EI

Empathy deficit

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What doesn't kill you, makes you?Rihanna’s latest explicit, and some would say exploitative, music video has quite rightly caused some controversy.

The song title, if you can call a repetitive one-liner a song,  “Bitch better have my money” might give you a clue but you can find it on her YouTube channel with warnings about explicit content. The bitch by the way refers to the male accountant who has embezzled her money not his trophy wife who gets tortured.

Leaving aside the dubious question of whether or not it’s meant to illustrate payback by black women or their empowerment, this example of mean girl behaviour demonstrates what has been called the empathy deficit.

Research has shown that the present “it’s all about me” generation is more lacking in empathy than any previous one with a self-obsession which borders on narcissism. Research at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Studies found in 2010 that empathy in college students had declined by 40% over the previous thirty years, something I have posted about previously.

At the same time aggravated assault cases, especially among girls, have risen dramatically. It is a social problem that Barack Obama has called the empathy deficit which he believes is one of the most serious problems facing America.

Cognitive Linguist George Lakoff is quoted as saying “Empathy is the reason we have the principles of freedom and fairness“, important underpinnings for a just society. In fact some would argue the basis for humanity.

Rihanna has used social media to humiliate easy targets including sex slaves in Thailand. Given that she has been the victim of domestic abuse it also illustrates Rihanna’s lack of self-awareness as well as empathy and I suspect a general low level of emotional intelligence.

One of the directors of the video said “We wanted to keep it cool and funny. I wouldn’t say it was a feminist statement. There aren’t any political or moralistic ideas in there at all” . 

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Leadership – do you have what it takes?

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business_professionals_standout_1600_wht_5372Research shows that as many as 10% of leaders could have narcissistic or sociopathic tendencies lurking behind a charming veneer. They are self-obsessed, leave a trail of casualties in their wake, and like Typhoid Mary are seemingly unaffected by their actions.

Organizational psychologist Kathy Schnure‘s research, presented at the 25th annual conference of the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology, and reported in Management Issues, compared ratings of leadership potential for those who have high levels of narcissism to those who show low-to-average levels on the ‘narcissism scale.

She found those displaying strong narcissistic tendencies – things like exploitation/entitlement, leadership/authority, superiority/arrogance, and self-absorption/self admiration – had a significantly higher rating of potential leadership abilities than those with low-to-average scores.

Those results would indicate the vision, confidence and pride in their own accomplishments could presumably translate into effective leadership in an organization or team,” Schnure said.

On the other hand, while narcissists do gain leadership roles, often based on their charisma and ability to persuade others to accept their point of view, some of the underlying traits, or “dark sides” will eventually surface, preventing any “good” leadership,” she added.

Timothy Judge, an organizational psychologist at the University of Florida, says a prime example of this “dark side” is an overblown sense of self-worth.

Narcissists are intensely competitive, self-centered, exploitive and exhibitionistic. They tend to surround themselves with supplicants they see as inferior. When they are challenged or perceive competition, they often derogate and undermine anyone, even those closest to them, they perceive as threats (and unfortunately, they are vigilant in scanning for threats)“.

Schnure said leaders who are charismatic are not necessarily narcissists. “Charismatic leaders are not exploitive; they do not trample others to get what they want. Rather they display empathy toward employees” she added.

And what about leaders who are described as “charismatic”, for example Obama or the late Steve Jobs at Apple? Rob Goffee, Professor of Organisational Behaviour at London Business School and co-author of “Why Should Anyone Be Led by You?”, quoted in an article in The TimesIt’s not all about being charismatic“, in 2009, thinks that strong leaders are good at developing disciples, but not successors.

The people that make leaders charismatic are their followers. Barack Obama, for example, is clearly charismatic, but he’s also enigmatic. You can’t pin him down and so he allows us to project our dreams and hopes on to him.”

So just what does it take to be a leader? According to the Work Foundation there are 5 key skills:

  1. Seeing the bigger picture
  2. Understanding that talk is work
  3. Giving time and space to others
  4. Going through performance
  5. Putting “we” before “me”

Source: The Guardian article “Follow Your Leader?” 16/01/2010

And based on good practice and wide experience I also offer the following quick read: 10 ways to be a leader

First posted on SGANDA

Feedback & its impact on Women in Teams

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P1000161Receiving feedback on how individuals in a group are performing on can reduce your cognitive ability.

That’s according to researchers at Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute who used MRI technology to study how the brain was processing information about the group processes and how it effected cognitive capacity.

Researchers ranked performances on tasks and then shared that information with the group. After the feedback some people’s problem-solving ability declined significantly and that was particularly true for women.

The researchers think that subtle social signals in group settings affect cognitive functioning or, as the Daily Mail put it: “being in a group lowers your intelligence especially if you’re a women“.

This is interesting because not long ago I posted on how adding women to your group raised its collective IQ. This was attributed to women having better social skills, or more social sensitivity (similar to emotional intelligence). Teams displaying social sensitivity would be more open to feedback and constructive criticism.

I wonder if in this experiment the sharing of feedback introduced an element of competition rather than cooperation and raised stress levels which impact on problem-solving ability.

Other research has found that men are more competitive than women on the whole and this gender competition gap could explain why in this experiment giving feedback was not an advantage for women and of course for the team as a whole.

Originally posted on SGANDA

Make a team more intelligent – add more women

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women_raising_hands_1600_wht_7873Putting a group of highly intelligent people in a team doesn’t always produce the best results.

Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University and MIT Sloan School of Management have found there is no correlation between individual IQ scores and group intelligence.

Participants were first given standard intelligence tests and then randomly assigned to teams. The teams were asked to brainstorm, solve visual puzzles and one complex problem, and then each team’s collective intelligence was assessed.

The teams that had members with higher IQ scores didn’t score much higher than the average but teams that had more women in them did.

Factors such as group cohesion, motivation, and satisfaction were not predictive of the teams’ performance but gender diversity was correlated. The researchers put this down to what they call social sensitivity (which sound similar to the emotional intelligence factors of empathy and awareness of others).

Teams displaying social sensitivity would be more open to feedback and constructive criticism. Teams that had smart people dominating the discussions didn’t turn out to be so intelligent as a group.

So in theory a group of high IQ members could score better on the team tests but it would probably be because they had higher levels of social sensitivity as well. Women score higher on this than men but if you had more socially sensitive men that would work too.

The researchers also suggest that extremely diverse groups and highly homogeneous groups aren’t as intelligent as groups with a moderate degree of variety in IQ scores. They also see the potential for improving IQ at organisational level through changing the make-up of a group and rewarding collaboration, although the larger a group gets the less opportunity there is for face to face interaction.

This research is interesting because it uses collective IQ as a predictor. We know now that IQ scores can vary depending on the motivation of the individual and that when you are stressed your IQ level drops. Putting people in a more collaborative and supportive environment probably contributes to the enhanced group effect.

Source: HBR June 2011

Resilient Leadership

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bottomlineOver the years there have been many approaches to leadership with trait theories, style theories, functional models, situational/contingency models, transactional/transformational theories, ideas about biological and personality characteristics, and more recently emotional intelligence competencies

So do leaders need to be more intelligent than their followers? Well probably a bit, because that inspires confidence, but not too much more intelligent.

Do they need to be empathetic? It’s probably better if they have tough empathy ie “grow or go” but they do need social skills.

Do they need to be liked? No, but they need to be respected. And since the last recession integrity has become important again.

Difficult times require people to perform better than normal and people need exceptional leaders to help them do that. By exceptional I don’t mean charismatic or heroic leaders – although some people respond to that style of leadership which “encourages the heart” – but leaders who do what they say they will do ie are conscientious, and also act as role models.

And to do that they need to be both self-confident and emotionally stable.

Research among elite performers found that they had a number of characteristics in common. As well as being intelligent, disciplined and bold, with strong practical and interpersonal skills, they bounced back from adversity.

Jim Collins describes in his book “How the mighty fall” people who are exasperatingly persistent and never give up. They are not necessarily the brightest, most talented, or best looking, but they are successful because they know that not giving up is the most important thing they do. He says; “success is falling down and getting up one more time, without end”.

This resilience (from the latin to leap back) is linked to personal attributes such as calmness in stressful situations, reflection on performance through feedback, and learning systematically from both success and failure.

Resilient people generally:

Recognise what they can control and influence and do something about it, rather than worry about what they can’t
Stay involved rather than becoming cynical or detached or simply walking away
Work with others to shape the environment and influence things that affect them most
Act as a source of inspiration to others to counter self-destructive behaviour

Aren’t these the sort of behaviours you would expect from good leaders? So it’s not just about “bouncing back” and carrying on where you left off before. It’s about reflecting and learning from what has happened and then getting back to business.

Resilience seems to be an innate ability for most people and is increasingly found in leadership competency frameworks where it is linked with confidence, authenticity and ethical leadership ideas.

Modern leaders need not just brains and emotional intelligence but also resilience.

Acting as a role model is an essential part of being an effective leader hence the need for them to be hardy and emotionally stable. Research shows that resilient leaders can have a positive effect on the well-being of organisations and their employees so it’s well worth organisations developing such capabilities.

See how you can develop resilience

First posted on SGANDA in 2011

Emotional Intelligence & Empathy

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women_puzzle_pieces_1600_wht_7872In an earlier post about Emotional Intelligence and marshmallows I referred to the findings of a Demos think-tank report which reported on an increase in social mobility between the end of WW2 and the 1970s followed by a period of stagnation up to 2000.

Amongst the three traits that were most important for children to improve their social lot was empathy – the ability to be sensitive to other people, to read their emotions and understand non-verbal communication.

This is one of the cornerstones of emotional intelligence. Unless you are a sociopath everyone is capable of being empathic. There is even some research evidence that we possess a mirror neurone which plays a part in empathy and learning by imitation.

It may also explain the phenomenon of postural echo where two people in rapport with each other may unconsciously synchronise their movements.

There is also other evidence that may be a genetic component to empathy. Researchers in the US have discovered that people who inherit a particular version of oxytocin receptor, the bonding hormone, score significantly higher on tests of empathy, and react less strongly to stressful stimuli.

They point out that people who score lower can still be caring and empathetic individuals, and people can learn to develop more empathy. For example, people who read well-written novels are able to put themselves in the shoes of the characters and that helps them to understand others’ perspectives.

And researchers at Strathclyde University found that children who are good at standing up to bullies, whether for themselves or others, are better at resolving problems without conflict, are more emotionally literate, and better at taking other people’s perspective. See “What doesn’t kill you, makes you”.

Students today, however, are 40% less empathetic than they were 20 or 30 years ago, according to a report in The Times. “Generation Me” is more narcissistic, self-centred and competitive and less concerned with other people’s feelings. People also see them as more confident and individualistic but less kind.

The decline has been more marked since 2000, attributed to violent video games, social networking sites, and an obsession with TV celebrities. Inflated expectations, competitiveness and hiding weaknesses leaves no time for empathy.

Researchers believe that technology has replaced human interaction and having “friends” online means that you don’t have to respond to their problems. At one point it seemed that emotional intelligence was at last being taken seriously in the last labour government.

In The Times at that time, an article about cabinet resignations said that Shaun Woodward and Tessa Jowell were given; “prominent communication roles to provide emotional intelligence and, according to aides, address Mr Brown’s communication weaknesses”. That those attempts failed is now history.

BTW If you want to check out how good you are reading NVC go to this BBC site

First posted on SGANDA in 2010

Emotionally Intelligent Leadership: Command & Self-control

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Emotional Intelligence, self-control, and those marshmallowsSuccessful executives see trouble as an opportunity and not a threat“, wrote Carly Chynoweth in the Sunday Times when I first posted this in 2010. Has anything changed?

The article was about the necessity for leaders to take tough decisions in tough times. One contributor said that you had to learn to thrive on pressure or go under, and it was your choice to make basically. He went on to say; “people at the top develop mental toughness… it’s about willpower and not seeing yourself as a victim“.

And a former Chief Executive said; “It’s about mindset and the employees in front of you. If you have a bad day you hide it, because you can be transmitting a virus“.

If self-awareness is the first building block in emotional intelligence, awareness of others’ feelings, or empathy, and self-control come next. And one of the most popular stories reflecting a cornerstone of emotional intelligence is the experiment carried out by Walter Mischel at Standford University in the 1960s using marshmallows to measure self-control.

In a recent post; “Practise makes perfect, probably“, I referred to David Schenk, a writer on genetics, who claims that the case for genetic predisposition is overstated and that if you practise hard enough you can even become a genius. In the same article he cites the marshmallow experiment as an example of how children can learn to develop self-discipline.

Another similar story that caught my eye appeared in the international edition of USA Today (one of the few “English” newspapers you can get on Eastern European airlines). The headline said “The secret of school success. Want your kids to master books? First they need to master themselves. Fortunately new research is finding that self-control can be taught.” The story was about programmes teaching self-regulation in American schools and at the heart of it was a description of the famous marshmallow experiment run by Walter Mischel in the 1960s. The story also criticises some modern parenting methods as undermining the development of self-regulation.

Back in November 2009 both the Observer and the Sunday Times picked up on the findings of a Demos think-tank report. The Sunday Times headline was “Bad parents kill prospects of working class”. It reported on an increase in social mobility between the end of WW2 and the 1970s followed by a period of stagnation up to 2000. The report identified three traits that were most important for children to improve their social lot.

These were:

  1. the ability to concentrate and stick with tasks,
  2. self-regulation – whether someone can control emotions and bounce back from disappointment, and
  3. empathy – the ability to be sensitive to other people.

The report went on to say that the best form of parenting to inculcate these characteristics was “tough love” ie setting clear rules and boundaries, instilled by discussion and affection. And the marshmallow experiment was cited as a predictor of success in life. The report also described disengaged and emotionally callous children and also suggested expanding the role of Health Visitors to provide supportive parenting.

The Observer took a similar tack with “Tough love breeds smart children“. This article contained a number of statistics and found that among the 9,000 families it tracked for the survey only 13% used a tough love approach combining discipline and warmth. Although the research found that it was the style of parenting, rather than income or social background that developed the 3 character traits referred to above, this approach was more common in wealthy families and where parents were married. The parents’ level of education was also an important factor , as was breastfeeding until 6 months.

The report also claimed that these soft skills, or character capabilities, had become increasingly important in life and were now 33 times more important in determining income for those who turned 30 in 2000 than for those 12 years older.

And in advance of a report from the think tank Demos the Times published a piece about the importance of self-control and empathy in children and included a description of Mischel’s now famous marshmallow test.

Mischel had been monitoring the lives of dozens of his subjects since he started the marshmallow experiments at a nursery on the campus of Stanford University, California, in the 1960s. His findings have proved so compelling that 40 of his original subjects, then in their forties, were preparing to undergo scans in the hope of answering a perplexing human question: “why are some of us better than others at resisting temptation?”

Brain imaging provides a very exciting and important new tool,” said Mischel, who now works at Columbia University in New York. By examining the differences between the brains of subjects who turned out to be good at controlling their impulses and those who wolfed down the marshmallow the moment it was offered, researchers hope to come up with new ways of teaching the benefits of delayed gratification.

Update

41n6+3DqQ7L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Walter Mischel published a new book in September 2014: “The Marshmallow Test: Mastering Self-Control”.

Emotionally Intelligent Leadership

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Emotionally Intelligent LeadershipI first posted this in 2010 after coming across a great article on Emotional Intelligence by Dan Bobinski in Management Issues.

He maintained that 2/3 of the difference between average and top performers is due to EI and that in senior positions it accounts for 80% of the difference. Which seems a good reason for managers and leaders to work at developing or enhancing their EI levels.

And so he set out a 10 step plan to help them do just that, starting with the idea that we should stop thinking about good and bad personality and think of people as just being different. And that different isn’t the same as difficult, it’s just that people haven’t learnt how to deal with differences. 

Since Goleman popularised the term emotional intelligence 20 years ago it has become massive (When I googled the term in 2010 I  got almost 3 million hits. Today I got over 7 million). Interestingly when he first described EI it had 5 elements but once he became involved with HAY/McBer it evolved into the classic 4-box model much beloved by consultants. The 4 boxes can be generically described as Self Awareness; Self Control; Awareness of Others; and Managing Relationships.

Self-awareness is generally agreed to be the starting point in developing EI and also in developing leadership skills. In a report published by the Work Foundation in 2010, Penny Tankin said: “Outstanding leaders focus on people. Instead of seeing people as one of many priorities, they put the emphasis on people issues first“. And the Institute for Leadership & Management (ILM), which obviously has an interest in developing leaders, agrees with the report that developing leaders is possible but difficult.

The ILM’s then Chief Executive Penny de Valk said: ” A lot of it is about becoming more self-aware. You need to be much more conscious of the clues you use both verbally and in gestures. … a lot of coaching now teaches this kind of thing“. Tankin agrees and adds that psychometric profiling will give an insight into what people are like and any areas for improvement and that; “a lot of these things can be learned from feedback from others“.

As a coaching psychologist this is music to my ears as I regularly use psychometric tools such a the MBTI and Firo to help clients become more self-aware – followed up by 180 and/or 360 feedback.

At the time I was originally posted this, Gordon Brown was apparently demonstrating his lack of self-awareness, and empathy if it comes to that. You may remember that he called someone who disagreed with him a bigot (see Bobinski’s proposition that different can be seen as difficult to deal with), and then blamed everyone but himself for the outcome of his petulant outburst. PS GB later accepted the blame for what happened, presumably after discussing the matter with his PR advisors.

Surprising many people, Gordon Brown showed a more human side with his resignation speech even admitting that he had frailties. There is some aspect of his personality which stops that being part of his public persona – perhaps his need to be in control (which then allegedly unravels under stress). Good leaders know that occasionally it pays to selectively admit to weaknesses.

Originally posted in 2010 on SGANDA (this has been edited)

Keep your brain in gear

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head_outline_puzzle_800_wht_10307Ever wondered what sex your brain is?

Try these 6 short tests and get a report comparing you to others. The tests include a test of empathy ie assessing NVC through facial expressions.

And if you like that kind of thing go to this site and check how intuitive you are for numbers, among other things.

First posted on SGANDA April 2 2010

Smile! 

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Trying to influence or establish contact with people by smiling only works with sociable people, according to research at Stanford University (2002).

Their brains respond and react with positive emotions but smiling has no impact on negative people, introverts, or those more neurotic.

The more extraverted you are, the more you allow yourself to be infected by the other person’s smile.

People make judgements based on your appearance in 1/10 of a second or less, to know whether or not they like you or think you are trustworthy. But after a couple of seconds they are distracted by what you say or do anyway.

Research by UK psychologists for Comic Relief in 2003 found big variations in the way people responded to smiles. In Edinburgh only 4% responded but in Bristol 70% smiled back (Birmingham was 31%). NB Smiling responses probably depend on the setting and the context.

Women smile more than men but it is discounted more as it is expected. 30 years ago researchers thought it was because of status differences between men and women but it may be more about relieving anxiety. Generally men only smile to be sociable.

Smiling is good for you as it lowers your heart rate and improves you immune system eg happier people resist catching colds better than unhappy people.

Cultural differences need to be taken into account too eg in former Soviet Union countries the older generation tend not to smile at strangers, even in shops and customer service settings (Russia, Ukraine, Czech Republic, Lithuania).

There is also a cost to smiling when you are required to do it for your job. Emotional Labour, the so-called “have a nice day syndrome”, is the cost of appearing happy and reasonable no matter how you really feel. Having to fake it for your job eg in medical settings, teaching and call centres, can make you feel exhausted, detached from other people and your own feelings, and can eventually lead to job dissatisfaction. If you want to see how good you are at detecting fake smiles go to: http://www.bbc.co.uk/science/humanbody/mind/surveys/smiles/index.shtml

Regulating empathy in this way is taking management control a step further than requiring staff to behave in certain ways. “You can’t force people to smile, they have to be satisfied with their lives, their jobs and their performance” said the HR Manager at IKEA, Russia.

There are things organisations could do:

  • Recruit extroverts who are generally more optimistic and positive
  • Give people who aren’t, role models to emulate (introverts can learn how to behave in extrovert ways)
  • Help people to get into positive moods through visualisation or by remembering positive events
  • Give people satisfying jobs to do!

If you need an incentive to smile it also looks like people who smile may live longer. http://bps-research-digest.blogspot.com/2010/06/say-cheese-big-smilers-in-photos-are.html

It seems dimples are in fashion (influenced by Cheryl Cole) and a “dimpleplasty” operation – cutting a hole in your cheek and stitching it to your muscles – is now all the rage. The problem is that, unlike real dimples which disappear when you stop smiling, your grin is permanent and as Carol Midgley in the Times magazine says, it might be awkward having a permanent grin when your neighbour tells you the dog has just died.

First posted 2010

My most read posts in 2012

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writer's_block_grayYes it’s the time of year when I get my feedback from WordPress about whether or not anyone out there actually read my posts and which they liked the best.

I wrote a measly 17 posts last year – falling far short of my own expectations of one a week! That brings the total to 72 since I started it in 2010.

This is partly because I was enamoured with tweeting and because I also write a leadership & management blog amongst others. As with all my blogs most of the pictures I use are ones I have taken on my travels so I hope you liked them as well.

My readers come from 75 different countries; mostly the UK but with the USA and Canada not far behind.

In reverse order:

My 5th most read post was: “Can you recognise emotions?” from November 2011

My 4th most read post was: “No country for grey-haired men” from January 2011, which was in second place last year.

My 3rd most read post was: “Moral judgements & decision-making under the influence” from October 2010, which was also in third place last year

My 2nd most read post was: “Emotional Intelligence, self-control and those marshmallows” from May 2010, which was in fourth place last year

And my most read post was: “The four agreements – shamanic emotional intelligence” from August 2010. This has been in first place for 3 years running.

So 4 out of 5 posts were also in my list last year. Must do better with new material next year!

Thank you for reading, liking, and following. All my posts are tweeted at @bizpsycho which you can follow or you can subscribe on this site