections of how we would act in a certain situation and on our assumption that others think like us when they don’t. We also err in the other direction: exaggerating perceived differences between members of other social groups and ourselves, which can lead to stereotyping.
The sad conclusion is that we may underestimate the richness and variety of other people’s minds (while not depreciating our own), creating misunderstandings and even dehumanization. To counteract this, we need to better understand the way our minds work and consciously deeply listen to those who are different than us.
Making Grateful Kids: The Science of Building Character by Jeffrey Froh and Giacomo Bono
Many parents worry that our modern culture, with its focus on materialism, will make their kids spoiled and entitled. But, while culture can have a negative impact, researchers Jeffrey Froh and Giacomo Bono suggest ways parents can avoid this outcome: by helping kids develop gratitude.
Research has shown that grateful kids have all kinds of advantages later in life—better relationships, higher levels of happiness and optimism, and more commitment to community, to name a few. Froh and Bono’s book outlines that research and provides thirty-two research-based tips for parents to encourage gratitude in their children. Much of what they suggest falls into the category of overall good parenting—i.e. being present for your kids, encouraging their talents, and providing needed support. In other cases, their tips involve specific gratitude practices, as well as role-modeling the gratitude behavior you want to see in your kids.
But, their goals go beyond wanting parents to enjoy their kids more: “The ultimate function that gratitude may serve in human development…is to help individuals find their own life story for elevating others and to make a difference in the world,” they write.
The Upside of Your Dark Side: Why Being Your Whole Self—Not Just Your “Good” Self—Drives Success and Fulfillment by Todd Kashdan and Robert Biswas-Diener
“Every emotion is useful,” write the authors of The Upside of Your Dark Side. “Even the ones we think of as negative, including the painful ones.”
Kashdan and Biswas-Diener delve deep into the research to understand why “negative” states like anger or sadness have evolved; they also look at what happens when positive emotions aren’t restrained by negative ones that may cause us to reflect, take a stand against unfairness, or speak our minds. Of course, not all anger is useful; not all sadness is healthy. This is where the book shines: The authors tease out the differences between, for example, anger and rage, and then provide very concrete tips for managing negative states so that they don’t run out of control.
But The Upside of Your Dark Side also contains a larger cultural critique of movements for greater happiness and well-being. Positive emotions are good, argues this book, but focusing excessively on them can cut us off from our whole selves.
Empathy: Why It Matters, and How to Get It by Roman Krznaric
Roman Krznaric, a philosopher and founding faculty member of London’s School of Life, explains how we humans are wired for empathy and why empathy is so important to cultivate.
Science shows that we literally have brain circuits devoted to trying to understand how another person is feeling and to “feel with” them. Yet there are social, political, and psychological barriers to feeling empathy that can get in the way. Krznaric’s book argues that we need to understand these barriers and find ways to overcome them if we are to create the compassionate society we want.
Empathy is not about pity or sympathy, he writes, but about truly putting yourself in another’s worldview and treating them accordingly—“Do unto others as they would want you to do unto them.” He outlines six habits of highly empathic people—i.e. immersing yourself in another culture, engaging in conversation with people who don’t share your views, or joining a choir with people from many walks of life—as a way of decreasing prejudice and developing empathy.
Brainstorm: The Power and Purpose of the Teenage Brain by Daniel Siegel
The cultural view that impulsive teen behavior is due to “raging hormones” is outdated and just plain wrong. These two books explain what’s actually going on in teens’ lives and what we can do to support and nurture them on their path to adulthood.
Age of Opportunity: Lessons from the New Science of Adolescence by Laurence Steinberg
Their advice rests on what scientists now understand about the human brain and teen development. During adolescence, the brain starts to become more efficient by “pruning” out neural connections that are less needed, making adolescence a period of both great neural reorganization and creativity.
Ha!: The Science of When We Laugh and Why by Scott Weems
You may assume that the appreciation of humor is too idiosyncratic to study scientifically; but you’d be wrong. Psychologist Scott Weems has delved into the science of laughter and come up with an entertaining read about what humor is and what it does for our brains, our health, and our relationships.
It’s true that not everyone finds the same jokes funny. But the common thread in different types of humor is that they all involve dealing with surprise and resolving the ensuing cognitive dissonance in the brain—neural processing that has benefits in other realms of our lives, such as creativity and insight.
Laughing at jokes also releases the feel-good hormone dopamine in the brain, and can increase blood flow and strengthen the heart, much like aerobic exercise does. Perhaps that’s why a sense of humor often tops the list of desirable qualities in a mate.
People say that “laughter is the best medicine,” and laughter has indeed been shown to decrease pain and to reduce stress. Weems suggests laughing at jokes even if they aren’t funny is a good strategy. It will make your life happier and healthier and, because laughter is contagious, spread good feelings to those around you.
All of these stories and many more are collected together in this week’s latest edition of Happiness At Work