Monday, May 26, 2014

The Cheerleader Effect

There has long been a standing belief that people were more attractive collectively than individually.  Indeed, even Barney Stinson (of How I met Your Mother fame) discussed the impact of the collective when viewing the relative level of 'attractiveness' of women in a bar.  However, recent research (Walker & Vul, 2013, Psychological Science) has proven that the Effect is, in fact, true.

It seems that when we see people in a group, our brain focuses first on them as a group, computing general information about the group as  whole.  We will assess how many there are, determine the general mood of the group etc.  This quick assessment then serves to influence any perceptions that we may then have about the individual members, making us see each of them as more like the 'group's average' than we may have seen each, if taken individually.

In the study, people were generally rated as more attractive, when rating them from a group photo, than when only their individual photo was being assessed.  Certainly, this has implications for the dating scene - suggesting the need to become strategic in taking along a few 'well-chosen' wing men... those whose physical attributes balance off any possible personal deficiencies.  Your eyes spaced too close together?  Hang out with someone whose eyes are further apart.  Taken together you'll appear 'just right'!

Joking (and dating) aside though, this concept did get me thinking about other implications.  If we have the tendency to 'average' out the physical attributes of a group, when determining individual attractiveness, might we not also tend to unconsciously average out other characteristics?  For instance, if I was in a room full of Mensa-members, would someone observing me in this situation apply the 'law of averaging' (in which case I would come out ahead!) or would I simply suffer in comparison to those around me?

We know that who we surround ourselves with impacts our level of achievement and success, that we have a tendency to work to the level of those we engage with.  Therefore, to be more successful we would need to surround ourselves with more successful people.  This has an impact upon our mindset.  However, the question here is not whether we are psychologically impacted by the company we keep, but whether those observing us are.  Can we influence their perceptions of us simply by modifying the people with which we are 'seen' to associate?

If we are quick to be deemed more attractive, simply by standing next to those whose features complement our own, it seems logical to expect that attributes, beyond simply the physical, would also be assigned to us based upon what is known about the attributes of those with whom we associate.  If we surround ourselves with those that are driven to get ahead, would it not be likely that those 'higher up' would also categorize us as wanting the same?  What if we tend to hang-out more with people happy to continue in the niche they have carved out for themselves?  Might this have an impact on 'why' we are not getting ahead as quickly as we would like?

We are typically very quick to judge others, forming unconscious assumptions about who they are, what they are capable of, what they stand for.  If you seem to be experiencing difficulty in getting others to 'see' you the way that you want, or to establish a credible brand, you might want to consider who you are associating yourself with, within the workplace landscape, and whether the Law of Averaging is working to your benefit or not.  If the averaging phenomenon is not working to your advantage, you might want to consider getting a different crew of workplace wingmen!

Monday, May 19, 2014

Leadership Tool Essential - Let's

To get anywhere in life, you need to challenge yourself.

  • to be 'better' at a sport by running faster, jumping higher
  • to speak in a way that is compelling and memorable
  • to write a play or music that makes someone feel
First we must learn to challenge ourselves, to push ourselves beyond our existing capabilities.  Even incremental changes shift and change us, creating growth.  

Why not challenge others to do the same?  

As Leaders you are called upon all of the time to introduce change to the organization, which is typically met with resistance.  Many try to drive change by outlining a vision, pointing a finger at it and saying... Now go for it.  Make it happen.   This will prove effective only for those that 'get' the vision, that found it compelling. You may feel that these are your self starters, but they are likely those for whom the vision clearly supports their Personal Why.

Others may go a step further by defining a change and handing over a complete step-by-step plan for achieving it, along with the admonition to 'Do it'.  For some this also works.  The goal alone was insufficient, they needed the path.

Each of these techniques is effective some of the time, with some of the people.  Outlining the Vision + Path may capture more people than the vision alone, but you have still not managed to include everyone.  You are still leaving some behind, standing at the entrance to the path.

To truly lead a change, to ensure that all are compelled and willing to follow, you need to add one final step. Start by giving them the vision and goal.  They need a target.  Make it as compelling as you can.  Then, outline the key steps to moving forward.  There are always multiple paths to follow, some of which are significantly better than others.  Ideally, you want your people to walk the same path.  Give it to them or create it together, just make sure it's clearly marked.

To draw in those that are hesitant to step onto the path you've created though, you need to stand beside them, point to the path and say... Let's.
Let's begin
Let's walk the path together
Let's make it happen, you and I

Let's.  So simple yet so inspiring.  Contained within that simple word is the strength and power of the team.  No longer are people left to navigate the path alone, they are now part of a group making things happen, together. 

Their individual insecurities, vulnerabilities and fears can be supported through the strengths and actions of others.   They can take turns being weak and being strong, in having questions and in having the answers, in leading and in following.

Let's - sets us on the path together.

You want to create change?
You want to inspire others to follow?

Then stop directing individuals with the directive 'You Change'.  Make a true difference by gathering people close and saying 'Let's Change'.  

Monday, May 12, 2014

Eliminating 'Forever' Thinking

I'm going to work here forever.
We're going to be married forever.
This will be my career forever.
I am going to live in this house forever.
We will be friends forever.

We've all said it, at some time, about some-one, about some-thing and... at that moment... we likely believed it or wished it to be true.  It seems relatively innocent and simple, but there is an inherent danger in attaching absolute terms like Forever and Always and Never to our actions.  Forever is an absolute, defining a very specific time frame.  It does not leave room for variations or alternatives.
Definition of Forever:  For all future time; for always; continually
When we mentally commit to something 'Forever', it means that there are other things you will never be, do or have as a result. This may or may not necessarily be a bad thing, but few of us consciously used the 'Forever' term with a clear picture of what choices we were agreeing to NOT make in the future.

Forever, by its very definition, is a restrictive and limiting term, creating a rigid belief and expectation of and for your life.

  • If you believe that you will work at a your current job/organization - Forever - then you will fail to explore other options and may limit your opportunities and growth.  You may remain with an employer and in a role that no longer serves you. 
  • If you believe that you will be friends with someone - Forever - then you may continue to allow a toxic person to remain in your life, long after you should have moved on.
  • If you believe that you will live in your current house - Forever - then you will likely miss out on job and life opportunities that may have taken you elsewhere, failed to have downsized when the market (and your income) indicated you should, may have missed out on a house that would have suited you and your lifestyle better, or even considered alternatives to owning a house.
Forever is a lock with no key.

Instead, consider replacing the word Forever with one of the following...
  • as long as it works
  • as long as it serves me
  • as long as it makes sense
  • as long as I choose
Each of these phrases is liberating.  They are For Now thinking instead of Forever thinking.  There is no longer a lock that you cannot escape from.  You are in relationships and jobs that you choose to be in.  You are living in a way that continues to serve you, not based on a decision that you made decades ago that you mistakenly determined would be... 'Forever'.  
  • You aren't happy in your current career?  Change it!  You needn't be locked into a career path for life, based solely on a decision you made when you were in high school.  Choose today what will make you happy and do what you need to make it happen.
  • You have relationships that exhaust and drain you?  People in your life that continue to undermine your confidence and belief in yourself, that are constantly sticking pins in your Joy balloons?  Ditch 'em.  If they take away far more than they add then they have long outgrown any positive purpose they had served in your life.
This doesn't mean that all of our Forever decisions need to be changed; there are many we likely want to keep.  However, keep them because you continue to choose them, not because you feel locked into them. Life is constantly changing and we need to be capable of changing along with it.  Eliminating the hidden barriers to change, that absolute words like Forever, Always and Never create, allows us greater flexibility and adaptability, enjoying greater levels of success and happiness...  For Now.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Your Coffee Choice - What Does it Say About You?

We know that the choices we make in life are governed, in large part, by our personalities.  If we are more outgoing and extroverted we will typically choose to attend events with lots of other people in attendance, while introverts will tend to prefer smaller, more intimate gatherings.  Those who are more innovative will choose t make fairly regular changes in and to their lives while those who are more comfortably conventional will tend to prefer the status quo.

That said though, are even small choices and preferences in our lives governed by our personalities?

According to clinical psychologist Dr. Ramani Durvasula, author of You Are Why You Eat... yes.  In a recent survey of 1,000 coffee drinkers, Dr. Durvasula compared a number of facets of personality with each individual's coffee preference and discovered a number of consistent correlations.  It seems that the following were fairly consistent tendencies...

  • Those who preferred their coffee black generally tended to like to keep things simple and consistent. As a result, they tended to be more change resistant than others.
  • Latte drinkers tended to like to please others, often going out of their way to help others. This could sometimes be to their own detriment, where they took better care of others than themselves.
  • Frozen/blended coffee drinkers were the trend setters.  They enjoyed trying new things and tended to be more spontaneous.  The down side is that they could also be a little reckless.
  • Decaf and Specialty coffee drinkers were a little more obsessive and were more likely to be perfectionists, liking order and control.
  • Instant coffee drinkers tended to be the most laid back but a little more prone to procrastination
Obviously there were (and are) exceptions to the above, but these were the common patterns that were noted from the people surveyed.  It seems that our personalities not only have an influence on the way in which we view the world around us, but the large and small choices we make as we navigate our way through it.
“Through our food preferences and choices we reveal inner thoughts, feelings, wishes and desires... It's no exaggeration to say that the foods we choose provide a window to our unconscious.”    Dr. Alan Hirsch, neurologist and psychiatrist, and founder of the Smell and Taste Treatment and Research Foundation in Chicago
All I'm left wondering now though... is what does it say about me that I don't drink coffee at all... I prefer tea?

To check out what else Dr. Ramani has to say, here's a link to her book...