Contagion: What are You Spreading?

We’ve heard about how measles are spreading at rapid speed significantly influencing communities. In a similar way emotions are contagious.

In a study a group of nurses were asked to keep a daily log of their mood, work challenges and the overall emotional climate of their team. After three weeks, the researchers could significantly predict the mood of the entire team based on the positive or negative mood of any one nurse. The emotional contagion occurred when the moods were influenced by those outside of work and when the nurses only spent a few hours a day together. Overtime, a mood can spread through an organization and greatly influence the culture.  

Another study showed that just witnessing another person who is stressed can cause stress to a person. That’s kind of scary given how many people are stressed these days. However, another study suggests that worrying about being stressed may be a real killer. In a study with thirty thousand participants people who had a lot of stress but didn’t worry about being stressed lived longer. Those who had a lot of stress and believed it was hurting them were over 40% more likely to die after eight years.  Other studies suggest that we need some stress to support growth and seeing it as positive may help people to live longer. People who retire and don’t engage are more likely to live less.

Given emotional contagion, how can we accept stress as a part of life and realize that it can even support focusing and longevity? How can we more consciously create a positive mood for ourselves and those around us?  A simple step is to be aware of your mood and to reflect on what you are grateful for.

Recognize that your mood is influencing others and see how you can be more open and positive.

Expand Your Vision

I often work with clients to clarify what is most important to them to ensure they are actualizing their values. We have so many decisions to make regarding how to spend our time, energy and resources.  Given the fast pace of change and our need to be agile, we are served when we are clear about what is most important to us and our larger goals or vision.

I recently had the opportunity of hearing about the vision of the Basque region of Spain to become known internationally as a center for advanced manufacturing and social inclusion.   Industry generates 29.9% of its GDP. Their focus on manufacturing comes from a vision and strategy to ensure excellent health and education systems for their citizens. They have developed an integrated training and education system that is recognized as a best practice in the European Union.

Their vision to focus on human development and manufacturing has enabled various businesses, and public and private organizations to work together effectively.  Together with a shared vision, they have positively influenced their citizens and are now sharing their learning across different communities to make an even bigger difference.

It can be challenging to create a vision within an organization and even more challenging in a city or community where people have different interests.  However, the collective effort to work toward shared visions is greatly needed these days and can be quite rewarding.

According to the April Gordon Report (www.Imperialcorp.com),  in the US over 10 million jobs remain vacant where there is growing unrest among Americans who are unemployed or underemployed. The changes in technology make the need for more public-private partnerships and broader visions to understand changes in the labor market demands and the needed changes in education.

I meet many people who want to make a difference amidst the wide range of challenges. We need to focus on systemic change.  These larger goals require vision and the ability to be open and engage in dialogue.

Consider your purpose and how you can convene and collaborate with others to make an impact.

Elevate Trust

An immense amount of energy is spent when we don’t trust a coworker or family member. When we can’t count on someone to follow through on their promises we experience higher levels of cortisol which limits our openness and relationships with others. We are less creative or open to new ideas.  On the other hand, when we are interacting with someone we trust, there are high levels of the neurotransmitter oxytocin which creates more of a sense of bonding and openness.

It is valuable to pay attention to how we are trusting others. Do we have an habitual pattern of expecting the worst and mistrusting people immediately? It is useful to notice our level of trust and to work to create positive trusting environments.  We can experiment with being more vulnerable and sharing more about ourselves. We can be explicit about expected norms or terms of engagement that we can reflect on from time to time and modify as necessary. We can ask for what we need and follow up.

Pay attention to your level of trust and take actions to elevate the environment of trust with those in your workplace and elsewhere.

Are You Creating an Environment of Respect?

A senior leadership team was surprised to see negative scores on an employee engagement survey. I conducted focus groups and confidential interviews to learn more. Like many organizations, the company had gone through significant changes and restructurings and this caused uncertainty.  However, the thing that seemed to be at the core of the negative scores was the experience of a lack of inclusion or respect. People did not feel that their managers cared about them or listened and valued them. A climate of distrust had been created where people did not openly speak with one another.

The cost is high when people don’t feel valued. Usually they believe it is because of the way they look or their function or role. When people feel there will be retribution for speaking up even more energy is required to create an open and inclusive environment where people feel engaged.

Just as in any relationship, we need to take stalk of the climate we are creating. Are we respecting others and seeing them as individuals with hopes and needs?  How you can create an open and inclusive environment? Begin by genuinely engaging in conversations to demonstrate interest and respect.

Listen to Connect Not Correct

Drawing by Ann Van Eron

What is he thinking? What a terrible idea! Does he see how he is going to hurt the staff and the company?” This is what Trish told me she was thinking as her boss shared a new idea that he thought would save money and address a big problem.

Trish had immediately told her boss why the idea would not work. She was surprised that he could not see the foolishness of his solution.  Unfortunately, Trish was not successful in influencing her boss to consider other options and in addition, their relationship soured.

What happened? Trish immediately identified what she believed was wrong with her manager’s idea and began arguing her point of view. She did what we all do often. We focus on correcting or rejecting an idea before we ensure that we are listening fully and connecting with the person speaking. We need to manage ourselves and make sure we understand that the other person is saying and also identify how they are feeling by providing empathy. For example, Trish could have said, “You are concerned about the problem and believe this solution will address the challenge and address the budget deficit too.”  Her boss would have felt heard and been more open to a conversation. Because he felt judged he became closed to a genuine conversation of exploring options and also became closed to Trish.

Notice your response when you hear ideas you don’t agree with (give yourself empathy) and stop and shift to being curious and open. Focus on listening more intently, share what you have heard, give empathy and be open to learning more.

Take a Time Out

You are having a conversation with a colleague and while you have intended to remain open you feel yourself becoming agitated. You know that you are not fully listening and note your judgement.  What can you do?

You can notice your judgement and recognize that you are not open or in your oasis. You can share, “I realize I am feeling a bit agitated or stressed. You and this conversation are too important to me, and I want to be fully hearing you. Let’s take a short break and reconnect in 15 or 30 minutes.”  Ideally, the other person will appreciate your concern for the relationship.

Research by John Gottman, a leading relationship expert, found that when couples were engaged in conflict and their cortisol levels became elevated that their conversations were not productive. He began to say that there were problems with the video equipment that was being used in the experiment. He found that after approximately a 15 minute break, the couple could resume in a positive state and were better equipped to address differences.

Notice when you are triggered and are in judgement with elevated cortisol levels. Take a break and cool down and become open. Notice the impact on your interactions.

Advocate for Open-Minded Conversations at all Levels

 

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Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.”—Helen Keller

A leader told me that he was excited about a big new initiative for his company. The board supported the new direction, which he believed would result in increased market share and exponential success for the company. He asked me to facilitate a team retreat to work on implementation.

In preparation for the meeting, I spoke with participants to learn about their views about the new initiative and what was needed to proceed. It became clear that not everyone was on board and that it would be a challenge to gain support from the various roles. This is not an unusual finding. Often, the senior team has been so involved planning a new initiative that they fail to realize the process for creating alignment. It cannot occur by broadcasting the change and expecting people to joyfully make the change. We know that approximately 70% of change initiatives fail. A primary reason cited is resistance to change. In reality, it is because people have not engaged in real open-minded conversations. Often people see the problems with new initiatives and are genuinely concerned about the well-being of clients, staff and the organization. People see things that the senior leaders do not. Senior executives forget that they have a different perspective and have been living with the challenge for some time.

To create real change people need to understand and embrace the new way. It is important to have meaningful conversations around the current state and to agree on the urgency for transformation. This is best done in an open and safe environment where people can share their views and genuinely listen to one another. Ideally, key people and groups collectively understand why a shift is needed now and the implications of doing nothing. Given the disruptions in the marketplace the need for transformation becomes compelling.

With the need for transformation established and the benefit of open-minded listening to the various stakeholders, the group is ready to establish a shared vision that can be the leverage for upcoming changes.

When people feel respected and that they are heard and aligned with a direction, the implementation flows more smoothly. Those impacted by the change have energy for developing and implementing change because they are involved in the conversation.

I have been fortunate to facilitate many leadership retreats and stakeholder conversations and experience the sense of magic and energy when people do engage in open-minded conversations and create a direction together. It is palpable to see the energy released for transformational change. Organizations embark on new endeavors and relationships are enhanced and become more productive. People learn to “assume positive intent” and not to make people wrong for their views. During these times of disruption, no one can create a real impact alone. We need each other’s strengths and diverse perspectives.

I encourage you to advocate for open-minded conversations at all levels—among leadership teams, across units, with clients and between colleagues. I introduce the OASIS Conversation process in organizations to foster meaningful dialogue.

A colleague and I are offering a workshop on how strategic use of a leadership retreat can launch transformational change for your department, business or organization and your career in Chicago on June 25. Find out more about the retreat here.

Illuminate Possibility

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“We have more possibilities available in each moment than we realize.”—Thich Nhat Hanh

“I’m so stressed, I will never get it all done.”  “We are never going to make our numbers.” “We have not gotten enough support.” “Why is the plane delayed again?” “You let me down.”

It is our nature to complain and see what is missing.  We have a negativity bias where we tend to see what is not working.  This served humans during the cave days when a more optimistic view could result in being eaten.  Most of us are not in such danger these days. However, Rick Hansen says that negativity is like Velcro, while positivity is like Teflon and easily slips away.  

We know that our mindset influences how we perceive the world and that influences our behavior which impacts others. We can each take responsibility to positively influence our workplaces, families and communities by our open mindset. We can be negative and create a draining environment or we can lead others to see what is possible by our example.

New research in the fields of positive psychology and neuroscience, cited by Michelle Gielan in her book Broadcasting Happiness, shows that shifts in how we reflect and communicate with others can have significant effects on business outcomes.  For example, studies show that positivity and optimism have resulted in “31 percent higher productivity, 25 percent greater performance ratings, 37 percent higher sales and 23 percent lower levels of stress.”

It takes effort to build the habit of appreciating what is working and seeing possibilities.  On a recent family trip it was easy to hear complaints about being tired, the disruptive weather, late planes and the packed schedule.  Yet, when I could notice my own tendency toward negativity and shift to the positivebeing  grateful we were together and appreciating the opportunity we had to fly and that we could be flexiblethis small shift made the trip more positive for me and thus for my family.

I am not saying it is easy to make these shifts and like any habit, it takes practice to build the muscle of noticing our instinct and shifting to our desired behavior.  Yet, the second-hand effect of being positive and seeing possibilities makes the effort worthwhile.

Work to notice negativity in yourself and others and develop the habit of noticing and radiating possibilities.

Contact us at any time at Potentials.com.

Are We too Dependent on Digital Communication?

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“…you cannot continuously improve interdependent systems and processes until you progressively perfect interdependent, interpersonal relationships.”—Stephen Covey

People often tell me that they are worried about their teens since they communicate mostly via text rather than through conversation and direct interpersonal interactions. Sometimes teens text one another while they are in the same room. Some of my executive clients share that they rarely speak to some of their team members and broader teams and communicate primarily through email. While the benefits of technology are amazing, some wonder if we are losing some of the power of real conversations.

Between 2010 and 2015, 33% more teens report feeling useless and joyless in national surveys. Teen suicides have surged by 31%.  In a paper recently published in Clinical Psychological Science, researchers argue that this surge in depression is likely due to use of smart phones and the decrease in interpersonal connections. Teens who report more time online and less time with friends in person are more likely to be depressed.

Putting prisoners in isolation is one of the most debilitating forms of punishment.  As humans, we need connection and engagement with others to thrive. The need to belong and interpersonal connection is recognized as being fundamental to motivation and productivity. When we lack interpersonal connections, our moods suffer. Positive face-to-face interactions where we receive empathy and connect with one another is highly correlated with human satisfaction. (Baumeister & Leary, 1995)

With the disruption in society and the isolation and fear that many are experiencing people report that they feel a lack of community. While we may sense we are with people on social media, we are not giving each other empathy and understanding and not experiencing the fruits of real connection.

Emotions are contagious and MRI studies show that while we believe we are separate individuals, our energy and the flow of information is influenced by others. When we are not communicating or trusting one another, we experience dissonance.  When we engage in real conversations and build relationships, we experience resonance and psychological safety and are positioned to be innovative and are better able to execute and achieve goals.

We can use Zoom and other forums to virtually have real conversations where we listen and understand each other.  I facilitate various groups of leaders and people report gaining new insights and increased energy and amazing results that they didn’t believe were possible. There is power in real conversations when we are open to listening, understanding and supporting one another.

I believe that we need to support teens, leaders and all of us in engaging in positive and productive interactions. We need to develop an open mindset and the skills for meaningful conversations to support well-being.  We will all benefit from the contagious nature of these positive interactions.

Choose to meet or call a colleague and engage in an open and respectful conversation. Notice the impact on your sense of well-being and the positive outcomes.

Contact us at any time.

Be Grounded

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“Get yourself grounded and you can navigate even the stormiest roads in peace.”—Steve Goodier

“I feel out of sorts.”  “I have to give negative feedback to one of my staff.” “I can’t believe what she did!”  “We are not making our numbers.”  “The new boss is difficult.  “I have too much on me.” “He is out to get me.” “My team members are fighting one another.” “We need to get all of the leaders on the same page.” “My elderly parent is sick.” “My teenager is depressed.” “There is not enough time.” “My position is uncertain.”

These are a few of the comments I have recently heard from executive coaching clients. We are all facing many challenges. The pace is high these days in the world and in organizations.  We need to be collaborative and innovative and execute effectively and efficiently amidst a diverse workforce. Deadlines loom and we seem to be working harder than ever with increased competition. Emotions are contagious and we pick up the uncertainty and polarization in our political system and the myriad challenges in our world.

Amidst the turmoil, we need leaders towell…be leaders. We all need to be leaders, too, even if we don’t have a formal title. Given that emotions are contagious, leaders are positioned to create positive and productive environments where people can reflect, engage in dialogue and create amazing results together.

Where should a leader start? One of the first things I recommend is to make the simple practice of being grounded. When your head is spinning with all that needs to be done, what is going wrong and all the pressure on you, it is hard to see possibilities and to be innovative.

What do I mean by being grounded? Literally, tap your feet on the ground and notice the sensations. You may imagine being like a tree with roots firmly uniting you with the sustenance of the ground. Then as you walk from one meeting to the next, let go of your worries and notice your steps on the floor. This simple practice allows you to take a break from your thoughts and to reconnect with your body. Ideally, you take a few breaths and center yourself. Recall that you are a leader and you can make a difference in your sphere of influence.

As you remain calm, you access a different part of the brain. You may even recall a place in nature or another time when you are more in a state of flow. I call this your oasis. When you access this state, a different part of your brain is activated and you can see more of the whole picture and more possibilities. You may even notice a bit of gratitude for the challenge before you and the opportunity. Sometimes it is helpful to say something like, “Things are working out.”

By making it a practice of becoming grounded between meetings and even in meetings, you will be able to quickly access this grounded oasis state. It gets easier with a little practice as you build this habit.

My clients report that this simple action does indeed make a difference in how they see things and how they are perceived. They report that they feel more confident and experience success on many fronts.

Practice bringing attention to your feet and feeling grounded. Remember to breathe and recall an oasis experience. Notice your impact.

Contact us at any time.