ArLyne's Diamonds

A running commentary of ideas

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Art – As an Expression of the Artist and the Psychological Choice of the Viewer

Sensation is the manner in which matter impinges on our senses. External reality hits us in some way – and depending on our sensitivities there is some variation in how we receive this pure sensation. For example, I’m a redhead with light skin and light eyes. I am light-sensitive, touch-sensitive and sound-sensitive.

Perception is the manner in which we automatically order the sensations. Infants, children, animals, and you and me all automatically order sensations into perceptions based on prior experience, knowledge and ordering. This is an automatic process and one which leads us to make definitions such as light, sound, chair, table, etc.

Abstraction is a cognitive higher level ordering of perceptions.  Abstractions are developed as we develop language, forms of communication such as symbols, writing and talking. If you go back to your basic Aristotelian ordering of the universe into genesis and differentia you realize that the higher orders (genesis) is a level of abstraction. 

Art in any form is a very high level of abstraction. The development of the art comes from the mind of the artist. The reaction to the art comes from the mind of the viewer (listener, etc.) Both the expression of art and the reaction to it are very personal and reflective of the values and beliefs of both.

A Very Brief History of Visual Art 

Primitive Art – as language was just being developed, so too were expressions of ideas and activities. Most art of this era is of action – telling a story of the lives of the people.

Classical Art – During this period of time an exact replication of what the artist saw was the most desirable and there are many examples of these in museums.

Impressionistic Art – Mood became more important than exact replication. Emotions were prominent in the exploration of color.

Abstract Art – Photography is not popular and the artist no longer needs to accurately re-create reality; thus, the stretch into form, color, movement, and other ideas. How we react to these is vastly different.

Some Extreme Examples 

Mona Lisa’s smile – what do you see?

The Last Supper – what elements do you find it? What do you think Leonardo DiVinci had in mind when he created it? How did he deal with the forced need for all art of that time to be religious and his own hedonistic (for that time) views?

Starry Night – Why did Van Gogh have such distortion? Why is the tree more prominent than other land elements? Why the swirls?

Picasso – I still don’t get him, yet my brother-in-law and niece, who are wonderful and intelligent human beings, think his art is the best.

Tampons on Display – Yes, that’s what I said. A while back, the San Jose Museum of Art had as a prominent display a series of used tampons, each in a different state of use. I thought it was gross – and certainly not something that qualified to the level of art. Others (believe it or not) thought it was brilliant because it “made you think.” UGH. What does that tell us about our current society?

Some Psychological Elements

Independence v. Conformity

If you don’t trust your own judgment, you look to others for their view. Some people will only listen to music, own art, and read books approved by Objectivists. Others have their own taste.

Very religious people only go to movies pre-approved by their priests or ministers.

Many engineers (and others) in Silicon Valley hire decorators to pick their colors, furniture, art, music, and even wine. 

Freedom v. Constriction

I take art classes. My style is free and far from “perfect”. Others in my class work slowly and carefully having to reproduce exactly what they are copying from – what does this tell you about each of us. 

Psychological Testing 

Psychological testing includes “projective techniques”. These include:

Ø  Pictures of people in fairly ambiguous situations
Ø  Ink blots for interpretation
Ø  Symbols for copying with specific instructions

Having tested several hundred people and taught psychological testing to graduate students for several years, I can attest to the fact that people see things and report them very differently. How they see these elements tells the trained tester much about the people being tested.

Ø  People who are depressed tend to relate to dark and dreary colors. I had a friend years ago who lived in a small, poorly furnished apartment with dark and ugly posters as his only art. I had a hard time hangin’ around there. This very bright, interesting and good looking young man had great difficulty forming lasting relationships with women.

Ø  People who are angry tend to draw with strong harsh lines and use a lot of blood like red in their drawings.

Ø  People who are fearful or very low in self-esteem take up little room on the page when asked to draw a series of symbols.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Building Motivation and Increasing Employee Involvement

Sometimes, especially in large bureaucratic organizations, people stagnate. They don’t feel as though the work they are doing is important and they don’t feel appreciated. This leads to just getting through the day, doing their work in a desultory manner.

In other cases, there is anger and resentment, which is kept under wraps, because the employees feeling that way don’t want to risk losing their jobs by telling management what bothers them. Thus, they become passive-aggressive, doing the work in a desultory manner.

Recently, I was consulting to a division of a company that was trying to integrate a new management team. The new managers had very different styles of operating than their predecessors and inadvertently made staff feel as though everything they had done in the past was wrong. Instead of embracing the new processes, the staff became passive-aggressive (some became outright aggressive) ignoring the new systems and continuing to do their work (you guessed it) in a desultory manner or not at all.

Other reasons employees are no longer motivated might be as simple as boredom, not feeling appreciated, not having enough to eat (yes!) or even too much to eat (in firms that have hot and cold gourmet food around all the time).

In some cases it is impossible – almost impossible – for a manager to reward an outstanding job by giving a bonus, a tangible present, or time off. Either government regulations or unions or both demand that everyone be compensated – treated equally (whatever that really means!).

So, let’s assume you can’t throw money at the problem. Let’s assume that you, as manager, have to find ways to make your employees motivated and engaged again.

Why bother, you ask?

Clearly once an employee (assuming you have hired correctly – but that’s another article) is re-energized and motivated, the quality of their work-product will improve as will their attitude of customer service both internally and externally.

I want to start my suggestions with the most obvious: Customer Service

Customer Service as a Diagnostic Tool

There is perhaps no clearer indication of whether an employee is feeling good about themselves and their work than how they treat others. 

Is their stock answer “not my job” or do they go out of their way to be helpful and supportive to those they serve – and those who serve them in the workplace? When you receive information from your internal customers that there is a lack of cooperation but only demands from your staff, you know your employees are unhappy. 

Let’s look at contracts and procurement of professional services in a government agency as an example.

There are internal customers who rarely need to procure something externally. Thus, they don’t remember, or have never used, the complicated processes required for the contracted services they seek. How the contract administration staff handles them is a litmus test of how this department feels about their jobs and about the company in which they work.

If they help the internal customer complete all the required forms in a friendly manner, you get one idea – but if they merely say “not my job – you are supposed to know where to find the information and fill out the forms,” you have a real attitude problem on your hands.

Let’s look, too, to one of the more standard complaints. IT against everyone else. Does your organization have an IT organization with members who think they are better than everyone else (“stupid user”), or do they recognize that they are a service organization to the rest of the departments?

You get the point! A significant way you can measure employee motivation and the way the employees in the organization work to support each other’s success, as well as the goals of the organization itself, is to create surveys and evaluations.

Surveys and Evaluations

Of course another way you can learn about how your employees feel is to ask them – you can ask them in one-on-ones, but most people will be to afraid to be honest. 

You stand a better chance of learning what really is bothering them if you create an employee satisfaction – dissatisfaction survey or have them do an evaluation of their supervisors, managers and peers (sometimes called a 360 degree evaluation).

Let’s suppose you ask them about their relationship to their management. You might suggest they answer all the questions on a scale of 1 – 5 (1 = poor, 5 = excellent), and here are some suggested questions to ask: Do you know what is expected of you at work?
  • Do you have the materials and equipment you need to do your job effectively?
  • Do you feel that you are being asked to do work that fits your interests and skills?
  • Are you challenged with stretch goals so that you are able to continuously improve?
  • Is your supervisor/manager available to you when you need him/her?
  • When decisions are being made that involve the work you do, or you, are you a part of the conversation and does your opinion matter?
  • Do you enjoy coming to work each morning?
  • Is your relationship with your co-workers friendly and helpful?
  • Does your supervisor/manager let you know when you’ve done a good job (attaboys)?
  • Is the work you do part of what makes our company so valuable to the community?
  • Is your performance appraised regularly, and do you know what you are doing well, what you need improvement in, and your stretch goals?
  • Would you feel better about the work you are expected to do if______________(fill in the blank)?
Of course you need to read the answers carefully and create a plan of action for improvement where necessary.

Let me give you some general ideas that you can do even if you are not allowed to give financial rewards.

Tips to Improve Employee Motivation, Morale and Involvement

1:         Make it personal

The most important tip I can offer you is to take the time to get to know each of your employees personally. People want to be recognized as individuals, not merely as part of a group. How you accomplish this will vary depending on the size of the organization you personally manage and whether people are in the same facility – state or country – as you.
Of course it is easiest if you manage less than a dozen people and they all sit within walking distance of your office. In that case, you can stop by in the morning and say “hello” and compliment them on something they are wearing (be careful it doesn’t cross the line) or ask a question about where they might have obtained a particular personal item on their desk or the poster on the wall. Of course you should also ask if there is anything they need from you. Over time, learn something about their personal lives – their families, kids, hobbies, birthday, etc. 

If you manage people that work out of their homes, or in other facilities within your state, bring them together for team meetings at least once a quarter – more if possible. Start those meetings with social time and end them with social time. Have business issues discussed – being sure to solicit their opinions – in the middle.

Unfortunately, if your people are all over the world, it’s going to be much harder. If at all possible, create an annual retreat bringing them all together. Even if you do this, or if this is not possible, spend some time on the telephone getting to know them individually.

2:         Communicate the value to society of the company and the work

Next in line of importance is for you to communicate to all your staff how important their work is to furthering the goals, values and the mission of the organization. Most employees want to feel as though their contribution is worthwhile, not just “busy-work.”

If your firm is in the business of doing something that is obviously valuable to society in some form or other, this will be an easier task for you. The further away the value appears to the average person, the more difficult this task will be for you. 

You might consider including some community service for your employees – such as participating in a walk-a-thon, a community-wide fundraising event, or as a group feeding the needy.

People need to feel good about what they are doing and the company in which they are doing it.

3:         The importance of customer service

It is your responsibility as a manager to assure that everyone understands that they are part of an organization – a large team – all of whom are responsible for achieving the overall goals of the business together. Silos need to be broken down as does the attitude that it is us against them. Encourage and reward positive internal (and external) customer service.

Where possible bring together people from different departments who have to interact with each other. I create mini-retreats of three or four hours during which people working in facilities near each other learn something personal about each other (hobbies, for example), what the other’s job really entails (walking in his shoes) and how what they do or don’t do impacts the other group.

If you are bringing people from far away – create two or three day retreats, but less frequently.

4:         Accountability and recognition

Each of us wants to be recognized for the work we do. Yes, we are usually part of a team – but as I’ve written before (and given speeches about) there is a ME in teams.  We are individuals working together. Attaboys, awards, notices in the newsletter are all inexpensive ways you can recognize outstanding work. Don’t ruin this by making sure everyone becomes “employee of the month,” especially if it is undeserved.

Management by walking around is one of the ways you can be aware of what is being done and what isn’t being done to your satisfaction.

So, in order to be recognized, we need to have specific assignments and we need to be held accountable for the completion of these assignments in an exemplary manner.

Correct those behaviors, performance and comments that are inconsistent with the goals of the organization and the values you wish to instill.

5:         Create stretch goals and professional development

Although there are some people who prefer doing the same tasks day after day, week after week and year after year – most people get bored over time. They need to have their work varied.

So create stretch goals with them. What would they like to learn next? Can they be given higher levels of autonomy-responsibility? Should they be cross-trained so they can be promoted?

If your company can – work with your employees to create a plan for their career development which would be consistent with the succession plan needed by the firm. 

Offer opportunities for training – both internal and external.

6:         Coaching, mentoring, counseling

Whether a particular staff person needs to be coached to do better in their present job, or you see them as having potential for promotion, you might offer them one-on-one coaching, mentoring or counseling.  There is nothing better – but be careful that you pick someone competent to do the coaching, etc.

7:         Improve the working environment

Ok, I know you aren’t Google or Apple – but – you can make the environment in which you and your staff work more pleasant. Here are some ideas, some of which you may or may not be able to implement depending on your organization, funds, and rules.
  • Keep every area clean and well-lit.
  • Make sure the restrooms are serviced regularly – more often than you think.
  • Allow for personal decoration of cubicles and offices.
  • Have areas where people can join each other to brainstorm, problem-solve or just visit for a few minutes.
  • Provide the best in ergonomic seating as possible.
  • Provide the most effective technology for doing the job.
  • Treat to coffee/tea etc. during the day – have those in a break room.
  • And, of course, if you have the funds provide good meals.
8:         Listen and learn

Create frequent opportunities for employees to give you feedback. We’ve mentioned some ways in which you can accomplish this earlier in this article.

Good management is akin to good parenting. You are not their friend – but you should not be their enemy. There should be respect, courtesy, and a mutual desire to accomplish commonly accepted goals.

Good Luck!

Monday, December 28, 2015

Not My Job

“It’s not my job.” “I can’t work out of class.” “Sorry, my plate is full.” Have you ever used any of those phrases, or similar ones? I’ve heard people proudly proclaim that they are protecting themselves from being abused by their employer, when they refuse to take on additional work. Let me tell you why I think that this attitude if expressed, either verbally or even by your behavior, is guaranteed to be self-defeating and almost a death-knell to your advancement in the workplace.

In the workplace, you gain value by your willingness to learn new things, take on new tasks, and act in a cooperative manner. There needs to be a spirit of wanting to help your boss and dedication to your company’s bottom line. Thus, those who are too self-protective of what is or is not their own responsibility are typically those who fail to get promoted. Negativity typically loses out in the long run.

The Law of Reciprocity – which basically states that, without keeping score, people do tend to reciprocate the favors they receive from others. Or another way of looking at this concept is to realize the importance of goodwill in the workplace as well as any other place. Saying ‘yes’ is so much nicer than saying ‘no.’

Being generous may not yield immediate results. The concept of reciprocity is not the same as exchanging money for goods in the stores in which you shop. It is more abstract, long-term and vague – but generally speaking it does work.

How can you grow in your job if you don’t volunteer to learn new things? Do you have to wait to be invited? Do you need the raise and promotion before you learn something new? Do you tightly control what you are willing to do for others – including your boss?

Let me tell you a few stories.

Some years ago, I was consulting to a county agency that was experiencing enormous internal conflict. Union v. non-union folk were fighting, paralegals were fighting with non-paralegal administrative staff and also with attorneys. Attorneys were fighting with other professionals, management and each other; it was a mess.

I decided to start the conflict resolution process by working with “affinity groups” – that is with those people on a particular side in the various arguments. In one of my groups, I noticed that each week one woman would close her papers, put on fresh lipstick and sit with her purse on the table waiting for the session to end. She started this process 15 minutes before our session, which was the last one of the day, was to end.  Among this woman’s complaints was that others were promoted ahead of her. No wonder!

Now, let me contrast this with another story.

A young woman, graduating high school very young, got her first job as a file clerk in a privately owned company in New York City. By the second day she was asking to be taught the switchboard, which she then learned and moved on to ask for typing jobs, secretarial jobs, etc. In a few short months she had been promoted several times. Later, this same young woman became a bookkeeper, an assistant credit and collections manager – and finally became a manager of customer service, while not yet having gone to college.

Why – how? Because she kept asking to be taught something new. Because she finished whatever tasks were assigned her efficiently and effectively and reached out for more work – rather than pretending she was still working.

As you might have guessed, that young woman was me – many years ago. The experience I gained during those years has proven invaluable to me as I consult to others helping them “get the best out of themselves and others” in the workplace.

The Law of Reciprocity – the more I asked to learn, the more valuable I became, and the more willing others were to teach me something new.

Not only that, but the CEO of our company granted me a huge favor because he liked and respected me. I was attending school nights a few days a week on the other side of Manhattan. I’d rush out the door on those nights in order to use public transportation to get to school on time. Mr. Lowe, the CEO, stopped me at the elevator one day asking why I rushed out two nights a week, when I was perfectly willing to work late the other nights. I explained. He offered me his chauffeured limousine and from that day forward, two nights a week I was driven to class by Ray, Mr. Lowe’s chauffeur. I will never forget his kindness.

The Law of Reciprocity – in today’s workplace, most projects are completed by those with whom we work and over whom we cannot hold a whip. It is goodwill, persuasion, and the return of favors that is the coin of the realm. How people feel about you will determine how readily they respond to your request that they help you on your project.

The Law of Reciprocity – when you need something from me, I bend over backwards to get it done for you in a timely and quality manner. Later, when I need something from you, you will remember.

This does not mean every transaction needs to be a quid pro quo. We don’t keep score. Not only don’t we keep score, but how can you measure what any one favor is worth compared to any other. 

Perhaps the work I did for you took me a long time, but was felt as trivial to you. So what? I’ll do it anyway because who knows what opportunities come up in the future. Perhaps some small favor I did for you actually was the key to saving a very important project – and thus your reputation – for you. It took me only minutes, but to you it was incredibly valuable.

“Not my job.” If you use this expression, maybe it means you are really afraid of learning something new. Maybe it means you think it is beneath your dignity to do this for someone else. Maybe it is because you are afraid that “if you give an inch, they’ll demand an arm.” Whatever your fear, you might be creating self-fulfilling prophecy. Can you see that the person to whom you’ve said ‘no’ assumes the meaning behind your rejection of the favor? The assumption might be quite detrimental to your reputation. “Not my job.” Isn’t that guaranteed to have the other person think less of you? Isn’t that guaranteed to have you passed over next time there is a great opportunity that might lead to a raise and promotion?

“I can’t work out of class.” That’s code for saying your loyalty is completely to your union and not to your co-workers, supervisors, or even your employer. “Working out of class” is one of the tools unions use to make them more valuable – but it stifles your ability to get your raise and promotion, without it coming from the union/management negotiation process. When people are able to negotiate their promotions and raises for themselves, they have far less need for the union to negotiate for them.

“Sorry, my plate is full.” Another bad answer. Yes, maybe it’s true. However, a much better answer would be to say, “Of course I’ll do this for you, but I’d like your opinion as to what other tasks (projects) to defer in order to make this one a higher priority.”

In other words, you are saying ‘yes’, even though in truth your plate is full. The bottom line: people like to do business with people they like. Managers, caught in the middle of demands from higher ups and the need to get help from their staff, will look more favorably on those they see as willing and cooperative.

So, “not my job” or any of its variations is often the start of falling out of favor.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

When We Write Fiction

Years ago when I did psychological evaluations for the court, I often found myself astonished at the horrors of a client’s past. It was unbelievable to me that parents could be as cruel and unthinking as so many were. Learning about the past of my clients helped me understand the predicament in which they were caught in the present.

As an evaluator I worked backwards, like a detective trying to learn enough about the person I was interviewing or treating, to be able to properly diagnose them and make recommendations to the court for disposition, or to myself or one of the therapists working for me for a treatment plan.

As a writer, you are often doing the same. You introduce your readers to your characters in their present, and only piece by piece do you reveal information about their past.

When we write fiction – romantic, mystery, historical novels or other kinds – we want our characters to come alive and feel real to our readers. We want to create some sense of who they are now and how they got to be that way, without boring our readers with demographic details.

So, we tempt them with tidbits about the past. Perhaps we do this through memories, dreams, or introductions made by other characters in the book. How though do you decide what your character’s past should be and which tidbits to release when and where? Some writer’s create character timelines, others let their characters emerge as they write.

Whichever you prefer, may I suggest that you at least create a history for your characters whether you actually use the information or not. There is always (ok, almost always) a reason people are who they are today – whether good or bad.

If parents dis-respect their children the consequences are often extreme. Either the child becomes weak, passive, and unwilling to take risks, or they rebel and test themselves to the extreme.

If parents are too kind and permissive, they create a cotton candy type of environment which often leads to overly-comfortable children unwilling to do anything to lose the safety and comfort of their environment.

Cruel and heartless parents create severe emotional problems – sometimes violence, sometimes extreme passivity.

Incest does terrible things to its victims. They fear their sexuality, and that usually shows by these victims hiding through obesity and/or the manner in which they dress in oversized, heavy clothing that hides their bodies. Yet, these same people, as adults could be using sex as a price to be paid for friendship. 

Children raised in very strict religious households similar to the way Carl Jung was raised often create extreme good/bad aspects of their personalities. Jung called these shadows.

Children raised in sexually repressive societies, similar to the one in which Sigmund Freud studied, become quite neurotic about their sexual desires. One has only to see the modern play “Spring Awakening” to get a sense of the horrors created by these repressive societies.

But your character had other influences as well as his or her parents. Uncles, aunts, siblings, friends, neighbors and the community itself all contribute to anyone’s world view. So, where was your character raised: rural, city, church-going community or other country with different customs and beliefs? You need to know it all.

I think often about the conflict between Anita Hill and Clarence Thomas. Although I have no inside information, what has always occurred to me was that he came from Harlem and was a loud-mouthed zoot-suiter in his day; she came from a cloistered small town in a highly religious and safe community. They were a bad fit. He came on to her in his Harlem show-off style, and she recoiled in horror. Their differences led to their decision not to date – but they remained good and respectful colleagues for many years after that bad introduction to dating.

People are different based on their backgrounds. They see the world differently and relate to the same stimuli differently. Our assumptions and perceptions of reality often interfere with our seeing reality clearly.

Make your characters come alive by giving them a complex but consistent background.  

Monday, December 21, 2015

Raising Children Who Are Able to Be Independent, Creative and Able to Make Their Own Decisions.

Psychiatrist Henry Jones once said that he thought parents should practice “Benign Neglect” when raising children. 

Clearly Henry meant – be kind and do not over-control.

In other words, don’t pick on everything and don’t sweat the small stuff. 

I believe our role as parents is to teach and guide – to be an ally, not an enemy to our children. 

Punishment is rarely, if ever necessary, although it is important to provide knowledge about how to do things, what’s appropriate, etc. In this context, you, as parent, should select out of all the universe of things you should be noticing and correcting, those few that are relevant to the time and place. Don’t try to teach everything at once.

It is also important to provide the structure and parameters that are age and personality appropriate for each child – learning how to loosen them as the child matures.

In all the years of doing therapy, I found parents tended to operate from one of two extremes – either too loose with no structure and routines, or too tight with overly controlling too much.

Too Loose

When too loose, the lack of structure and routines leaves the children feeling anxious and confused. They don’t know what is expected of them, and don’t know the proper way to do things. 

Frequently, parents that don’t provide any reasonable structure at all are either schizophrenic, alcoholic, or seriously disturbed in other ways. They leave their children floundering. Instead of providing guidelines and limits, they neglect their children and then over-react when they notice a child acting “out of line.”

As teens and adults they seek structure externally – in religion, cults, the Marine Corp.

My friend, who has a doctorate in mathematics, gets so anxious when she has to organize anything without a clear set of instructions from others – when she moved into her new home she couldn’t even organize the food and spices in her pantry closet. Both her parents were alcoholics. Her siblings have similar problems.

Too Tight

When control is too tight, children become either very angry, very passive or both (passive-aggressive). When the parents are too demanding, the children don’t learn how to make decisions themselves – everything is dictated from above. 

Countries, like Singapore, where up until recently perfection was demanded, have difficulty competing in a highly competitive and constantly changing business world. 

Either too tight, or too loose often lead to over-reaction and punishment. 

My Belief

I believe that children need guidance, direction, explanations, role-modeling, and routine that is regular but not rigid. Children should feel that their home is a haven, safe and comforting and that their parents are on their side – not angry and punitive enemies.

As an aside – the child’s bedroom should be a “safe harbor” – not a place for time-out punishments. Property rights are taught by helping each child protect his or her property without forcing sharing. 

Funnel Theory of Management – Child Raising

Although I was a therapist for many years, I’m currently a management consultant and I teach managers and executives how to work with staff. I basically teach them the same concepts I taught parents years ago.

In the corporate world, I talk about the funnel theory of management and suggest that managers start with tight control with new employees, and as they learn to trust and understand each other, the control loosens.

It’s the same with children – when they are young we need to be much more aware of their needs and safety – we manage very tightly (although not cruelly).  Part of our responsibility as parents is to teach them to make choices, fend for themselves in age appropriate ways and little by little we loosen the control.

Let me give you one example: If you have a daughter, you dress her and make all the clothing choices for her when she’s an infant. As she becomes a toddler, you let her help you pick out which shorts or jeans she is going to wear on a given day. When she becomes six or seven you go shopping together and select several outfits that you know are the right size, right price range and appropriate. You let her select the two or three out of the group that she wants. When she becomes nine or ten, she can wander through the racks herself and select what she likes (after you’ve selected the store and told her what you were shopping for – e.g. bathing suits) and all you have is veto power.

When she is a teenager – and you’ve developed this process over time – all you need to do is plan a budget together, make a list of what she probably will need – and drop her off at the mall with your credit card. 


If you find the right balance, provide a safe haven and help your children learn how to make their own decisions, not only will you have raised children with high self-esteem, you will have taught them step by step how to think for themselves, make decisions, and take the risks necessary to be creative and productive members of our society. 

Friday, December 18, 2015

Building Trust in Distant Teams

In the past we developed teams by putting people together and letting them spend time learning about each other before we charged them with completing assignments. In spite of all our best efforts, some teams were more successful than others.  

In order to be honest and forthcoming with others, a level of trust must exist. The less we trust, the more guarded and self-protective we become. That’s one of many reasons it’s a challenge to work effectively in teams. The challenge increases tremendously when the people involved haven’t been given the opportunity to get to know each other personally.

Today’s workplace consists of people working on projects who have never met each other face to face. Indeed many of them live in other countries. Those that might live close to their corporate headquarters often work from their homes, “telecommuting” and are rarely available for face to face meetings.

Trust is not easy to develop in the best of circumstances – when working with distant teams the problems increase tremendously. In addition, the team is frequently being led by a Project Manager – who has a dotted line relationship to the others and thus very little authoritative leverage. The Project Manager can only manage through persuasion and negotiation – two methods requiring a high level of trust.

Professor Larry Leifer at Stanford University discovered that when he had students working in teams from different locations members complained that they were doing more work than other teammates. When camcorders were placed in their cubicles so that they could see each other at work, the complaints diminished considerably. Apparently, the very act of seeing someone situated at their keyboard increased the belief that they were working hard.

We know that visual clues are critically important. In addition to Dr. Leifer’s research, there is a vast body of psychological research that has to do with how people perceive others based entirely on looks.

The more contact we have with another human being (assuming that they are basically trustworthy) the easier it is to trust them. One could even hypothesize that at some unconscious level, our sense of smell plays a part in what has to be seen as primarily an emotionally (psychologically) based decision.
Sound – or voice quality – is less effective than visual clues. When we know someone only due to our telephone interaction with them, we develop less personal or positive feelings than when we actually sit across the table from them.

We also have the variable of “low-context” and “high-context” cultures. Low context cultures are those in which business is conducted without developing personal relationships. This is akin to our decision to buy something from a discount or big box store. High context cultures are those in which relationships are developed long before the business discussions commence. You might relate this to your decision to work with a consultant, or a decorator, or even shopping regularly in a small private boutique store.

Most Asian cultures and France are considered “high-context” cultures. The development of relationship precedes the desire to do business, or even to doing a good job. This adds another dimension to the problems of building trust between people here in the states and their counter-parts in Asia or other parts of the world.

Given these problems, here are some tips to developing trust in distant teams:

¨      Allow members of the team to take the time to get to know each other on a somewhat personal level.
¨      Have in-house discussions, at all locations, about what is proper to ask and discuss and what crosses the line into intrusive or inappropriate.

¨      Share pictures – not only of the staff, but also of their families. Most people are family oriented and grow to like (and trust) each other when they start to see pictures of their children and to hear stories about them.
¨      Send your managers to the locations of their team members whenever possible. Although this is an expense, the potential value in developing trust, respect, and therefore greater levels of understanding and productivity is immeasurable.
¨      Teach cultural diversity. Let the people in the various locations around the world learn as much as possible about the behaviors, customs, and expectations of those in other areas with whom they work.
¨      If you have telecommuters who can be brought into the office once or twice a month, be sure to have as many face to face meetings as possible with them.
¨      Use video-conferences and video-cams where feasible.

In other words, break some of the old rules that demand full focus on work related conversations only. Getting to know each other adds to the ability to work together well. Take the time and create the structure that enables people to develop relationships that lead to trust – which leads to cooperation, understanding, and higher productivity and creativity.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Creativity and Innovation

Everyone reading my newsletters – or working with me – knows that this is one of my favorite topics and areas of expertise. It’s one of the areas I’ve researched extensively, and the subject of many workshops I’ve conducted.

“Every organization needs one core competence: Innovation.”
Peter Drucker

Everyone wants it. Few know how to manage for it in the workplace. Some call it knowledge management, others research and development. Whatever the name, freeing people from coloring within the lines is a tricky business.

Some companies allow a percentage of time for the development of pet projects – “skunk-works” but they have little control over what is being accomplished during that time. They don’t know if they should be giving the creator a lot more time because of the exciting potentials coming from his/her tinkering, or whether to cut it off as totally wasteful.

Others think that by having their C level executives act as panels of venture capitalists, their employees will come to them with their good ideas to be evaluated. The problem with this theory is that all too often those with the good ideas either don’t think they are worthy of this level of interest, or don’t have the presentation skills needed to make an effective case for their ideas.

It’s not that the potential doesn’t exist for incredibly helpful and creative ideas that would improve processes and/or create better products.  It’s fear that gets in the way.

Think about children – and how we’ve scared them into always coloring within the lines (conforming to social expectations.) Think about children being taught there is only one way to think and behave. Think about children being ridiculed for going right when others were going left.

That’s why most people conform. That’s why they don’t take the risk to suggest a better way.  Think about all the people who push back, “This is the way we do it because this is the way we’ve always done it.”

I was once accused of being “a loose cannon” because one of my hobbies is to oil paint. Too creative I was told – “we’re afraid of hiring you – you’ll want to do it your way.”

Children are creative. They don’t yet know the paradigm of conformity. They believe that anything is possible – and so they are willing to try.

Can we give our workers – our staff at all levels in our organizations – the safety to come to us with better ideas? It’s not easy – but it is mandatory.

Not that long ago, there was a TV ad running with a child saying: “I believe. I believe in the power of zero…” The ad goes onto suggest that we can stop hunger in the world by working towards the power of zero – but first we must believe it is possible.

I believe. I believe in the innate strength, creativity, and power of individuals whether alone or in teams. I believe we can all suspend the belief that the box boxes us in and instead can believe that the paradigm can and should shift.

Do you? 

Monday, December 14, 2015


Although styles differ, there are basically only a few primary goals in negotiation: Win/win, win/lose or lose/lose. 

Of course the best of them is to create a win/win situation. If both parties are satisfied with the results of their negotiation they will work positively to meet the agreed to terms. They will also be able to have continued relationships with each other. This of course requires an attitude of goodwill and cooperation. The parties to the negotiation must be willing to really listen to and respect the needs and concerns of the other parties. They must play fair.

In win/lose negotiation, one of the parties uses their position of power to intimidate and bully the other party. There is no courtesy – indeed they are often condescending, accusing and intimidating. They gloat over their positions of power.

In a lose/lose situation neither party gets what they want and need because one or both sides are intransigent. They stick to their guns no matter what the other group is trying to say. It is more important to them not to give ground than it is to negotiate a winning conclusion.

So what are some of the techniques that enable you to reach a win/win agreement? 

In the following two examples, the strategies differed. Among them are the ability to step into the other parties shoes and really understand what he or she is saying they need – and why. Another strategy is to help them by making suggestions as to what they can do to meet your needs. In the first example below, I figured out what I could do to help the other person give me what I wanted. Make it easy for them. In the second, long time loyalty and relationship enabled me to negotiate more effectively.

Let me give you one example each of these methods.

In salary negotiations the applicant and the hiring manager eventually get to sit down to talk terms. Each has a range that they are comfortable with – and each hides that basic information from the other. They haggle back and forth and eventually it is important for the applicant to find a way to increase the offer.  In a role-play the other day, I was playing the applicant. The hiring manager offered me an amount that was at the top of her available range. I continued to be positive, to explain that I really wanted the job and liked the company, and wondered what else she could possibly do. She finally offered me a $5,000.00 signing bonus. I thanked and asked if it were possible to make that annual.  She agreed, thus I had increased my salary by $5,000.00 a year – now well into my desirable range.

I did it by giving her a way to give me what I wanted.  In other words, you have to make it easy for the other side. 

Of course that’s not the only way to create a win/win situation.  Let me give you another example.

When negotiating for a car a few years ago, I knew my limit. I told the salesman that I would buy the car (which I loved – and had already ooohed and ahhheed about) my bottom line and stuck to it. It was five thousand dollars less than they were asking. I knew they wanted to sell the car (it was used) and so stuck to my limit. The salesman played the usual games of going back and forth from “the back room” each time lowering his offer by $500.00. I stood firm, but polite. Guess what!  I walked out with the car at my bottom line price. Now, I wasn’t asking for anything outrageously lower than reasonable, but it was lower than they wanted.  I knew what was reasonable – and had a prior good relationship with the dealer. The reason they eventually yielded was because the owner of the dealership came in just as we were going back and forth and I said “Hi – tell your team to be good to me.” He did. They did.  Relationship trumped money. I still deal with them and the next time I buy a car, it will probably be from them.