fear

On Emotions Revealed

I recently finished read Emotions Revealed – Recognizing Faces and Feelings to Improve Communication and Emotional Life – by Paul Ekman. This book was recommended by best-selling author Daniel Pink as one of the top 6 books on the Art and Science of Sales. This book’s aim, as best summarized by the author: “My goal in writing Emotions Revealed was to help people improve four essential skills, and thus I have included suggestions and exercises in the book that I hope you will find both helpful and provocative. Those four skills are: First, becoming more i consciously aware of when you are becoming emotional, even before you speak or act…Second, choosing how you behave when you are emotional, so you achieve your goals without damaging other people…Third, becoming more sensitive to how others are feeling…Fourth, carefully using the information you acquire about how others are feeling.”

Below are key excerpts from this book:

Emotions determine the quality of our lives. They occur in every relationship we care about—in the workplace, in our friendships, in dealings with family members, and in our most intimate relationships. They can save our lives, but they can also cause real damage. They may lead us to act in ways that we think are realistic and appropriate, but our emotions can also lead us to act in ways we regret terribly afterward.

I reconciled our findings that expressions are universal with Birdwhistell’s observation of how they differ from one culture to another by coming up with the idea of display rules. These, I proposed, are socially learned, often culturally different, rules about the management of expression, about who can show which emotion to whom and when they can do so. It is why in most public sporting contests the loser doesn’t show the sadness and disappointment he or she reels. Display rules are embodied in the parent’s admonition—”Get that smirk off your face.” These rules may dictate that we diminish. exaggerate, hide completely, or mask the expression of emotion we are feeling.

Nearly everyone who does research on emotion today agrees with what I have described so far: first, that emotions are reactions to matters that seem to be very important to our welfare, and second, that emotions often begin so quickly that we are not aware of the processes in our mind that set them off Research on the brain is consistent with what I have so far suggested. We can make very complex evaluations very quickly, in milliseconds, without being aware of the evaluative process.

I am convinced that one of the most distinctive features of emotion is that the events that trigger emotions are influenced not just by our individual experience, but also by our ancestral past. Emotions, in the felicitous phrase of Richard Lazarus, reflect the “wisdom of the ages,” both in the emotion themes and the emotion responses. The autoappraisers are scanning for what has been important to survival not just in our own individual lives, but also in the lives of our hunter-gatherer ancestors.

In another study focusing just on smiles, Richard Davidson, a psychologist who studies the brain and emotion, and I found that making a smile produced many of the changes in the brain that occur with enjoyment. It wasn’t just any kind of smile; only the smile that I had earlier found truly signified enjoyment (see chapter 9).

I have described nine paths for accessing or turning on our emotions. The most common one is through the operation of the autoappraisers, the automatic-appraising mechanisms. A second path begins in reflective appraisal that then clicks on the autoappraisers. Memory of a past emotional experience is a third path, and imagination is a fourth path. Talking about a past emotional event is a fifth path. Empathy is the sixth path. Others instructing us about what to be emotional about is the seventh path. Violation of social norms is an eighth path. Last is voluntarily assuming the appearance of emotion.

Controlling emotional behavior will not always work. When the emotion aroused is very strong, when we are in a mood that predisposes us toward the emotion, when the event resonates very closely with one of the evolved emotional themes or with an early learned emotion trigger, my suggestions will be more difficult to use. And, depending on the emotion, some people’s affective style—those who characteristically become emotional very quickly and very intensely—will make it harder to control some emotions. The fact that we will not always succeed does not mean that we cannot improve. The key is to understand ourselves better. By analyzing our emotional episodes afterward, we can begin to develop the habit of attentiveness. By learning to focus more on what it is we are feeling, by learning some of the internal clues that signal to us what emotions we are feeling, we are more likely to be able to monitor our feelings. Increasing our ability to spot the signs of how others are responding to us emotionally can alert us to be attentive to what it is we are doing and feeling—and help us respond to others’ emotions in an appropriate way. And, learning about the common triggers for each emotion, those we share with others and those that are especially important or unique for us, can help us prepare for emotional encounters.

These examples are meant to show that having information about how someone feels doesn’t itself tell vou what to do about it. It doesn’t confer the right or obligation to tell that person you know how he or she feels. There are alternatives, depending on who that person is and what your relationship to that person is, the circumstances at the moment, and what you yourself are comfortable with. But spotting sadness when it is subtle does tell you that something important is happening or has happened, that it involves loss, and that this person needs comforting. The expression itself doesn’t tell you whether you are the right person to give that comforting, or if this is the right time to offer it.

We often think we know why someone has become angry with us, but our version of the grievance may not match the other person’s version. While avoiding what makes someone angry leads to resentments, building a backlog of trouble, rarely should the matter be dealt with when one or both people are in the heat of their anger. If it is so urgent that the matter must be dealt with at once, and it cannot be postponed until a cooler moment, then it is important that both people try to be certain that they are past the refractory period. Otherwise, the discussion is bound only to fuel the anger. not focus on what the problem is and how it can be solved.

Neither empathy nor compassion is an emotion; they refer to our reactions to another person’s emotions. In cognitive empathy we recognize what another person is feeling. In emotional empathy we actually feel what that person is feeling, and in compassionate empathy we want to help the other person deal with his situation and his emotions. We must have cognitive empathy, in order to achieve either of the other forms of empathy, but we need not have emotional empathy in order to have compassionate empathy.

While all four of these contextual issues must be considered when evaluating a normal facial expression, or macro expression, of an emotion, they can be especially revelatory when studying a micro expression. They must also be considered when evaluating signs of emotion in the voice, in posture, and in other cognitively based clues to deceit. Most people do not notice micro expressions when they occur during a conversation, when a micro is competing for attention with words, the tone of the voice, and gestures. They are ; also missed because we are often distracted by thinking about what to say next rather than closely watching for a person’s micro expressions.

As I mention in chapter 9, the great French neurologist Duchenne du Boulogne was the first to suggest that the absence of emotion-based muscle movements that most people cannot perform voluntarily “unmasks the false friend.”‘ The absence of such involuntary movements suggests that the expression may be fabricated rather than genuine.

More generally, we have not found any behavioral change that always occurs in every person who is lying; that is why lie catchers must learn to be alert to every aspect of demeanor, tor it is never possible to know ahead of time how important information will appear. This news always disheartens television interviewers and print media writers, who are disappointed I can’t tell them the one surefire behavioral clue to deceit. It doesn’t exist. Anyone who says there is an absolutely reliable signal that someone is lying is either misguided or a charlatan.

A very perceptive and recommended read.

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On The Denial Of Death

I recently finished reading The Denial of Death by Ernest Becker. This book won The Pulitzer Prize for General Non-fiction in 1974, and aims at answering the existential question through the refusal to acknowledge mortality.

Below are selected key excerpts from this work:

Society provides the second line of defense against our natural impotence by creating a hero system that allows us to believe that we transcend death by participating in something of lasting worth. We achieve ersatz immortality by sacrificing ourselves to conquer an empire, to build a temple, to write a book, to establish a family, to accumulate a fortune, to further progress and prosperity, to create an information-society and global free market. Since the main task of human life is to become heroic and transcend death, every culture must provide its members with an intricate symbolic system that is covertly religious. This means that ideological conflicts between cultures are essentially battles between immortality projects, holy wars.

When we appreciate how natural it is for man to strive to be a hero, how deeply it goes in his evolutionary and organismic constitution, how openly he shows it as a child, then it is all the more curious how ignorant most of us are, consciously, of what we really want and need.

And so we can understand what seems like an impossible Paradox: the ever-present fear of death in the normal biological functioning of our instinct of self-preservation, as well as our utter obliviousness to this fear in our conscious life.

The irony of man s condition is that the deepest need is to be free of the anxiety of death and annihilation; but it is life itself which awakens it, and so we must shrink from being fully alive.

We can understand why anxiety “is the possibility of freedom,” because anxiety demolishes “all finite aims,” and so the “man who is educated by possibility is educated in accordance with his infinity.”Possibility leads nowhere if it does not lead to faith. It is an intermediate stage between cultural conditioning, the He of character, and the opening out of infinitude to which one can be related by faith. But without the leap into faith the new helplessness of shedding one’s character armor holds one in sheer terror. It means that one lives unprotected by armor. exposed to his aloneness and helplessness, to constant anxiety.

In other words, as long as man is an ambiguous creature he can never banish anxiety; what he can do instead is to use anxiety as an eternal spring for growth into new dimensions of thought and trust.

From this discussion of transference we can see one great cause of the large-scale ravages that man makes on the world. He is not just a naturally and lustily destructive animal who lays waste around him because he feels omnipotent and impregnable. Rather, he is a trembling animal who pulls the world down around his shoulders as he clutches for protection and support and tries to affirm in a cowardly way his feeble powers. The Qualities of the leader, then, and the problems of people fit together in a natural symbiosis.

The void of immortality-substance that would be left by the absolute abandonment of the leader is evidently too painful to support, especially if the leader has possessed striking mana or has summed up in himself some great heroic project that carried the people on.

One very interesting and consistent conclusion emerges from our overview of mental illness: that Adler was right to say that the mentally ill all have a basic problem of courage. They cannot assume responsibility for their own independent lives; they are hyper-fearful of life and death. From this vantage point the theory of mental illness is really a general theory of the failures of death-transcendence.

In the mysterious way in which life is given to us in evolution on this planet, it pushes in the direction of its own expansion. We don’t understand it simply because we don’t know the purpose of creation; we only feel life straining in ourselves and see it thrashing others about as they devour each other. Life seeks to expand in an unknown direction for unknown reasons. Not even psychology should meddle with this sacrosanct vitality, concluded Rank. This is the meaning of his option for the “irrational” as the basis for is the meaning of his opinion tor the irrational as the basis for me; it is an option based on empirical experience. There is a driving force behind a mystery that we cannot understand, and it includes more than reason alone.The urge to cosmic heroism, then, is sacred and mysterious and not to be neatly ordered and rationalized by science and secularism. Science, after all, is a credo that has attempted to absorb into itself and to deny the fear of life and death; and it is only one more competitor in the spectrum of roles for cosmic heroics.

In Conclusion:

We can conclude that a project as grand as the scientific-mythical construction of victory over human limitation is not something that can be programmed by science. Even more, it comes from the vital energies of masses of men sweating within the nightmare of creation—and it is not even in man’s hands to program. Who knows what form the forward momentum of life will take in the time ahead or what use it will make of our anguished searching. The most that any one of us can seem to do is to fashion something— an object or ourselves—and drop it into the confusion, make an offering of it, so to speak, to the life force.

A recommended read in the areas of philosophy and psychology.

On Letters From A Stoic

I recently finished reading Letters from a Stoic by Seneca. This book was recommended by Shane Parrish (Farnam Street). What is stoicism: “The Stoics saw the world as a single great community in which all men are brothers, ruled by a supreme providence which could be spoken of, almost according to choice or context, under a variety of names or descriptions including the divine reason, creative reason, nature, the spirit or purpose of the universe, destiny, a personal god, even (by way of concession to traditional religion) the gods. It is man’s duty to live in conformity with the divine will, and this means, firstly, bringing his life into line with ‘nature’s laws’, and secondly, resigning himself completely and uncomplainingly to whatever fate may send him. Only by living thus, and not setting too high a value on things which can at any moment be taken away from him, can he discover that true, unshakeable peace and contentment to which ambition, luxury and above all avarice are among the greatest obstacles.”

Below are key excerpts from this classic masterpiece:

This, the summum bonum or ‘supreme ideal’, is usually summarized in ancient philosophy as a combination of four qualities: wisdom (or moral insight), courage, self-control and justice (or upright dealing). It enables a man to be self-sufficient’, immune to suffering, superior to the wounds and upsets of life (often personalized as Fortuna, the goddess of fortune). Even a slave thus armed can be called ‘free’, or indeed titled ‘a king’ since even a king cannot touch him. Another example of these ‘paradoxes’ for which the Stoics were celebrated is one directed at the vanity of worldly possessions: “the shortest route to wealth is the contempt of wealth.”

On Personal Development:

Retire into yourself as much as you can. Associate with people who are likely to improve you. Welcome those whom you are capable of improving. The process is a mutual one: men learn as they teach. And there is no reason why any pride in advertising your talents abroad should lure you forward into the public eye, inducing you to give readings of your works or deliver lectures should be glad to see you doing that if what you had to offer them was suitable for the crowd I have been talking about: but the fact is, not one of them is really capable of understanding you. You might perhaps come across one here and there, but even they would need to be trained and developed by you to a point where they could grasp your teaching. ‘For whose benefit, then, did I learn it all?’ If it was for your own benefit that you learnt it you have no call to fear that your trouble may have been wasted.

On Rest:

This is incorrect. There is no such thing as ‘peaceful stillness’ except where reason has lulled it to rest. Night does not remove our worries; it brings them to the surface. All it gives us is a change of anxieties. For even when people are asleep they have dreams as troubled as their days. The only true serenity is die one which represents the free development of a sound mind. Look at the man whose quest for sleep demands absolute quiet from his spacious house. To prevent any sound disturbing his ears every one of his host of slaves preserves total silence and those who come anywhere near him walk on tip-toe.

On Living:

My own advice to you – and not only in the present illness but in your whole life as well – is this: refuse to let the thought of death bother you: nothing is grim when we have escaped that fear. There are three upsetting things about any illness: the fear of dying the physical suffering and the interruption of our pleasures. I have said enough about the first, but will just say this, that the fear is due to the facts of nature, not of illness. Illness has actually given many people a new lease of life; the experience of being near to death has been their preservation. You will die not because you are sick but because you are alive.

On Expectation:

As Posidonius said, ‘In a single day there lies open to men of learning more than there ever does to the unenlightened in the longest of lifetimes.’ In the meantime ding tooth and nail to the following rule: not to give in to adversity, never to trust prosperity and always take full note of fortune’s habit of behaving just as she pleases, treating her as if she were actually going to do everything it is in her power to do. Whatever you have been expecting for some time comes as less of a shock.

On Liberal Eduction:

Why then do we give our sons a liberal education? Not because it can make them morally good but because it prepares the mind for the acquisition of moral values. Just as that grounding in grammar. as they called it in die old days, in which boys are given their elementary schooling, does not teach them the liberal arts but prepares the ground for knowledge of them in due course, so when it comes to character the liberal arts open the way to it rather than carry the personality all the way there.

On Philosophy:

Philosophy has the single task of discovering the truth about the divine and human worlds. The religious conscience. the sense of duty, justice and all the rest of the close-knit. interdependent ‘company of virtues’, never leave her side. Philosophy has taught men to worship what is divine, to love what is human, telling us that with the gods belongs authority, and among human beings fellowship. That fellowship lasted for a long time intact, before men’s greed broke society up – and impoverished even those she had brought most riches; for people cease to possess everything as soon as they want everything for themselves.

On Death:

Death you’ll think of as the worst of all bad things, though in fact there s nothing bad about it at all except the thing which comes before it – the fear of it. You’ll be scared stiff by illusory as well as genuine dangers, haunted by imaginary alarms. What good will it do you to: Have found a route past all those Arrive forts And won escape right through the enemy’s lines? Peace itself will supply you with new fears. If your mind has once experienced the shocks of fright you’ll no longer have any confidence even in things which are perfectly safe; once it has acquired the habit of unthinking panic, it is incapable even of attending to its own self-preservation. For it runs away from dangers instead of taking steps to avert them, and we’re far more exposed to them once our backs are turned.

On Working Time:

More active and commendable still is the person who is waiting for the daylight and intercepts the first rays of the sun; shame on him who lies in bed dozing when the sun is high in the sky, whose waking hours commence in the middle of the day – and even this time, for a lot of people, is the equivalent of the small hours. There are some who invert the functions of day and night and do not separate eyelids leaden with the previous day’s carousal before night sets in. Their way of life, if not their geographical situation, resembles the state of those peoples whom nature as Virgil says, has planted beneath our feet on the opposite side of the world.

On Pursuing the Straight Course:

How much better to pursue a straight course and eventually reach that destination where the things that are pleasant and the things that are honourable finally become. for you, the same. And we can achieve this if we realize that there are two classes of things attracting or repelling us. We are attracted by wealth, pleasures, good looks, political advancement and various other welcoming and enticing prospects: we are repelled by exertion, death, pain, disgrace and limited means. It follows that we need to train ourselves not to crave for the former and not to be afraid of the latter.

I highly recommend reading this book.

 

The Advantage

A few years ago, I read The Five Dysfunctions of a Team and it remains to be, for me, one of the most practical and applicable management books. Patrick Lencioni, the author of that book, has published a number of other books which have received high reviews as well, and I decided to read one of his more recent ones The Advantage – Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else in Business.

The main premise of this book is that:

The single greatest advantage any company can achieve is organizational health. Yet it is ignored by most leaders even though it is simply free, and available to anyone who wants it.

Sounds simple, so why is it that difficult?

But before leaders can tap into the power of organizational health, they must humble themselves enough to overcome the three biases that prevent them from embracing it. The Sophistication Bias: Organizational health is so simple and accessible that many leaders have a hard time seeing it as a real opportunity for meaningful advantage…The Adrenaline Bias: Becoming a healthy organization takes a little time. Unfortunately, many of the leaders I’ve worked with suffer from a chronic case of adrenaline addiction, seemingly hooked on the daily rush of activity and firefighting within their organizations…The Quantification Bias: The benefits of becoming a healthy organization, as powerful as they are, are difficult to accurately quantify.

What exactly is organizational health and how do I recognize it?

A good way to recognize health is to look for the signs that indicate an organization has it. These include minimal politics and confusion, high degrees of morale and productivity, and very low turnover among good employees…And so a good way to look at organizational health -and one that executives seem to respond to readily— is to see it as the multiplier of intelligence. The healthier an organization is, the more of its intelligence it is able to tap into and use. Most organizations exploit only a fraction of the knowledge. experience, and intellectual capital that is available to them. But the healthy ones tap into almost all of it. That, as much as anything else, is why they have such an advantage over their unhealthy competitors.

How do we create it, or get there?

An organization doesn’t become healthy in a linear, tidy fashion. Like building a strong marriage or family, it’s a messy process that involves doing a few things at once, and it must be maintained on an ongoing basis in order to be preserved. Still, that messy process can be broken down into four simple disciplines: Discipline 1: Build a cohesive leadership team…Discipline 2: Create Clarity…Discipline 3…Overcommunicate Clarity…Discipline 4: Reinforce Clarity.

On the first discipline – building a leadership team, let us start with the fundamentals, with the definition:

A leadership team is a small group of people who are collectively responsible for achieving a common objective for their organization…This is perhaps the most important distinction between a working group and a real leadership team. Collective responsibility implies, more than anything else, selflessness and shared sacrifices from team members.

What are the key behaviors of a leadership team:

On building trust:

Members of a truly cohesive team must trust one another. I realize that sounds like the most patently obvious statement ever made, something that every organization understands and values. As a result, you’d think that most leadership teams would be pretty good at building trust. As it turns out, they aren’t, and I think a big part of it is that they have the wrong idea about what trust is…The kind of trust that is necessary to build a great team is what I call vulnerability-based trust. This is what happens when members get to a point where they are completely comfortable being transparent. honest, and naked with one another, where they say and genuinely mean things like “I screwed up,” “I need help,” “Your idea is better than mine,” ‘T wish I could learn to do that as well as you do,” and even, “I’m sorry”…Trust is just one of five behaviors that cohesive teams must establish to build a healthy organization. However, it is by far the most important of the five because it is the foundation for the others. Simply stated, it makes teamwork possible. Only when teams build vulnerability-based trust do they put themselves in a position to embrace the other four behaviors, the next of which is the mastery of conflict.

On mastering conflict:

Contrary to popular wisdom and behavior, conflict is not a bad thing for a team. In fact, the fear of conflict is almost always a sign of problems. Of course, the kind of conflict I’m referring to here is not the nasty kind that centers around people or personalities. Rather, it is what I call productive ideological conflict, the willingness to disagree, even passionately when necessary, around important issues and decisions that must be made. But this can only happen when there is trust…When leadership team members fail to disagree around issues, not only are they increasing the likelihood of losing respect for one another and encountering destructive conflict later when people start griping in the hallways, they’re also making bad decisions and letting down the people they’re supposed to be serving. And they do this all in the name of being “nice.”

On achieving commitment:

The reason that conflict is so important is that a team cannot achieve commitment without it. People will not actively commit to a decision if they have not had the opportunity to provide input, ask questions, and understand the rationale behind it. Another way to say this is, “If people don’t weigh in, they can’t buy in.”

On embracing accountability:

Even well-intentioned members of a team need to be held accountable if a team is going to stick to its decisions and accomplish its goals. In some cases, people will deviate from a plan or a decision knowingly, tempted to do something that is in their individual best interest but not that of the team. In other cases, people will stray without realizing it, getting distracted or caught up in the pushes and pulls of daily work. In either case, it’s the job of the team to call those people out and keep them in line…At its core, accountability is about having the courage to confront someone about their deficiencies and then to stand in the moment and deal with their reaction, which may not be pleasant. It is a selfless act, one rooted in a word that I don’t use lightly in a business book: love. To hold someone accountable is to care about them enough to risk having them blame you for pointing out their deficiencies.

On focusing on results:

The ultimate point of building greater trust, conflict, commitment, and accountability is one thing: the achievement of results. That certainly seems obvious, but as it turns out, one of the greatest challenges to team success is the inattention to results. What would members of an executive team be focused on if not the results of their organization? Well, for one, the results of their department. Too many leaders seem to have a greater affinity for and loyalty to the department they lead rather than the team they’re a member of and the organization they are supposed to be collectively serving. Other distractions include a concern for individual career development, budget allocations, status, and ego, all of them common distractions that prevent teams from being obsessed with achieving results…The only way for a team to really be a team and to maximize its output is to ensure that everyone is focused on the same priorities— rowing in the same direction, if you will.

The second discipline is about Creating Clarity:

The second requirement for building a healthy organization—creating clarity—is all about achieving alignment. This is a word that is used incessantly by leaders, consultants, and organizational theorists, and yet for all the attention it gets, real alignment remains frustratingly rare. Most executives who run organizations—and certainly the employees who work for them—will readily this.

This is done by answering six fundamental questions:

1. Why do we exist? 2. How do we behave? 3. What do we do? 4. How will we succeed? 5. What is most important, right now? 6. Who must do what?

On what do we do:

If an organization’s reason for existence answers the Question, Why?, then its business definition answers the question. What? It’s critical that it be clear and straightforward. It should not be crafted so that it also be used in marketing material. The point is just to make sure that the leadership team is crystal clear about, and can accurately describe, the nature of the organization’s business so that they don’t create confusion within the rest of the company or, for that matter, in the market. It’s as simple as that.

On how we will succeed:

We came to realize that the best way for an organization to make strategy practical is to boil it down to three strategic anchors that will be used to inform every decision the organization makes and provide the filter or lens through which decisions must be evaluated to ensure consistency. Strategic anchors provide the context for all decision making and help companies avoid the temptation to make purely pragmatic and opportunistic decisions that so often end up diminishing a company’s plan for success.

On who must do that:

There is not a great deal to be said about this particular question, aside from warning leadership teams not to take it for granted. Although there is often clarity among executives in most organizations about who does what on the team, making assumptions about that clarity can lead to surprising and unnecessary problems.

The third discipline is Overcommunicating Clarity:

What those leaders fail to realize is that employees understand the need for repetition. They know that messaging is not so much an Intellectual process as an emotional one. Employees are not analyzing what leaders are saying based solely on whether it is intellectually novel or compelling, but more than anything else on whether they believe the leaders are serious, authentic, and committed to what they are saying. Again, that means repetition is a must.

The fourth and last discipline is Reinforcing Clarity:

As important as overcommunication is, leaders of a healthy organization cannot always be around to remind employees about the company’s reason for existing, its values, and so on. In order to ensure that the answers to the six critical questions become embedded in the fabric of the organization, leaders must do everything they can to reinforce them structurally as well. The way to do that is to make sure that every human system every process that involves people—from hiring and people management to training and compensation, is designed to reinforce the answers to those questions. The challenge is to do this without adding too much structure.

A concluding reminder that success in creating healthy organization rests on the leaders of the organization:

There is just no escaping the fact that the single biggest factor determining whether an organization is going to get healthier—or not—is the genuine commitment and active involvement of the person in charge. For a company, that’s the CEO. For a small business, it’s the owner. For a school, it’s the principal. For a church, it’s the pastor. For a department within a company, it’s the department head. At every step in the process, the leader must be out front, not as a cheerleader or a figurehead, but as an active, tenacious driver.

While there is a considerable effort involved, there is also a substantial reward:

At the end of the day, at the end of our careers, when we look back at the many initiatives that we poured ourselves into, few other activities will seem more worthy of our effort and more impactful on the lives of others, than making our organizations healthy.

A recommended read in the area of organizational leadership and management. If you have not read The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, I highly recommend you read that one first.

 

On Daring Greatly Through Vulnerability

In 1910, former President Theodore Roosevelt delivered a speech titled “Citizenship in a Republic” in France, with the following notable passage, known as the “The Man in the Arena”:

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust ally in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again. because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly….

It is from this speech that Brené Brown, author of Daring Greatly, titled her book – on How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love and Lead.

So what exactly is vulnerability, and why should we care about it?

Everything I’ve learned from over a decade of research on vulnerability has taught me this exact lesson. Vulnerability is not knowing victory or defeat, it’s understanding the necessity of both; it’s engaging. It’s being all in. Vulnerability is not weakness since the uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure we face every day are not optional. Our only choice is a question of engagement. Our willingness to own and engage with our vulnerability determines the depth of our courage and the clarity of our purpose; the level to which we protect ourselves from being vulnerable is a measure of our fear and disconnection. When we spend our lives waiting until we’re perfect or bulletproof before we walk into the arena, we ultimately sacrifice relationships and opportunities that may not be recoverable, we squander our precious time, and we turn our backs on our gifts, those unique contributions that: only we can make.

To further understand vulnerability, Brené turned to the flip side of the equation:

The people that are the most resistant to shame, and who have an intrinsic sense of self-worth, actively engage in the activities on the left, and let go of the ones on the right:

1. Cultivating Authenticity: Letting Go of What People Think

2. Cultivating Self-Compassion: Letting Go of Perfectionism

3. Cultivating a Resilient Spirit: Letting Go of Numbing and Powerlessness

4.Cultivating Gratitude and Joy: Letting Go of Scarcity and Fear of the Dark

5.Cultivating Intuition and Trusting Faith: Letting Go of the Need for Certainty

6.Cultivating Creativity: Letting Go of Comparison

7.Cultivating Play and Rest: Letting Go of Exhaustion as a Status Symbol and Productivity as Self-Worth

8. Cultivating Calm and Stillness: Letting Go of Anxiety as a Lifestyle

9. Cultivating Meaningful Work: Letting Go of Self-Doubt and “Supposed To”

10. Cultivating Laughter, Song, and Dance: Letting Go of Being Cool and “Always in Control”

Brené expands further, that this group of people – promoters of wholehearted living – embrace the antidote of the never enough culture:

Wholehearted living is about engaging in our lives from a place of worthiness. It means cultivating the courage, compassion, and connection to wake up in the morning and think, No matter what gets done and how much is left undone, I am enough. It’s going to bed at night thinking. Yes, I am imperfect and vulnerable and sometimes afraid, but that doesn’t change the truth that I am also brave and worthy of love and belonging.

While we may have started as vulnerable, as we grow up we find ways to defend and protect ourselves from vulnerability and its associated potential disappointments, we put on armor and Brené identifies the three most common types:

The three forms of shielding that I am about to introduce are what I refer to as the “common vulnerability arsenal” because I have found that we all incorporate them into our personal armor in some way. These include foreboding joy, or the paradoxical dread that clamps down on momentary joyfulness; perfectionism, or believing that doing everything perfectly means you’ll never feel shame; and numbing, the embrace of whatever deadens the pain of discomfort and pain.

She then goes on to provide some practical strategies that we can use to disarm ourselves:

Practicing Gratitude: 1. Joy comes to us in moments—ordinary moments. We risk missing out on joy when we get too busy chasing down the extraordinary. 2. Be grateful for what you have. 3. Don’t squander joy.

Appreciate the beauty of cracks: Perfectionism is not about healthy achievement and growth. Perfectionism is a defensive move…Perfection is not self-improvement. Perfectionism is, at its core, about trying to earn approval…Perfectionism is not the key to success. In fact, research shows that perfectionism hampers achievement. Perfectionism is correlated with depression, anxiety, addiction, and life paralysis or missed opportunities…

Setting Boundaries Finding True Comfort and Cultivating Spirit: Learning how to actually feel their feelings.  Staying mindful about numbing behaviors (they struggled too). Learning how to lean into the discomfort of hard emotions.

Vulnerability is key to two of the most important elements of our lives, trust and love:

Trust is a product of vulnerability that grows over time and requires work, attention, and full engagement. Trust isn’t a grand gesture—it’s a growing marble collection.

We cultivate love when we allow our most vulnerable and powerful selves to be deeply seen and known, and when we honor the spiritual connection that grows from that offering with trust, respect, kindness, and affection. Love is not something we give or get; it is something that we nurture and grow. A connection that can only be cultivated between two people when it exists within each one of them—we can only love others as much as we love ourselves. Shame, blame, disrespect, betrayal. and the withholding of affection damage the roots from which love grows. Love can only survive these injuries if they are acknowledged. healed, and rare.

Brené acknowledges that being vulnerable is not easy, but it is never a sign of weakness:

Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they’re never weakness. Yes, we are totally exposed when we are vulnerable. Yes, we are in the torture chamber that we call uncertainty. And, yes, we’re taking a huge emotional risk when we allow ourselves to be vulnerable. But there’s no equation where taking risks, braving uncertainty, and opening ourselves up to emotional exposure equals weakness.

How do we develop shame resilience? Brené suggests four steps, and while they may not be executed sequentially they will yield the desired effect of healing and empathy:

1. Recognizing Shame and Understanding Its Triggers. Shame is biology and biography. Can you physically recognize when you’re in the grips of shame, feel your way through it, and figure out what messages and expectations triggered it?

2. Practicing Critical Awareness. Can you reality-check the messages and expectations hat are driving your shame? Are they realistic? Attainable? Are they what you want to be or what you think others need/want from you;

3. Reaching Out. Are you owning and sharing your story? We can’t experience empathy if we’re not connecting.

4. Speaking Shame. Are you talking about how you feel and asking for what you need when you feel shame?

As we embark on our Daring Greatly journey, we will be faced with difficulties:

Nothing has transformed my life more than realizing that it’s a waste of time to evaluate my worthiness by weighing the reaction of the people in the stands. The people who love me and will be there regardless of the outcome are within arm’s reach. This realization changed everything. That’s the wife and mother and friend that I now strive to be. I want our home to be a place where we can be our bravest selves and our most fearful selves. Where we practice difficult conversations and share our shaming moments from school and work. I want to look at Steve and my kids and say, “I’m with you. In the arena. And when we fail, we’ll fail together, while daring greatly.” We simply can’t learn to be more vulnerable and courageous on our own. Sometimes our first and greatest dare is asking for support.

And criticism…

When we stop caring about what people think, we lose our capacity for connection. When we become defined by what people think, we lose our willingness to be vulnerable. If we dismiss all the criticism, we lose out on important feedback, but if we subject ourselves to the hatefulness, our spirits get crushed. It’s a tightrope, shame resilience is the balance bar, and the safety net below is the one or two people in our lives who can help us reality-check the criticism and cynicism.

There are numerous lessons, in Daring Greatly, that apply directly to the corporate environment:

First, on employee engagement:

My corporate talks almost always focus on inspired leadership or creativity and innovation. The most significant problems that everyone from C-level executives to the front-line folks talk to me about stem from disengagement, the lack of feedback, the fear of staying relevant amid rapid change. and the need for clarity of purpose. If we want to reignite innovation and passion, we have to rehumanize work. When shame becomes a management style, engagement dies. When failure is not an option we can forget about learning, creativity, and innovation…Shame can only rise so far in any system before people disengage to protect themselves. When we’re disengaged, we don’t show up, we don’t contribute, and we stop caring.

Second, on corporate culture:

One way to think about the three components of scarcity and how they influence culture is to reflect upon the following questions. As you’re reading the questions, it’s helpful to keep in mind any culture or social system that you’re a part of, whether your classroom, your family, your community, or maybe your work team:

1. Shame: Is fear of ridicule and belittling used to manage people and/or to keep people in line? Is self-worth tied to achievement, productivity, or compliance? Are blaming and finger-pointing norms? Are put-downs and name-calling rampant? What about favoritism? Is perfectionism an issue?

2. Comparison: Healthy competition can be beneficial, but is there constant overt or covert comparing and ranking? Has creativity been suffocated? Are people held to one narrow standard rather than acknowledged for their unique gifts and contributions? Is there an ideal way of being or one form of talent that is used as measurement of everyone else’s worth?

3. Disengagement: Are people afraid to take risks or try new things? Is it easier to stay quiet than to share stories, experiences, and ideas? Does it feel as if no one is really paying attention or listening? Is everyone struggling to be seen and heard?

Third, on effective feedback:

Vulnerability is at the heart of the feedback process. This is true whether we give, receive, or solicit feedback. And the vulnerability doesn’t go away even if we’re trained and experienced in offering and give us the advantage of knowing that we can survive the exposure and uncertainty, and that it’s worth the risk.

Fourth, on leadership – walking the talk:

The space between our practiced values (what we’re actually doing, thinking, and feeling) and our aspirational values (what we want to do, think, and feel) is the value gap, or what I call “the disengagement divide.” It’s where we lose our employees, our clients, our students, our teachers, our congregations, and even our own children. We can take big steps—we can even make a running jump to cross the widening value fissures that we face at home, work, and school—but at some point, when that divide broadens to a certain critical degree we’re goners. That’s why dehumanizing cultures foster the highest levels of disengagement—they create value gaps that actual humans can’t hope to successfully navigate.

As with the people we lead in a corporate setting, walking the talk at home as parents is also consequential:

Who we are and how we engage with the world are much stronger predictors of how our children will do than what we know about parenting.

On a concluding note:

Perfect and bulletproof are seductive. but they don’t exist in the human experience. We must walk into the arena, whatever it may be—a new relationship, an important meeting, our creative process, or a difficult family conversation—with courage and the willingness to engage. Rather than sitting on the sidelines and hurling judgment and advice, we must dare to show up and let ourselves be seen. This is vulnerability. This is daring greatly.

I would highly recommend this bestselling book, as well as the associated TED talk, which ranks as one of the most watched of all times.

On The Knowing-Doing Gap

I recently finished reading the book The Knowing-Doing Gap – How Smart Companies Turn Knowledge into Action by Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert I. Sutton.

The main premise of this book as the authors best summarize it is: “Why knowledge of what needs to be done frequently fails to result in action or behavior consistent with that knowledge. We came to call this the knowing-doing problem – the challenge of turning knowledge about how to enhance organizational performance into actions consistent with that knowledge. This book presents what we learned about the factors that contribute to the knowledge doing gap and why and how some organizations are more successful than others in implementing their knowledge.”

The book then analyzes the reasons and causes of this gap through numerous examples and presents eight main recommendations: “Eight Guidelines for Action: 1) Why before How: Philosophy Is Important 2) Knowing Comes from Doing and Teaching Others How. 3) Action Counts More Than Elegant Plans and Concepts. 4) There Is No Doing without Mistakes. What Is the Company’s Response? 5) Fear Fosters Knowing-Doing Gaps, So Drive Out Fear. 6) Beware of False Analogies: Fight the Competition, Not Each Other. 7) Measure What Matters and What Can Help Turn Knowledge into Action. 8) What Leaders Do, How They Spend Their Time and How They Allocate Resources, Matters.”

A very applicable, educational and action oriented book. One that echoes the fundamentals of execution and its importance as the ultimate benchmark of success. A must read in the area of management!

Below are key excerpts from the book:

1- “…although knowledge creation, benchmarking, and knowledge management may be important, transforming knowledge into organization action is at least as important to organizational success.”

2- “Attempting to copy just what is done – the explicit practices and policies – without holding the underlying philosophies at once a more difficult task and an approach that is less likely to be successful.”

3- “Talk is also valued because, as noted earlier, the quantity and “quality” of talk can be assessed immediately, but the quality of leadership or management capability, the ability to get things done, can be assessed only with  greater time lag.”

4- “It is possible, albeit difficult, to build strong cultures founded on principles and philosophy that can also innovate and change. But doing so requires much thought and attention. Otherwise, firms are readily trapped by their history, even if, or particularly if, that history has many positive elements in it, as Saturn’s does.”

5- “Conversely, fear is an enemy of the abilitiy to question the past or break free from precedent.”

6- “It is clear to us that merely knowing what measurement practices should be used does not, by itself, cause leaders to implement measures that produce intelligent, mindful, learning behavior rather than the reverse.”

7- “In each of the instances in which effective measurement practices were used, knowing what to do, why it needed to be done, and having the persistence and courage to do it helped leaders turn knowledge about how to enhance performance into organizational action.”

8- “As Dean Tjosvold, a researcher and writer on the subject of competition and cooperation, noted, “Competition stimulates, excites, and is useful in some circumstance, but those situations do not occur frequently in organizations, and the widespread use of competition cannot be justified.””

9- “Harlow Cohen, the president of a Cleveland, Ohio, consulting firm, has called this gap between knowing and doing the performance paradox: “Managers know what to do to improve performance, but actually ignore or act in contradiction to either their strongest instincts or to the data available to them.””

10- “Knowing about the knowing-doing gap is different from doing something about it. Understanding causes is helpful because such understanding can guide action. But by itself, this knowing is insufficient – action must occur.”

Regards,

Omar Halabieh

The Knowing-Doing Gap

The Knowing-Doing Gap