Understanding Self-Awareness Inside and Out

In a deck of tarot cards, one card shows a collapsing tower. The collapsing tower represents the danger of building something on a false premise. No matter how much work we put into something—a relationship, a company, an idea—it’s inevitably going to come crashing down if the work was built on a flimsy foundation. When you build your emotional intelligence, the essential foundation is self-awareness.

Self-awareness is your ability to recognize and understand your emotions as they happen and to know your general tendencies for responding to different people and situations. People who test highly in self-awareness build stronger relationships and communicate more effectively, work more creatively and productively, are better decision-makers, and are overall more confident.

Perhaps the best thing about self-awareness is that it’s a learnable skill you can improve with practice. To help get you started, let’s take a close look at two sides of self-awareness: Internal and External, followed by two self-awareness strategies from Emotional Intelligence 2.0.

Internal Self-Awareness

What it is: The internal side of self-awareness is our ability to recognize and understand the things that make us tick—our values, beliefs, goals, passions, strengths and weaknesses, and personality. These drive how we feel. and why we feel that way.

Internal self-awareness in action: When Alexa von Tobel set out to start her business LearnVest, she was terrified by all the things that could go wrong. To quell her fears, she began to put together a written plan, and the writing deepened and expanded. By the time she was done, the plan was 75 pages. The interesting thing is not so much the business projections or the plan itself, but the core beliefs she had at the time about who she was and what she was seeking, and the way she still uses the plan. Now, whenever she finds herself stuck on a decision, lacking for motivation, or confused, she turns to that section of her plan as her self-guiding light, her foundation.  

Self-Awareness Strategy #11: Visit Your Values. Spend some time reflecting on the things that are deeply important to who you are, your core beliefs, and write them down. Your list doesn’t need to be a seventy-five-page manifesto. A short list of core ideas is often enough. Next time you’re faced with a tough decision or difficult time, pull out your list and use it to guide your next decision the same way von Tobel does. We tend to assume we draw on our core values or beliefs when faced with tough decisions, but in reality, we find ourselves reacting on a whim. By getting something written, you give yourself a place to go look, to slow down and visit your values more often.

External Self-Awareness

What it is: External self-awareness is our ability to see how other people experience us. This can be a tricky element of self-awareness because it means understanding how you actually come across to others (not just how you think you do).

External Self-Awareness in action: In a recent leadership study based on in-depth interviews with 125 leaders, the authors set out to learn how leaders develop over the course of their careers. One leader sticks out as a perfect example of the importance of the external side of self-awareness. David Pottruck began his career at Charles Schwab as the head of marketing. Being new, he convinced himself that he had to work as hard as possible to impress the people around him. He put in countless hours and held high expectations of the people around him. One day, Pottruck’s boss pulled him into his office and explained to him that other employees didn’t like him. They resented how he approached his hard work, didn’t trust him, and felt intimidated. All of this was going on, while in Pottruck’s mind he was winning them over through hard work. The feedback from his boss was that critical insight he needed to mold the way he balanced his work intensity with his approach with people. He went on to become the CEO.  

Self-Awareness Strategy #14: Seek feedback. Asking for feedback directly is one of the best ways to get honest opinions about your work and the way you come across to the people around you. Prepare yourself with specific questions for areas you can improve. When it stings, try your best not to be defensive or to deny any of the feedback offered. Pottruck could have easily turned on his boss and blamed his team saying they just weren’t willing to work as hard as he was, but instead he actually took the time to understand their experience, what his boss was saying, and to grow from it.

From Insights to Action. The challenge with self-awareness is that most everyone feels like they already are self-aware, but we all have major blind spots like Pottruck’s, or we forget to look deep inside, as Alexa Von Tobel does. Denial and frustration can be enemies to growing self-awareness, which requires admitting your shortcomings and living your values, both big and small. As you set out to learn about yourself, inside and out, make sure you do so openly and with self-compassion.

For additional TalentSmart articles, visit https://www.talentsmart.com/articles/.

The Power of Feedback, Especially Now

Few things are as costly as employees feeling disconnected from where they work, and with the sudden shift to remote work during COVID-19 this is a more pressing concern than ever. While remote work can be and often is a smooth and flexible process, it does present some legitimate concerns, especially when rolled out quickly with minimal training or preparation.

Research shows that remote employees often struggle to get information they need, they’re more likely to feel isolated, and they often feel that their remote managers are unaware of their needs. All of these issues become even more troubling when we consider that fifty percent of all employees say that they “rarely” or “never” meet with their managers one-on-one.

The good news for organizations and leaders of people is, by simply making one-on-ones the norm, performance increases and relationships improve. Regular feedback improves leader-follower relationships in three key ways:

Regular feedback reduces the power of emotions that get in the way. One of the most common and understandable uncomfortable feelings when it comes to feedback is that bosses fear speaking candidly. No one wants to tell their employee that if they don’t get their sales numbers up, they’re gone. By looking at the week-to-week numbers or performance together, you make the conversation around month-to-month or year-to-year more approachable and expected. Another fear is fear of emotions on the receiving end. Meeting consistently with someone who takes feedback too hard (i.e., they push back, get defensive, or seem completely crushed) will help reframe for them how to understand what the feedback means, what they can do, and guides them through their self-consciousness, fear of failure, and toward a place of receptivity and a willingness to try things differently.

Regular feedback is necessary to break through to people and influence performance. It’s nearly impossible to receive feedback once and immediately change for the better. Even talented employees need progress check-ins to see when and how they falter. It helps to think of frequent feedback as a best fit line. The line will naturally consist of dips in performance (i.e., as efforts slip or approaches are adjusted and tested), but the long-term trend should be positive. When feedback is inconsistent or nonexistent, the dips in improvement can lengthen or become the new normal.

Regular feedback builds and deepens relationships. While meeting one on one regularly may not always spark a beautiful friendship or mentor-mentee relationship, at bare minimum supervisors will get to know their staff personally. One-on-ones are an opportunity to discuss employee interests, motivations, style of communication, and long-term goals and desires. As rapport is built, employees feel more comfortable reaching out to managers for help, to share a new idea, to express a need, to speak up about problems they see, and to actively seek more feedback.  

From Insights to Action. “Out of sight” can quickly escalate into “out of mind” when it comes to remote work. By simply making feedback more regular, you can help build trust and dialogue around all of the uncertainty, change, and challenges swirling through the workplace right now.

For additional TalentSmart articles, visit https://www.talentsmart.com/articles/.

How to Self-Motivate Through Distraction and Change

Motivation tends to feel like something you either have or don’t you have, you feel or you don’t feel, but research shows that most issues of motivation are really issues of negative emotions.

As we’re faced with a task, negative emotions like anxiety, boredom, fear, self-doubt, frustration, and insecurity inevitably surface. Procrastination from work, whether by watching a funny cat video or by doing dishes, temporarily relieves you from those negative emotions. The problem is that the temporary relief feels good and it becomes a habit where you prioritize distracting yourself from your negative emotions over the work causing them in the first place.

Besides wasting time and stressing you out, procrastination has been connected to depression, anxiety, a decrease in life satisfaction, and cardiovascular health issues.

Astronauts and athletes have tackled procrastination. Here are two profiles of their creative approaches to stay motivated so you also can manage your negative emotions and stay on track, especially during times of heightened negative emotions.

A Time-traveling Astronaut

In Psychologist Adam Grant’s recent article, Grant interviewed the astronaut Scott Kelly to learn how he dealt with 340-day periods isolated in space. Kelly’s number one mental trick for self-motivation was he intentionally played with time. Notice how mental time travel helped him gain perspective on pesky negative emotions that would otherwise get in his way.

~Kelly turned to the future to envision positive outcomes. We can turn to the future for a long-term goal (like a promotion) or a short-term goal (like how we want the end of the day to feel). The future motivates us in the present by connecting our desired outcome to our current actions.

~Kelly turned to the past to look at good times and bad times. Reliving good times reminds us what we have to be grateful for, and reliving the bad times reminds us of our past perseverance.

~Kelly also turned to what he called an alternate present. By imagining our current life as a more difficult alternative, we can alleviate our current pain and lighten up for the task at hand. For example, if you’re down about working from home, you might imagine being in true isolation in space for 340 days trying to deal with issues like a broken toilet.

The Pain-Planning of Endurance Athletes

When it comes to pushing through indefinite, uncomfortable, and ever-changing situations, who better to learn from than endurance athletes who devote their lives to this highly specific type of pain?

~Set Realistic Expectations: Endurance athletes can’t envision a long race as simple. They have to put together a realistic expectation around the pain to come in order to set a doable pace and plan. Realistic expectations are essential when it comes to dealing with the natural highs and lows. A realistic expectation can help you work your way through days that feel like walking through wet cement, and they can help slow you down when you’re tempted to ride a productivity high and burn yourself out.   

~Break down your outcome: Runners break their training down day by day, their marathon down mile by mile, or their mile step by step.  Work can also be broken down into simpler parts. These smaller, more achievable goals allow for small victories. With each small victory, you replace negative emotions with positive ones. This alone can break the habit of procrastination which relies on you conceding to your negative thoughts or emotions.

From Insights to Action.

“I can’t blame modern technology for my predilection for distraction, not after all the hours I’ve spent watching lost balloons disappear into the clouds. I did it before the Internet, and I’ll do it after the apocalypse, assuming we still have helium and weak-gripped children.”
-Colson Whitehead, Author

Distraction is inevitable and human, but motivation is ultimately about the long game, and about establishing the best day-to-day habits. Mental time-traveling and pain-planning will help reshape your mindset and get your self-motivating habits trending in the right direction.

For additional TalentSmart articles, visit https://www.talentsmart.com/articles/.

3 Simple Steps to Manage Overwhelming Emotions

There’s so much pain and raw emotion in our communities and across the world right now. And when our emotions reach a certain degree of intensity, we lose our ability to focus or think rationally. Our emotions consume us, and these overwhelming feelings make day-to-day life more difficult than ever.

Some of the most common signs of feeling overwhelmed include:

  • You feel sick or exhausted.
  • You can’t focus on basic tasks, and completing work feels impossible.
  • You react disproportionately to a small mishap or event.
  • You withdraw from friends or family.
  • You lash out at friends or family.

For those who are experiencing any of these warning signs, TalentSmart wanted to share three of our best emotional intelligence strategies for self-care in the face of overwhelm. These strategies aren’t about powering through emotions to be productive and creative. They aren’t even about working at all. Ultimately, these strategies are to help you feel your feelings and protect your physical health.

Rest. Emotions are exhausting. When emotionally overwhelmed, our emotions literally overpower our ability to feel the very feelings that are overwhelming us. Take time off if you can. If not, try to find a way to take more frequent recharge breaks through the day.If neither of these are possibilities, then carve out a solid chunk of time in the morning or evening to fully break from work, chores, social media, and anything else that causes you stress. The reason true rest is so important is that when we’re emotionally overwhelmed, we’re essentially multi-tasking at all times, our attention split between our emotions and the work at hand. Rest may very well be the only time you can break that endless, shallow cycling of thoughts and begin to untangle your thoughts and emotions. Rest is a necessary step toward letting emotions sink in, processing them, and eventually reflecting on and managing them.

Don’t suppress your feelings.

“Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” -James Baldwin, Author

The same can be said of emotions. Feelings will exist whether you want them to or not. And when you suppress your feelings, you’re really letting them loose to wreak havoc on your mind and your body. Left, unconfronted emotions can lead to any number of physical problems over time—ulcers, migraines, and respiratory issues to name a few of the most common responses. Everyone processes emotions differently, but many people find they are better able to consider their emotions while walking, exercising, showering, meditating, or journaling. Whatever your method, the goal with time spent confronting emotions is definitely not to try to change your feelings or judge them; the goal is to accept the feelings for what they are.

Don’t feel bad for pulling away. When the emotional reservoir is already overflowing, the last thing you want to do is add to it. During these periods, it’s natural to want to pull away from friends and family. This isn’t actually a bad thing. Do what you have to in order to shield yourself from people who don’t make you feel good. Instead, reach out to the select person or people who you know can help you talk things out or even just feel good for a moment.

From Insights to Action.

“Our feelings are our most genuine paths to knowledge.” -Audre Lorde, Poet

Our pain in the now often becomes wisdom in the future. By paying attention to your emotions, however chaotic they may be, you might surprise yourself with what you learn long-term. It’s in the midst of chaos that we often approach solid meaning. Take these initial steps to hopefully help grapple with big emotions, but above all, practice self-love and personal acceptance as you work through complex and intense emotions.

For additional TalentSmart articles, visit https://www.talentsmart.com/articles/.

Leading Through a Crisis with Emotional Intelligence

The way a leader shows up to work emotionally sets the tone for everyone around them. So much so, that your boss’s mood can not only make or break the rest of your day, but it can also affect your and your whole team’s performance.

A UC Riverside study found that employees don’t just notice the emotions of their boss, they absorb the emotions until they feel them. A flustered, stressed-out boss can derail a team’s ability to stay calm and work through a challenge. On the other hand, an optimistic and tuned-in boss can establish a positive environment, even during a crisis, where people collaborate freely and perform highly.

That’s why leading is such a tough job. Leaders are responsible for their own emotions as well as those of the people below them. They have to constantly monitor their emotions and manage their reactions knowing how serious the impact can be, for better or worse. To do so effectively, leaders need a great degree of emotional intelligence (EQ).  

We did some digging at TalentSmart to unearth the key behaviors emotionally intelligent leaders prioritize to guide their teams through a crisis. Here are three of the best:

High EQ leaders aren’t afraid to show vulnerability. We’ve all had that boss who operates under a sort of robotic professionalism with a painted-on smile. These bosses don’t actually do anything to make employees feel good, because people see right through their inauthenticity. What these bosses really do is create a stiff, cold atmosphere where people are afraid to share, connect, or even trust each other. Emotionally intelligent leaders, on the other hand, share honest emotions with their teams. This shows people where they’re coming from as they make difficult decisions. Sharing openly also helps eliminate an “employee vs. boss” mentality and sets a precedent for the team to feel comfortable sharing, asking for help, and holding healthy check-ins and dialogues.  Research shows that organizations that embrace vulnerability establish a culture of psychological safety where forgiveness for failure, openness, and empathy are the norm.

High EQ leaders deliver news transparently and empathetically. During the 2008 layoffs on Wall Street, some organizations literally had a line of laid-off people wait with boxes to pack up their desks. The message sent, whether intentional or not, was “we don’t value people.” The employees who were laid off were understandably bitter, but so were the remaining employees whose friends had been treated apathetically. Those still employed felt survivor’s guilt and didn’t understand how or why things had transpired the way they did. Panicked in the middle of a crisis, the leaders lost track of the importance of transparency and empathy as they laid people off. They worked frantically to make sure their organizations stayed afloat, but they forgot to see what kind of impact their actions and emotions had on the people who would still be coming to work every day.  

On the opposite end of this spectrum, is Dan Price, the CEO of Gravity, a company that  processes payments for small businesses. He found his company in dire straits these last two months as Gravity’s small business customers suffered. In response, Price held an all-company meeting in which he openly shared company finances and the kind of cuts necessary to survive without layoffs. Then, he met with employees one at a time for a week straight to discuss potential solutions. As a company, they developed a private form where each employee wrote down what they would feasibly be able to sacrifice in terms of a pay cut to help save the company. The system worked. Gravity didn’t lay anyone off, and they made cuts on each employee’s terms. Empathetic transparency means taking the time to fill employees in on major changes in a way that addresses and values their feelings.

High EQ leaders update frequently. During a crisis, ongoing change quickly becomes the new normal. As a result, updates don’t always match that rate of change, and this gap causes people to feel anxious and insecure. By erring on the side of over-communication, emotionally intelligent leaders help alleviate that fear by giving people space and time to listen, ask questions, and share their reactions. Sometimes it takes multiple updates for the questions and insights to finally surface.

From Insights To Action. At the heart of EQ and leadership lies a whole set of delicate balancing acts: Sharing without oversharing, emotional honesty without emotional dumping or lashing out, the needs of the company with empathy for individuals, and information in the right amounts while the right timing. Add these three behaviors to your leadership repertoire, and you’ll be surprised how far they go to carry your team through these changing times.

For additional TalentSmart articles, visit https://www.talentsmart.com/articles/.

How Successful People Beat Stress and Avoid Burnout

In times of extreme change, like we’ve faced the last couple of months, negative emotions begin to multiply and intensify. Emotions like anxiety, fear, and frustration can even begin to feel baked into our everyday lives.

A recent survey of American workers during COVID-19 reported the following:

–70% of employees say that COVID-19 is the most stressful time ever in their working career

–88% of employees say they’re experiencing moderate stress or worse

–62% of stressed employees say they lose at least an hour of productivity per day

When stress and negative emotions begin to take over on a daily basis, burnout waits just around the corner. Burnout saps confidence, positivity, and energy. It kills productivity and creativity, and it’s been linked to serious, long-term emotional and physical health issues. According to a SHRM survey, burnout is also one of the top reasons people leave jobs.

The interesting thing about burnout is that even though all people experience stress and negative emotions, not everyone burns out in response. It’s possible to navigate high stakes, long hours, and looming disasters in a way that protects you from emotional capsizing.

Emotional Intelligence Skills Protect People From Burnout

In a study of Chief Medical Officers (CMOs), an exceptionally high-stress position, almost all of the CMOs rated their stress as “severe, very severe, or worst possible.” The researchers, who specialize in studying stress and burnout, noticed something unusual about the CMOs. Even though they experienced heavier levels of stress than most people, the majority still did not burn out. Instead, they had developed effective coping mechanisms through years of managing their excessive stress loads. Their coping mechanisms shared a common theme: emotional intelligence (EQ).

Emotional intelligence is the ability to recognize and understand emotions in yourself and others, and your ability to use this awareness to manage your behavior and relationships. EQ is made up of four core skills, and each one plays a critical role in stress management:

Self-Awareness is your ability to accurately perceive your emotions and stay aware of them as they happen. The researchers found that the Chief Medical Officers were skilled at recognizing when they felt anxious or stressed. Once they recognized a negative emotion, they didn’t stop there. They traced the feeling back to its source (like a tight deadline or a specific conflict with a colleague). This allowed them to understand not only what they were feeling but also why they felt that way. Getting specific about your emotions is one of the best ways to overcome that vague and shallow circulation of negative thoughts we experience when stressed. Specificity gives you control over time and place for your reaction. It frees you up to separate your fears or anxieties from your actual work and actions. Without awareness of your emotions, you can’t manage them.

Self-Management is your ability to use awareness of your emotions to stay flexible and direct your behavior in a positive way. For the CMOs, self-management influenced how they dealt with their anxieties and stress as well as how they avoided impulsive decisions or destructive tendencies. Self-management can come in a number of forms. For many people, self-managing against stress works best when they return to the basics—things like exercise, sleep hygiene, connecting to close friends, eating healthy, or meditating. At peak self-management, the CMOs even leveraged their stress as a motivator to perform highly under pressure.

Social Awareness is your ability to accurately pick up on emotions in other people. One big source of stress at work is conflict with others, especially when the conflicts aren’t handled with sensitivity. When faced with high-stakes conflicts, the CMOs made an extra effort to understand the experience of others. By empathizing during a conflict, they could more effectively negotiate resolutions that met the needs of multiple parties, not just their own.

Relationship Management is the ability to use awareness of your emotions and others’ to manage successful interactions. Relationship management skills are essential in navigating the emotional complexities of difficult conversations, like conflicts, bad news, significant changes, or tough feedback. It was the CMOs’ relationship management skills that helped them create an environment of trust with their teams. This meant they were comfortable asking for help when they felt overwhelmed or stretched to their limits.

From Insights to Actions

High EQ behaviors like this prevent burnout and benefit the medical officer, the team’s performance and retention for the organization. While most of us aren’t CMOs, we can still apply their approach to stress in our own work. Their strategies for stress management are adjusted over years of stressful tests at work. By understanding their use of emotionally intelligent practices, you can also begin to take control of your own stress and build your EQ in the process!

For additional TalentSmart articles, visit https://www.talentsmart.com/articles/

Why Emotional Intelligence is the Most Critical Skill Needed Right Now

Emotions impact essentially everything we do, think, and say, and for this reason, a whole set of critical business skills are all enhanced by emotional intelligence (EQ). Emotional intelligence (EQ) is the ability to recognize and understand emotions in ourselves and others, and our ability to use this awareness to manage our behavior and relationships. By training for EQ, organizations aren’t just touching on a single skill, they’re growing an entire set of desired skills and competencies.

Emotional Intelligence Skills Enhance In-demand Business Skills. In early 2020, LinkedIn published its Workplace Learning report from 4,932 respondents (managers, learners and budget decisionmakers). Not only did emotional intelligence make the top 5 soft skills list, but each of the top three in-demand business skills are also enhanced by emotional intelligence. When organizations invest in helping employees and leaders understand and manage their emotions productively, the entire workforce is better equipped to grow skills critical to the business.

In-Demand Skill: Leadership & Management: Strong leaders and managers have to understand where their people are coming from—their strengths, motivators, personalities—and leverage these to inspire, influence, mentor and motivate. High EQ leaders and managers interact effectively with others. In a TalentSmart study on leadership, we found a direct link between high EQ and transformational leadership.

In-Demand Skill: Creative Problem-solving: Creative problem-solving requires the ability to step away from usual or safe options into the unknown and requires loose collaboration, a feeling of safety, and a willingness to fail. Self-aware employees can recognize their hesitancy to push boundaries. They self-manage by pushing through their discomfort to overcome feeling hesitant. High EQ teams invest in relationships, where people work to build trust, strip away judgment, and encourage each other to share and be genuine.

In-Demand Skill: Communication: To get an idea across to other people, working professionals have to know their audience, notice how people respond, and adjust in the moment to convey the message. Self-aware communicators better understand the impact of their words, body language, and tone. Communicating with social awareness skills means listening better and understanding where others are coming from. They pay attention to their audience’s body language and response for insights into what others are really saying or feeling.

From Insights To Action: A pleasant surprise about EQ is that employees can increase their emotional intelligence skills through conscious practice and development. By learning what EQ is and how it applies to the challenges they face, they take a big first step toward self-awareness. Try our self-assessment, which allows your employees to evaluate their current EQ and practice three recommended EQ strategies.

For additional TalentSmart articles, visit https://www.talentsmart.com/articles/

Why Humor is a Key to Success

“If we couldn’t laugh we would all go insane.”
―Robert Frost

Whenever tough times sweep in, humor follows close behind. And the last couple of months have certainly been no exception.

After closing down from visitors, the prestigious British Royal Academy of Arts issued a “ham drawing contest” that resulted in a bizarre display of ham drawing prowess across the country (a ham hunched over a desk working, a set of Dalí hams resembling the famous melting clocks painting, and even a tattoo of a ham on one man’s thumb). In true comedic form, comedians Sam Morril and Taylor Tomlinson moved in together and began producing an entire comedy show called “New Couple Gets Quarantined.” There’s also a New York Times therapist who shared in her article that more and more of her patients take virtual therapy calls seated on the toilet to ensure privacy. One, she said, even had a breakthrough when they accidentally bumped the flusher mid-conversation and laughed for the first time in a month. The list of strange, funny, and complex responses to social distancing could honestly be a book in and of itself.

To state the obvious, jokes like these happen during difficult times, because they make us feel good. They pull us away from negative thinking and into a more positive space. In the workplace especially, humor and a lighter environment benefit people and companies far beyond the moment of laughter. Here are three key benefits humor brings to the workplace.

Humor is an antidote to stress. Humor doesn’t just temporarily alleviate stress, it lightens your load mentally and physically. Laughter triggers a release of endorphins, increases oxygen intake and circulation, and relaxes your muscles. One study found that people who turned to humor in a difficult time were more likely to experience a shift in perspective as they realized different ways of viewing their problems and failures. Another study found that using humor to help a struggling colleague can build feelings of social support and trust. However, a word to the wise: research also shows that too much self-deprecating humor can backfire and make you more stressed.

Humor builds teams. When the British Royal Academy surprised everyone with the ham challenge purely for the sake of fun, people responded with surprisingly creative takes. The nonchalance and humor of the post loosened up the atmosphere, and the creativity followed. The same thing happens on the team level at organizations. Research shows that teams that joke and approach work in a playful manner build solidarity, trust, and a safe atmosphere where people feel they can be creative and genuine. The result is that each team member feels empowered, less tied down to a strict hierarchy.

Humor exudes confidence.
“It is a curious fact that people are never so trivial as when they take themselves seriously.” –Oscar Wilde

When Dick Costolo accepted the job as Chief Operating Officer of Twitter, he quickly fired off a tweet: “First full day as Twitter COO tomorrow. Task #1: undermine CEO, consolidate power.” Costolo’s tweet was, of course, a joke. Funnily enough, he also went on to become the CEO years later. Humor has a way of drawing people to you. It humanizes you and shows confidence at the same time. Humor can even be the deciding factor when it comes to hiring or choosing a group leader. In a UPENN study, participants presented a Visit Switzerland campaign to a group of people. Some participants were instructed to conclude with a simple joke: “Travel to Switzerland. The flag is a big plus.” Those presenters were overwhelmingly perceived as more competent. People voted for them to present on behalf of the group. Perhaps most interestingly of all, the researchers found that even when the joke fell flat, the presenter was still rated as more competent. Purely by having the confidence to make the joke, the presenter won favor in the eyes of the group.

From Insight to Action. Humor at work doesn’t have to be forced, where employees get together and tell a daily joke. Leading by example is the best way to spark humor, levity, and creativity in a natural way. The occasional well-timed joke, whether or not it flops, will loosen people up, make everyone a bit more comfortable, and then your team will be well on its way.

For additional TalentSmart articles, visit https://www.talentsmart.com/articles/

Two Lessons for Building a Resilient Organization

When the first U.S. patient to contract Ebola was admitted to a Texas hospital in 2014, the hospital had no idea it needed to be on alert to respond to something happening a world away. When Thomas Duncan reported he felt better, they sent him home. Sadly, he returned to the hospital in a rapid state of decline, and his case ultimately proved fatal. Two nurses contracted Ebola during treatment, and the hospital mass tested everyone immediately. The nurses recovered, and the virus was contained. Luckily, Ebola didn’t spread as readily as COVID-19.

In a 2017 article from University of Houston’s Business School, Dr.’s Elizabeth Anderson-Fletcher and Dusya Vera set out to examine the hospital’s response from start to finish. Though their findings did not prevent the outbreak of COVID-19, they do provide important lessons for organizations facing the threat of a sudden change. The actions of the medical team and the hospital were the types all employees and businesses make, especially in a time of crisis, and we can learn a lot by taking a closer look at the lessons learned. Resilience requires being on alert, making decisions quickly and acting fast through ongoing adversity.  Here are two important lessons that will help keep all our organizations and staff surviving.

Lesson 1: Resilience Requires Attention + Awareness.

Even though Ebola had been a significant global crisis for ten months, the doctors and nurses overlooked Duncan’s case as a possibility because there hadn’t yet been one in the United States. A brief note from a nurse mentioned Duncan’s travel, but there wasn’t a sufficient red flag system to ensure the medical team would attend to it or that the hospital was aware to implement a hold policy for patients traveling from Ebola hotspots.

What We Can Learn: Our tendency is to move fast and rely on habits and past experiences. In Thinking, Fast And Slow, psychologist Daniel Kahneman talks about the importance of habits to preserve mental energy. Mental energy is finite and it’s not possible to deliberate over everything. This can cause us to overlook things that are important and directly in front of us. By paying more attention and being more broadly aware, people can minimize letting auto-pilot win over significant new information.

Attention + Awareness in Action: Though we’ve all learned this lesson again with COVID-19, some organizations are demonstrating attention and awareness early enough. At the outset of the pandemic, the cycling gym Cyclebar East Cob, like all gyms, faced layoffs and total shutdown. Unlike other gyms, Cyclebar looked deliberately at the responses of companies beyond gyms, and they devised a new plan. They reached out to gym members and rented their stationary bikes and equipment directly to them, delivering the sterilized machines by hand.

Lesson 2: Resilience Requires Group Accountability.

Once the US Ebola case was spotted by the media, the organization went on the defensive and publicly blamed the nursing staff.  It took the nursing union stepping in swiftly and severely for the key stakeholders to apologize and get back to the problem solving at hand. Had the Ebola outbreak worsened, the hospital and key professions would have been at odds with each other as they faced a heightening crisis.

What We Can Learn: Placing blame creates an “us versus them” mentality within organization walls and focuses attention unhealthily on the past rather than how to proceed now.  A resilient culture would encourage doctors, and nurses to notice and talk about errors safely, quickly, and openly, and empower supervisors to assist frontline staff to solve problems together and in the moment. Suspending traditional hierarchy during a crisis allows from direct counsel with those who offer expertise regardless of official title. Group accountability builds trust, communication, and respect across teams and various levels of expertise, and shifts everyone’s focus to the entire situation going forward.

Group Accountability in Action: Dan Price, the CEO of Gravity, a company that processes payments for small businesses, found his company in dire straits these last two months as their small business customers suffered. Price held an all-company meeting in which he openly shared company finances and the kind of cuts necessary to survive without layoffs. Then, he met with employees one at a time for a week straight to discuss potential solutions. As a company, they developed a private form where each employee wrote down what they would feasibly be able to sacrifice in terms of a pay cut in order to help save the company. The system worked. Gravity didn’t lay anyone off, and they made cuts on each employee’s terms. By emphasizing group accountability, Price ensured a unanimous company solution.

Resilience Into Action:  Attention + Awareness + Accountability.

The 2014 Ebola crisis lessons each share a kind of tunnel vision and hastiness that ultimately led to bad decisions at key moments. We are all in our Zoom tunnels making hasty decisions, and we don’t yet know their ultimate impact. Next time you find yourself on autopilot or ready to cast blame, try stepping back instead of plunging in. Go for a walk, take a deep breath and consider your situation more broadly, more creatively, and together.

The Importance of Keeping it Light Through Tough Times

Like it has for most people, Covid-19 derailed Levi’s established work-life routine in his Brooklyn apartment. A new part of his rearranging work life was that he found himself on daily TalentSmart Zoom calls in the afternoon. With so much change going on around him, he often logged onto these calls feeling varying degrees of anxiety, loneliness, and stress. But, he noticed that by the time he left the calls, he felt significantly better.

While some of Levi’s improved mood could be attributed to the practical elements of the calls (like talking through uncertainty as a group and mastering the remote meeting platform), a lot more of it seemed to stem from the overall atmosphere. He couldn’t help but smile as colleagues sitting in rooms across seven states joked about things like quarantining with a brand-new roommate, growing accidental mullets, putting on a “quarantine fifteen,” and letting hygienic and work wear practices vanish. This kind of fun-spirited sharing lightened the mood and brought TalentSmart team members all together. Like magic, he left the calls feeling less stressed-out, more connected to the team, and more prepared to be productive.

A recent Saint Louis University article reveals why the experience of these seemingly “magical” Zoom calls actually makes a lot of sense. Psychologists Heather Walker and Richard Harvey attributed this type of light working atmosphere to what they call “levity.” “Workplace levity” they wrote, “is an uplifting and pleasurable interaction that lacks tension and anxiety.” The benefits of levity, they found, extended far beyond a nice moment. Organizations that embraced levity long-term experienced benefits like:

  1. improved stress relief.
  2. improved attitudes as a result of a sense of belonging, value, and empowerment.
  3. increased psychological well-being.
  4. increased employee engagement.
  5. increased retainment.
  6. increased likelihood of employees referring other people to their organization.
  7. improved team cohesion.

But before everyone rushes out to implement mandatory pre-meeting jokes, it’s worth noting a potentially darker side to all of this. Approached incorrectly, attempted lightness and humor can be detrimental. Think of Michael Scott in The Office. He definitely thinks he’s pretty funny and light, but in reality, he’s a nightmare of a boss with no idea how he impacts the people around him. Studies confirm that humor used inappropriately in the workplace divides teams, disparages people, and distracts from deadlines and serious topics. Perhaps worst of all, leaders who disparage others in their humor cause employee disengagement and increased bad behavior.

So the real question is how do you avoid this twisted cousin of levity and create an environment of authentic and consistent levity?

Well, you need to operate from a foundation of emotional intelligence (EQ). Emotional intelligence is the ability to recognize and understand the emotions of yourself and others, and your ability to use this awareness to manage your behavior and relationships. EQ skills allow you to navigate social complexities (like timing and content of humor in meetings) in order to achieve positive results (like laughter, happiness, and collaboration).

On an individual level, people need EQ skills like self-awareness and social awareness to understand how their jokes or digressions come across to others, and they need self-management and relationship management to effectively filter their jokes and digressions according to the current situation and mood. On a team level, high EQ teams establish norms (written and unwritten) around their behavior, and they use these norms to keep each other in check. This way, when a team member’s joke or digression is inappropriate in any way, team members feel comfortable lightly calling them out. This builds out a true sense of trust and safety, which allows for an authentic and group-wide sense of levity.

Some Closing Thoughts

Levity can feel a bit intangible, like something a group either has or doesn’t have, but in reality, levity is created in a place of trust and respect where everyone is comfortable opening up. Laughter sparks social connections that strengthen team bonds, and emotional intelligence provides teams shared skills and vocabulary as they work to build their own environment of levity.

For additional TalentSmart articles, visit https://www.talentsmart.com/articles/