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


EI good – Impulsivity bad? Not always

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Most people will think that being emotionally intelligent is a good thing and being impulsive is not.

A study reported last year from Illinois State University found almost the opposite.

Impulsivity was linked to more  examples of organisational citizenship behaviour (OCB), discretionary acts that promote the organisation, across a range of industries. Impulsive colleagues are more likely to help out colleagues even at the expense of their own work assignments than more cautious diligent employees.

This reflected what the researchers called a “can do” attitude. In this study they didn’t find any evidence that impulsivity led to more deviant behaviours. Other studies have shown that impulsivity but also optimism and cognitive ability can predict deviant behaviours so recruiters beware!

A far as emotional intelligence (EI) is concerned they didn’t find it linked to OCBs but more linked to deviant behaviours. People with high EI can easily figure out how to influence others and get away with self-interested behaviour such as fiddling receipts (does this remind you of the dark side?).

Other recent research at the University of Leuven in Belgium found that self-serving leaders could still be effective even if they weren’t emotionally intelligent? (It was assume that the more narcissistic self-serving leaders would have lower levels of EI).

It seems it depends on the level of distributive justice (e.g. are employees getting what they deserve?)

When distributive justice was perceived as low, then self-serving leaders were seen in a negative light. But when these  leaders keep their staff happy e.g. by promotions and other rewards, the staff saw them in a more favourable light (perhaps unsurprisingly).

If anything this kind of research shows that we need to be careful not to make broad assumptions about the positive value of these personal attributes. Don’t forget narcissists and psychopaths can be charming (and manipulative).

Charisma pays off

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Not least for charisma coach Olivier Fox Cabane who charges $150k per client, according to a recent interview with her in the Times, and whose book The Charisma Myth is selling very well.

And that’s not bad for someone who has business and law degrees but is a self-taught psychologist.

She is described as an extreme leadership guru who uses neuroshaping or “playing chemist with your own brain” to help people become more charismatic and persuasive.

Like other top end coaches she offers shadowing and video analysis and concedes that the charisma label is just a hook she uses to attract clients.

Starting off by offering free charisma courses to students at MIT she soon developed programmes for Harvard, Yale and the UN. She says she still does pro bono work for charities and refuses to work with politicians.

She is adamant that charisma is not just a genetic gift bestowed on people like Bill Clinton but is mostly learnt. Cabane also says that there are different kinds of charisma e.g. a warm likeable charisma (think Tony Blair at his peak and Bill Clinton) or a colder uncompromising style such as personified by Steve Jobs.

Mmm .. I’ve used a model borrowed from actors which suggests that charisma is a combination of warmth and status. Think of Gordon Brown as high status but hardly warm and cuddly. And that model ties in with US research on charismatic Fire Chiefs who score high on the Big 5 factor of Agreeableness.

Despite the reference to “neuroshaping” (which hints at he current interest in neuroscience) it seems much of what she teaches clients is about assertiveness and the use of NVC (she mentions the MIT research I’ve posted about previously). She also uses visualisation and anchoring techniques used by sports psychologists and NLP practitioners.

Here are the 5 steps outlined in the Times article

Stand like a big gorilla and take up as much space as possible. This is a technique well known to actors and is an example of demonstrating high status

Don’t wave your head about or nod as it indicates low status and confidence. Especially important for women who tend to move their heads to the side when theys peak. This is more a courtship/flirting signal

Make good eye contact but with warmth. Again a sign of confidence.

Lean back rather than froward when closing a deal as this suggests high confidence. In the past people were trained to lean forward and invade personal space to intimidate people.

Be aware of how you are feeling. Be in the moment. Mindfulness is very popular now and anything like it will help you relax and concentrate.

Good emotional intelligence and empathy will also be invaluable.

The Science of Self-control – use it or lose it

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A survey of almost 600 adults by the American Psychological Association found that 93% had set themselves behavioural change goals for 2012.

This was even though fewer than half had actually succeeded in maintaining goals they had set the  previous year

Most goals were health-or finance-related. When asked what obstacles they faced  1 in 4 said lack of willpower although 70% optimistically thought it could be improved.

Building on the work of Walter Mischel (famous for the marshmallow experiments) and Roy Baumeister among others, the APA’s report on the research makes the case that willpower is ike a muscle. Short-term demands weaken it but using it more leads to better self-control in the long run.

Baumeister says that behavioural change needs three components: the motivation to change, monitoring change, and willpower, whilst Mischel’s experiments highlight the need to plan ahead and avoid temptation.

The report also recommends ways of developing willpower including keeping your blood sugar levels balanced through eating and snacking healthily as some research suggests low glucose level weaken self-control. Other research found it was merely necessary to wash your mouth out with an energy drink to boost self-conrol i.e. the carbohydrates boost willpower through affecting motivation not nutrition levels.

Another method is using IF – THEN statements: if  I’m offered a cupcake then I’ll eat a raw carrot, or if I’m offered a glass of beer then I’ll have a fruit juice instead.

The APA’s CEO said; “it’s reassuring to know that even though people view a lack of willpower as a hurdle in their quest  to live healthier lives they believe that they can learn the skills they need to change their lifestyles”.

Research shows that setting goals, monitoring progress, and seeking support can be very effective in helping people increase their self-control and lead healthier lives.

It also has implications in work and management. Baumeister’s model is not too dissimilar to Beckhard’s change management equation and self-control is a key element in developing emotional intelligence (EI).

Read more about APA report here

Can you recognise emotions?

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Charles Darwin’s early experiments on recognising what he called the Cardinal Emotions ie universally recognised expressions of emotions, have been recreated using the original 11 photographs.

Darwin’s original research was to prove that humans shared expressions with animals thus supporting his theory of evolution.

The results were published in his 1872 book “The Expression of Emotion in Human and Animals”.

Now you can go on-line to make your own judgments about which emotion is being expressed.

Paul Ekman, the expert in body language and micro-expressions on whom the TV series “Lie to Me” was based, followed up Darwin’s work in the 1960s travelling round pre-industrial cultures to see if there really were universal emotional expressions. His findings broadly supported Darwin’s hypothesis.

His company currently trains people to recognise emotional expressions and is also believed to be involved in training Homeland Security and security experts in the UK to develop face-reading skills.

Cambridge University has updated the experiment using video and you can contribute to their research by assessing online video clips.

Recognising emotional expressions is important in variety of research areas such as autism, where sufferers find it difficult to recognise emotional expressions.

Botox users also find it difficult to express emotions through facial expressions, thus making it more difficult for others to read them, and it has been suggested that it actually reduces their level of empathy.

Empathy is one of the cornerstones of emotional intelligence. Being able to recognise other people’s emotional state through non-verbal signs is an important element of EI.

Read the full BBC news story 

Self-control (those marshmallows again)

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Latest research from New Zealand demonstrates that childhood levels of self-control are clearly linked with outcomes later in life.

1,000 NZ children were assessed at 3, 5, 7, 9 and 11 years of age and then interviewed at age 22.

Participants with poor self-control were more likely to become one-parent families, more likely to have credit and health problems, and more likely to have a criminal conviction. This was true even allowing for the effects of intelligence and social class.

  • In the top fifth – in terms of childhood self-control –  11% had serious adult health problems compared to 27% in the bottom fifth.
  • 13% of the top fifth were involved in a criminal offence compared with 43% of the bottom fifth.

Terrie Moffitt and her colleagues argue that this is a strong case for introducing universal self-control training into schools for children and adolescents. This would not carry the stigma of one-to-one interventions and would benefit everybody in society.

Source: February 2011 Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences

NB Marshmallows refers to Mischel’s famous experiment often cited in connection with emotional intelligence.

Here is another article about self-control with an embedded video showing 4-year olds using distraction to avoid eating the marshmallows.

Botox reduces empathy

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Over a year ago I posted “Body language and the B problem” and about some research by psychologists at Wisconsin-Madison University on the effect of Botox on interpersonal relationships.

This suggested that if you had a Botox treatment your inability to show appropriate emotions, especially sadness or empathy, would be interpreted as a lack of sympathy or interest. More interestingly it said it might actually slow down your own empathetic response.

Now Research at Duke University Fuqua School of Business in North Carolina has confirmed that as well as reducing frown lines Botox reduces a person’s ability to empathise with others. This is important for everyday interactions, particularly at work where we spend most of our time.

Empathy is a key component of emotional intelligence as is managing your emotions but it seems Botox would make you appear to be over-controlling your emotions or that you are lacking in empathy. Already researchers are saying that Generation Me students are 40% less empathetic than they were 20 to 30 years ago.

The Duke University researchers talk about embedded cognition, which is the idea that our bodies reflect the way we think and feel. For example if you see someone in pain you wince and that sends a message to your brain about the pain. (This sounds a bit like the idea of mirror neurons). NB I suspect that this wouldn’t work if you were a psychopath.

The researchers were initially interested in the effect of Botox on romantic relationships and the effect on that when one person has been treated with Botox and becomes less empathetic.

Also the idea that long-married couples start to look alike because they have been copying each other’s facial expressions for so long. (Could the same apply to people who start looking like their pets?)

btw if you are interested in having Botox the trend now is to have preventative Botox before you actually develop any frown lines!

And now Gender Intelligence

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Following on from IQ (intelligence), EQ (emotional intelligence), CQ (cultural intelligence), and RQ (resilience quotient).

GQ is based on John Gray’s best-selling books comparing men and women to Mars and Venus.

Recent research suggests that men and women aren’t actually that much different after all  (although men tend to have bigger brains than women).

But the test/quiz purports to tell you how much you know about gender differences so that you can be more effective when working with men and women, especially when selling to them.

Of course it’s a pitch for their sales training but it makes you think so it’s worth having a go by clicking here.

Are entrepreneurs intelligent?

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Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, Associate Professor of psychology at Goldsmiths College, University of London recently posted a blog on Psychology Today about IQ and how it is still the best predictor of success in life, including at school, at work, and in health.

He says that many people however associate high IQs with geeks or nerds and don’t accept how useful it is as a predictor of job performance, particularly since the publication of books on emotional and multiple intelligences.

There is also more knowledge about intelligence now, about the effects of interaction with the environment and competition on IQ scores.

He also acknowledges that much of the research has been carried out on traditional types of jobs, albeit requiring different skills and qualifications.

He is therefore interested in people in non-traditional jobs, the self-employed and entrepreneurs, on which there are few if any studies and who will form an increasingly large proportion of the working population in years to come.

So he wants to know how important IQ is in entrepreneurial success and has designed a survey to explore this. If you want to read the background to this in more detail and would like to be part of some research to find out, click here.

If you don’t want to read the Psychology Today blog just go straight to the on-line test and get your free report  here.

Some people believe that entrepreneurs just have lucky personalities and it’s nothing to do with how intelligent they are. But imagine if you had both the brains and a winning personality!

Updated 19 May 2011:    The link above is to Dr Mark’s Business Psychology Blog, one of my favourites,  and he has posted another one on “Bottling the Entrepreneurial Spirit”. Well worth reading.

See also: How do you know how intelligent you are?

My most read posts in 2010

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Writing a blog on the subject of psychology, emotional intelligence, and human development is fascinating because there is so much knowledge out there and is plenty of raw material.

But it also means there are lots of excellent writers already out there in the blogosphere. So it’s encouraging that so many of you have taken the trouble to read my posts and even added comments which I welcome and appreciate.

These were the 5 most read of my posts in 2010.

At number 5: Moral judgements and decision-making under the influence

An interesting and scary piece of research for its potential in everyday situations at work.

At number 4: So many “friends” yet still lonely

A re-blog from Mike the Psych, where it was the 3rd most popular post, setting out the downside of Facebook.

At number 3: How do you know how intelligent you are?

Food for thought and a chance to test yourself and contribute to a scientific experiment.

At number 2: Stressful Days are here again

Re-blogged by SGandA, where it was joint 4th most popular post, it does seem that the recession is having an effect. So time to learn how to be more resilient.

And by far the most popular post, with 4 times more viewers than the second placed one: The Four Agreements – shamanic emotional intelligence

An alternative take on many of the ideas from Emotional Intelligence , CBT and NLP, and one which is a regular in my top posts.

So thanks for reading my posts and encouraging me and here’s wishing you an emotionally intelligent 2011!

Charisma can be measured – and taught

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Researchers at MIT claim they can now measure charisma with 87% accuracy.

I’ve posted on charisma before; “Leadership, charisma and NVC” and earlier asking the question; “Have you got charisma?“.

But this research on social signals moves it a step forward.

Researchers Pentland and Olguin fitted executives at a party with recording devices that captured social signals eg tone of voice, gesticulation, and proximity to other people. 5 days later the same executives presented business plans to a panel of judges in a contest.

Without reading the plans or hearing the pitches Pentland accurately forecast the winners based on the data collected at the party.

The researchers have used this kind of data before in accurately predicting the outcome of salary negotiations and who would survive in the well-known NASA “plane crash role-playing” game.

They use the biological term, “honest signals“, to describe the non-verbal cues that social species use to coordinate themselves – gestures, expressions, tone etc. (language is perhaps 50,000 years old but long before that species communicated and worked together to survive using non-verbal signals).  The honest signals are the ones that cause changes in the receiver of the signal. So if you are happy it rubs off on other people.

They have confirmed that more successful people are more energetic, talk more, and listen more. They spend more face-to-face time with others (this is really important – perhaps 2.5 times as important to success as having additional data), pick up cues, and draw people out, Similar in many ways to the emotional intelligence models.

So it’s not just what they project but what they elicit which makes them charismatic.

They also believe that by using this knowledge they could decrease stress, increase job satisfaction and improve productivity (they believe that they could improve productivity by 10% just by re-arranging the work environment so that people can interact more).

Source: HBR January/February 2010

Updated 9 November 2011: Charismatic behaviours can also be taught. Research has shown that charismatic behaviours include use of body language (NVC), moral conviction and using metaphor.

Now a team at the University of Lausanne has taken 34 managers and given them a 360 feedback survey on their charisma and leader-like qualities.

Make better use of your brain

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High achievement has little to do with your IQ but to a partnership between your brain and behaviour.

So say Drs Brown and Fenske, regular contributors to the Harvard Business Review, in their book “The Winner’s Brain”.

They also believe that the brain retains the capacity to change throughout adulthood (also see “Old doesn’t mean stupid“).

They say if you put in the work you can enhance brain function which in turn will help you become more self-aware, more resilient and with better control over attention and emotional responses (some of the key aspects of emotional intelligence).

Using neuro-imaging techniques researchers can now see which parts of the brain are active when people are engaged in specific tasks and also what impact certain activities have on those areas. They believe that those functions can be enhanced –  literally fine-tuning the brain.

They suggest a number of strategies to help us perform better.

  1. Meditation for stress relief can affect visible changes in areas of the brain which in turn have an impact on our ability to control attention and our emotional response
  2. The bigger the task the more likely you are to procrastinate. Therefore you nedd to reframe the problem and break it into small, concrete steps (bite size chunks as trainers might say). It is the ability to change the way you look at a task or problem that is important and the more you do it the more success you have.
  3. Brain functions that provide focus break down when you are multi-tasking or have distractions. To work optimally you can’t multi-task because the brain has limitations when doing multiple things (see “Multi-tasking makes you stupider than smoking pot“). So eliminate distractions but not all of them. To be at your best you may need to reduce activity in parts of the brain involved in self-monitoring and self-criticism. So us a gentle distraction like background music or ambient sounds just enough to keep your critical self-conscious occupied so you can focus and work more easily. But avoid abrupt distractions like phone calls or e-mail alerts.

Source: HBR September 2010

Updated 5 November 2010: Neuroscientists at the University of Oxford have discovered that passing electricity through the brain, from the right parietal lobe to the left, improves mathematical ability. If you pass the current in the opposite direction however it reduces your ability.

The research was looking for ways of treating dyscalculia, the numerical equivalent of dyslexia, which is thought to affect 6% of the population. Such a treatment might also be useful for people who have suffered a stroke or brain injury.

Of course there would be nothing to stop people with normal ability in maths using such a treatment to improve their ability eg when taking exams. This could replace the smart drugs such as Ritalin and Provigil used by some people as cognitive enhancers by improving attention and alertness. (See my earlier post; “Keeping up with speed“).