Monthly Archives: June 2014

Ouch! That Hurts When You Try to Be Kind

disillusioned young violinistWe’ve all seen it: the doting parents praising their child after a performance that everyone else in the room knows was terrible.

The problem is that in an attempt to be loving and kind, they are actually hurting their child.

The same thing can happen at work when supervisors fail to give honest, and sometimes difficult, feedback to their coworkers.

Some Important New Insights From Research

A new study* published in April 2014 helps explain why people sometimes think they are good at something when actually they are not good at all.

First, let me mention why this study is so important. It is important because of the huge amount of data used for the study. The authors used a meta-synthesis statistical technique with data from many other studies. This allowed them to look at results from over a quarter of a million participants. That is a mega-number for research!

Second, let me mention what it tells us. One of the main reasons why we are self-deceived about our abilities and think that we can do better at something than we really can is because we don’t have good self-insight. Many times, the lack of self-insight is a direct result of people getting vague feedback from family, friends, and employers.

Let’s be clear: self-esteem rarely, if ever, leads to greater performance. Yet in an effort to be kind and build self-esteem, we give vague, often overly generous feedback to our friends and co-workers. “You did a good job,” is too fuzzy to do anyone any good.

What improves performance is accurate and specific feedback and a concerted effort to improve. For more on the difference between the lie, “practice makes perfect” and the truth “perfect practice makes perfect” click here.

Think back to your best teachers in school. You know, the ones that pushed you to excel. They often were not the kindest or even the gentlest, but they were the ones who were honest and pushed you to constant improvement. They told you exactly what you were doing wrong and how to fix it.

One of the researchers (Krizan) said, “If people are evaluating themselves in terms of very specific criteria, they’re going to have better self-insight because they are constrained by how to interpret the ability.”

What Should We Do?

On the receiving feedback side: push those around you to greater honesty and specifics when they are giving you feedback.

Drill down deeper if they say you did “well.” What was good about it? How could if be better?

On the giving feedback side: Be brutally honest (with kindness!) and very specific when you give feedback. Tell your friends, family, and coworkers exactly what was good and what was bad.

They will thank you for it in the end.

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*E. Zell, Z. Krizan. Do People Have Insight Into Their Abilities? A Metasynthesis. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 2014; 9 (2): 111 DOI: 10.1177/1745691613518075

Cooperation With Croquet Mallets

Croquet Score“If you had to identify, in one word, the reason why the human race has not achieved, and never will achieve, its full potential, that word would be ‘meetings.’”- Dave Barry

Cooperation is something that every child has to learn. Sometimes it takes a lot to learn it. One of my cooperation learning sessions involved “Sally,” the girl next door. Sally and I were the same age, went to the same schools, and grew up together. Our families were great friends and we spent a lot of time together as children.

Did I mention that Sally was sometimes infuriating? In my memory it seems that every game we played ended in us fighting and every time we played together, one (or both) of us would end up running home to our mothers in tears.

Then there was the croquet mallet incident. I really don’t remember the exact incident, but I do remember the aftermath. Evidently, Sally extremely irritated me while we were playing croquet and I hit her over the head with my croquet mallet. As I said, I don’t remember that incident but I do remember how much trouble I was in afterward. (And the spanking.) I needed a big lesson in cooperation.

Cooperation isn’t for just on the playground. It should, and must, happen every day in the office. One of the examples of a way we cooperate is to have a meeting.

Unfortunately, many meetings are a waste of time.  When you consider man-hours, if you just have eight people in a meeting and meet for one hour you have used an entire eight-hour day. Was that meeting worth a whole day’s work? Many times, unfortunately, the answer is no.

There are many things that leaders can do in order to maximize meetings. But let me share just one simple thought today that I think might be the most important: make the purpose of each meeting action steps.

What is an “action step”?

Very simply, an action step is a specific action that must be taken. It will also help to keep in mind that each of these actions must be measurable (so that you know if it’s been accomplished or not) and timed (so that you know when the action must be completed).

If you don’t already do this, here are three simple ideas to get you started that I believe will revolutionize your meetings.

1. Measure the success of each meeting in action steps. If the members of the meeting have specific things they need to do once the meeting is over, then the meeting is very likely successful.

2. Make sure every action step is owned by a specific person in the meeting. Any action steps that are not assigned will never be completed.

3. End each meeting with each person articulating what their action steps are. Be sure to keep a record of each person’s assignment and hold everyone accountable.

John Kenneth Galbraith said, “Meetings are indispensable when you don’t want to do anything.”

A good meeting ending with actionable steps will prove him wrong.

One more bit of free advice: leave the croquet mallet home. Sorry Sally!

I Was In A Panic…

Calm Panic Buttons Show Panicking Or CalmnessThe huge Pakistani man standing in front of me thrust out his hand and suddenly I didn’t know what to do.

Was he threatening me? No, he was smiling.

Am I fearful of Pakistanis? No, all my barbers are Pakistani and I let them flash razors around my head all the time.

Why was I so afraid?

It was his big, yellow truck.

He was there to empty the septic tank and I knew that he had spent his day sucking out sewers… and now he wanted to shake my hand.

For many of you that wouldn’t be a problem, but Cindy sometimes accuses me of being “germophobic.” My response is that I’m not afraid of Germans, although I am pretty wary of Italians with super-spicy meatballs. She thinks I may have mysophobia, or the fear of contamination or germs.

I’m not afraid of germs, I just feel the same way about them that I do about heights—I have a very healthy respect.

Now he wanted me to shake his hand. I gulped.

The truth is, we miscalculate danger all the time. For example, one Noble prize winning psychologist asked people the question, “Are you more likely to die being eaten by a shark or by falling airplane parts?” nearly everyone thinks that sharks are the biggest danger. In fact, you are 30 times more likely to die from falling airplane parts than you are by a shark attack. I guess your chances of dying must skyrocket if you live on a beach near an airport.

This kind of miscalculation not only effects our vacation plans, but also our lives in interactions with people from other cultures. The problem is information and the fact that we bring familiar information to mind first and make decisions based on easy information instead of correct information.

Here are 3 pitfalls that we often fall into.

1. Availability Error-
That’s the problem in the shark/airplane question. A shark attack is big news, so we hear about it more, so it seems to happen more often. Unless we actually do the research, we feel like a shark attack is a greater danger.

I sometimes call it the fortune cookie problem. In America, most Chinese restaurants finish each meal with a fortune cookie. When Americans travel to China and eat real Chinese food, they are shocked not to get a fortune cookie. Fortune cookies are an American Chinese thing and not a real Chinese thing. (Wikipedia reference)

Error Correction: Do your research!

2. Confirmation Error-
Have you ever considered buying a certain brand of car and suddenly it seems that everyone is driving that kind of car? It may not actually be as popular as it seems. When we hold an idea or attitude, we are constantly seeking confirmation that we are correct and will grab onto small verifications that are really not proof at all.

Error Correction: Think objectively!

3. Out-Group Homogeneity Error-
Out-groups are people from a different group than ours. I am a male, so women are an out-group for men. I am an American, so Italians (and their super-spicy meatballs) are an out-group.

We tend to see people in our in-groups as very different, but people in our out-groups as being all the same. I’m sure not all New Yorkers are rude and and all Koreans like rice.

Error Correction: Notice differences!

Back to the Pakistani, I did shake his hand and was glad to make a new friend that day. I did, however, go in my house and wash my hands. Twice!