Archive for January, 2012
I worked with a group of individuals recently who were about to be reorganized into a new team structure. We were doing a team building class; not a team building session for a team, but rather, a team building class aimed at teaching the skills of team building to individuals from different teams. And the anxiety in the room over what they didn’t know about their upcoming reorganization was so potent that we couldn’t get anything done.
It didn’t come out as anxiety, however. As fear so often does, it came out as anger. The group made up story after story about how this reorg was going to go badly and result in unfair treatment. They would be asked to do things outside of their ability; they would have to report to two supervisors and be pulled between them; they would be appraised on work that they didn’t know how to do. The stories went on and on, and even a tour through the concepts of the ladder of inference and our very human tendency to make up stories that are worse than reality didn’t seem to help.
I got back to my hotel room after the second day and found a blog entry on my email from Tim Ferriss’ Four Hour Blog that I wished I’d seen that morning. It was a guest post from an author named Chip Conley, who has a new book out called Emotional Equations. In describing ways to become a CEO (Chief Emotional Officer), Conley lays out a number of mathematical equations to increase our self-awareness of our own emotional responses. There were too many interesting concepts in the post to mention all of them, but one that really struck me was the equation “Anxiety = Uncertainty x Powerlessness.” How true! And Conley suggested a simple activity that I wished I’d had the opportunity to facilitate with my group earlier that day:
“If we know that the combustible product of uncertainty and powerlessness creates anxiety, we can create what I call an Anxiety Balance Sheet to turn this around. Take out a piece of paper and create four columns. Then, think of something that is currently making you anxious. Regarding that subject, the first column is “What Do I Know” about this issue. The second column is “What Don’t I Know.” The third column is “What Can I Influence.” The fourth column is “What Can’t I Influence.” Spend enough time doing this so that you have at least one item per column but you may find that you have a half-dozen items in some columns.”
The result, Conley says, is that we will discover more items in columns one and three than in two and four. And with a little thought and consultation with our resources, we might move some things from the “bad” columns to the “good” columns. I believe if I’d facilitated an activity like this with my anxious team building group, we might have come out with an action plan for asking questions of leadership and taking a more active role in shaping the reorg in a positive direction.
I’ve ordered Conley’s book, so stay tuned for more interesting emotional equations!
Living in New Hampshire in a primary year is not an easy thing. I don’t have a traditional landline myself, but my mother, whom I live with, does. Ron Paul’s campaign computer called no less than five times the other night, just as we were trying to watch a movie. It’s aggravating because you can’t yell at a computer. Well, you can, but it doesn’t give you much satisfaction.
It isn’t just the intrusion of constant calls that gets annoying though; more and more every year, it’s the finger-pointing and lack of accountability that pervades the dialogue of every campaign ad and debate. Jeffrey Saltzman had an interesting blog post recently in which he laments what appears to be a very pervasive case of the fundamental attribution error in politics (my characterization, not his, but I think he would agree with my use of the term). There is a human tendency to see our own actions as motivated by external circumstances, but the actions of others as motivated by bad intentions. Saltzman lists examples both domestic and international, including Anthony Weiner claiming that someone else hacked his Twitter account and circulated pornographic pictures of him; Herman Cain blaming a conspiracy for the claims of a woman who said she had an affair with him; and a entire host of Arab leaders who blamed terrorists rather than the terrible conditions they themselves had created for the people’s attempts to overthrow their regimes. I would add my own example of Ron Paul claiming to be completely unaware and therefore not responsible for racist remarks in newsletters put out in his name. And of course, there are countless other examples across the spectrum of politicians, on both sides of the partisan divide.
We see it in the corporate world too. A organizational leader gets caught out for bad behavior and immediately looks to external factors to explain it. It was government regulation or incompetence; it was a corrupt employee that no one was aware of; it was the lies and entrapment of a competitor. Think of the Wall Street bank industry’s executive compensation after bailouts, the News Corp phone hacking scandal, and the endless accounting scandals that get reported every year. Rarely does anyone just step up and say, “I screwed up. I’m sorry.”
Saltzman says, “While of course not new, the number of times that the excuse of external forces being at play as the rationale for dismissing accusations, crimes, violence, murder, the taking away of rights, and in general bad behavior seems to me to be more plentiful now than it has ever been. I have to think that some of the leaders dismissing these activities are simply looking for a convenient excuse for their actions and are knowingly lying, but that others may be truly incapable of seeing the world accurately, always seeing sinister forces of some sort working against them or external forces controlling them. I am not sure which is worse.”
I’m not sure either, but I wish Ron Paul would call in person so I could give him a piece of my mind.