People with no personality are more common than you think

An empty suit

“They have no personality.” We’re all familiar with this casual saying (it’s no compliment) and we know not to take it literally (or out for drinks). But what exactly does, or could it, mean? Have you ever thought about what “no personality” really looks like?

Personality is arguably the most popular and practical contribution psychology has made to society. Here is a construct or phenomenon that isn’t just for geeky researchers but is decidedly mainstream. From selection assessments and team building events to everyday use and language, personality is big these days; heck, dating services may be the “biggest users” of personality assessments going and everyone has been on a dating site (admit it). Personality is obviously important, so what does it mean when we say someone has no personality?

A literal interpretation would be to say the person really isn’t a person (why do you think we call it PERSONality?). Instead, “no personality” has come to describe someone with a behavioral style of little interest (aka, “boring”).  An apt simile is that no personality is like (plain ‘ole) vanilla ice cream – familiar to all but not the most colorful. But “no personality” is more accurately described as “light” vs. zero personality – featureless but not absent, what are we really talking about?

So, what does “no personality” look like?

Naturally, we know that this saying is not to be taken literally – everyone has something worth listening to (if they don’t then they’re just boring, not a personality-less plant.) Nevertheless, we speak of personality in quantifiable terms, e.g., “Sally has a lot of personality,” the opposite of boring. To have a lot of personality is comparable to interesting and enthusiastic.

So, is it possible for someone (conscious) to have no personality? Literally? The answer depends on how we interpret the words, “no personality.”

{Obviously this is an abstract concept, in part defined by semantics. Nevertheless, the label “no personality” is a fixture – if informal - in characterizing people.}

In this case, “no” refers to a non-existent quantity. We’ve already agreed that there is no such thing as zero personality in a living person, but zero personality does not equal no personality. For all the personality tests I’ve administered, I’ve never had one come back with no scores.

But I have worked with many people who have no ONE definitive personality – or “type.”  I’m not talking about the clinical issues associated with split personality. Some individuals simply don’t have a personality type.

In fact, none do.

The first key to this puzzle is in the specific meaning of “one personality.” If we think of personality as behavioral style, then everyone has one. It’s like the SAT, you get 200 points just for putting your name on it. But if we think of personality as a “type” then I think you’d agree that no one is perfectly described by one “type.”

People change. (It’s what keeps psychologists in business.)

What someone does today may not predict what they do tomorrow. That’s because behavior varies within the repertoire of one person just like it does between people. Today may be a good day for “head down, GSD” while tomorrow may bring about behavior associated with taking a vacation. The way we act in worship probably doesn’t predict what we do (how we behave) at a party. Same person, different behavior.

But not that much. (It’s what keeps personality practitioners in business.)

Especially not after reaching adulthood (which is later than you think; about 30 years old) by which time it’s been estimated that 90% of personality (behavioral style) is in place. Imagine how difficult things would be if people were completely unpredictable even if you like variety. Communication and social behavior in general depend on some degree of consistency – it’s required to allow reliable interpretation.

Some change more than others.

Research has suggested that Emotional Intelligence, also referenced by its quantitative measure, “Emotional Quotient” (EQ), is more predictive of performance and satisfaction than intellectual intelligence, or IQ. This is a big deal.

Emotional intelligence pertains to an individual’s ability to identify and respond accordingly to the pleasure and expectations of present company in an emotionally effective manner. Unlike most psychological research, EQ is a rather simple and practical phenomenon that has become quite popular with the general public thanks to Daniel Goleman, a science reporter for the New York Times. Goleman “chanced” upon the term in the academic literature, simplified and refined the concept and described it.

Just how much of a breakthrough is EQ?

“Self-monitoring” was defined by Mark Snyder as an attribute related to the cross-situational consistency of behavior well before Daniel Goleman’s article that launched the EQ movement. Self-monitoring refers to the ability to discern another person’s or group’s attitude and moderate one’s own behavior to suit intentions for the other.

The stability, hence, predictability, of an individual’s behavior depends on the degree to which a person is a high or low self-monitor.

People with low scores on self-monitoring behave relatively consistently from situation to situation. These are people of principle that are less concerned with being popular than with being right. As a result, people with low self-monitoring scores act more predictably across situations.

People with high self-monitoring scores tend to be entertaining, attractive and popular. Elected politicians are among the prototypical example of high self-monitors. The high self-monitor can determine and adopt the mood of the audience in order to be more relevant and potentially influential to the individual or group.

People that have high levels of self-monitoring are less likely to be behaviorally consistent in a crowd. These are the people often referred to as “social chameleons.” They’re one person with corresponding behavior in one group and “another person” with a different group.

Can a single score capture all the behavior for an individual on a given trait?

Most personality test reports provide a single score for an individual on various characteristics. This can be considered the average behavior as scores reflect the responses to items comprising the trait. While averages are useful to capture the degree to which a reflects some personality attribute, they are not always that accurate. For example, Sally and Jeff may receive the same score on extraversion, but the way they get there is different. This can be illustrated by examining the responses that make up a given character trait.

Sally

Jeff

Although Sally and Jeff have essentially the same average on extraversion Sally and Jeff are not that similar. Sally could be described as being moderately extraverted. Jeff, however, appears to be extraverted about half the time. Essentially, Jeff is harder to predict based on his “split” responses to items that make up the behavior (in this case, extraversion).

Jeff’s responses are consistent with those of a person high in self-monitoring. He may be more extraverted with a group of friends (items 8, 9, 10) versus a group of strangers (items 1 and 2). One can’t say whether Jeff is extraverted or not.

Self-monitoring changes the interpretation of personality tests

Although self-monitoring can be inferred based on item/scale scores (see “Jeff”, above), going the other direction (i.e., from self-monitoring to the behaviors) is more helpful. Since self-monitoring is actually a sub dimension of Emotional Intelligence, EQ scores provide a proxy for self-monitoring. Armed with knowledge of an individual’s EQ scores the interpretation of high self-monitors must be distinguished from low self-monitors.

Low self-monitors are who they are for the most part. Interpreting personality test scores from these individuals is relatively straightforward and reliable. Low self-monitors are generally well described by their scores and their environment is not that much of an influence, they will be consistent regardless of the context.

High self-monitors, on the other hand, are highly influenced by their environment. In the right circumstances they may demonstrate one behavior, in another something else. In order to predict how a high self-monitor will behave it is beneficial to know about their environment; as the environment goes, so goes the high self-monitor.

No <ONE> personality

High self-monitors provide one example of how a given individual cannot be said to have one personality type. In this case, the more accurate assessment would be that the individual’s behavior varies. The same is true for low self-monitors but not to the same degree.

To summarize, people’s behavior is the result of both person- and environmental factors. As such, taking a personality test at face value is unlikely and under-informed, other data must be included for the best picture.

What your Personality Test Report says about You

Business man's hand plotting people's personality test report scores on a grid

People are frequently amazed at the accuracy of their personality test report. These reports can be powerfully enlightening as they describe an individual’s tendencies and character traits from what appears to be an objective point of view. When given the opportunity to review their report, I haven’t had one person defer. Everyone wants to know what their report says about them – whether they agree with it or not.

But sometimes personality test results are misleading and of no use at all. And it happens more often than you’d think.

In an experiment with college sophomores, a traditional favorite for academic researchers, the accuracy of personality tests was put to its own test. Following completion and scoring of a personality test given to all of the students in the class, the researcher asked for a show of hands from those for whom the test report accurately described them. A sizeable majority of hands went up – the report was an accurate depiction. There’s one thing they didn’t know:

Everyone got exactly the same report.

Yep. {I wish I’d thought of this first.}

Despite everyone completing the test in their personally distinctive manner, only one report was copied and distributed to the entire class of subjects. No matter how similar you may think college sophomores are, they’re not so identical as to yield precisely identical personality profiles. But still, a “J. Doe” report was viewed as a perfect fit to most. How does this happen?

Take a read of one of your personality test results. If you’re like most, you’ve completed several of these assessments and probably still have a report or two laying around. When reading your report take note of the following indicators of BS reports:

  1. Conditional Statements: The number of times the words “may,” “might,” “sometimes” show up

Example: “You may be unsure of yourself in a group.”

How “may?” Like, maybe, “90% unsure”, or “maybe completely confident?” The reader typically fills in this blank unwittingly giving the report a “pass.”

  1. Compensatory Observations: The number of times opposing behaviors are presented next to each other

Example: “You have a hard time sharing your feelings in a group. However, with the right group you find it refreshing to get your emotions ‘off your chest.’”

So which are you? A paranoid prepper? Or a chest pounding demonstrator? Either one of these opposing types could fit by this example.

  1. General Statements: The specificity of the descriptions, or lack thereof

Example: “You maintain only a few close friends.”

This statement is pretty much true by definition. It’s certainly up for interpretation such that it is befitting for all.

  1. Differentiating Statements: {fewer is worse} The uniqueness of the descriptions.

Example: “Privately, you feel under qualified for the things others consider you to be expert at.”

The lack of differentiating statements is not exactly the same as making general statements. A specific statement may not be differentiating. The above example is specific, but not distinctive as a fairly large percentage of people do feel under qualified for even their profession.

The point is, anyone can be right when they:

  1. Speak in couched probabilities,
  2. about “both-or” samples of a given behavior,
  3. in very general terms,
  4. about things that many people experience.

These four “hacks” provide all the latitude needed for ANY report to make you think it has “nailed you.”

Beyond these tactics, many give too much credit to the personality test. Frequently reports are simply feeding you back EXACTLY what you put in via your responses. For example, the item, “I like to organize things” may show up in a report as, “You like to organize things.” There were probably more than a hundred items on the test – you probably don’t remember every response you made for every item.

Another way folks give too much credit to the personality test is by holding the belief that the instrument should be right. Beyond your general position on the validity of personality tests, publishers have various tactics to make the test report more "scientific."

  1. Lots of statistics
  2. Lots of figures
  3. Distinguished endorsers
  4. Techno-babble

None of these things may have anything to do with the actual validity of the test. But research shows these things enhance people’s opinion of its validity.

What’s a good report look like?

  1. Good reports take a point of view. They provide specific summaries of behavioral style that really are uniquely you. If you gave the report to a friend and told them this was their report, they’d honestly say that it doesn’t accurately depict them – even if the two of you are inseparable. Fit is determined by both accommodation and exclusion. A good report speaks to you and no one else.
  2. Better reports don’t provide any narrative at all. They simply provide normative scores on the various dimensions (i.e., characteristic behaviors) covered by the test. This type of report allows an expert to interpret the full spectrum of dimensions in the broader context. Good interpreters know what to look for in terms of how the dimensions interact with each other and can further specify the evaluation with just a bit of extra information on the respondent. This does not mean that they already know the subject. It may be as little as knowing why or when the person completed the assessment.
  3. Great reports present just the facts. The report is a fairly straightforward summary of your responses, organized by dimension (trait) and compared to a group of others’ responses/scores. Better still, great reports provide more than one score per dimension, or the average. They also give some indication of the variations in responses by dimension. This allows the interpreter to know just how confident a given score is. No variance = high confidence. Wide variance = low confidence.

So, what does your report really say about you? Depending on the factors I’ve outlined – it may say nothing at all (or worse).

It really helps to know some of this stuff.

The best way to cure hiccups: A little psychology delivers the strongest medicine

Woman hanging upside down and driking from a cup to cure hiccups

A lot of “techniques” are used to cure hiccups, few really work. The procedure I'm about to describe is backed by psychological, scientific research and is absolutely the best way to hiccups. Guaranteed. There’s only one “but:”

It’s for adults only.

Well, it’s not entirely exclusive to adults, but it does require very strong concentration. {Also, you wouldn’t believe what adding “adults only” does to my SEO score.}

If you really want to cure hiccups you need to invoke the psychology of,

Automaticity Interruptus. {More SEO points!}

I’ll get to exactly what this is all about and how to do it but want to debunk some of the most popular “cures” for hiccups first. Beyond the fact that none of them actually cause the cure for hiccups, most come with unpleasant side effects.

Downing a spoonful of sugar shoots up glucose levels like fireworks (i.e., a rapid rise and explosion followed by complete burnout). Drinking from the other side of a cup upside down can result in nasal reflux (you can picture this, I’m sure). And scaring the crap out of someone speaks for itself.

To the extent these really do work at all it’s because they contain a smaller amount of the active ingredient, Automaticity Interruptus.

I made up this term, so I can’t link it to more information – but you will find some interesting results if you google it. It’s basically a means of “breaking the habit,” but it sounds more erudite. {minus SEO points}

Here’s what I mean:

Behavior falls into one of two categories, controlled or automatic. Sorting behaviors by these categories would appear to be pretty obvious based on the transparency of the two terms, but it’s not. Most behaviors can be both. BUT, (and this is key):

Not at the same time.

A (single) behavior can’t be both automatic and controlled at the same time. This doesn’t mean automatic and controlled behaviors (plural) can’t exist together. “Close calls” occur when there are differences between two or more behaviors (e.g., meditation to reduce anxiety) or the behaviors switch back and forth from automatic to controlled so quickly you don’t notice.

Hiccups definitely aren’t controlled behavior – not “for real” hiccups. They belong to a special form of automatic behavior. Hiccups are spasms of the diaphragm, but they act a lot like automatic behavior because they occur without effort and are "generally" uncontrolled. (Just give me some rope here - I'm not being greedy).

Reflexes you ask? Reflexes are really not in the zone of behavior as described here even though they seem like automatic behavior since there is no cognitive processing at all. Many reflexes don’t even loop through the brain. So, reflexes can’t be controlled at all except by eliminating the stimulus.

To point: If hiccups are automatic (in some way) AND automatic and controlled behaviors are incompatible, a logical cure would be to make the automatic behavior controlled.

And that’s it. If you work hard (really hard) to deliberately hiccup when you are in the grip of automatic hiccuping, the hiccups will go away.

But you have to work really hard to make a hiccup deliberate. Here’s how I would use Automaticity Interruptus on my friend, Mo:

Me: “Got the hiccups, huh?”

Mo: “Yeah – {hic}”

Me: “I’ll bet you $10 that you can’t hiccup after I start a rigorous technique on you. Don’t worry, you won’t get hurt and don’t even have to move. All you have to do is follow my orders.”

Mo: “OK”

Me: “When I say “go” I want you to hiccup as quickly as you can”

Mo: “OK {hic}”

Me: “GO! Hiccup NOW! C’mon. Do it NOW! Quick. I want you to REALLY TRY to hiccup. I dare you. I double dare you. I TRIPLE DOG DARE you! What’s the matter? Just DO IT. Hiccup damnit!”

Mo: "Gosh, Chris, you're amazing! How is it that someone can be so sharp and good looking?"

The “patient,” Mo, will NOT be able to hiccup under conditions of strained, deliberate effort. No matter how hard they (or you) try, you can’t hiccup on command. Try it now. You can’t do it. AND if you try it even when you already have the hiccups, you can’t do it.

But you have to REALLY TRY to hiccup. Give it your full attention.

This will flip an automatic behavior to a controlled one. And no one can hiccup by simply trying (eating a dozen donuts doesn’t count).

This technique is the driving force behind the downfall many experts with highly skilled behavior when put in a stressful situation. “Icing the kicker.” "Game winning free-throw." Even simple acts like, “breathe normally” get twisted when a lot of deliberate effort steps in.

Automaticity Interruptus.

Psychology at work.

Why picky selection is even more important when pickins are slim

Duck, duck, goose: be careful with selection

We’ve been here before. In the late 90s the demand for technical talent was so great that organizations engaged in bidding wars simply to stay in business. Dubbed the War for Talent, management experts warned about the perils of relaxing standards for the selection of talent at such time as when organizations were in the most need. For most, it was too late.

Fierce negotiations and skyrocketing compensation packages were the talent-based equivalent of surging petrol prices during the great oil embargo of the 70s. For some, no amount of money could buy the talent so desperately needed. They were stuck with what they had - and what they didn’t.

Here we go again.

With unemployment rates at historic lows, organizations once again find themselves confronted by the fool’s choice: bad (or, expensive) talent or no talent? (Ironic, isn’t it, that the same organization that matches employees’ contributions to retirement plans and maintains a succession plan for top executives with two “ready” candidates, finds itself overspent and understaffed on talent?)

From a safe distance we can see the folly of hiring at a time of dire need, just like we can see the wisdom of contributing to a compounding savings fund for future financial needs. Nevertheless, the firestorm of desperation hiring burns the fuel for future growth. I see it all the time: buying at the peak of the market and selling at the first sign of a lull.

Regardless of how we got here, we must face reality. Hires must be made. Sticking with reality, that hire is going to cost you more, now that you need them, than they would’ve when you didn’t {seem to} need them so desperately. You have a choice, pay big bucks for some body or paying big bucks for the right body. The difference between the two hangs on the rigor of your hiring practice. Do you have the skill to assess talent well? Do you have the discipline to select only the well qualified?

Selection using proper psychological assessment is like pan-seared salmon; it’s both rare and well done.

Some will claim that I’m out of touch with what really happens on the streets of Poughkeepsie. After all, I am at that “safe distance” from the action. Don’t I know about fundamental economic principles of supply and demand? Don’t I understand the lunacy of forgoing business for lack of workers?

Actually, I do. And it’s still wrong to relax hiring practices or standards – especially when desperate for employees.

Desperation is a symptom, not the cause. When an organization finds itself desperate for employees, for any reason, whether surging sales or shrinking productivity, it’s the result of poor talent management and planning. The organization isn’t ready. And when an organization isn’t ready, it’s missing out on profits. Economics 101.

You don’t have time for bad firemen when Rome is burning.

But here’s why a bad hire in bad markets (sales or labor) is worse than the same hire in kinder markets. You don’t have time for bad firemen when Rome is burning. Moreover, the damage of retaining a bad hire can be seemingly apocalyptic.

Hiring talent is like a setting fishhook; it’s easy to put in but difficult to yank out.

I’ve made my case for “front end” selection, but dealing with the “back end” of desperation hiring is worse. Hiring talent is like a setting fishhook; it’s easy to put in but difficult to yank out. And it creates considerable collateral damage. A bad hire is lame at best; lethal at worst. And that doesn’t include the joys of their removal.

Two large-scale studies I did in an organization comprised of multi-unit restaurants revealed convergent results. The first found that 50% of all employees that quit did so due to their "brow beating, denigrating, micro-managing boss." {My words to approximate the emotional translation} Even if this number is inflated by sore quitters taking a free jab at their boss, it still dwarfs any other reason given for quitting, including pay and promotion opportunity. The second study found that using a validated personality test successfully predicted which new hire restaurant managers became high producers (i.e., greater sales) and better leaders (i.e., well run, low employee turnover).

But there is a limitation in my research. While the results suggest that good leaders get good results and have low team defection, the story may be more truthful centering on bad leaders that get bad results and have high team defection. Either way you look at it the results are in the same ballpark. It is possible that the bad managers pull the lion's share of the results of this study, thus lending stronger support to my argument against hiring questionable talent.

At the end of the day, you have a decision to make. It would be a mistake not to have good selection.

Psychology is clear: We’re not.

Beautiful, mysterious woman. What is she thinking? Who is she? Industrial Organizational Psychology knows.

Perspective.

In a word, that’s as close as it gets to a synonym for psychology – at least the type I practice. Many may debate, “It’s too narrow”, or, “It’s too broad.” But that’s their perspective. {Don’t you hate clever, contrived?}

Here’s mine.

Everything we “know” (i.e., that which we perceive via our senses or cognitive processes), is psychological. Some represent psychology with a lens metaphor.  I.e., “We perceive the world through the ‘lens of psychology.’” Not bad as metaphors go, but definitely not good.

In the movie, “A Beautiful Mind” (based on the book by Sylvia Nasar), Dr. Rosen, a psychiatrist, attempts to convince and calm a defiant and skeptical, John Nash, who Dr. Rosen believes to be psychotic.

Rosen: You can’t reason your way out of this!
Nash: Why not? Why can’t I?
Rosen: Because your mind is where the problem is in the first place!

Psychology is not only the “lens” through which our viewpoint of the world passes, it’s all the “stuff” on either side of the lens as well. And that “stuff” is passing through as many other lenses as there are viewers. Your experience of the color red may be quite different from mine. Who knows? The “truth” doesn’t simply sit on one or the other side of the lens. What’s “right” is simply what’s generally accepted (i.e., conventional), not some absolute “truth.” Essentially, we choose to agree even though we don’t know if we’re agreeing on the same thing or not.

No, it isn’t 3am as I write. And I’m not cross-validating a Ken Kesey experiment. But I can see how I may have complicated things trying to “fix” a flawed metaphor. (I can hear a former colleague’s corrosive – whoa, I mean, "corrective," no, no, "constructive" -- feedback, “Don’t let great be the enemy of good.”)

Backing up.

We all make the error of John Nash. We all believe that we have some control over our mind, as surely as we do our behavior. Both beliefs are delusions. No matter how much you think you really do “know” or “control” your mind or behavior, it’s DEFINITELY less than you think.

Don’t believe me?

Try verbalizing how you tie your shoes. Can you do this in less time than it takes you to actually tie them? Didn’t think so. The reason is because you just don’t think about it when you're tying your shoes, even though you’ve done it thousands of times. (Actually, that’s precisely WHY you can’t explain it.)

Free throws are anything BUT free.

In psychology we have a very innovative term for behavior so routine it's as if it was automatic; like tying our shoes. The term is, “Automatic.” Automatic behavior falls into the category of “unconsciousness” but it's not the same. The difference between the two is that automatic thought (behavior) can be accessed (with effort), while unconscious thoughts or behaviors, can NOT. When we don’t notice anything about some behavior until it’s actively brought to our attention (e.g., a tangled knot, or a deliberate request – like my question), that’s automatic behavior. We CAN get to it. But when we do, we don't perform as well as when we let it lie. (Think "buzzer beaters" vs. "free throws." Free throws are anything BUT free. (Ask Shaq).

When asked, people underestimate the percentage of time they spend on “autopilot.” SIGNIFICANTLY. For example, while you’ve been reading this, how many times have you swallowed? You don’t know. But if I had told you beforehand that I would ask this now, you could answer.

At any given time, we’re aware of a mere speck in the spectrum of what’s sensible. And it goes beyond simple attention, but that’s another flavor of psychology.

Let's add just one more "flavor" to our model of perception: We tend to believe we know ourselves better than others do. Sometimes, yes. But mostly when it serves our need to be sensible or valued. When it comes to the "unvarnished truth?" ..., out goes self-accuracy.

The kicker is in a question made famous in my era by the rock band, “The Who.”

Who the f*ck are you?

Seriously, who are you? {sorry to paraphrase; I can't scream-sing}

A.  The you that you “know?”
B.  The you that they “know?”
C.  Both A and B.

If you answered, "C," you’re more likely to be right than not. “A” may be your identity, but “B” is your reputation. And "C" requires perspective. (If you’re wondering why I left out, “D. None of the above,” that’s a great question, better for a topic outside the realm of this article.)

A day in Chris’ life:

Subject: “They just don’t get it.”
Chris: “What do you mean?”
Subject: “I’ve explained X a hundred times and they still don’t do it right.”
Chris: “Are you sure it’s X they don’t understand?”
Subject: “You mean, maybe they don’t understand me?”
Chris: “Well, ... could be half of it.”
Subject: “What’s the other half?”
Chris:

Over 80% of my job is providing perspective; helping folks to see themselves from a “different pair of shoes” or in comparison to a larger group of folks similar to them (i.e., via norms).

And, “No,” I didn’t forget to add the last line for Chris. You already know the answer.

Like a lens to a lens, I don’t clear everything up. My aim is to provide better perspective, not perfect vision in a murky world of psychological errors, both known and unknown; accidental or deliberate.

From Robert Burns’ poem, “To a Louse,”

O wad some Pow'r the giftie gie us
To see oursels as ithers see us!

One doesn’t need to be, "some Pow'r", to do powerful things. My "giftie" is the perspective I provide from disciplined study and well-tried experience.

Which "who" matters most to you?

To close, I refer you back to "a day in Chris' life" and ask, "Which “who” matters most to you?"

{Hint: “Would you rather be right? Or influential?”}

The Best Advice for Delivering Bad News

Deliverging Bad News

I once listened to a coaching client describe (vent), in great detail, the multitude of deficiencies of one of their direct reports. This wasn’t the first time this topic had come up in our conversations, so I knew it was more than a “sore spot” for the frustrated leader. Bad news was more than simmering.

This time they meant business.

It was apparent that the “plan of attack” had been refined and rehearsed to ensure that nothing could dislodge the “facts.” Every objection covered, all evidence compiled, I even got a little rattled as my client grew more incensed.

But even hurricanes take a breather. Once the wall of my client’s fury yielded to an "eye" of tranquility, I asked: “Do you think this individual knows how disappointed you are?”

“Absolutely!” my client proclaimed. “There’s no way they can deny it.”

“And how do you think they feel about this?” I asked.

“I can’t see how they could feel anything but shameful” was the reply.

“So, let me get this straight. You intend to deliver negative feedback to someone that already knows they’re falling short of expectations? And, they feel badly about it?”

My client’s shoulders dropped and their once riveting eye contact broke off as they gazed toward the floor. It was obvious where I was going.

To meet the obvious, if regrettable, expectation, I continued, “Why don’t you start your conversation with them by simply asking, ‘How do you feel?’”

“I get it,” they replied softly, “And if I ask in that manner, they’ll probably talk about the performance problems I’ve been ready to unload on them?”

Probably so.

How many times has someone crammed something down your throat that you already knew? What was your reaction?

The great detectives -- Columbo, for example, use riveting questions to tell of their knowing, “Oh, oh, oh, … just one more thing, ma’am. If you weren’t at the scene of the murder of your husband, then how is it that your beloved and loyal guard dog, Gunter, isn’t it, never barked? You see, your neighbors were recording a Youtube video on mindless tranquility at the exact time of your husband’s murder. He pleaded for his life – it’s on the tape – but, Gunter? No, Gunter never barked. Not a whimper.”

The same strategy is employed by the great lawyers, like - Perry Mason. “In closing, I ask the jury, ‘why would anyone actually go ‘coo-coo for coco-puffs?”

Let the jury connect the last dots. It’s far more powerful, psychologically, to come to one’s own conclusion (as it seems) than to have it shoved down their throat.

And the target of question or criticism? They know more than you’ve prepared for. (Incidentally, research proves that punishment is reinforcing to the punisher, so don’t believe your parents' claims through your childhood, “this is going to hurt me more than you.” B.S.) Besides, going into the conversation with “both guns loaded,” will only invoke defense. And this usually doesn’t end well.

Find that moment of tranquility when preparing to enter a tough conversation. Is it possible that other/others know what you’re about to say or do concerning their behavior? If so, ask yourself, “Am I really teaching them a lesson?” or “Am I actually reinforcing my ego?”

Bad news needn’t be badly delivered. It’s usually not news, anyway.

(Favorable comments, only, please)

Want to stay ahead of machines? Think like a four-year old.

I was surprised, and disappointed, that the 2016 presidential debates never addressed the explosive growth of technology. Nothing. National borders, the economy, the environment, ethical behavior, etc. Same deck of cards. All important; none as imminently disruptive as the proliferation of technology. It would have comforted millions to hear candidates say, “Here’s what I will do to protect your job from technology.” But it wasn’t mentioned. Technology was summarily avoided like a port-o-pot with a moist seat; you just don’t go there.

I believe the candidates and networks/discussants worked out a deal to keep the topic out of bounds. Why?

Because technology is rapidly becoming more ubiquitous, unpredictable and disruptive than we thought. Restated in candidate speak, “It’s about the technology, Stupids.”

It absolutely amazes me to understand how one can run a campaign on job growth without addressing technology? News break: Undocumented immigrants, offshoring production and bad international trade agreements aren’t taking jobs. Technology is.

Culture may eat strategy for breakfast. Technology eats whatever it wants.

And one of its favorite appetizers is your job. Continue reading “Want to stay ahead of machines? Think like a four-year old.”

Can’t we all just get along?

Two masks staring at each other. Can we get along?

Nope. No matter how much we want or pray for peace; how much we want the yelling on cable news networks to cease; or how badly we want to end acts of violence taking place in our schools, we must recognize that aggressive behavior is hardwired in our DNA. We can’t “all just get along?”

As social animals, humans have immutable, instinctual, irrepressible needs: the need to bond with others “get along” and the need to dominate, or “get ahead” relative to others. That’s simply the way it is. We will ALWAYS relate to other humans in these instinctive ways. Even your most revered saint is subject to this reality. And you most definitely are, too.

The ONLY people apparently exempt from both of these needs are, in psychological terms, “crazy,” “nut jobs,” “whackos,” etc. Apparently, I say, because an argument could be made that they are labeled, “abnormal” for the very reason that they don’t have both needs met.

The “sticky wicket” here is how we define, “get ahead.” Here’s my crack at it.

The pivotal criteria between hippies who’d “like to buy the world a Coke” and cowboys who take evil-doers and “hang ‘em high” hinge on intent and intensity.

We can all identify with the good old rivalry of game-based competition (good intent, strong intensity), and the trivial “rounding errors” in tax returns (bad intent, low intensity). {I’ve only heard about these.}

A simple taxonomy of "getting ahead."

The table, below, depicts one of the oldest, but strongest, means of influence due to its simplicity - even if a bit inadequate. (Hey, I’m a fan of tales of “ducks and bunnies.”) ANYWAY, in this case two variables (Intent and Intensity), each with two values (good/bad, high/low), are put together. Alas; the classic 2 x 2.

 

A simple taxonomy of "getting ahead."

 

The labels in the grid are mine, but others would work just as well.  (However, if you disagree, you’re wrong. AND bad! – JK*)

BUT...

“BOHICA” (I really shouldn’t say what this acronym represents, so I won’t say that it ends with, Here It Comes Again.)

“Intent” is particularly squirrely. It’s hard to ascertain the intent of someone else: "I did this for you, not me." (hmm) “I didn’t mean to eat all of the ice cream.” (Not hard). And what if the act of intent affords no value to the one in question, “Yes, I drank all your champagne, but I didn’t enjoy it.” (Guilt by confession)

What isn’t so slippery: Few (sane) people proudly parade the image of being “Hostile.” Most don’t even like the idea of being “Mischievous.” We don’t like (allow?) the possibility to arise from our unconscious identity that we may be "bad." The more intense our point of view, the less we like (allow?) it to be anything but affirmative and decisive. "From now to eternity, I will NEVER vote for a ...."

Distinguishing good and bad is subjective. (Note the ‘wiggle’ room here) For the most part, our interpretation calmly flows with the “river of the rest.” For example, “You shouldn't interrupt someone in mid speech.” (That is, unless they NEVER shut up or are an insufferable boor.) “Going with the flow” isn’t infallible. We can believe we’re absolutely good and right, but somehow do unthinkable harm. Many egregious atrocities have been committed in the vortex of popular thinking (e.g., slavery).

Some will take umbrage with my admittedly loose, but intentionally illustrated sense of right and wrong. “God determines what’s right and wrong.” I can hear from some. “Yes,” I respond, "She does." "But..." our operational legal and moral systems are primarily determined by the populous. And, yes, they may be right or wrong about what’s right or wrong. (Huh?)

Anyway, the point I want to make has little to do with defining what’s right or wrong regarding guns, freedom of speech, whatever you like. I simply intend to give credence to the point that sometimes, some times, good people do bad things. I have my own opinions regarding what’s right or wrong, but who cares?

If you accept the conundrum that good people can do bad things, then the conflict between the person and their behavior must be addressed - more realistically, reconciled. Otherwise we have a bad person. And we don't like this answer. So, we in effect, invoke the moral(feeling)/rational(thinking) equivalent of a psychological “get out of jail free” card.

Cognitive dissonance.

Cognitive dissonance. The “slight of mind” that allows us to sleep knowing that we held our nose and voted for ____. OMG.

Cognitive dissonance. It's what you’d guess; mental conflict or disagreement. Cognitive dissonance looms large wherever disagreement lurks.

Take the maelstrom of shootings in US schools. Some say easy access to weapons is at fault,  yet the same people may have guns themselves, or at least want others to have them. Others believe that inadequate defense mechanisms are a weak link in our free society, thus allowing such tragedy. Furthermore, arming trained people with guns in schools is a good start to confronting these horrific maladies.

Who’s right? Who’s wrong? Obviously, the answer depends on who you ask. But both points of view, intensely debated, are staunchly justified by those who hold them.

Cognitive dissonance.

A singular event, with the same information available to all, is fiercely contested. Both “sides” have no doubt that they are right; the other side, dreadfully - dangerously, wrong.

How does this happen?

Cognitive dissonance.

Allow me to walk you through the examples of two potential cognitive processes regarding the two most polarizing points of view on gun control. For illustrative purposes, I’m going to make them super simple and extraordinarily extreme. I am NOT going to try to make them “good.” I speak for NO ONE here. I’m just making a point. Here goes...

“Guns are easily obtained and pose deadly force. If we eliminate guns, we’ll eliminate the problem.”

“Guns are our most effective defense in crises like these. By equipping our schools with guns, we’ll eliminate the problem.”

Both positions invoke cognitive dissonance because both are debatable and, moreover, both are obviously ignorant (as written). Note: we also don’t like to think of ourselves as “ignorant.”

Advocates for eliminating guns want to protect our schools by taking away the weapon of deadly force (guns), but know that two guns are better as long as one gun exists. (Unless they have complete trust in the wielder of the first gun.)

Advocates for the right to bear arms (guns) want to protect our schools by inserting the powerful weapon on site as defense, but know that guns carry risk. And more guns create more risk.

Now. Simmer down. The message is intended to make a point, not a point of view.

I say that both sides “know” these things, but that doesn’t mean they acknowledge them. This is where the BIG BUT comes in.

"Sure. Guns offer powerful protection, BUT at what risk to have so many; in our schools?"

"Sure. Guns pose risk and the more guns, the more risk, BUT at what cost do we allow armed attackers access to unarmed schools?"

When you hear someone pivot on a “BUT” they’re invoking cognitive dissonance.

It’s all about the BUT. When you hear someone pivot on a “BUT” they’re invoking cognitive dissonance. They’re creating a way to hold two conflicting beliefs (one, probably suppressed and unconscious) at the same time.

Cognitive dissonance allows both of these positions to ‘jump’ over the line between good and bad intent

Again. This article is not about gun control. The references are used only to make my point because it’s divisive. Both sides have intense beliefs. Both sides have valid points. Both sides have flaws. Cognitive dissonance allows both of these positions to ‘jump’ over the line between good and bad intent (or at least position one’s self in “the good box.”)

Wake up. We can’t. We won’t. Not gonna happen. We'll never, "all just get along."

We’ll never "all just get along." In virtually all cases, cognitive dissonance justifies our unpopular (among some) position by giving us an “out” of the bad box.

BUT,

If we open our eyes and see this from a higher perspective, perhaps we’ll see some common intent – even if our “logic” differs.

Worth a try?

*JK= Just Kidding. That's text speak I'm using. Cool, huh?

7 ways to protect your job from technology

Robotic claw grabbing businessman

The machines are coming (oh my!). But what’s new? Machines have been coming since the invention of the wheel. Over time, machines have changed the way work is done, frequently allowing fewer people to do more, or, taking “share of labor”. For the most part, the emergence of machines, and technology in general, has been incremental. It’s also focused on the most routine and arduous jobs for now. So, workers have had time to adopt new skills to stay ahead of the changing workforce demands. But the pace of machine evolution has been accelerating at a compounding rate and workers are more than beginning to get scared. Here I present seven evidence-backed ways to protect your job from technology.

Technological innovation has been changing in at least three ways:

  1. Rate: Despite misuse and interpretation, Moore’s law does model the increasing rate of change in computer capacity. Moore predicted that the technology underpinning the processing speed of computers would double every 18 months. Illustrations abound depicting his predictions of accelerated change.
Moore's law diagram
Moore’s Law – Logarithmic Plot
  1. Volatility: Disruptions, or rapid and radical developments in technology, have become more common. In essence, new technology can “go viral”, infusing and dispersing itself with surprising speed and impact. Digital cameras took film quite quickly.
  1. Magnitude: When globalization hit the scene, entire components of our workforce went away (pun intended). Call centers made the early moves with manufacturing and programing soon to follow.

Change plays right into people’s psychological weak spots.

The Perfect Storm

Three aspects of change unnerve people:

  1. Rate – As speed increases, accuracy decreases. If you want to really “excite” someone at work, pull out a stopwatch.
  1. Volatility – People do NOT like unpredictability, and that’s what disruptions create. Note the fate of network TV when digital cable came along. What happens when a new “system” is suddenly turned on in an organization? Better have a contingency plan.
  1. Magnitude – The bigger the change, the lower the likelihood that folks can, or will, adapt. Outsourcing and globalization did not really change jobs, it gave them to someone else. This has attracted the biggest reaction so far.

Note the pattern: Change plays right into people’s psychological weak spots.

Control and Trust are Crucial

These are the cornerstones of psychological health. When it comes right down to it, the most basic question we face has two answers: “I’m okay” and “I’m not okay”. Control and trust determine the answer for any situation. If you have neither, run! Most times you will have one or both.

So, what can you do to “weather the technological storm?” In short,

Focus on what you can control.

Here I list seven ways that you can protect your job from technology. As I write, I realize, though, that these steps are really more about protecting yourself from technology more so than your job. Either way, I hope at least one suggestion gives you an actionable idea.

  1. Seek to understand and predict where technology is going in your work. The better you can do this, the more time you have to ‘get ready’ for the change. Levy and Murnane (2004) devised a simple matrix to answer the question: “What tasks do machines do better than people?”
Protect your job from technology: Levy and Murnane's matrix showing routine vs. non-routine and manual vs. cognitive quadrants
Levy & Murnane (2004) Matrix of Automation

A) Routine jobs are easiest for machines and the first at risk:

i.  Manual routine jobs like stamping “received” on a brief are at high risk.

ii. Cognitive routine jobs like proofreading also are at high risk.

B) Non-routine jobs are more challenging for machines:

i.  Manual non-routine jobs like stocking groceries are at less risk.

ii. Cognitive non-routine jobs like writing novels are at the least risk.

Consider your job from this framework. Be prepared to move up (toward cognitive skills like solving problems) and/or right (toward non-routine skills like repairing machines).

… the likelihood {is} that you will be joined by technology, not replaced by it

  1. Understand what’s really happening or likely to happen as technology enters your work.

A) Is my job being replaced by a machine, or complemented with one? Most researchers and experience point to the likelihood that you will be joined by technology, not replaced by it (at least not as a first ‘move’). Learn how to work with the new technology and show that you like it. (Remember, someone with more authority than you probably brought it in).

B) If you’re highly skilled, you’re likely to be first in demand when new technology arrives. Your knowledge and expertise will be used to coach and train others. But this won’t last forever. Keep your eye out for new challenges.

C) If you’re less skilled, you will be more valuable after the technology has been around long enough for the trainers to move on. Keep the faith.

  1. If you lead others, communicate frequently about when and how technology will be used; position the resources necessary to educate and train the workforce to succeed.

A) You have control to build and support capability in the workforce.

B) How you communicate and address concerns will raise the level of trust.

  1. If you hire people, pay attention to their expertise and ability to deal with change.

A) Flexibility will be vital for all in order to adapt to our changing world.

B) Experts will be necessary to lead and embed technology changes.

  1. Consider the following job families, scientifically predicted as “least likely to be automated in the next 20 years” (Frey and Osborne, 2013). Even if you’re well into your career, there’s a good chance you can better secure your job by improving your social intelligence. (Robots aren’t good at jobs that depend on people skills – especially those requiring social intelligence).
Protect your job from technology: Frey and Osborne's table depicting bottlenecks to automation
Frey and Osborne (2013) – Bottlenecks to Automation
  1. Craft your work. As machines, or those who use them, eat their way into the social, political, educational and financial world, we consumers can exercise choice in our purchasing power. Just like some now are willing to pay a premium for products made in the USA, in the future the same will happen for “Made by hand” (and not just cigars). Seek to incorporate your personal brand in your work. The more labor-of-love, “crafted” works will stand out from the machine made stuff like the old, unvarnished desk does from the one finely polished on “Antiques Road Show”.
  1. Be nice to people. Research is clear that being liked at work (specifically, by your boss) results in better reviews (Longenecker, 1986). (If this sounds political, it is; but the same research also reveals a positive relationship between being liked and being good – seems to fit). Robots may be able to say “please” and “thank you”, and even do the job better, technically speaking. But they’ll never gain the authentic trust that you as a person uniquely can. Even as babies, we’re able to distinguish the most subtle facial expressions. Smile with your heart.

Take comfort accepting that your job is more likely to change than to disappear.

Yes, machines and robots and artificial intelligence are coming. Worrying won’t get you anywhere. Take comfort accepting that your job is more likely to change than to disappear. If you continue to expand and sharpen your skills, particularly those specified, above, you can relax — for a while!

My hope is that this article allays some of the ‘doomsday’ concerns raised by fear mongering media under the title: “Will a Machine take my Job?”

The surprising characteristic of great leaders.

Do you want to be a leader? Try humility.

Humility.

That’s right. And this applies to both the attitude and the act. If you really want to lead others, embrace humility as a virtuous attitude. If you really want to lead your team to victory, be humble. Manage your ego, speak of your weaknesses and admit your mistakes. Follow others and point out where THEY excel (not you). And listen. Not to be polite, but to learn.

It’s profoundly simple:

If you really want to be a great leader, promote others.

Sound familiar? Just about every sustainable social, political or religious system is built on the premise of service - making others, or every-one better. Even better than you!

If you aren’t convinced by my as yet unsubstantiated statements of “belief,” the same can be observed in the more “hard” sciences of biology (e.g., symbiotic organisms, each depending on and strengthening the other), chemistry (e.g., catalysts, subtle agents activating massive reactions) and physics (e.g., levers that give small objects power over those much larger). These are a bit of a stretch on humility, but they do illustrate how simple or small agents can have a huge, even life saving effect on another. The point is, sometimes humble leaders make their teams significantly better just by being available and providing a little 'boost.'

In fact, we’re wired (genetically) to do this. And it’s a good thing. If we don’t take care of each other, we go away. “I win, you lose” systems ultimately yield one ... "winner"? We both need and lead each other. {There is no grammatical error in the preceding sentence.} We encourage our children for their effort. We help our friends in adversity. In healthy relationships, we praise our partner, not ourselves. And in faith, we honor a being greater than anything of which we can conceive. We do this for no obvious credit. We’re just built that way. (Mostly – keep reading)

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