8/15/14

Managers Can Motivate Employees With One Word

Human beings are profoundly social — we are hardwired to connect to one another and to want to work together. Frankly, we would never have survived as a species without our instinctive desire to live and work in groups, because physically we are just not strong or scary enough.
Tons of research has documented how important being social is to us. For instance, as neuroscientist Matt Lieberman describes in his book, Social: Why Our Brains are Wired to Connect, our brains are so attuned to our relationships with other people that they quite literally treat social successes and failures like physical pleasures and pains. Being rejected, for instance, registers as a “hurt” in much the same way that a blow to the head might — so much so that if you take an aspirin you’ll actually feel better about your breakup.
David Rock, founder of the NeuroLeadership Institute, has identified relatedness — feelings of trust, connection, and belonging—as one of the five primary categories of social pleasures and pains (along with status, certainty, autonomy, and fairness). Rock’s research shows that the performance and engagement of employees who experience relatedness threats or failures will almost certainly suffer. And in other research, the feeling of working together has indeed been shown to predict greater motivation, particularly intrinsic motivation, that magical elixir of interest, enjoyment, and engagement that brings with it the very best performance.
Theoretically, the modern workplace should be bursting with relatedness. Not unlike our hunter-gatherer ancestors, most of us are on teams. And teams ought to be a bountiful source of “relatedness” rewards.
But here’s the irony: While we may have team goals and team meetings and be judged according to our team performance, very few of us actually do our work in teams. Take me, for example: I conduct all the research I do with a team of other researchers. I regularly coauthor articles and books. My collaborators and I regularly meet to discuss ideas and to make plans. But I have never analyzed data with a collaborator sitting next to me, or run a participant through an experiment with another researcher at my side—and my coauthors and I have never ever typed sentences in the same room. Yes, many of the goals we pursue and projects we complete are done in teams, but unlike those bands of prehistoric humans banding together to take down a woolly mammoth, most of the work we do today still gets done alone.
So that, in a nutshell, is the weird thing about teams: They are the greatest (potential) source of connection and belonging in the workplace, and yet teamwork is some of the loneliest work that you’ll ever do.
So what we need is a way to give employees the feeling of working as a team, even when they technically aren’t. And thanks to new research by Priyanka Carr and Greg Walton of Stanford University, we now know one powerful way to do this: simply saying the word “together.”
In Carr and Walton’s studies, participants first met in small groups, and then separated to work on difficult puzzles on their own. People in the psychologically together category were told that they would be working on their task “together” even though they would be in separate rooms, and would either write or receive a tip from a team member to help them solve the puzzle later on. In the psychologically alone category, there was no mention of being “together,” and the tip they would write or receive would come from the researchers. All the participants were in fact working alone on the puzzles. The only real difference was the feeling that being told they were working “together” might create.
The effects of this small manipulation were profound: participants in the psychologically together category worked 48% longer, solved more problems correctly, and had better recall for what they had seen. They also said that they felt less tired and depleted by the task. They also reported finding the puzzle more interesting when working together, and persisted longer because of this intrinsic motivation (rather than out of a sense of obligation to the team, which would be an extrinsic motivation).
The word “together” is a powerful social cue to the brain.  In and of itself, it seems to serve as a kind of relatedness reward, signaling that you belong, that you are connected, and that there are people you can trust working with you toward the same goal.
Executives and managers would be wise to make use of this word with far greater frequency. In fact, don’t let a communication opportunity go by without using it.  I’m serious.  Let “together” be a constant reminder to your employees that they are not alone, helping them to motivate them to perform their very best.
This post first appeared on HBR.org

8/11/14

TRUST POWER EGO - Or what I've been doing for the last six months....


Several regular readers of my blog posts have written to me, hoping that my silence for the last six months didn't mean that I was ill, coping with a family crisis, or had fallen into a sinkhole.  Thank you - in all seriousness - for your concern.

I was, in fact, finishing up my newest book - it comes out in April 2015, and it's called

TRUST POWER EGO
The 3 Elements of Effective Communication
(Or why no one understands you, and 
what to do about it)





















I'm really excited about this book, and you'll be hearing more and more about it in the months ahead. And you'll be hearing more from me in general, on HBR, 99u, Fast Company, and all the other usual places - including right here on my website.  Happy to be back!!!

In the meantime, I have a favor to ask.  Please take a moment and vote for my SXSW 2015 solo talk on TRUST POWER EGO:  The Science of Communicating. 

Fast register & vote here:  http://shar.es/1n0Dgj


Thanks for the help - and enjoy the rest of your summer!

Heidi

2/23/14

How to Make Yourself Work When You Just Don't Want To

There’s that project you’ve left on the backburner – the one with the deadline that’s growing uncomfortably near.  And there’s the client whose phone call you really should return – the one that does nothing but complain and eat up your valuable time.  Wait, weren’t you going to try to go to the gym more often this year?
Can you imagine how much less guilt, stress, and frustration you would feel if you could somehow just make yourself do the things you don’t want to do when you are actually supposed to do them?  Not to mention how much happier and more effective you would be?
The good news (and its very good news) is that you can get better about not putting things off, if you use the right strategy.  Figuring out which strategy to use depends on why you are procrastinating in the first place:
Reason #1   You are putting something off because you are afraid you will screw it up.
Solution:  Adopt a “prevention focus.”
There are two ways to look at any task.  You can do something because you see it as a way to end up better off than you are now – as an achievement or accomplishment.  As in, if I complete this project successfully I will impress my boss, or if I work out regularly I will look amazing. Psychologists call this a promotion focus – and research shows that when you have one, you are motivated by the thought of making gains, and work best when you feel eager and optimistic.  Sounds good, doesn’t it?  Well, if you are afraid you will screw up on the task in question, this is not the focus for you.  Anxiety and doubt undermine promotion motivation, leaving you less likely to take any action at all.
What you need is a way of looking at what you need to do that isn’t undermined by doubt – ideally, one that thrives on it.  When you have a prevention focus, instead of thinking about how you can end up better off, you see the task as a way to hang on to what you’ve already got – to avoid loss.   For the prevention-focused, successfully completing a project is a way to keep your boss from being angry or thinking less of you.  Working out regularly is a way to not “let yourself go.”  Decades of research, which I describe in my book Focus, shows that prevention motivation is actually enhanced by anxiety about what might go wrong.  When you are focused on avoiding loss, it becomes clear that the only way to get out of danger is to take immediate action.  The more worried you are, the faster you are out of the gate.
I know this doesn’t sound like a barrel of laughs, particularly if you are usually more the promotion-minded type, but there is probably no better way to get over your anxiety about screwing up than to give some serious thought to all the dire consequences of doing nothing at all.    Go on, scare the pants off yourself.  It feels awful, but it works.
Reason #2     You are putting something off because you don’t “feel” like doing it.
Solution: Make like Spock and ignore your feelings.  They’re getting in your way.
In his excellent book The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking, Oliver Burkeman points out that much of the time, when we say things like “I just can’t get out of bed early in the morning, “ or “I just can’t get myself to exercise,” what we really mean is that we can’t get ourselves to feel like doing these things.  After all, no one is tying you to your bed every morning.  Intimidating bouncers aren’t blocking the entrance to your gym.  Physically, nothing is stopping you – you just don’t feel like it.  But as Burkeman asks,  “Who says you need to wait until you ‘feel like’ doing something in order to start doing it?”
Think about that for a minute, because it’s really important.  Somewhere along the way, we’ve all bought into the idea – without consciously realizing it – that to be motivated and effective we need tofeel like we want to take action.  We need to be eager to do so.  I really don’t know why we believe this, because it is 100% nonsense. Yes, on some level you need to be committed to what you are doing – you need to want to see the project finished, or get healthier, or get an earlier start to your day.  But you don’t need to feel like doing it.
In fact, as Burkeman points out, many of the most prolific artists, writers, and innovators have become so in part because of their reliance on work routines that forced them to put in a certain number of hours a day, no matter how uninspired (or, in many instances, hungover) they might have felt.  Burkeman reminds us of renowned artist Chuck Close’s observation that “Inspiration is for amateurs.  The rest of us just show up and get to work.”
So if you are sitting there, putting something off because you don’t feel like it, remember that you don’t actually need to feel like it.  There is nothing stopping you.
Reason #3   You are putting something off because it’s hard, boring, or otherwise unpleasant.
Solution:  Use if-then planning.
Too often, we try to solve this particular problem with sheer will:  Next time, I will make myself start working on this sooner.  Of course, if we actually had the willpower to do that, we would never put it off in the first place.   Studies show that people routinely overestimate their capacity for self-control, and rely on it too often to keep them out of hot water.
Do yourself a favor, and embrace the fact that your willpower is limited, and that it may not always be up to the challenge of getting you to do things you find difficult, tedious, or otherwise awful.  Instead, use if-then planning to get the job done.
Making an if-then plan is more than just deciding what specific steps you need to take to complete a project – it’s also deciding where and when you will take them.
If it is 2pm, then I will stop what I’m doing and start work on the report Bob asked for.
If my boss doesn’t mention my request for a raise at our meeting, then I will bring it up again before the meeting ends.
By deciding in advance exactly what you’re going to do, and when and where you’re going to do it, there’s no deliberating when the time comes.   No do I really have to do this now?, or can this wait till later? or maybe I should do something else instead.   It’s when we deliberate that willpower becomes necessary to make the tough choice.  But if-then plans dramatically reduce the demands placed on your willpower, by ensuring that you’ve made the right decision way ahead of the critical moment. In fact,  if-then planning has been shown in over 200 studies to increase rates of goal attainment and productivity by 200%-300% on average.
I realize that the three strategies I’m offering you – thinking about the consequences of failure, ignoring your feelings, and engaging in detailed planning – don’t sound as fun as advice like “Follow your passion!” or “Stay positive!”  But they have the decided advantage of actually being effective –which, as it happens, is exactly what you’ll be if you use them.

Check out my latest video via 99u: