It’s been well documented that different cultures have different concepts of personal space. I was including this stuff in my presentations on NVC a long time ago, and have taken part in international cross-cultural conferences where the concept was used to great effect in workshops. So I thought there was nothing new.
However scientists around the world have come together looking at the way people interact and how their personal space is influenced not just by culture but by wealth, and even weather and published their findings in the Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology with some intriguing results.
9,000 people were asked how far they would prefer to stand from someone – depending on their relationship. Stranger, acquaintance, or intimate or close friend?
Temperature was one factor tested in the research. One theory is that hotter climates make people stand closer because hot weather encourages emotional intensity and friendship. Alternatively it could make people stand further apart to avoid the risk of contracting disease or parasites. (Interestingly it’s been suggested that head lice is spreading in schools due to kids standing close together sharing their smartphones).
People from warmer countries did on average stand closer to strangers, but relatively farther apart from people they knew. Interestingly it was Germany and Norway who kept their closest friends closest.
Previous research had scientists standing at different distances from people in an MRI scanner. When they got too close for the subject’s comfort the amygdala was activated. (The amygdala is responsible for assessing threats and activates the fight or flight response. Also referred to in the EI literature e.g. Amygdala hi-jacking). So personal space is probably a defensive measure although why should it vary so much between cultures?
At opposite extremes were the Argentinians and the Romanians, at lest with regard to strangers. The Argentinians are the most touchy-feely people with preferred distances for strangers, acquaintances and intimate friends at 76cm, 59cm, and 40cm respectively. They keep strangers at the same distance that Canadians keep lovers.
Romanians prefer to keep strangers more than 1.3 m away but once they know you they are happy for you to be as close as the Argentinians at 40cm.
Brits like to keep people at 1 m, 80cm, or 50cm depending on their relationship with them.
Keeping strangers at arm’s length seems sensible to me and has probably evolved over time as a survival mechanism. As we become a more crowded island we may value our personal space more or adapt to shorter distances but with less eye contact or with other ways of protecting our space.
They are better than men at using people skills, the ability to take others with you, to compromise with good grace and to make employees feel valued.
They also outperform men in getting things done, can set ambitious goals and follow them through methodically.
They are even better at entrepreneurial skills such as innovation and have the courage to seize the initiative and communicate a vision clearly.
So what’s the catch? Well when the going gets tough it’s men that get going apparently.
After examining personality traits among Norway’s managerial elite it seems women are more likely to lack the emotional stability required in leadership so they wilt under pressure.
The authors said ” The survey suggests that female leaders may falter through their stronger tendency to worry – or lower emotional stability. However this does not negate that they are decidedly more suited to management positions than male counterparts. If decision-makers ignore this truth they could be employing less qualified leaders and impairing productivity”.
The researchers looked at the correlation between leaders and emotional stability, an outgoing personality, openness to new experiences, agreeableness and a methodical nature (these are all traits in the Big 5 personality model).
They also compared managers in the public and private sectors. They found that public sector leaders showed higher degrees of innovation, stronger people skills and more meticulous attention to detail. This applied more to senior rather than middle managers.
The most effective managers were those motivated by a genuine interest in their work and a sense of its value.
After the recession there were lots of anecdotal stories of female CEOs being preferred to mop up the mess left behind by former (male) CEOs and research that showed that female CEOs were trusted more. And there is evidence that having females in your team can make it more effective.
Marissa Meyer seemed to have lost the plot at Yahoo after banning working from home and building a creche next to her office so she didn’t have to.
Here in the UK there have been some embarrassing examples of senior women managers in the NHS who have had to leave their posts in disgrace. Perhaps only proving that there is equality and that women can be just as bad leaders as men
Last September I asked on my other blog: Have we finally realised we need to unplug ourselves from endless apps and social media connections?
I described the Light Phone and the fact that the old Nokia 3310 from 2000 was selling well on the internet. Now it’s been announced that the Nokia will be sold again with a larger colour screen but with only basic call and text facilities for around £49 in the UK.
It seems that the smartphone idea was being dumbed-down. Is that a bad idea?
Well in the Times Body & Soulsection last weekend they asked “is your smartphone making you stupid?.”
Arianna Huffington‘s book “Thrive: The third metric to redefining success and creating a happier life”
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Dame Athene Donald who is a master of Churchill College (isn’t that a bit sexist?) and a professor of experimental physics says references are often unintentionally written in a “gendered way” with academics more likely to describe women applying for research posts or fellowships as “hard-working” or “team players“.
She thinks this fails to communicate just how good female applicants are unlike when using words like “excellent“, “driven” or “outstanding” which apparently are often reserved for males.
She said “If letter writers just sit down and write the first adjectives that come into their heads to describe men and women, the words may be poles apart even if the subjects of the letters are indistinguishable in ability”.
“Do you really mean that your star PhD student is hard-working and conscientious or was the message you wanted to convey that she was outstanding, goes the extra mile, and always exceeds your expectations about what is possible, demonstrating great originality en route? There is an enormous difference in the impact of the two descriptions“.
She believes that this clearly can lead to a significant detriment to the woman’s progression, even if without a sexist intent.
Stanford University analysed performance reviews in technology firms and found that women’s evaluations contained almost twice as much language about their communal or nurturing style using words such as “helpful” or “dedicated”.
Men’s reviews on the other hand contained twice as many references to their technical expertise and vision.
Why is this surprising? Do people like Dame Donald think men and women actually behave the same at work? Of course there is an overlap but there is enough research which shows that women respond to stress differently, are often better at soft skills than men, can improve teams, and may be more emotionally intelligent to boot.
Professor Donald suggested that people writing references should use a gender bias calculator website that highlights words in texts that may be received as gendered. She also calls for training for selection panels – something most organisations have been doing for decades (my colleague and I introduced this into an NHS Trust back in the 1990s). I think she means well if a little too PC but maybe a bit out of touch with the real world.
Professor Alan Smithers, director of the centre for education at Buckingham University disagrees with her. He is quoted as saying “How do we know that academics using these words have unconscious bias? being a team player and hard worker are very important. It is perfectly possible that candidates do have these strengths and it is important that a referee is able to say so”
Common sense from one academic at least. And read what happened when a journalist investigated this issue for himself.
The British Heart Foundation (BHF) asked 2,000 executives what they looked for in candidates when recruiting.
More than half said they were more likely to employ someone who had done charity work. This was a higher proportion than were impressed by sporting achievements or people being physically fit.
The rationale behind companies liking charity workers was simple. The skills they learned doing voluntary work brought in an extra £36,000 to the companies. They also thought volunteers were more caring, reliable and driven.
And those members of staff who had done voluntary work earned about £1,000 a year more.
Some volunteers said it also made them more attractive to the opposite sex and helped them get dates.
The BHF said “Volunteers are absolutely essential to the success of the charity and play an integral part in fighting coronary get disease. We couldn’t continue our life-saving work without them”
In his new book “Does your family make you smarter” he proposes that intelligence, rather than plateauing at 18 years of age, can increase throughout adulthood, providing you have a stimulating lifestyle.
Households where people talk, challenge, joke and share cultural pastimes can boost the IQ of family members by several points.
And workplaces that impose intellectual challenges on staff can over time raise their individual intelligence.
The opposite is also true. People who share a home or workplace with dullards for any length of time risk seeing their IQ enter a sharp decline because of lack of stimulation.
Flynn says “Intelligence has always been thought to be static … the new evidence shows that this is wrong. The brain seems to be rather like a muscle – the more you use it, the stronger it gets. That means you can upgrade your intelligence during your lifetime“.
He suggests the best way to improve your IQ is to marry someone smarter than you, find an intellectually stimulating job, and hang out with bright friends.
Up to now we’ve believed that intelligence is controlled by genes influenced by our nutrition and environment up to age 18 when it stabilises.
Flynn’s research took 65 years of IQ tests from the US and correlating the results with the age of the people creating IQ age tables. From these he draws two conclusions. The cognitive quality of a family alters the IQ of all members but especially children i.e. it can lift them or hold them back.
For example a bright child of 10 with siblings of average intelligence will suffer on average a 5-10 point IQ disadvantage compared to a similar child with equally bright brothers and sisters. A child with a lower IQ can gain 6-8 points by having brighter siblings and educational support.
The effects are more clear in the early years with arithmetic skills strongly controlled by the home environment up to age 12 and verbal skills affected up to teenage years.
He also believes, based on this research, that although genetics and early life experience determine about 80% of intelligence the rest is strongly linked to our lifestyle as adults.
“As you leave childhood behind the legacy of your family diminishes but the game is not over. A large proportion of your cognitive quality is now in your own hands. You can change it yourself and your IQ can vary through life according to your own efforts” says Flynn
“Going through life feeling your childhood is holding you back is misunderstanding how much power you have to improve yourself”.
I don’t know if his book (out next month) makes any reference to the use of technology and social media and its impact of family interaction because that would have some impact.
This is certainly a game-changing idea and will undoubtedly be challenged although there has been other research which suggests there is something more to IQ than commonly believed.
In 2011 researchers at the University of Pennsylvania said that they found that high IQ scores are a result of high intelligence plus motivation whereas low IQ scores could be because of the lack of either intelligence or motivation (published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences).
They also said that students offered incentives improved their IQ scores and suggested that people with high IQs may be not only more intelligent but also more competitive
There is also research that shows you can improve the collective IQ of a group by adding more women.
Research in Scotland found that people with mentally stimulating jobs suffered less cognitive decline as they got older.
And recently researchers at the University of Texas found that busy over-50s had higher cognitive scores than younger people.
Experts in emotional intelligence have long held that EI, unlike IQ, continues to develop into adulthood. Now it seems we have the capacity to develop both our cognitive and socio-emotional skills.
Ministers believe that this will help MI5, MI6 and GCHQ to better fight against terrorism and other threats.
They have been advertising widely including on Mumsnet after a report by MPs which identified a gender imbalance in the intelligence community (Women currently make up 38% of MI6 staff and 42% of MI5 staff. Not a bad proportion I would have thought given the nature of the work)
They are looking for women with high levels of emotional intelligence rather than focussing on standard qualifications. They are also offering flexible hours and child-care support. Not a return to the days of Mata Hari!
So no more cold war warriors. No room for the Harry Palmers and Smileys as described in the post war espionage literature. But it makes sense as there is evidence that adding women to teams can increase the group’s IQ levels.
And this new diversity initiative should come as no surprise. MI5 comes in at No. 7 in Stonewall’s Top 100 gay-friendly workplaces and GCHQ prides itself on its neuro-diversity
These are mostly American and some names probably won’t mean much outside the USA . This might reflect Americentricism or the fact that there are more disappointing leaders in America – which is hard to believe really.
Anyway the list, starting with politicians (a group which never fails to disappoint somebody):
The Mayor of Michigan, Rick Snyder, for refusing to accept any responsibility for his actions which resulted in lead poisoning in the water in the city of Flint. He blamed the government and the EPA instead. Well he is a politician and not the only one on the list.
The Governor of New Jersey, Chris Christie was considered the most craven one after first blasting Donald Trump’s candidacy “the President of the US is not a place for an entertainer” then declaring “… none better prepared to provide America with strong leadership …. than Donald Trump“. He’s been called a lot of names including puppet and ultimate lapdog.
The Mayor of Chicago, Rahm Emmanuel, prevaricated and changed his mind several times about the shooting of a black teenager by a white cop, first supporting then firing the Police Superintendent, objecting to a Justice Department investigation, and refusing to release the video of the shooting until a judge forced him to.
And the last politician on their list is Dilma Rousseff, President of Brazil. A former political prisoner during the military regime she is now facing impeachment for manipulating government accounts and hiding the worst recession in the country’s history. Don’t mention the Zika virus or the Olympic games!
Other contenders include Jeff Smisek, the former CEO of United Continental Airlines, which operated unprofitable flights to allow the chairman of the Port Authority of New York and Jersey to get to his vacation home.
The former COO Al Giordiano and CEO Steve Nardizzi, of the Wounded Warrior charity project spent 40% of donations on salaries and expenses (compared to 10-15% in similar organisations). They are no longer with the organisation.
The co-CEOs of Chipotle, Steve Ellis and Montgomery Moran, clearly didn’t understand the concept of hygiene in a food retailing environment. They’ve had E.coli, salmonella, and Norovirus for which they blamed the Centers for Disease Control. Despite reassurances abut new food safety measures they had repeated problems and now face a federal investigation over its food safety issues.
Former FIFA Sepp Blatter and his intended successor Michael Platini were both banned from sport for 8 years. To say FIFA was a hotbed of corruption is probably an understatement after nine senior soccer officials and 16 others were indicted in the US for money laundering and racketeering.
Marissa Mayer clearly thought highly of herself when she was appointed CEO at Yahoo. And she was paid accordingly but has failed to deliver on her promises. If she successfully sells the business she reportedly gets $28m and if she’s sacked before then she gets a mere $8 million. Reward for failure yet again.
Martin Winterhorn, who led VW as chairman throughout its diesel emissions scam but allowed ambition to blind him to the truth.
Then there are a handful from the pharma/health industry such as Martin Shkreli, former CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals who bought drugs cheaply and then hiked the price astronomically before being indicted; Michael Pearson, former CEO of Valeant, a Canadian pharma company which misstated its financial results after also jacking up drug prices; and Elizabeth Holmes, founder of Theranos a company that promised to deliver cheaper and less invasive blood tests – claims that didn’t stand up to scrutiny and were found to actually jeopardise patient safety.
Gustavo Martinez, former CEO of J Walter Thompson obviously thought he was Don Draper (Mad Men) in the way he treated staff and allegedly threatened to rape one of them.
Zappos boss Tony Hsieh, who lives in a trailer with two alpacas keeping guard, was regarded as a leadership guru who eliminated all bosses in his on-line shoe company and created a self-management model called “holacracy” in which the company was aiming to achieve a state of organisational enlightenment known as “teal” (This might be familiar to those who know about Spiral dynamics). Strangely staff didn’t take to it and left in droves.
Finally Parker Conrad, former CEO of Zenefits, an employee benefits company with a thousand employees worth $4.5bn. It turned out that 80% of its health insurance sales were made by unlicensed brokers and employees weren’t being given mandatory training. However Conrad obviously believed in employee benefits as there were office parties, drinking at work, wrestling and sex in the office. Zenefits’ culture was considered “Inappropriate for a highly regulated company“, although in this case obviously highly unregulated.
Fortune magazine didn’t rank any of these but invited readers to vote for their choice of Most Disappointing Leader. The result?
A Fortune Magazine readers poll says that Michigan Governor Rick Snyder is number one on the list of the 19 most disappointing leaders in the world, because of his role in the Flint water crisis. Flint had switched water sources while under an emergency manager appointed by the governor. The Flint River water’s corrosiveness leached lead into the city’s water supply. It’s believed many children were exposed to dangerous lead levels for an extended period of time. Critics say the governor should have acted sooner when indications of the problem first surfaced. Fortune Magazine awarded the governor their “Don’t Blame Me, I’m Just the Governor” award. A Snyder spokesperson says the governor is focused on fixing the problem, not on internet polling.
You might be wondering why President Obama‘s picture is at the top of this post. He wasn’t mentioned but surely he just be a disappointment after his failures at home and abroad?
And Tony Blair must also be in there with his post-political consultancy work (and his wife a human rights lawyer – allegedly).
There are phrases that women use (allegedly) that are holding them back in the workplace and this app is meant to prompt them to evaluate what they are saying and come up with a better i.e. more assertive, phrase to replace it.
When words like “sorry” or “just” are typed into a Gmail they are underlined for correction with a warning such as “Using ‘sorry’ frequently undermines your gravitas and makes you appear unfit for leadership” or ” ‘Just’ demeans what you have to say“.
So far so good you might think. let’s discourage the use of “undermining words“. But no, it’s attracted the wrath of feminists and journalists such as New York business editor Alexandra Frean (writing in The Times).
“Sorry, but women don’t need to be told how to write” she says. This is just part of the trend offering spurious advice on women’s speech patterns which are supposed to empower women but risk doing the opposite – in her opinion.
Now Frean is an American and from her on-line presence seems a familiar sight at conventions and the like and probably one of the “lean in” brigade. But is she right?
She refers to women using “upspeak“, which makes every sentence sound like a question, or “vocal fry” when their voice descends to a croak instead.
And then she asks where is the evidence that women do these things more often than men?
Well I remember a speaker from a British university presenting on this very subject at an international leadership conference in Germany a couple of years ago where she presented such evidence.
And from my experience as an executive coach working with senior women this is not uncommon. Maybe it’s that we Brits are a bit less forward than our American cousins.
She then argues that woman might be using these qualifiers, not to display weakness but as persuaders and conciliators.
She also refers to research at Rutgers university that found that women who spoke confidently about their strengths were seen as less attractive and less employable.
She’s not the only critic of the app. Professor of linguistics at the University of California in Berkeley Robin Lakoff says that telling women how to talk discourages them from speaking. “I know the developers of the app would say, in all sincerity, that they are trying to help women by telling us how to talk, but these hints never make anyone a better speaker; their effect is to make women less articulate because they suppress our spontaneity and make us embarrassed about whatever we do”
She says whether a word is used correctly depends on the context and there are times when saying sorry is OK and other times when it is inappropriate. These kinds of words (or discourse markers) have the ability to soften what a speaker is saying or make difficult conversations more comfortable. They also make people feel better and able to get along, something she says women are better at than men.
So arguments on both sides – and all from women, including the person who designed the app is Tami Reiss who describes how it came about here.
In short she was inspired by a number of women coaches and leaders including Tara Mohr, a leadership coach and author of “Playing Big” a book that exhorts every working women to “find your voice, your mission, your message“. (seen here on YouTube
- It’s an unconscious habit that women have picked up from other women
- Women who use these phrases want to appear likeable and worry about coming over as aggressive or arrogant. (I posted about women’s dilemma some time ago in “Too nice or too bossy” in regard to leadership).
- The third reason is the inner critic we all have which creates self-doubt (and gives rise to imposter syndrome, something else I posted about earlier)
Mohr says the feedback she has had from people following her recommendations has been positive and her clients report getting faster replies to their e-mails and having their requests taken more seriously.
Mohr also takes a strong view about women coming out of 2,000 years of oppression! According to her women have a lot of work to do, both unlearning and learning, to be able to fully embrace the freedoms that women now have.
He was exploring the idea of delayed gratification among school children. Basically he found that in long-term follow ups the children who could exercise self-control and delay eating the marshmallows did better in life.
Now researchers at the University of Warwick have carried out similar experiments with children at 20 months of age using raisins. The toddlers were told they had to wait a minute before they could eat a raisin.
Almost a quarter were able to resist the urge to eat the raisin. Six years later, at age 8, these were the children found to have done best at school.
Note to parents: if you want to help your kids develop emotional intelligence don’t give in to their demands too easily.
Story in the Times, research published in the Journal of Paediatrics