Brain-Friendly Steps to Make Change Stick

When’s the last time you promised yourself to make some changes, either break or make a new habit? And how long did your changes last?
Changing habits can be one of the hardest things to do. Once we decide to lose weight, quit smoking, get fit, or do anything differently, it takes a lot of effort and persistence before we can claim success. Anyone who tells you it only takes 30 days to acquire a new habit doesn’t know human nature.
Most people who’ve been successful at making major lifestyle changes report that it rarely comes as steadily upward progress. Instead, it’s often two steps forward and one back, with intermittent relapses, surges of resolve, and a lot of learning along the way.
One has only to look at the obesity problem in the US and other affluent countries to see how hard it is to make behavioral changes that stick. Despite growing evidence that being overweight contributes to heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and premature aging, people struggle to lose weight, start exercising, and eat healthy. The obesity rates aren’t getting better, they’re getting worse.
And yet we know more about how to make or break habits than ever before. Behavioral scientists have conducted extensive research into how people make lasting changes. Why aren’t more people successful?
Knowing Isn’t Enough
“If you want to make a change you need to know why you’re making the change―but for that change to really last you need more than knowledge. When it comes to change, our minds don’t work rationally.” ~ The Telomere Effect: A Revolutionary Approach to Living Younger, Healthier, Longer, Dr. Elizabeth Blackburn and Dr. Elissa Epel, Grand Central Publishing, 2017
We humans have far less personal control than we like to think we have. We largely go about our days operating out of automatic patterns and impulses. When we decide to change our routines, some of us are more accomplished than others. Here is what successful change experts suggest we do.
First, identify a change you’d like to make. Identify one area you’d like to improve, such as health. Before you commit, ask yourself three questions.

  • How ready to change are you? On a scale of 1 to 10, how do you rate your readiness to actually make this change? (A ranking of 1 would mean you’re not at all ready; a 10 means you’re extremely ready.) If you rate your readiness at a 6 or below, go to the second question to explore what truly motivates you. Many of us are ambivalent, even though we admit we “should change.” Pick a change for which you are truly ready to commit.
  • What about this change is meaningful to you? Ask yourself what things are most important to you. Try to tie your goals with your values and deepest priorities in life. The more your goal is connected to your values and priorities, the more likely you are to stick with the change. Choosing goals related to relationships, enjoyment, and meaning in life are simply more important to people than wealth, fame, or how others perceive us.
  • On a scale of 1 to 10, how confident are you that you can make this change? If you aren’t sure you can attain your goal, make it smaller and easier to achieve. Anything you rate as a 6 or lower means you need to adjust your sights. You need goals that are challenging but realistically attainable based on previous results. Self-efficacy is one of the biggest predictors of future behavior. Break down goals into steps that will boost your confidence.

Brain-Friendly Tips
The brain is equipped for automaticity and economizing efforts. The way to make that work in your favor is to include brain-friendly action steps.

  • Make small changes: If your goal is too hard, break it down into easy-to-do steps. Instead of 45 minutes of exercise a day, set out to do 10 minutes a day or one hour a week. You will feel successful and energized to make the next small change.
  • Staple it: Tack your change to something else you do regularly. If you log on to your computer each day, set a goal of writing for 20 minutes before opening email. Hitching a behavior to an already embedded one helps you stick to your plan.
  • Mornings are best: Whatever change you decide to make, do it before the day gets in the way. Once you let a busy schedule take over your brain, other priorities will interfere. Make your change a priority first thing.
  • Don’t decide, just do: Schedule your behavior and don’t waver. Making decisions will deplete mental energy and resolve. Just do it. Or, just start to do it. Once you start, you may decide to complete the action.
  • Celebrate it: Give yourself credit for whatever you accomplish. We are often judgmental of less-than-perfect efforts. If you aren’t giving yourself positive reinforcement and mental pats-on-the-back, you will lose enthusiasm.

It’s not rocket science; making changes stick isn’t complicated. Make sure you set meaningful goals, and create a pathway to success. Expect obstacles and distractions. Those who succeed are those who get support from others, are willing to delay gratification, and persist.

Two Exercises to Build Self-Awareness

Our inner monologue runs nonstop, whether we pay attention to it or not. It is a valuable source of self-awareness and a key to knowing our blind spots. Some call it self-talk, mind chatter, or inner voice. It often tends to be negative and judgmental.
Even though our inner monologue filters, interprets, and gives meaning to our perceived experiences, we rarely acknowledge it―perhaps we don’t like to catch ourselves being critical.
Yet, becoming consciously aware of these inner thoughts liberates us from being controlled by them. It is a first step toward greater self-awareness because it enables us to use our thoughts and beliefs to improve our lives.
Since self-awareness is so important to becoming emotionally intelligent―as well as being a foundational asset for leadership―it is worth our time and energy to learn how to listen to our inner monologue.
An Easy Exercise
To reveal your inner monologue, try this exercise suggested by Joshua Spodek in his book Leadership Step by Step: Becoming the Person Others Follow (Amazon Digital Services, 2017).

  1. Carry a notebook, smart phone, tablet, or recording device.
  2. A few times a day, write or record the words of your inner monologue as best you can, a few lines each time.

Each time you record a monologue will take about a minute. Do this exercise until you’ve got a few dozen passages. It’s important to do it for several days, under different situations. For example, write down some self-talk at work, at home, alone, with people, and when feeling different emotions.
Simply record your dialogue without making any judgments. Judgment clouds the ability to be observant. The goal is to raise awareness of the words we use. If you find yourself being critical of someone, write down the words, not how you feel about the words. Later on, in a follow-up exercise, we can examine meaning, beliefs, and what to do about them.
This isn’t as easy to do as you might think. We can’t write as fast as we think. The very act of writing changes what we say and feel because we can’t help but interpret at the same time. Persist and practice, focusing on getting the actual words used in self-talk onto the paper or screen, one line at a time.
Reflection and Learning
Next, reflect on your inner monologue.

  • What did you notice most?
  • Did you notice any trends?
  • How hard was it to be non-judgmental?

If you’re like most people, you might be surprised at the amount of negativity and critical content of your words. But here’s what’s important to know: you aren’t necessarily a negative or critical person. Everyone is negative and judgmental, that’s the way the human brain works.
Knowing how your mind-chatter is always working enables you to influence it. It explains much about how you perceive and react to the world. It also influences how others perceive and react to you. This self-awareness helps you manage yourself emotionally Imagine how much easier it is to acknowledge how we can misperceive and misjudge situations and people when armed with enhanced self-awareness.
The more we understand that others’ minds work similarly, the more easily we can understand them. We can feel more empathy and compassion for others.
Write Your Beliefs
We generally don’t notice how our minds work with assumptions and beliefs. For one thing, they are embedded, we take them for granted, and we assume they are universal truths. But beliefs are a way the mind filters out information. So as not to be overwhelmed with incoming perceptions, the mind forms a mental model or a representation of reality for a purpose.
Most people confuse their perception of the environment with the actual environment, concluding they can’t change things because that’s the way things are. If we remember that our perceptions are the map and not the territory, then we realize we can be flexible in changing our beliefs and considering alternatives.
Unfortunately, most of us pride ourselves on our quick thinking and ability to size up people and situations, and thus we forget that our interpretation of reality is not reality.
What to Do

  1. Carry a notebook, smart phone, tablet, or recording device.
  2. When you notice a belief or interpretation of reality, write it down as best you can, a few lines at a time.

During a week or more, record a dozen beliefs or interpretations. Some beliefs that you notice will annoy you and others you will defend vigorously. The idea is to raise your awareness levels, not to make judgments.
Reflection and Learning
Next, reflect on your beliefs.

  • What did you notice most?
  • Did you notice any trends
  • How hard was it to be non-judgmental?

Many people are resistant to changing life-long beliefs, but remember, a belief is merely an interpretation we’ve chosen at one time because it helped us understand reality. We are always at liberty to choose alternative beliefs if they are better suited to a new reality.

“People’s greatest resistance to grow and develop often stems from inflexibility in changing beliefs or considering alternatives.” Joshua Spodek, Leadership Step by Step: Becoming the Person Others Follow

Finding Future Leaders: Why Personality Matters

Given the financial and societal impact of global business, there’s an urgent need to understand leaders’ personalities. If we fail to appreciate how personality influences strategic decisions, we risk selecting leaders who are incapable of setting an organization’s direction.

We are in the midst of great social, economic, scientific and political change. Intelligent approaches count more than ever if we’re to build sustainable results in rapidly changing, complex markets. The way we choose strategic plans is influenced by leaders’ personality, priorities and worldview.

Today’s leaders must excel at managing globalization’s systemic challenges. There’s no such thing as economic or political insularity. Every society’s problems affect the international community.

There’s no going back. Business cannot return to the leadership that was effective decades ago. If we’re to move forward, leaders must strive for economic success and the well-being of workers, customers and the environment.

Across the globe there’s growing political unrest, terrorism, climate change, economic disparities among nations and health-care needs for an aging population. If these issues aren’t sufficiently daunting, companies are dealing with continuous invention and experimentation. There’s a technology surplus today; we have invented much more than practical applications require.

The next 20 years will see radical advances in nanotechnology, genomics and gene therapy, robotics, artificial intelligence, bioscience, bioengineered agriculture, environmental and energy research, and medicine. Will our organizations’ leaders rise to meet the challenges?

For progress to occur in nondestructive ways, we need strong, visionary leaders who can unleash the power of emerging technologies and manage global diversity for the benefit of the common good.

But the way we’ve chosen leaders over the last 50 years may not serve us well in coming decades. We used to be a manufacturing society, with leaders who excelled at processes that could be replicated, measured and improved. Operations were key to success, and leaders tended to be obsessive, “by the book,” and conservative. They preserved order and maintained company values.

In contrast, 75% of today’s employees provide services. They’re knowledge workers who perform mental tasks instead of assembling product parts. Companies need leaders who can engage the workforce, manage people, and inspire collaboration and innovation.

Why Personality Type Matters

Evaluation of leadership personality types is an essential part of the selection process for CEOs and top executives. Most of us intuitively recognize different personality types. We routinely notice personality quirks in coworkers that baffle us, challenging our responses and relationships.

Personality typing is not an intellectual pursuit for psychologists, nor a parlor game that helps us get along with others. Leaders in charge of developing business strategies set priorities based on their personality type and innate drives.

Many popular assessment tools reveal personality preference, including the Myers-Briggs Indicator, DISC personal assessment tool and 16 Personality Factor Questionnaire. Each is useful, yet few of us have a precise understanding of what they divulge.

Leadership selection can no longer be based solely on one’s prior experience or successes. Yesterday’s challenges (productivity, profit, efficiency) remain critical, but today’s leaders must also grapple with new technologies, global diversity, and political and environmental instability.

Basic Personality Types

Freud pioneered our understanding of human nature with his classification of three personality types: erotic, obsessive and narcissistic. One of his students, psychologist Erich Fromm, added a fourth type: the marketing personality.

These terms are somewhat misleading because of their negative connotations. The four types are classified according to what drives people and how they achieve a sense of security.

Erotics” (not a sexual term) are driven by love, a need to care for others and, in return, be loved and appreciated. These individuals are relationship-oriented. Some management theorists call this personality type “enabling,” while others name it “amiable,” “diplomatic,” “supportive” or “compliant.” Erotics are often found in education, social services and health care, but they exist in every field. When they are most productive, they bring people together, making connections and facilitating collaboration. They seldom turn down a favor or someone in need. The downside to this personality is codependency and indecisiveness.

Obsessives” are driven by a need for security, consistency, rules and logical order. You’ll spot them in every field—especially government bureaucracies, engineering firms, and law and financial offices. As leaders, they focus on operations, details and numbers. They’re often called “analytical,” “detail oriented” or “numbers people.” Obsessives are guided by rules set by some higher authority (a father figure, strict conscience or “the way things have always been done”). Most middle managers and some top executives are obsessives, especially CFOs, COOs and some CEOs. The most productive obsessives are viewed as “systematic” or ”analytical.”

Obsessives often hold the Number 2 position to a narcissistic CEO—an unbeatable combination of narcissistic vision and obsessive implementation. The problems associated with the obsessive personality type are well known:

  • They become mired in details and rules.
  • They lose sight of overall goals.
  • They’re more concerned with doing things “the right way” than doing the right thing.
  • They may become control freaks and/or micromanagers.
  • They resist change to the point of obsolescence.
  • They can be rigid, judgmental and cheap.
  • They insist on being right.

The “marketing personality” describes people who, as the name implies, adapt to the market’s demands. They’re driven by the need to be accepted and fit into society. They sense what the market wants and needs, and they conform to it. They align themselves with key people, thrive on change and seek others’ approval. Most of us adopt some of these aspects to survive in today’s volatile workplace. The biggest challenge with marketing types is their lack of a firm center and continual anxiety. They favor style over substance, spend a lot of energy selling themselves or chasing the next shiny thing, and may be incapable of fully committing to anything or anyone.

Narcissists” are driven by the need to be unique, express their creativity and achieve greatness, and they’re readily spotted in leadership positions. The term carries a negative connotation, but it was originally meant to be descriptive (neither good nor bad). A narcissist can be productive (or not) and moral (or not). We often misuse the term, applying it to leaders who are egocentric, greedy, self-aggrandizing, and of little benefit to their organizations and colleagues. A productive narcissist may be viewed as a visionary leader.

Narcissists’ need to achieve greatness overrides everything else. They seldom listen to others and often show little interest in their coworkers (except for those who can help them get what they want). Few social controls are built into their mental model of how the world works. They aren’t worried about conscience or losing others’ love or respect, and they don’t bend to peer pressure or what the public wants.

The narcissist has few internal demands to do the right thing. He answers to himself as to what is right, decides what he values and determines what gives him a sense of meaning.

While the other personality types are deeply motivated to do whatever it takes to maintain their sense of security, narcissists never garner security from relationships or skills. Rather, they recruit people to join them in their worldview.

There’s a case to be made for narcissistic CEOs who can lead companies to greatness, inspire followers and achieve game-changing solutions in our rapidly changing world.

“It is narcissistic leaders who take us to places we’ve never been before, who innovate, who build empires out of nothing.” ~ Michael Maccoby, Narcissistic Leaders: Who Succeeds and Who Fails (Crown Business, 2012).

The Productive Personality Types

All personality types have positive and negative potentials that can be described in terms of two hierarchies: productiveness and moral reasoning.

Productive vs. Nonproductive: Productive individuals are healthier than less developed, or even disturbed, personalities. A productive person is active and enthusiastic—someone who bounces back from failure and perseveres to achieve a reasoned purpose.

In contrast, unproductive people are less free and more reactive. They lack a clear purpose and are driven by addictive needs that make them fearful and dependent.

Moral Reasoning: Higher levels of moral reasoning don’t guarantee that actions will always have their intended benefits; however, we want leaders who seek to achieve a common good, not just feather their own nests.

While morally developed people are almost always productive, there are active, enthusiastic, productive people who cut corners (or worse) and score poorly on the moral-reasoning scale. In other words, being productive doesn’t necessarily mean being good.

Narcissistic or Visionary Leadership?

By creating a vision others can follow, narcissists gain personal security and overcome isolation. This is what motivates them to be captivating, inspirational, charming and seductive.

History and business have witnessed legions of successful, productive narcissists who led their organizations to great success: Napoleon, Rockefeller, Roosevelt and Churchill. In the last 20 years, we’ve enjoyed radical advances from companies led by productive narcissists like Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Andy Grove, Howard Schultz, Richard Branson and Oprah Winfrey.

Many companies, even those known for innovation, don’t want to hire narcissists who are visionary. No matter how much their leaders boast of encouraging independent thinking and creativity, many have little tolerance for true originals or mavericks. They prefer the obsessive leader who is driven to please and enforces company rules.

Productive narcissists want to create new paradigms that change the way we live and work. Conversely, obsessive business leaders excel at cutting costs, culling nonperformers from the pack, and implementing the right processes and systems. Which is the better leadership personality type for the future?

The answer, of course, depends on context. At this time in history, we need creative energy and passion more than ever before.

What apparently differentiates the more successful visionary leaders from the failures (besides moral reasoning) is strategic intelligence, which is why leadership personality matters.

Leaders in charge of developing business strategies set priorities based on their personality type and innate drives. Selecting future leaders cannot be based on one’s prior experience or successes without including assessment of leadership personality.

“All people, especially leaders, need a healthy dose of narcissism…it’s the engine that drives leadership.” ~ Manfred F.R. Kets de Vries

Presentations that Persuade in 20 Minutes or Less

If ideas are the currency of twenty-first century business professionals, then their presentations must persuade action. Unfortunately, many fall short.

Presentations are critical, yet we too often focus on how slides look or where to stand on stage. Worse, we are prone to pack them with data, charts and graphics for fear of leaving information out. The result is often audience fatigue, information overload, and little chance of inspiring anyone to take action.

Communication experts know that shorter presentations are more effective, pointing to the revolutionary success of 18-minute TED Talks as evidence. TED Talks have redefined the elements of a successful presentation and become the gold standard for public speaking.

“TED presentations change the way people see the world and they are springboards to launch movements in the areas of art, design, business, education, health, science, technology, and global issues.” Carmine Gallo, Talk Like TED: The 9 Public-Speaking Secrets of the World’s Top Minds, St. Martin’s Griffin, 2015

Even if you don’t aspire to be invited to give a TED talk, you can benefit from learning to sell yourself and your ideas persuasively. As author and communication expert Daniel Pink notes in To Sell Is Human, “Like it or not, we’re all in sales now.”

Presentations matter because they are a major way we sell products and services, find investors, establish trust and credibility, and gain support for new ideas. But ideas are only as good as the actions that follow the communication of those ideas.

What Makes Presentation Persuasive?

Although visuals and delivery matter, the ability to present novel content that makes an emotional connection is at the heart of whether a presentation inspires action or not. Leave out one of these three elements – emotional, novel, memorable – and you won’t persuade anybody to do anything and you won’t get the results you want.

  1. Emotional

    Most professionals tend to focus on the “what” and “how” of their information. But effective presentations appeal to both the head and the heart. Masterful speakers show their true passions. They use stories to help listeners emotionally attach to the topic. They show “why” this information matters.

    Research from neuroscience reveals that stories sync minds and create connections with people. These connections are enhanced when a speaker has congruent body language and nonverbal behaviors that are conversational. Instead of delivering a speech, great speakers converse with their listeners.

    Of course, a lot of practice is required for anyone who strives for a more comfortable and natural impact. Masterful speakers may rehearse up to 200 times in preparation.

  2. Novel

    Presenting information in a unique way captures a person’s attention. Neuroscience reveals that novelty is required in order for a listener to recall the speech later on.

    The brain can’t ignore unusual information. Speakers must find a way to grab the audience’s attention with “jaw-dropping” or “wow” moments. The skillful use of visuals, video, and genuine humor can help.

  3. Memorable

    If the audience can’t remember what you said, your ideas don’t matter. You can present truly game-changing information but unless it is delivered in a way that is emotional and novel, your audience won’t pay attention and won’t remember it.

    Scientists have known for a long time that what gets remembered are events that happen during significantly emotional times. We remember what we were doing at the time of the 9/11 attacks. It’s hard to create emotional events during a business presentation, but you can connect the audience to multisensory experiences that deliver dry data in meaningful ways such as graphics and analogies that relate to everyday experiences.

Why Shorter is Better

In the last ten years we’ve learned more about the brain and how it processes information than ever before. There is a reason why 18-minutes is the ideal length of time to get your point across.

The brain works hard to process information and in doing so uses up reserves of glucose.  Brain cells need twice as much energy as other cells in the body. If you don’t make a powerful argument and attract people’s attention in under 18 minutes, you risk losing them to fatigue. Too much information prevents the successful transmission of ideas.

Cognitive processing – thinking, speaking, and listening – are physically demanding activities. As the brain takes in new information, millions of neurons are firing at once, burning energy, causing fatigue. There’s not much left to transfer information from working memory to short-term memory, and none left to share it with others and transfer to long-term memory.

If people don’t talk about your ideas afterwards, don’t expect them to remember or act on them either.

3 Steps to Craft a Message Map

According to author Carmine Gallo, a message map is the visual display of your idea on one page. Building a message map can help you pitch anything in as little as 15 seconds.

Step 1: Create a Twitter-friendly headline. The headline is the overarching message you want your audience to know. Ask yourself, “What is the single most important thing I want my listener to know?” Make sure your headline fits in a Twitter post – no more than 140 characters.

Step 2: Support the headline with three key benefits. The mind can only process about three pieces of information in short-term memory. Outline the three or, at most, four benefits of your product or idea.

Step 3: Reinforce the three benefits with stories, statistics, and examples. Add bullet points to each of the three supporting messages. You don’t have to write out the entire story. Instead write a few words that will prompt you to deliver the story.

A message map can help distill your idea into a presentation that is emotional, novel, memorable and most importantly, persuasive.

Three Ways to Be a Better Team Member

It may seem unlikely that there could be anything new to learn about what makes teams effective, but there is. More than ever before, work today gets done in teams, and your ability to contribute as a member is vital to your career success.
Every team is a unique social unit. The quality of members’ social interactions —both intra-team and inter-team — determines project success or failure. Each member contributes to group outcomes — and some more so than others.
But until recently, there hasn’t been much specific advice on how to improve your value as a team member. You’ve probably been advised to “display empathy,” “respect diversity,” and communicate and share openly. As a team member, you’re directed to work for common goals rather than focusing on personal success.
Sometimes team members are evaluated on factors like leadership, technical skills, vision, communication, and motivation. But although these matter, they’re not nearly as important as social skills.
Deep Human Interactions
Research using ever more sophisticated measurement and observation technology has now determined that the number one factor in making a group effective is skill at deep human interactions.
Effective team members demonstrate consistent social skills, like noticing the subtlest elements of social cues: a furrowed brow, a smile, a desire to speak up.
Researchers have studied groups for years. They’ve learned that intelligence doesn’t explain a group’s effectiveness, nor does group cohesion, motivation, or satisfaction. Stability of the team and its size matters only a little.
Furthermore, following lofty ideals doesn’t bring about a significant impact on team effectiveness, although these are certainly beneficial:

  1. Having a clear, challenging, meaningful vision
  2. Specifying well-defined roles and responsibilities
  3. Giving members appropriate rewards, recognition, and resources

Such concepts are fine but don’t determine the success of teams. There is only one ability that stands out in people who are great team members: they all have great social sensitivity.
Social Sensitivity
Social sensitivity is the ability to perceive people’s thoughts and feelings based on looking at their faces and other nonverbal cues. Social sensitivity shows up when team members read body language, take turns talking and listen well. Not surprisingly, many women perform better than men in measures of social sensitivity.
Using a Sociometer Device
How do we know that social sensitivity outweighs all other factors in team effectiveness? Professor Alex Pentland’s Human Dynamic Lab at MIT invented a sociometric badge, worn on people’s clothing. It has the technology to measure the tone of voice a person uses, whether people are facing one another while talking, how much they gesture, how much they talk, listen, and interrupt one another.
A sociometer doesn’t record the words people say, as they are determined irrelevant in measures of interactions. Here are some of their findings:

  1. Successful team members generate a large number of ideas in short contributions to conversations. No one goes on for great length.
  2. They engage in “dense interactions;” that is, they alternate between advancing their own ideas and responding to the contributions of others with “good,” “right,” “what?” and other short comments that signal consensus on an idea’s value, good or bad.
  3. Successful members contribute ideas and reactions, taking turns more or less equally, ensuring a wide diversity of ideas.

Those three elements of interaction were more important than any other factor in explaining excellent performance of the best teams. In fact, they were about as important as all the other factors — individual intelligence, technical skills, members’ personalities and anything else — combined.
Team-Based Social Interactions
Human interaction in teams is so powerful that increasing it just a little improves group performance a lot. Here’s a case study example, reported in Geoff Golvin’s book, Humans Are Underrated: What High Achievers Know That Brilliant Machines Never Will (Portfolio, 2015):
In a Bank of America call center of 3,000 employees, productivity vastly improved simply by changing the schedule of break times so that workers spent more time together socially. When the bank switched to aligned team breaks, productivity rose and turnover fell. Performance improved as workers had more time to interact with each other. The bank estimated a savings of $15 million a year.
Three Ways to Be a Better Team Member
How can you use this information to become a better team member and increase your value in your organization? Everyone can improve their social sensitivity. When working with your team, try these three approaches:

  1. Suggest a large number of ideas in short contributions to conversations.
  2. Engage in “dense interactions”: switch between advancing your own ideas and responding to others’ with “good,” “right,” and other short comments.
  3. Take conversational turns more or less equally, to make sure everyone contributes a wide diversity of ideas.

What’s required to ensure improved teamwork is that you observe and shift awareness of your social skills. You can practice doing this with a trusted peer, a mentor, or a professional coach.
Yet be aware that these three elements are not superficial communication techniques that can be applied without examining your mindset and attitudes. For that, you’ll make the most improvements working with a coach.

Boost Performance with Creative Insights

Leaders may inadvertently suppress their people’s creative insights. While bragging about their innovative, out-of-the-box thinking, these bosses may fail to notice that company systems discourage creativity. This ingrained, often invisible problem has an adverse side effect: It can diminish profits.
Improving performance for long-term success requires a two-pronged managerial approach: Focus on reducing errors while increasing creative insights.
Most managers concentrate on reducing errors: the obvious half of the equation. They know mistakes are visible, costly and embarrassing.
But many managers forget about the second step. Businesses cannot surge ahead in the marketplace without creative insights
4 Stages of Creative Insights
When we put too much energy into eliminating mistakes, we’re less likely to gain insights. ~ Gary A. Klein, PhD, Seeing What Others Don’t: The Remarkable Ways We Gain Insights (PublicAffairs, First Trade Paper Edition, 2013)
Research into how the brain solves problems and generates “aha” moments has helped us understand the best ways to stimulate creative insights.
British psychologist Graham Wallas proposed a four-stage process in his 1926 book, The Art of Thought. He asserted that creative solutions appear sequentially:
Preparation => Incubation => Illumination => Implementation
Psychology professors John Kounios and Mark Beeman tweaked the formula in The Eureka Factor: Aha Moments, Creative Insight and the Brain (Random House, 2015):
Immersion => Impasse => Diversion => Insight
We must step back and painstakingly observe a problem (immersion), examine perspectives and context, reinterpret the familiar, become aware of unfamiliar and unseen relationships, and question assumptions and biases.
If you reach an impasse, stop seeking answers. Seek a change of scenery, and give your brain a rest (diversion). Your subconscious will continue to make remote associations and connect ideas during an incubation period. Insights will materialize, accompanied by feelings of certainty and an emotional thrill.
7 Places to Find Creative Insights
A November 2014 Harvard Business Review article (“Where to Look for Insight”) defines insight as “an imaginative understanding of an internal or external opportunity that can be tapped to improve efficiency, generate revenue, or boost engagement. Insights can be about stakeholder needs, market dynamics, or even how your company works.”
Most of us can adopt a mindset that facilitates creativity and insights. The authors of the HBR article urge readers to explore seven key areas:

  1. Anomalies: Examine deviations from the norm. Do you see unexpectedly high or low revenue or share in a market or segment? Surprise performance from a business process or a company unit?
  2. Confluence: Find macro trend intersections. What key economic, behavioral, technological or demographic trends do you see? How are they combining to create opportunities?
  3. Frustrations: Pinpoint deficiencies in the system. Where are customer pain points for your products, services or solutions? Which organizational processes or practices annoy you and your colleagues?
  4. Orthodoxies: Question conventional beliefs. Are there assumptions or beliefs in your industry that go unexamined? Toxic behaviors or procedures at your company that go unchallenged?
  5. Extremities: Exploit deviance. What can you learn from the behaviors and needs of your leading-edge or laggard customers, employees or suppliers?
  6. Voyages: Learn from immersion elsewhere. How are your stakeholders’ needs influenced by their sociocultural context?
  7. Analogies: Borrow from other industries or organizations. What successful innovations do you see applied in other disciplines? Can you adapt them for your own use?

Fixation Thinking
Albert Einstein is reported to have said that if you gave him an hour to solve a problem, he’d use the first 55 minutes to consider if it was the right problem.
A problem typically leads to an impasse because you’re asking the wrong question. When you focus on misleading features, you risk going down rabbit holes. We need to become aware of the mental traps that cause us to fixate on the wrong problem.
Mental Training
Studies have shown that even thinking about unusual people or events primes the brain for creativity. On the other hand, thinking about conformity, rules and the way things are usually done enhances analytical thinking.
Achieving psychological distance – even if it’s only imaginary – increases insightfulness. Try to think about the big picture, the 30,000-foot view.
Environmental Influences
Kounias and Beeman believe your environment can promote a brain state that’s amenable to “aha” moments.
Creative insights and valid intuitions are characterized by:

  1. Remote associations
  2. Broad, flexible attention
  3. Abstract thought
  4. Positive mood
  5. A sense of psychological distance
  6. A promotion orientation

Some studies show that expansive surroundings (high ceilings, a view) allow greater creativity and broaden attention. The ideal environment for creative thinking is open, airy, rounded and calm.
Change everyday routines. Interact with diverse people and situations. Nonconformists can be strange, but their creative thinking is contagious. Being around them primes the brain for enhanced insightfulness.
8 Tips to Enhance Insightfulness
The threat of a deadline narrows your thinking and restricts ideas. Frequent breaks and long periods of incubation are likely impractical, but finding ways to maintain a creative mindset is paramount.
Try the following strategies to enhance insightfulness:

  1. Periodically consider your larger goals and values, and how you can promote them.
  2. Reserve time for long-range planning and creative daydreaming.
  3. Cultivate a positive mood by thinking about the people and things that bring you joy.
  4. Schedule vacations that will stimulate creative thinking.
  5. Do something new. Take up a new hobby, or delve into a topic unrelated to your occupation.
  6. Walk, run or engage in another physical activity to promote brain growth.
  7. Meditate and disengage periodically.
  8. Get ample sleep to rejuvenate brain cells, improve associative thinking and consolidate memories.

Midcareer Crisis …or Opportunity?

Have you ever had a midcareer fantasy where you quit your job and go do something new?
Many executives secretly admit to their coaches that they’re contemplating midcareer shifts. They may not actively seek change, but they certainly start imagining it.
Of LinkedIn’s 313 million members, 25% are active job seekers; 60% are passive job seekers (not proactively searching for new jobs, but seriously willing to consider viable opportunities). There’s also been a steady increase in self-employed and temporary workers over the last two decades. Entrepreneurship may sound lucrative every time a startup goes public.
Regardless of your age, background or professional accomplishments, you’ve probably dreamed about a new career at some point. Midlife is often a time when we reevaluate our goals, aspirations and what truly matters to us in life.
In “5 Signs It’s Time for a New Job” (Harvard Business Review, April 2015), Columbia University Professor Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic examines what happens to many people at midcareer. Few of us actually shift to something different. As he explains, complacency often trumps transformation:
Humans are naturally prewired to fear and avoid change, even when we are decidedly unhappy with our current situation. Indeed, meta-analyses show that people often stay on the job despite having negative job attitudes, low engagement and failing to identify with the organization’s culture. So, at the end of the day, there is something comforting about the predictability of life: it makes us feel safe.
Chamorro-Premuzic cites five signs that indicate it’s time to seriously consider a career switch:

  1. You feel undervalued.
  2. You’re not learning.
  3. You’re underperforming.
  4. You’re just doing it for the money.
  5. You hate your boss.

Yet, who hasn’t experienced these feelings periodically? Do they mean you’re headed for a full-fledged midlife or midcareer crisis?
The Stereotypical Story
Hearing the phrase “midlife crisis” evokes the cliche of a successful man, between 40 and 55, who wakes up one day and decides he’s been chasing all the wrong things: his career, family, wife, car and possessions. Nothing provides him with the satisfaction he craves. He demands more.
Suddenly, he divorces, changes career or organization, dresses differently, gets a young girlfriend and buys a red sports car. Years later, he finds himself with the same unfulfilled yearnings, having metaphorically changed seats on the Titanic.
While this scenario has become today’s hackneyed midlife-crisis narrative, the concept of middle age as a distinct life stage dates back to the 19th century, according to Patricia Cohen, author of In Our Prime: The Invention of Middle Age (Scribner, 2012). The term “midlife crisis” was first coined in 1965 by psychologist Elliott Jaques. In 1974, journalist Gail Sheehy famously depicted the midlife crisis as a life stage in her bestselling book Passages: Predictable Crises of Adult Life.
Roughly a quarter of Americans reports experiencing a midlife crisis, according to research published in 2000 by Cornell University sociologist Elaine Wethington. Many who disclaim the notion regard midlife crises as a lame excuse for behaving immaturely.
The term crisis also contributes to stigmatization, as it suggests a shock, disruption or loss of control. But the actual data on midlife experience and the relationship between work and happiness points to something different: an extended and unpleasant – but manageable – downturn.
The Happiness U-Curve
The average employee’s job satisfaction deteriorates dramatically in midlife, according to a British survey conducted by Professor Andrew Oswald of The University of Warwick.
Midcareer crises are, in fact, a widespread regularity, rather than a few individuals’ misfortune.
But here’s the good news: In the second half of people’s working lives, job satisfaction increases again. In many cases, it reaches higher levels than experienced early in one’s career, essentially forming a U-shaped curve depicted in the following graph:
(Source: Crisis, The Atlantic, December 2014)
Subsequent research revealed this age-related curve in job satisfaction is part of a much broader phenomenon. A similar midlife nadir is detectable in measures of people’s overall life satisfaction and has been found in more than 50 countries.
The U-curve tells a more accurate tale of what happens midlife and midcareer. It’s not a story of chaos or disruption, but of a difficult – yet natural – transition to a new equilibrium.
Just knowing the phenomenon is common can be therapeutic. Princeton University health economist Hannes Schwandt cites a feedback effect: “Part of your disappointment is driven by the disappointment itself.”
Understanding the U-shaped curve allows us to recognize midlife as challenging, yet ultimately gratifying. We should resist judging ourselves harshly for feeling disappointed. We can avoid making bad decisions that potentially lead to midlife divorces and career catastrophes.
The Other Side of Midlife
Fortunately, most people avoid upending their lives at the first signs of midlife dissatisfaction. As noted earlier, only 25% of us even admit to experiencing a crisis. So, what happens to the75% who may feel dissatisfied at midlife, but who don’t do anything about it? Are they in denial or simply more mature?
Freud described two requisites for sanity: work and love. What happens when work and love lose their sparkle, as often occurs in midlife?
Work carries a large, invisible burden: the presumption that it will provide our lives with meaning and energize our spirits. Sometimes it does. By midlife, however, we may find that work drains us.
The ego tends to prefer security over development. Heeding it too closely means you may wind up with neither.
At midlife, most of us feel the need to rethink our priorities. Unfortunately, we avoid this task. It’s much easier to succumb to fear. We view change as threatening, and we don’t want to risk losing our hard-earned stability.
In Search of Meaning and Wisdom
Psychologists have not yet determined why people in 50+ industrialized nations experience midlife crises. It’s certainly a major reason why executives hire executive coaches. “What’s next?” is one of life’s most worrisome questions. A coach can help you reevaluate your cherished convictions, morals and guiding principles.
Experiencing disappointment doesn’t necessarily mean something is wrong. It signals that something is missing.
There’s a mental shift at midlife from “time since birth” to “time left until death.” We begin to feel time is running out and, more crucially, question whether what drove us in the first half of life is worthy enough for a fulfilling second half.
Being aware of the pitfalls associated with the midlife experience can prevent you from committing irreparable errors. If you know you’re vulnerable to doubts, anxieties and mood swings, you can stop yourself from storming out of a meeting or acting out of desperation. If you feel trapped, midlife can become a truly dangerous life passage. Perhaps Carl Jung said it best:
We cannot live the afternoon of life according to the program of life’s morning – for what was great in the morning will be little at evening, and what in morning was true will at evening have become a lie.
Midcareer Coaching
Consider retaining a professional coach to guide you through self-examination and reflection on what truly matters most to you. The process often entails reconnecting you to what you love about your life and career.
Clinging to the status quo may, on the surface, appear to be a safer, more mature choice. Nothing could be further from the truth. Redoubling your efforts to achieve happiness based on what drove you in the first half of life is foolish.
In the second half of life, facing our failures and losses facilitates course corrections. We are rewarded with deeper, more fulfilling life and career experiences. Avoiding life’s natural progressions prevents you from broadening consciousness and becoming your authentic self.
Midcareer is a time to examine regrets and accept mistakes. A coach can help you turn failures into meaningful learning opportunities. You won’t need to bury bad memories. Greater self-acceptance opens new avenues.
Unfortunately, most of us work so hard to obtain an identity that it becomes very hard to let it go. What worked earlier in your career is nearly always inadequate to meet the challenges of your mature years, as Marshall Goldsmith proved in What Got You Here Won’t Get You There (Hachette Books, 2007).
Acknowledging midcareer dissatisfaction opens a window to exploring your options. Ask yourself:

  • What steps must I take to transition to the next stage of my journey?
  • Can I give myself permission to explore new paths?
  • How does fear keep me in a reactive stance, constrained by outmoded routines?
  • Am I content to live partially, or am I ready and willing to explore new ways of thinking and feeling?
  • Can I gather the energy needed to realize my unlived potential?
  • How can I take one small step?

The age-old Serenity Prayer comes to mind:
“Grant me the courage to change the things I can, to accept the things I can’t, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

Make Behavioral Changes Last

What’s the most significant change in behavior you’ve made as an adult? For some, it’s quitting smoking or drinking, or making healthy changes in eating and exercising. For others, it’s becoming a better listener, a more effective manager, or a nicer partner or spouse.
No matter what changes you’ve made, whether physical, social, or work-related, almost everyone agrees that lasting change is hard. It requires determination, motivation, vigilance, persistence, and long-term commitment. Most would agree that asking for help from a trusted friend, mentor, or professional coach helps.
Yet even with high motivation, support, and ideal conditions, it’s still hard to break bad habits. For example, two-thirds of smokers who say they’d like to quit never even try. Those who do usually need six attempts before they succeed.
Six Seconds to Set Up Change
Here’s a six-second tool you can apply at any time to assist you make any behavioral change: take a long, deep breath. This allows you to step back from reactive habits and initiate a new, healthier response to any situation.
A six second breath is a way to pause, gain awareness, gather energy, and make a preferred choice of action.
Knowing Isn’t Doing
The guidelines for changing habits are pretty simple:

  • If you want to lose weight, eat fewer calories than you burn up, and do it over a length of time until you reach your goal weight.
  • If you want to quit smoking, pick a quit date, get rid of cigarettes and smoking triggers, and don’t smoke no matter what, until the urges stop and the chemicals are out of your system.
  • Same with alcohol: don’t pick up the first drink; get social support with recovery groups.
  • To get fit, go to a gym or learn a sport, practice every day, get some coaching or training, and track your progress over a length of time.

None of these programs are complicated. But simplicity doesn’t necessarily beget easy. All humans resist change; we’re susceptible to fallibility when making plans and sticking to them.
If we understand human nature enough, we should be able to anticipate resistance and circumvent unhealthy reactions that sabotage our efforts.
Why Change Is So Hard
Even when we will reap huge benefits by changing habits, we are geniuses at inventing reasons to avoid change. We have mental urges to maintain the status quo. We fall back on a set of beliefs that triggers denial, resistance, and self-delusion.
Executive coach Marshall Goldsmith writes about this “self talk” in his book Triggers: Creating Behavior That Lasts–Becoming the Person You Want to Be (Crown Business, May 2015).

  1. If I understand, I will do.
  2. If have strong willpower, I won’t give in to temptation.
  3. Today is special, it just won’t count.
  4. “At least I’m better than…”
  5. I shouldn’t need help and structure.
  6. I won’t get tired or depleted; my enthusiasm won’t fade.
  7. I have all the time in the world.
  8. I won’t get distracted and nothing unexpected will occur.
  9. An epiphany will happen and suddenly change my life.
  10. My change will be permanent and I’ll never have to worry again.
  11. My elimination of old problems will not bring on new problems.
  12. My efforts will be fairly rewarded.
  13. No one is paying attention to me.
  14. If I change I am “inauthentic.”
  15. I have the wisdom to assess my own behavior.

Faulty Self-Evaluation
While we believe other people consistently overrate themselves, we think our own self-assessment is fair and accurate, even in the face of evidence that shows we’re entrapped by overconfidence, stubbornness, wishful thinking, confusion, resentment, and procrastination.
If that weren’t enough, we underestimate two of the biggest obstacles to change:

  1. We don’t take into account how much energy levels vary during the day or recognize that depletion of energy brings loss of self-control. It’s easier to just say “no” early in the day than late at night.
  2. We forget to factor in the strong pull of external triggers in the environment that pop up unexpectedly to throw us off track. We don’t prepare for these obstacles, and once we give in, we give up.

Change Requires Follow-Up
The tools for making any behavioral change aren’t complicated, but they do have to include a system for follow-up if you want change to last.
The simplest way to follow-up is to answer a list of daily questions with a friend or coach. This allows you to track progress and see what’s working and what’s not. Marshall Goldsmith has written previously about his system of Daily Questions.
Now he suggests that instead of tracking whether you’ve taken an action or not, ask yourself if you did your best to make it happen. This tracks your efforts, not your results.
“Did I do my best today to…?”

  1. Make a spread sheet listing your desired behavioral changes. At the end of each day, answer: “Did I do my best today to…?” (exercise, eat healthy, listen to others, etc.)
  2. Use a 5-point scale from no (1), somewhat (2), average (3), good (4), to excellent (5). Alternatively, you can color code each answer using red, yellow, and green marks.

The key here is to record your progress and effort rather than results. This helps you avoid getting discouraged when outcomes are slow to materialize. It puts the appreciation where it belongs: on your efforts to take action.
Success comes from getting back on the horse after a fall and taking more steps forward than back.

Communicate with Power

Master the Unconscious

Most communication is unconscious. You may think you’re delivering clear and consistent messages based on your words, but unconscious nonverbal behaviors are key to communicating with power.
Startling advances in brain science have made it possible for us to gather and test evidence as we uncover the unconscious mind’s amazing strengths. While our conscious brains can handle some 40 bits of information per second, the unconscious mind processes an astounding 11 million bits per second.
Evolution has given our unconscious minds the ability to handle most incoming cues automatically and rapidly, thus freeing our conscious minds to make complex decisions. Much of this activity occurs instantaneously, nonverbally and unconsciously.
Your unconscious mind is at work when:

  • You quickly brake or swerve to avoid an object in the road.
  • You physically shift position to mirror a colleague’s posture.
  • You and a friend simultaneously blurt out the same phrase or idea.
  • You have a gut feeling that the person speaking to you is concealing information.

Without the participation of your unconscious mind, you’d react too slowly to avoid danger, would have a hard time relating to others and would be unable to read emotional cues that detect lies or authenticity.
The same holds true for leadership communication. If you rely solely on your words, you’re missing opportunities to inspire others. Studies continue to confirm that listeners perceive a message’s meaning largely through nonverbal, subconscious processing.
Despite all of this research, some of us cling to the notion that we rule our unconscious minds, and not vice versa. In truth, we make most decisions unconsciously, only becoming aware of them when we start to act upon them.

What Science Reveals

“We create a leader to make us feel safe and to give us a group purpose or direction. Because, like a group of fish or birds or zebra, we need and want guidance.” ~ Nick Morgan, Power Cues: The Subtle Science of Leading Groups, Persuading Others, and Maximizing Your Personal Impact (Harvard Business Review Press, 2014)
We are more communal than we’d like to think. As humans evolved, we depended on one another for survival. Leadership was essential and instinctive. We knew who we could trust for guidance, even before we mastered language.
Nonverbal communication was vital – and still is. Recent scientific breakthroughs have changed conventional wisdom about how we communicate with others, how we interpret what they say and how we discern leadership potential.
Some of the more interesting findings include:

  • We gesture before we consciously think about doing so.
  • Our brain’s mirror neurons fire when we observe others experiencing emotions, and we wind up experiencing similar feelings. These “contagious emotions” allow us to connect with one another, experience empathy and anticipate thoughts.
  • If you lose your ability to process emotions, you’ll also lose your capacity to remember or decide anything.
  • You emit low-frequency sounds that align with the most powerful person near you through matching vocal tones.
  • When you’re involved in a negotiation, the measurable nonverbal signals associated with your confidence level more accurately predict success or failure than the relative merits of your position or words.
  • Neurons are distributed throughout your body, not just in your brain. Sensitive neurons live in the heart and gut.
  • When you communicate with someone else, your brain patterns align – even if you happen to disagree.

These findings are critically important to anyone who aspires to assume a leadership position. Your influence expands when you harness the power of unconscious communication: your body language, hand gestures, facial expressions and vocal qualities.
Always remember that people are naturally drawn to leaders who establish trust and confidence through powerful communication cues. These unconscious elements affect the messages you send and receive.

7 Power Cues

While it’s nice to believe in personal autonomy, most of us have an exaggerated sense of what we control – particularly our thoughts and feelings. We can, however, learn to master leadership communication by becoming more aware of unconscious mental activity. You’ll be rewarded with greater control of conversations, meetings and personal interactions.
While mind control isn’t in the cards, you can learn to become more intuitive. As Morgan asserts:
“Power in human communications and relations is indeed determined largely by the interplay of our unconscious minds. You can learn how to literally synchronize other’s brain waves with your own.”
He encourages leaders to master seven essential power cues for better communication:
1. Self-Awareness: How do you show up when you walk into a room? Take control of your presence, and change both your thinking and the messages you send to those around you.
For a long time, we’ve misunderstood the importance of gestures. Researchers previously thought the gestures that accompany speech were meaningless. We now know they’re meaningful and that they precede speech by a nanosecond or two.
The first step in communication mastery is assessing your posture, physical presence and gestures. Keep a diary or take video of yourself to evaluate (as objectively as possible) how you appear to others.
Self-assessment of your confidence, intuition and charisma starts you on the road to mastering leadership communication.
2. Nonverbal Communications: Take charge of your nonverbal communications to project the persona you desire.
Nonverbal behaviors are a natural expression of our feelings. Which emotions do you convey through body language during important moments, conversations, meetings and presentations? When you share your emotions, you can actually control a group’s mood.
Admittedly, it can be hard to think consciously about body language. Start by focusing on your emotions. Ask yourself how you feel about the issue at hand. Focused emotions greatly increase charisma. Prepare your emotions for important meetings, conversations and presentations, just as you would organize your content.
When you’re clear about your emotions, your body language will communicate them naturally. Others pick up on your emotional cues through their mirror neurons. You essentially “leak” your emotions to them.
3. Unconscious Messages: Read others’ unconscious messages. Observe your own mirror-neuron experiences. Become attuned to the hidden messages sent out by everyone around you.
4. Leadership Voice: You can turn your voice into a commanding instrument that helps you take charge of a room. Fine-tune your voice to lead your peers.
Each of us emits low-frequency sounds when we speak – tones that help convey our leadership presence. People unconsciously defer to leaders who produce stronger low-frequency sounds.
You can learn to increase your voice’s leadership potential through breathing dynamics, vocal exercises and practicing vocal tonality. Some leaders choose to work with a voice coach.
5. Social Signals: The fifth power cue combines your voice and a host of other social signals to greatly increase your success in pitches, meetings, sales situations and the like. What signals do you send out in work and social situations? Establish the right levels of energy and passion to win the contract, negotiation or raise.
MIT researchers have pinpointed four patterns of behavior that predict success or failure in key human interactions:

A. Influence – Boost your positional power, emotion or expertise. Control the give-and-take tempo of a conversation.
B. Mimicry – Consciously copy others and then lead them.
C. Activity – Focus more intently on the conversation, meeting or presentation.
D. Consistency – Increase your consistency to gain support; decrease it to show openness.

6. Unconscious Reprogramming: Use the power of your unconscious mind to make decisions, rid yourself of phobias and fears, and create a more successful persona. You may need to craft and repeat a positive mantra to program your thinking. Is your unconscious mind holding you back or propelling you forward? Shed your unconscious mind of the blocks and impediments to success.
Your unconscious mind determines your emotional attitudes, which either help or limit you as a leader. You can take charge of your inner dialogues by replacing negative self-talk with positive self-talk. Take charge of your posture and facial expressions through practice.
7. Synchronize with Stories: Put all of the steps together by mastering the art of storytelling. When we tell each other stories, our brain patterns synchronize and people are more likely to listen to you. Stories enhance your natural leadership capacity, increase your charisma and move others to action. Convey your message in ways that align people with you, down to their very brain waves.
A great story is relevant to people’s universal desires and grabs your audience. Select one of the five archetypal stories: a quest, stranger in a strange land, love story, rags to riches or revenge. Tell the story in three acts: dilemma, conflict, resolution. Great storytelling is more art than science because you must invoke emotions.

Leadership Requires Alignment

When you’re more aware of unconscious behavior, you can align your conscious and unconscious messages for improved communication. This increases your authenticity, improves your ability to lead a group, persuades others and maximizes your personal impact.
As Morgan notes:

“No one gets led anywhere they don’t want to go. Machiavelli was wrong; leadership is not manipulation, not in the long run. It’s alignment, the leader with the group and the group with the leader. But you first have to maximize and focus your leadership strengths in order to be ready when your moment comes.”

Rudeness at Work: What Leaders Can Do

Leaders can have a tremendous positive (or negative) impact on the incidence of rudeness. Many leaders are under extraordinary pressure to do more with less, which often impacts their own well-being and tolerance levels. I hear stories about incredible executive stress in the sessions I do coaching.
In a blog by Australian speaker Graeme Cowan, The Surprising Costs of Workplace Rudeness, he writes that the two main strategies for reducing rudeness are relatively straightforward:

  1. 1. Stay physically and mentally healthy.
  2. 2. Model the right behavior.

“There has never been a more important time for leaders to place priority on their own health. Identify strategies that boost your energy level. Take stock of your purpose, passions and positive strengths to become more robust and resilient.”

Every person is different, but common habits that improve resilience include regular exercise, eating well and getting enough rest. It’s also essential to develop supportive relationships and outside interests.
It can take constant vigilance to keep the workplace civil. Let your guard down, and rudeness tends to creep into everyday interactions. Incorporate the following strategies to foster civility:

  • Manage Your Own Behavior. Leaders set the tone, so be aware of your actions and how others perceive you. What you say and do is weighted and easily magnified. Model good behavior (actions and words) and emotional intelligence. In one survey, 25% of managers who admitted to behaving badly said their leaders and role models were rude. If those who climb the corporate ladder tolerate or embrace uncivil behavior, employees are likely to follow suit. So, turn off your iPhone during meetings, pay attention to questions, and follow up on promises.
  • Express Appreciation. People need to know they’re valued. Be alert for what they do right, and let them know you’ve noticed their hard work and progress. People become frustrated when their efforts go unrewarded, thereby setting the stage for rudeness.
  • Apply the 5:1 Ratio. According to psychology researchers Barbara Fredrickson and Marcel Losada, teams are most effective when they hear feedback that is 5:1 positive to negative. Yet, work groups more often focus on what’s wrong instead of what’s right. It’s not that leaders should be blind to negative performance. They must, however, express 500% more appreciation than criticism if they want to see progress.
  • Recognize Small Achievements. Making progress on meaningful work is the most energizing and motivating event an information worker can experience, note Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer in The Progress Principle: Using Small Wins to Ignite Joy, Engagement, and Creativity at Work (Harvard Business Review Press, 2011). Effective leaders acknowledge even small improvements on a regular basis. This means employees must understand their exact roles within your company.
  • Establish a Positive Culture. Employees with a positive mood are 31% more productive, sell 37% more and are 300% more creative, notes business consultant Shawn Achor in Positive Intelligence (Harvard Business Review, February 2012). Create a positive mood by supporting physical activity: walking meetings or flexible work hours that allow for daily exercise.

What are other things leaders can do to help reduce rudeness and incivility in the office? I’d love to hear from you.