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Our blog helps you expand your understanding of latest research and current workplace challenges.

Feeling Rejected? Take Tylenol

iStock rejected image 000016794834LargeCan pain medication help when you’re feeling rejected, left out, or ostracized?

I know, I know — at first blush, this idea sounds far-fetched, even ridiculous. But bear with me for a moment and consider this: rejection hurts. It really does. Research by Professor Kip Williams and others continuously demonstrates that social rejection activates the same brain regions that are involved in physical pain (check out this previous blog post — Eye Rolling: A Health Hazard?). Even marginal ostracizing experiences with strangers trigger this reaction, if only briefly. This response is detected in functional MRI scans, in the same way that physical pain shows up in these images.

So if rejection fires up the brain’s pain centres, then the question arises: Can you diminish feelings of rejection by taking a painkiller?

In yet another fun addition to the body of research in the field of social ostracism, a group of researchers set out to find the answer to this exact question.

Here’s what they did: They gave a group of folks over-the-counter Tylenol daily for three weeks, while another group received a placebo. They then explored the extent to which each group experienced social pain on a daily basis.

And here’s the fun part: those who received the Tylenol reported less social pain than the placebo group. Furthermore, the researchers followed previous studies that used fMRI machines to trace brain activity when people play Cyberball, an online game that Dr. Williams developed. In this game, a study subject takes part in an online toss-ball activity with two imaginary players who, after several throws, stop tossing the ball to the study’s subject, thereby creating a rejection experience.

What they found (surprise!) was that for those who received the painkillers, activity in the parts of the brain that respond to pain was reduced, even when subjected to rejection during Cyberball.

So what does all this mean? I leave it to you to draw your own conclusions, but here are a few questions to ponder:

  • When you experience the pain of being rejected, excluded, or belittled, what can you do to get out of your Velcro state and move on constructively? What is your personal Tylenol-type remedy and how can you use it more effectively?
  • How and when do you create rejection experiences for others, even in very small ways? How can you minimize doing this?

And last but not least, make sure to have a Tylenol handy, just in case!

 

Contact us anytime — I always love hearing from you!

Oh Canada, What Happened to Your Smoke Detectors.

Canadian Pariament (Free)Living in Canada, our daily news diet of late consisted of mindboggling sexual harassment and assault allegations against a public broadcaster’s radio star, topped only by allegations of sexual harassment by and against members of parliament and a discovery that our esteemed legislature is a place where anything goes.

Amongst the many common themes in these two situations, here are two shared Achilles heal issues:

1.  There were no carbon monoxide detectors or the detectors that were installed were malfunctioning. We all know that you need to have a carbon monoxide detector to alert you of dangers that you might not be able to see, hear or smell. In the same way, organizations require tools to help prevent and surface harassment issues. These come in the form of strong organizational values, solid harassment policies, and a respectful culture that deters harassing behaviours.

Unfortunately, the carbon monoxide detectors in these two cases fell short. Canadians to their horror discovered that the nation’s leading institution (the very one that crafts all those great laws about human rights, diversity and equality) does not even have a harassment policy, let alone known procedures for complaints or ensuring due process. In other words, no carbon monoxide detector was installed in the first place. In the case of CBC’s anchor Jian Ghomeshi, information revealed thus far suggests that despite reports that he reigned with an abrasive style (now described by the CBC’s executive vice President as “difficult to deal with, demanding, volatile, moody, people felt under a lot of pressure“), only minimal action was taken to fix things. Complaints were reportedly suppressed at lower levels and the organizational values were not sufficiently known nor lived. In other words, carbon monoxide detectors were in place, but they malfunctioned.

2. When the carbon detectors sounded the alarm, no one took action (or they took the wrong action.) The whole point of having a carbon monoxide detector is to enable you to take decisive action once the alarm sounds. In both cases here, the alarm sounded but people did nothing, or they froze, or they took action that did not reflect the gravity of the situation.

On Parliament Hill, as we now know, if you were an attractive newcomer (male or female, heterosexual or gay, assistant or Parliamentarian) with little power on the totem pole, you could expect to be harassed or even assaulted. According to Sheila Copps, former deputy prime minister who just came out with her own personal revelation of assault, alleged offenders were long-standing MP’s, officers of Parliament and even the Speaker. Even in the absence of official detection mechanisms in the form of proper policies, all those bystanders and decision makers did possess internal alarm detectors (what I refer to as inner canaries) that alerted them when the lines between decency and indecency have been crossed. Yet they did nothing or little to change the culture or to attend decisively to individual cases. And back at the CBC, the program’s executive producer allegedly heard complaints of all sorts. However observations and complaints about the program’s culture and the host’s behaviours were allegedly mishandled, or dealt with half-heartedetdly or in a futile fashion. In both cases, the carbon monoxide detector was squealing but people were allowed to remain in the danger zone.

So what leads to such blindness, deafness, freezing and misguided action? It’s all about the underlying beliefs that decision makers and others on the ground hold, beliefs that skew how they view reality. Here’s a sampling of blinding beliefs that may have led things to where they are today:

  1. This person is an important player – an indispensable star of some sort. We can’t touch him or her.
  2. This has always been the culture here. It will never change.
  3. This is so outrageous, I just can’t believe it could be actually true.
  4. It’s complicated. There’s always two sides to the story.
  5. The workplace isn’t for sissies. People need to learn to fend for themselves.
  6. If we take action, it could backfire.

In the early days of this blog, back in 2007, I warned about seven harassment-related mistakes leaders make. It now appears that every one of those mistakes has been committed by Parliament and at the CBC. I invite you to check these out and possibly ponder how they are relevant to you – personally or organizationally:

As an organization, what do you need to do to have reliable carbon monoxide detectors in place and have the ability to act when and if they sound the alarm?

  1. Develop meaningful organizational values – make sure “respect” is one of them – and build them into your organizational DNA.
  2. Ensure your managers are versed in the organizational values and know how to implement these in all that they do or oversee. Put in place strong respectful workplace policies.
  3. Train people on the policies and the ideas behind them (it’s not enough to have people sign off that they’ve read them, and none of that cover-your-backside training where people are bored out of their mind and leave the session totally unaffected.)
  4. Require managers to model the desired behaviours.
  5. Adopt a philosophy of taking action even on seemingly small problems – fixing broken windows swiftly minimizes the chances of bad behaviours in your neighborhood.
  6. Take complaints seriously, act immediately.
  7. Evaluate people’s conduct, decisions and performance in relation to all the above.

I predict a vast change in our landscape –  nothing will be the same in Canada post-Ghomsehi and Parliament Hill. Organizations will be required to demonstrate due diligence and accountability like never before. Let’s make sure we turn this moment into a change we all can be proud of for generations to come.

The time to act is now and at Bar-David Consulting we are committed to helping you. If you wish to prevent or deal with harassment and incivility in your organization, please do not hesitate to contact us anytime, or check out how our services can be helpful.

If Stress is Like a Rotten Guest

Senior gentleman holding a rotten fishIn response to my last post (Five Types of Stress), Slavko from Ottawa wrote: “For many people, stress is an uninvited ‘guest’, and it frequently stays longer than people expect”.

My father, born and raised in Amsterdam, always used to say: “A guest, like a fish, starts to stink after the third day“. True to his ancestral teachings, he refrained from staying anywhere as a guest for more than three days. (Alas, his views were not of much help to him as he co-hosted the never-ending assortment of overseas guests who would stay in our Tel Aviv home for months on end at my mother’s generous invitation. Herself born and raised in rural Saskatchewan, she thought nothing of it).

Turns out that several other cultures have similar proverbs, which suggests that there’s some deep wisdom in this notion that too much of a seemingly good thing can become problematic. Indeed, stress is like that guest: a little bit of it is energizing and vital and fun, but too much of it can feel rotten and, well, stinky.

So what can we learn from the world of hosting that we can apply to stress resilience? I decided to take a fun stab at it, and here are five little sights I got when comparing hosting principles with stress resilience practices:

When hosting, only invite guests you really want to host in the first place. In the resilience arena, be very thoughtful about the kind of stressors you allow into your life.

In hosting, when someone asks if you can host their cousin for three weeks, it’s okay to say no (graciously). To be resilient, learn to say ‘no’ – graciously, respectively, and decisively.

When you host, maintain your healthy routines even when the endeavour places heavy demands on your time, attention, and effort. When it comes to being resilient, no matter how intense the demands on you, never sacrifice nurturing the things that keep you sane – your sleep, healthy eating, exercise, yoga, prayer, playing, reading, or taking a mini vacation.  It is up to you to bring equanimity into your life.

Even when you’re hosting a houseful of guests, keep your home tidy and clean or else chaos will take over. In the same way, to mauntain your resilient equanimity, remove clutter from your life and physical space. An organized environment helps calm the mind.

As a host, sometimes you need to have a frank conversation with your guests about how things are working (or not). You might even need to part ways with your guest (again, graciously). A true commitment to your resilience might require you to have frank conversations – with your boss, spouse, neighbor, or mechanic. In some relationships, you might actually need to hit the Eject button.

Finally, remember: your home is your castle and the same is true for your body and soul. Resilience requires you to take responsibility for ensuring that your mind and body remain sufficiently agile to handle all the pressures and demands that are inevitably placed on you.

Do you have any insights to add? If you do, please do share!

 

If your team or organization needs help or just to stay in touch, contact us anytime.

Five Types of Stress

Have you ever been stressed to the point that you behaved like a lunatic? Did stress ever lead you to do and say things that you deeply regretted later? Were you thoroughly uncivil when you felt that the pressure has gotten under your skin?

If you are human, you likely answered yes to all three questions. Yup, some days you might be just plain miserable.

To get a handle on your stress (and your behaviour), start by identifying the specific kinds of stress you’re up against. From there it will be easier to apply practical strategies and take informed action. Consider these five types of stress:

  1. Anticipatory Stress happens when you worry and obsess about things that have not yet happened (and likely never will). Your mind doesn’t know the difference between this self-manufactured imaginary stressor and real threats, so is dutifully activates all the internal alarm mechanisms in full force. Classical examples are an upcoming medical test (“I’m sure they’ll find cancer”) or stressors about a child’s future (“with this tattoo, she’ll never get anywhere in life”).
  2. Situational Stress is exactly that: it’s the stress you experience when you’re in the midst of a situation. It can be a fleeting instance such as an almost-car-crash, or a somewhat more prolonged one, such as when a colleague is off work for a while and you’re filling in for him or her (on top of your own job). Situational Stress is a lot like a sprint run – it’s intense but you know there’s a finishing line.
  3. Chronic Stress is when the stress is ongoing, with no end in sight. Unlike Situational Stress, Chronic Stress is here to stay.  Whether it is caring for a disabled family member or dealing with a bully boss, it’s a marathon that goes on and on. Beware of chronic stress — it can tax you to the limit.
  4. Residual Stress is the stress that continues to affect you physically, emotionally, and cognitively even after the stressor itself has dissipated. You may have completed that big exam or delivered that project, but the effects of the stress you experienced are still lodged in your body and brain. You feel like you should be happy and carefree, but somehow you still can’t sleep at night and those tight muscles and clenched jaw simply won’t go away.
  5. Reflector Stress (that’s what I named this kind of stress, which so many of you have told me about) happens when other people’s stress rubs on to you. You walk into work on a perfectly good Wednesday morning all happy and energetic, but by the time you pass by several of your stressed out colleagues and get to your own work station, you find that you too are inexplicably edgy and tight. Their stress has reflected onto you and now it’s yours to have.

Here’s a great saying: If you don’t deal with stress, it will deal with you.

So my suggestion is: begin by understanding the nature of the ‘opponent’. From there. It will be much easier to handle it.

 

If your organziation needs help, contact us anytime.

And please do join me on Twitter – follow @sharonebardavid

So What if You’re Miserable Today

Male doll in suit yoga pose 000007032369SHere’s a suggestion for those days when you’re miserable at work and wish you didn’t have to be there:

Instead of acting grumpy – act happy

It’s widely accepted that when a person feels miserable, he or she should allow themselves to act accordingly. Sometimes people even refer to it as ‘being authentic’.

Here are five reasons why you might actually become happier if you act happy rather than grouchy:

  1. Acting happy will change your body’s chemistry. The levels of stress hormones circulating in your physical self will drop. The result? Your mood will change for the better as your body flushes those toxins out.
  2. When other people experience you as crabby, they avoid you, which makes you feel even worse. When you act happy (even when you’re internally not at all) they experience you positively and gravitate towards you.  This opens a cycle of positive interactions, which will inevitably uplift your spirits.
  3. Your career will benefit. Grouchy people get passed over for interesting opportunities. Besides, no one wants such folks on their team anyway. The opposite is true for people who bring good energy to the table.
  4. You’ll spend less time apologizing for your poor behaviour or having to deal with colleagues who are upset with you because of your conduct.  That alone will significantly improve your overall state.
  5. You’re a grown-up, so act like one. When you do so, you will feel good about who you are, and that in turn is sure to elevate your happiness levels.

So what the heck – why not try it? Just do a little experiment by acting happy when you’re not and see what happens. After all, what have you got to lose?

 

If your organziation needs help, contact us anytime.

And please do join me on Twitter – follow @sharonebardavid

 

Clear Your Blind Spots (With a Little Help from your Friends)

Several weeks ago I bought one of those new cars that have a ‘blind spot’ feature. Whenever there’s another vehicle in my blind spot, a little light turns on. And if I am about to change lanes and there’s a car in my blind spot, a little beep alerts me that I might be in danger of acting without proper caution.

Unfortunately, there is no parallel light that assists us in knowing when our personal behaviour is counterproductive without us even knowing about it. Having blind spots is human, but inevitably we are bound to create significant damage to ourselves and others.

So, if you want to step up and be the kind of person you really strive to be, you’ll need to clean up some of the mess in your blind spot. If you don’t, you might find yourself in all kinds of trouble. Seeking feedback from others is one of the best methods for obtaining quality data that will help you change. It may not be exactly what you want to hear, but like any other yucky medicine, it’s gonna do you a lot of good.

Here’s a list of tips I comprised for my upcoming book Trust Your Canary! Every Leader’s Guide to Taming Workplace Incivility – use them to help you collect quality feedback:

Selecting the right people

  1. Choose a cross-sectional representation of people to provide the feedback: colleagues, managers, people who report to you.
  2. Select people who are good observers of behaviour – they will give you detailed data.
  3. Don’t go only to those who like and appreciate you. Those who are not necessarily your fans might be great sources of rich information.

Setting the stagePerson shrugging

  1. Decide whether to let the person know in advance that you will be seeking feedback or whether it is better to do it on a more spontaneous basis.
  2. Let them know why you are asking for feedback – the larger context.
  3. Clarify that you are open to hearing anything they have to say without becoming defensive.
  4. Ask for the feedback to be as specific as possible.
  5. Request their observations on your behaviour as well as on the impact it has (or might have) on others.

When receiving the feedback

  1. Monitor your reactions – do not get defensive (easier said than done, I know).
  2. Maintain a relaxed body posture.
  3. Ask clarifying questions to receive specific data (for example, “what specifically do you see or hear that leads you to say that I come across as dismissive?”).
  4. Encourage additional feedback by using phrases such as ‘what else have you seen?”, or “what do you think others might be seeing that I do not see?”.
  5. Thank them for their input and candour and invite them to let you know of anything else they may think of after the conversation.

After the fact

  1. Thank the person again in person, via email, phone or a written note, letting them know what specifically was helpful and what action you might take based on their feedback.
  2. Now, make the necessary changes!

 

If your organziation needs help, contact us anytime.

And please do join me on Twitter – follow @sharonebardavid

Incivility, Customers, and the Snowball Effect

Poor Ratings (Customer Service) 000003839435SmallIf you think that incivility on your team has little or nothing to do with service to customers, clients or patients, you may want to reconsider. In fact, you may be suffering from detrimental thinking errors. When team members are uncivil with each other, one of the following is bound to happen (a partial list):

  • A client will witness the staff’s incivility, and, based on their impressions, will make decisions that will adversely affect your organization
  • A staff member who is used to treating colleagues discourteously will inadvertently deal with a customer in the same manner
  • Team members who are used to being dismissive with each other will refer to clients behind their backs in derogatory ways (I’ve seen that happen, have you?)
  • The derogatory nicknames that are used to refer to clients will deteriorate into what the law considers to be ‘harassment’, whereby clients are referred to in terms that are based on their culture, religion or race and such
  • Staff is distracted by colleagues’ incivility. They make mistakes, take longer breaks, forget information, radiate gloom rather than cheerfulness, and offer no creative solutions when those are needed. In true snowball effect, customers will naturally conclude that your organization offers inferior service and products.

In a survey on workplace incivility I designed for the Canadian HR Reporter magazine a couple of years ago, 72% of the 308 HR professionals who participated in the survey ‘strongly agreed’ or ‘somewhat agreed’ that incivility has a significant negative effect on customer service. That’s 3 out of 4 people -nothing to sneeze off, to say the least.

And research By Christine Pearson and Christine Porath published in the Harvard Business Review in 2013 suggests that 25% of people who experience a troubling workplace incivility incident by a boss or colleague will admit to taking their frustration out on a customer. However, when we ask people in our workplace incivility training sessions to guess the research findings, they usually come up with much higher figures.

If you want to change things on your team and improve customer service, start with a good discussion about it within the team.  Click here for a process that will help you do so, step by step. And, of course, building awareness and commitment though solid training is always a great ideas too.

(PS sometimes it’s the customers who are rude first. In these cases, creative ideas for dealing with the problem might come in handy).

 

If you have great examples of incivility affecting customer service, or need help with challenges you have, contact us anytime.

And, if you missed the news, I’ve joined twitter and would love you to join me –

Stress-Busting Tool for You

In the last blog post I promised to share my method for dealing with that bad kind of stress, the sort that makes you inadvertently uncivil or makes you hyper-reactive to incivility that is directed at you.

But before we go there, let’s remember that there’s also ‘good stress’ (or Eustress, in its fancier name). This is the type of stress that makes you feel energized, alive, excited and vibrant. It injects life with spice.

Tweet 000025162279SmallOn this front, allow me to share with you news of a positive stress in my own life right now: I JOINED TWITTER! With the assistance of a wonderful expert who is half my age (gulp), I have already begun posting tweets that are meant to inform, inspire and provoke thinking. Please accept this as an invitation to join and engage together within my budding twitter community too (click here to follow me, as they say).

Now, back to that not-so-good stress. Here’s a simple tool you can use when you find yourself acting out the stress-breeds-incivility cycle. I call it the S-O-S method – Stop, Observe and Shift.

Step 1 – STOP: When you find yourself feeling overwhelmed by stress, this step requires you to heed the warning signs and STOP (it’s not easy to stop or even pause in the midst of tidal wave, is it). Warning signs can include a persistent inner tension, or a sense of being on an out-of-control roller-coaster.  You might be experiencing physiological stress symptoms, anxiety or depression, withdrawal or an overall decline in performance. You might be curt with others or behaving in other uncivil ways. All this tells you that it’s time to pause and reflect on what’s going on before the situation becomes unmanageable.

Step 2 – OBSERVE: Here you take an honest, hard look at reality. Ask yourself tough questions, such as: what’s actually happening to me and around me? What specifically is troubling me? How am I acting when I’m stressed and how is this affecting my life, health, work and relationships? Am I endangering anyone? (there’s some research that indicates that fetuses can be affected by mother’s stress). And – am I still the person that I strive to be? If I do nothing, where will I be a year from now?

Step 3 – SHIFT: Once you’ve observed and gained insight into the situation, it’s time to Shift. Some shifts require a change in circumstances. If necessary, you might need to make dramatic changes that require courage and significant risk-taking (such as changing careers or ending a relationship). Other times, a small but meaningful shift (or even a mini-vacation) is all it takes.

Sometimes the shift requires work on internal rather than external changes. Regaining your balance is often a matter of recalibrating your thoughts and feelings. For example, you might discover that you need to accept and even embrace certain things (and people) rather than expecting them to change. This internal shift will liberate you from the constant obsessing over stressors over which you have little control.

So, are you ready to take care of your stress? Just hit the S-O-S button.

Good luck on the journey!

 

 As always, please feel free to get in touch anytime.

The Stress-Incivility Tango

Stress Breeds Workplace IncivilityHave you noticed how when people are stressed, workplace incivility becomes a real big issue?

In the workplace, elevated stress levels are directly correlated with a rise in incivility levels. That is, the more stress there is, the more incivility you’ll see.

It’s simple: when you’re under the influence of stress you’re more prone to be short, discourteous, and reactive. And, to boot, you become more sensitive (more ‘velcro’, if you will) to even the most minor incivility that emanates from others.

In contrast, when your stress level is low, you are more polite, cordial and civil. You have the time (and the mindset) to be friendly and you possess the patience to accommodate other people’s ways. You are more thoughtful and considerate. And if per chance you are the subject of another person’s incivility, you are more forgiving and generous. You’re able to brush it off more readily.

So where might your elevated stress come from? Well, its sources can be rooted in your work life, home life or both. And you may experience spillage issues: pressure at home can contribute to your work stress and vice versa. When a loved one is diagnosed with a serious illness and your childcare arrangements collapse simultaneously, you may not be able to demonstrate your usual patience with a colleague who submits an error-filled report.

If you are a manager committed to boosting civility levels on your team, pay attention to people’s stress levels. Ask yourself what you can do to support resilience and decrease the stressors, and then take purposeful action. Just make sure that you stay away from delving too deeply into the details of people’s personal circumstances, because that might get you going places which, frankly, you as a manager have no business going to. Equally as important, as a people-leader, keep your own stress levels under check, because your pressure-induced incivility will affect your people in destructive ways that you might not be aware until much later (if ever).

Whether you are in a leadership position or not, working on your personal resilience is a good idea, any time, any day. There are three kinds of meta-strategies you can use to tame your pressure levels, and I invite you to click here to read an entry I wrote on this in ‘the old days’, when I was still doing lots of work in the field of stress resilience training. (Spoiler alert: not all of the strategies are good for you!).

And – stay tuned! – in the next blog entry I’ll share a simple tool that you might want to use when you find yourself acting out the stress-breeds-incivility cycle.

 

Please feel free to get in touch anytime.

P.S. If you are managing someone who is an abrasive leader, or if you are a manager who was told that you are abrasive – we are always here to help with a (free) perspective or input.

Would Love Your (Quick) Help!

HiRes

As you know, I’ve been hard at work on my upcoming book – a hands-on guide for leaders on how to prevent and deal with workplace incivility. There’s nothing even remotely like it on the market, which makes it all the more of an exciting project.

I’ve been vacillating between different titles and would love your input in arriving at a great solution. The book title will be used across our other programs, tools and products and as such will become a recognizable part of the Bar-David Consulting brand. So it’s super important to land on something catchy, evocative, and compelling.

I’d love you to weigh in with your opinion on a few options I’m considering.

Would you be willing to help?

Providing your input will take less than two minutes – – it’s only 4 multiple-choice questions.

AND, TA-DA! …. you’ll be entered in a draw to win one of three copies of the book, once published!

If you’re willing to help, just click here to share your view.

Your input will be soooo appreciated!

Questions, ideas or need help? Get  in touch, anytime!

Note added on May 15th 2014: thank you to all of you who blessed us with an abundance of thoughtful and creative responses! The poll is now closed and winners of the free books to be announced shortly.

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