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Brain’s Blind Spots

When we hear the words “Diversity & Inclusion,” some of us cringe or roll our eyes, not because we don’t care, but because we feel uncomfortable, guilty, or feel we don’t need any training in it because “we’re not racist.” Yet every day, we read a news story where someone’s hidden biases trigger a potentially harmful action, from calling 911 on a congresswoman visiting her constituents to using racial slurs on political opponents. “Diversity & Inclusion” is necessary but insufficient; as Coaching Certification Faculty member Michelle Maldonado notes, we need to move from “Diversity & Inclusion” to “Belonging & Unity.”

One first step we can take is to recognize our lack of awareness of what influences our decisions, actions, and perceptions of other people. According to Leonard Mlodinow, scientists estimate that 95% of what happens in our brains is beyond our conscious awareness. In other words, we’re only 5% aware of why we think and act and feel the way we do. The majority of what dominates our mental activity is unconscious.

Our world is filled with differences. We are naturally drawn towards what is familiar and deemed “safe,” like family members who, for the most part, look and smell like us, and we move away from what is unfamiliar. Our brains use heuristics, or mental shortcuts, to help us navigate a complex world. We unconsciously build beliefs about different groups of people outside of “our tribe,” based on various socially constructed or identity markers, to help us organize our social world.

Similarity bias is our preference for others who are similar to us. Our brain’s natural inclination to categorize our world starts at a young age. David Kelly found that babies as young as three months show a preference for those with a similar race to them. The chances are that these babies are not “racist,” but unconsciously, they realize that their main caregivers are their sources of comfort, food, safety, and diaper changes. More often than not, these caregivers are related and therefore, “look” like them. Such biases may persistent in adulthood unconsciously in how we act. University of Michigan researcher Jesse Chandler found that people were 260% more likely to donate to hurricane relief efforts if the hurricane’s name began with the same letter as their first initial.

Our brains are also subject to implicit egotism, the notion that we think more favorably about others like ourselves. We are more likely to respond to a stranger’s email if they share our name, and we’re more likely to help someone out if they went to the same university. The opposite occurs unconsciously as well. Have you ever met someone new that you irrationally didn’t like or felt animosity towards them simply because they share a name with a childhood bully? That’s our unconscious brain at work.

Our hidden biases also are influenced by visual bias. Our optic nerves attach to our retinas in a way that means we have actual blind spots, and so our brains fill in the visual gap we can’t see. Similarly, when it comes to how we view and evaluate other people, if we have missing data about another person, we tend to take the little bit we know about the social categorization of that person and fill in the rest of the information. For example, if you meet someone of Nepalese descent for the first time, and the only bit of information you have about Nepal is that it is a Buddhist nation, you might assume that they are Buddhist and hesitate to include them in your Passover Seder.

Even though we think we evaluate others based on their individual qualities in rational and deliberate ways, our brain’s automatic processing is influenced by cultural and social messages around stereotypes and the “Other.” Groupthink can lead to “Othering,” whereby we discourage individual disagreements or thoughts for the sake of wanting to belong to the “in-group.” Daniel Goleman offers important insights into how groupthink may manifest in the workplace and what to do about it. While we have seen historical incidences of how groupthink can cause irreparable harm, from the Holocaust to the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II, “Othering” in the workplace can lead to lower performance, well-being, and engagement. UCLA psychologist Naomi Eisenberger found that the area of our brain associated with physical pain is also associated with feeling left out. When we overlook the administrative assistant during lunchtime as we sit with our cubemates daily to eat, we may be impacting their feeling of belonging, even though our intentions are not to exclude.

It is therefore important that we consider how to build psychological safety into our environments, whereby people feel safe to express their true and whole selves without judgment or reprisal. When we do, people feel confident to express opinions, have disagreements, and show up. In fact, Google researched hundreds of its own teams to find out why some thrived and others wilted and discovered that psychological safety was the number one factor. In short, if we want high-performing teams that bring diversity of perspective and a sense of inclusion and belonging, we must build trust, raise our awareness, and reach out to others.

By using our brain’s natural structural functions, we can hack our minds to bring greater curiosity of the “Other,” Self-Awareness of our own unconscious thinking, and Empathy to find similarities with others who may appear different than us. Emotional Balance can help us raise our awareness and ability to move from unconscious to conscious. As Daniel Goleman notes, “when it comes to diversity, you’re seeing people who have a range of backgrounds, of understandings, and of abilities. And the more diverse team is going to be the one with the largest array of talents, and so it will be the one with the potential best performance.”

Recommended Resources:

 

 

For further reading, our series of primers focuses on the twelve Emotional and Social Intelligence Leadership Competencies, which include Emotional Self-Awareness, Emotional Balance, and Empathy.

The primers are written by Daniel Goleman and Richard Boyatzis, co-creators of the Emotional and Social Intelligence Leadership Competency Model, along with a range of colleagues, thought-leaders, researchers, and leaders with expertise in the various competencies. Explore the full list of primers by topic, or get the complete collection!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Want to cultivate your Emotional Intelligence? Reserve your spot for the Foundational Skills of Emotional Intelligence. During twelve, two-week online experiences, you’ll explore the Foundational Skills of Emotional Intelligence through facilitated, group learning. You’ll discover the science behind each competency, why they matter, and how to apply them to positively differentiate yourself.

For a taste of the Foundational Skills, join our two-week Emotional Balance experience. In this portion of the Foundational Skills of EI, you’ll build your resilience, self-awareness, and focus.

 

 

 

 

 

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What to do when worry dominates your attention

develop a healthy mind

develop a healthy mind

Did I unplug the iron?

Traffic is brutal. Will I be late for my meeting?

I haven’t heard back from my friend. Are they upset with me?

Worry is a natural response to an upsetting situation, the unknown, or if we’re run down and frazzled. It can be difficult to get a handle on distressing thoughts. Fixating on a worry can exact a toll on our brain and our body. It also affects our decision-making skills, even our relationships (spending too much time with a “worry wart” can be draining).

Daniel Goleman spoke with Dr. Richard Davidson, founder of The Center for Investigating a Healthy Mind about the role of attention training in optimal brain functions in Develop a Healthy Mind: How Focus Impacts Brain Function. Here’s what they had to say about attention driven by worry.

Human beings are endowed with a very large prefrontal cortex, which gives us the ability to do mental time travel. That means that we can anticipate the future and reflect on the past, which clearly has its advantages. But it can also create a lot of problems.

We can worry about the future. We can anticipate threats that don’t actually occur, which, in most cases, turn out to be far more significant than real threats.

Our brain on stress

When we’re under stress, the brain secretes hormones like cortisol and adrenaline that in the best scenario mobilize us to handle a short-term emergency, but in the worst scenario create an ongoing hazard for performance. In that case, attention narrows to focus on the cause of the stress, not the task at hand. Our memory reshuffles to promote thoughts most relevant to what’s stressing us, and we fall back on negative learned habits. The brain’s executive centers – our neural circuitry for paying attention, comprehending, and learning – are hijacked by our networks for handling stress.

In today’s over-stimulated, fast-paced culture, it’s very difficult to respond effectively to worry and stress. Our old habits kick in: we shut down, lash out, ruminate, stress eat, and on and on. But you can develop more positive responses to stress.

Write it down

In Paul Ekman’s book Emotions Revealed he encourages people to keep a log of regrettable angry episodes. Write down:

  • what the incident was about
  • how it happened
  • what set you off
  • and what did you do that you think you shouldn’t have done.

After a few journal entries, try to see the commonality in the triggers and responses. You’ll usually find a particular script that underlies what’s causing you to have a particular perception on certain situations, to cast people into roles that they really aren’t in, and to try to replay a plot that doesn’t really fit.

Exercise your mental muscle

Practice different mental exercises to calm the mind and body down after a stressful arousal. The more you practice, the easier you can recall these tools when you need it most. Try these very simple exercises when you’re stressed or angry:

develop a healthy mind       develop a healthy mind

Know your stress type

Stress hits each of us differently. Some of us feel it in our bodies. Others just can’t stop worrying. Knowing how you experience stress can help you find the most effective relaxation methods. Try different exercises, such as deep breathing, auto suggestion or sensory focus. See which methods work best for you.

Stop and see

Stress management expert Elad Levinson developed the stop and see practice for the overwhelmed executives he coaches. Try this:

Begin with a simple exercise of thoughtful observation.

  • How would I characterize my mind right now? What does it feel like?
  • If I had to guess its revolutions per minute, what would I guess?
  • Does it feel hot or cool?
  • If my mind were a river, would it be a lazy river or a rushing river?

Next, try a slow deep breathing exercise to calm the mind.

  • Inhale and count to 3, 4, or 5, depending upon how deep an inhalation you can take.
  • Now exhale, doing the same.
  • Try this for one minute.
  • Notice any differences in you body, or changes to the content of your thoughts.

Additional resources

Develop a Healthy Mind: How Focus Impacts Brain Function

Cultivating Focus: Techniques for Excellence

Relax: 6 Techniques to Lower Your Stress

Working with Mindfulness

Thriving on Change: The Evolving Leader’s Toolkit

Knowing Our Emotions, Improving Our World

Training the Brain: Cultivating Emotional Intelligence

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Is it Worth It? When it’s Time to Question Your Career Ambitions

career
career
Source: snapwiresnaps.tumblr.com/Pexels.com CC0 License

The late New Zealand-based art director, Linds Redding has recently gained notoriety for his brutal rant against the soul-grinding culture of the advertising industry. He started a blog after he was diagnosed with inoperable esophageal cancer. Many of his posts reflected on his career – a rather impressive one in the creative field. Yet despite his accomplishments, he felt it was all a waste of time.

Redding wrote, “It turns out I didn’t actually like my old life nearly as much as I thought I did…Countless late nights and weekends, holidays, birthdays, school recitals and anniversary dinners were willingly sacrificed at the altar of some intangible but infinitely worthy higher cause. This was the con. Convincing myself that there was nowhere I’d rather be was just a coping mechanism. I can see that now. It wasn’t really important. Or of any consequence at all really. How could it be? We were just shifting product. Our product, and the clients. Just meeting the quota.”

Could that have been his understandably stark end-of-life perspective, or a legitimate warning to all who put pleasing the client and the company before their own wellbeing? And is this exclusive to the advertising industry?

Pushing yourself – or others – past their limits isn’t sustainable. Burnout, resentment, and backstabbing are common symptoms of work cultures that expect everyone work at a break-neck pace. But some of the most successful organizations recognize that productivity, profits and personal fulfillment are intertwined. Such a corporate mindset is often identified as “good work.”

Multiple Intelligences author, Howard Gardner defines good work as a combination of the three Es: excellence, ethics, and engagement. When what we do becomes good work, we love what we do at every level: we feel competent, happy, and that our efforts have meaning.

[PODCAST: What is Good Work?]

How Can Leaders Create a Culture of Good Work?

Creating a workplace that embraces the good work concept must start from the top. When Daniel Goleman spoke with Gardner in his Leadership: A Master Class video series, he asked him: What would a business leader look like who exemplified good work? Here’s an excerpt from their discussion.

Gardner: A business leader who exemplified good work is somebody who understood himself or herself, understood the corporation or company that they were in very well, knew something about their history, understood the domain and had some sense of the mega-trends going on in the world. You cannot be an excellent leader unless you’ve thought about this kind of knowledge, so that’s excellence.

Engaged means they really love their work. They want to do it. Their energy crystallizes other people, and the other people on their team love them and want to be with them. Charisma doesn’t hurt, but you ought to be able to inspire people even if you’re not charismatic, because of the way you behave.

And a person doing good work is someone who is always trying to do the right thing. The right thing, of course, involves the self, and it involves the company. But if it’s only about advancing the company, then it cannot be ethical. There are many things we could do to advance the company that are bad for the company in the long run, or bad for society.

Goleman: Well, I think I need to push back a little. Did I hear you say that you can’t be a good leader if all you care about is promoting the company?

Gardner: Of course you need to promote the company, otherwise you shouldn’t be the leader. But if you’re promoting the company at all costs, you’re not thinking about how the workers are being affected, what happens to the company in the long run, what are the externalities. If you’re not thinking about the people that might be hurt by what you do, then you certainly would not be an ethical leader, and it’s a continuing conversation. You never get to be ethical or not. There’s always an effort to try to figure out what is the right thing in the broader picture, and whom we respect over the long run.

Don’t Wait to Make a Change

If you find yourself in an organization or an industry that puts profit over people – and don’t know how to transition out of it – consider Gardner’s tips on developing a career using the good work model as a guide.

Decide what you really would like to spend your life doing. According to Howard, this is much more important than deciding what particular job to hold, as the employment landscape changes so quickly. Let’s say you went into journalism with plans to work for a newspaper or magazine. Those outlets may not exist in their traditional forms now, but you still might want to write about interesting things. You want to investigate and talk to people. So you have to say “Where could I carry that out?” and be very, very flexible about the venue and the milieu, but not flexible about what you really get a kick out of and where you excel.

Think about people whom you admire and respect. Then think about people whom you don’t want to be like. Consider why you admire certain people and why you’re repelled by others. If you can’t think of people you admire, that’s a warning sign. It’s not necessarily a warning sign about you; it’s a warning sign about the culture around you. Perhaps you’re in a situation where you can’t admire anybody at all, or the people you admire don’t do anything related to what you do.

Consider where you want to work. Then ask yourself, “Is this the kind of place where I can see myself in others and where I can see others in me?” For example: Say you have job offers from both a small startup company you believe in, and a large corporation with a worrisome reputation for treating employees unfairly. You might make five times more money in the latter position, but does that reflect who you are and where you want to be?

If you’re a coach working with people in career transition, help them approach their search through the good work lens by asking them these three questions:

  • How much of what you do now is good work?
  • What could you do to boost that percentage?
  • How could you develop your career to maximize good work?

Additional Resources

Good Work: Aligning Skills and Values

Today’s Leadership Imperative

The Executive Edge: An Insider’s Guide to Outstanding Leadership

Thriving on Change: The Evolving Leader’s Toolkit

The Competency Builder

The Coaching Program

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The Mindful Child: Teaching the New ABCs of Attention, Balance, and Compassion

mindful school

 

mindful school
Credit: dharmaschool.co.uk

The classical training of mindfulness revolves around the four foundations or applications of mindfulness, depending on translation. These four foundations involve paying attention to inner experience, then outer, then both together without blending the two. It is so important to ground your bases in some form of well-established, or basic and classical truth.

Andrew Olendzki concisely defines them in his article, The Fourth Foundation of Mindfulness, as:

  1. Mindfulness of Body – bringing awareness, attention, or focus to breathing and bodily sensation
  2. Mindfulness of Feeling – noticing the affect tone, such as pleasure or displeasure, that comes with every sense object, whether a sensation or a thought
  3. Mindfulness of Mind – noticing when there is attachment (greed, judgement, wanting) present in the mind and when there is not attachment present
  4. Mindfulness of Mental Objects/Phenomena – being mindful and attentive to any thought that arises and allowing it to pass away unobstructed, and eventually directing this observance through a much more in depth exploration of the true origins of that thought

The Mindful Child

At the Bridging the Hearts and Minds of Youth Conference in 2012, Susan Kaiser-Greenland talked in her keynote address about the importance of having a deep and scholastic understanding of mindfulness before even thinking about addressing a classroom full of children about it. It is crucial not go about it haphazardly. The games and activities you do with your children should be rooted in scientifically proven and backed truth. This could include the classical training, or a multitude of other resources. It is also important to bring the language down to a level children can fully understand.

“When I work with children,” says Kaiser-Greenland, “I teach them mindfulness is paying attention with kindness – first towards yourself, then to other people, then to everyone and everything.”

Kaiser-Greenland believes another way of defining mindfulness is that it’s a way of looking at the world; it’s attention, balance, and compassion. Always remember to check in on your mind. Is it cloudy? Dull? Alert? Judging? Are my actions or words consistent with who I would like to be or who I would like to become?

“What happens when we do this?” she asks, before drawing on activist Cornel West. “We are in the world in a different way. A way of looking leads to a way of being. We call that love on legs.”

View an excerpt from Susan’s speech here, or purchase the full streaming video here. To view the entire BHMY conference, it is exclusively available here.

Additional Resources

Focus Back-to-School Bundle

Bridging the Hearts and Minds of Youth 2013 Conference

The Triple Focus: A New Approach to Education

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Happy Employees, Happy Customers

Happy employees tend to go the extra mile with their customer service when they feel encouraged and supported. The relationship between workers, their environment, and customer service has actually been proved by a logarithm; customer service climate and revenue are directly proportional. In fact, a positive atmosphere doubles revenue.Throughout his studies at the University of Maryland and his observations in a multitude of industries, Professor Benjamin Schneider has found that when employees responded more positively to their work environment, customer satisfaction and business results increased. Inversely, a negative work environment led to unhappy workers, poor customer service, and declining revenues.

The service industry is among the most stressful of all occupations. Workers have to deal with everything from insufferable customers, disagreeable managers, challenging working conditions, long hours and, more often than not, low pay. Not much to smile about.

Emotional Contagion

Bad moods spread faster than wildfire. Rudeness can transfer from the employee to the customer, in turn making them angry or dissatisfied, regardless of how well the actual service was executed. Furthermore, disgruntled workers who aren’t thorough can create a wake of trauma in their path. Cardiac care units, for example, where nurses’ described their outlook as “depressed” had a patient death rate four times higher than comparable units.

Great service, in contrast, can make a world of difference for both the consumer and the employee. If consumers enjoyed their experience, they are likely to return, and share good reviews to their friends and colleagues, or online. If the employees feel upbeat and cared for, they are also more likely to work harder to appease the customer. Jennifer George and Kenneth Bettenhausen concluded in their study, Understanding Prosocial Behavior, that stores with positive salespeople had the best sales results.

A Good Leader Can Make a Difference

The manager is often the person who sets the mood. If a leader is confident, optimistic, and shows genuine compassion toward their workers, both the overall atmosphere and the sales will be lifted in the right direction. There are three factors that make or break a job: working conditions, salary, and leadership. Resonant leaders are perhaps the most important of the three.

How leaders carry themselves and their relationships with their employees directly impact their emotions and performances. Between 20-30% of an organization’s profit can be traced back to how employees feel about their place of employment, and 50-70% of this view traces back to one factor: their leader. A leader’s ability to understand their emotional intelligence and act rationally – not impulsively – becomes a major factor in the overall performance of the business.

Resources to develop a positive work environment

The HR and EI Collection

Leading with Emotional Intelligence [online course]

Resonant Leadership: Inspiring Others Through Emotional Intelligence

What Makes a Leader: Why Emotional Intelligence Matters

High Performance Leadership

 

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How would you define mindfulness?

How would you define mindfulness?

What Is Mindfulness?

by More Than Sound Staff

Have you heard anything about mindfulness lately? Chances are you have… Chances are you’ve heard a lot about mindfulness lately. You’ve probably been hearing about mindfuless in the media, at work, in casual conversation, maybe even at the dinner table from your kids. Perhaps you’ve read about it online a few times.

But even with the media spotlight on mindfulness, do you feel like you understand it? Is it clear to you how mindfulness works? How would you define mindfulness?

How would you define mindfulness?
Can you explain mindfulness? Credit: laprogressive.com

There’s so much buzz about what mindfulness is or is not, and sometimes coming from people who have minimal experience in the practice. So in an effort to both simplify and deepen the mindfulness conversation, we have released a series of podcasts featuring noted mindfulness scholars, including Rick Hanson, Juliet Adams, and Joseph Goldstein. Upcoming contributors will include Daniel Goleman, Mirabai Bush, and Surya Das.

Common Questions, Thoughtful Insights

Designed as an interview series to maintain consistency across subject matter, the podcast contributors are all asked the same questions. Some examples are:

  • How can mindfulness be put into action?
  • What’s the difference between mindfulness and meditation?
  • How does mindfulness training work?

Through these questions and others, our featured guests and their decades of experience will help provide clarity and add to the conversation surrounding mindfulness. This will allow you to formulate your own opinions about how mindfulness might apply to you.

Listen to some interviews now:

Rick Hanson: What is Mindfulness?

Juliet Adams: The Relationship Between Mindfulness and Meditation

Joseph Goldstein: Hidden Dangers in Popularity of Mindfulness

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The Dangers of Groupthink

Source: pixabay.com/pexels.com/CC0 license
Source: pixabay.com/pexels.com/CC0 license

Everyone one of us has blind spots. But we often don’t see them until someone points them out. As leaders rise through the ranks, the less honest feedback they receive from peers.

A high-level executive can become isolated. They surround themselves with people who won’t report negative information. They’re afraid to deliver bad news for fear of repercussions. Not knowing the reality of a situation means you can get into a distorted bubble. A lack of information can lead to poor decisions. You go down a path that’s a mistake from the get-go, but nobody tells you.

When Daniel Goleman spoke with Bill George for Leadership: A Master Class, they discussed what Bill learned from a first-hand experience with the dangers of groupthink.

“Early in my life, I worked in the U.S. Department of Defense as a civilian in the year of Robert McNamara and the Vietnam War. Some of the most brilliant people I’ve met in my life were at the high levels of the Pentagon. But toward the end they were walking off the cliff together. They suffered from groupthink. McNamara was so powerful. His team simply reinforced what he was saying. They didn’t take different perspectives.

Any good leader needs to have a reliable team who will ask tough questions, or poke holes in logic.

Another time one of my co-workers asked, “Do you think everyone agreed with that decision in the meeting?” I said, “Yeah, they all said yes, and at the end. We even voted.”

His response was an eye-opener. “Well, there were three people backing their managers that were so angry, they could hardly speak to you because you  blew over them, and forced them to say yes.”

After some thought I knew he was right. I had to go back, tail between my legs, and say, “I’m really sorry. I guess I didn’t hear what you were really saying.” That allowed me to be open to honest conversation.

I also learned that it’s not just looking for and appreciating feedback from that special trusted group, but bringing the attitude with you to the office. I now try to surround myself with people who have diverse viewpoints.”

Fine tune your executive management skills with Daniel Goleman’s video series, Leadership: A Master Class.

Additional resources

The Coaching Program is an online streaming learning series for executives, highlighting methods for enhancing any leader or manager’s effectiveness, creativity, and ability to connect with their teams.

The C-Suite Toolkit is designed for senior management (or those new to senior management positions) seeking a comprehensive reference library from the most respected business and leadership experts of our time.

The Competency Builder program was created to assist workers at all levels learn how to work more mindfully, improve focus, handle daily stresses better, and use these skills to increase their effectiveness. A great resource for any HR library.

The EI Overview provides easy-to-understand insights into proven-effective ways managers can best employ leadership styles, as well as develop the areas where they lack.