Leveraging relationships after the group interaction is over

Leveraging group interactions from a relational perspective continues beyond the interaction, thus serving as positional tools.

In this series, I’ve detailed techniques for leveraging group interactions from a relational perspective. This does not stop though once the interaction ends. We can continue afterwards in individual settings. More valuably, if we leverage our regular activity, we won’t need extra time.

For example, suppose the group interaction prompted a follow up meeting with an employee. Before diving into the meeting’s purpose, we say:

Before we start, I want to thank you for getting things rolling in our recent team meeting with your question.

In this way, group interactions become a staging ground, a positioning tool for leveraging relationships. The strategy is ancient. Seminar selling has used it for decades to create, build and leverage relationships, especially in financial services: group presentation followed up with individual interactions.

We can augment our outcomes further if we use the techniques I detailed in my series, Leveraging Relationships in Communications. For instance, we can improve the above with:

Before we start, I just want to thank you for your insightful question on our new business model at our recent team meeting. Your question really helped me get a good discussion going on its merits.

This one goes further. It has a strategic complimenting element that references a talent she has:

Before we start, I just wanted to say I appreciate your talent to think through things. Your question at our recent team meeting really helped me think through other ways this model helps you and me, and other ways you and I can explain it to others.

In addition to questions, we can reference such things as comments, ideas, answers and many more:

  • I liked your comment; you allowed me to discuss something I’m passionate about.
  • I appreciated your question. You addressed what others were thinking.
  • You did a great job answering Ralph’s question.
  • Your idea allowed others to see more easily what we’re accomplishing.

As my accompanying figure illustrates, we can apply this follow up to many and more than once. The nuggets for leveraging relationships later are virtually inexhaustible. They just require listening, awareness, noting and discipline from us.

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Authority Figure as Dangerous Figure

Authority figures can form the sides of the boxes outside of which we’re trying to think and develop.

Authority figures help in many ways, providing expertise, guidance, definitiveness and certainty. We’re taught to respect them too. Yet, they can be dangerous. While easily seeing this when they abuse power, it’s difficult to see when their intentions are prudent.

The article, “Just Thinking You Slept Poorly Can Hurt Your Performance” (Harvard Business Review, September 2014 edition), covering research by Kristi Erdal (Colorado College) hints at this. As with medical placebos, there are psychological ones too. Common ones are superstitions. Authority figures can be too. That is the danger.

Sleeping poorly affects performance. Erdal found that perceptions of sleep matter too. Regardless of how participants slept, if they perceived sleeping well, they performed well; if perceiving sleeping poorly, they performed poorly. Authoritarian influence worked on eighty-eight percent of participants, convincing them of a sleep they didn’t have.

Thus, authority figures are major contributors to this psychological placebo effect. That’s why the influence of medical placebos is largely attributed to the practitioner. It’s why leaders can inspire us to go beyond the possible.

As mentioned above, authority figures can exert a negative placebo effective innocently without malicious intent. This easily happens when we pressure and expose them by asking for predictions on highly variable and uncertain circumstances. Researching soft disciplines such as leadership are particularly vulnerable to the unintentional placebo effect. As authority figures enjoy success, conservatism increasingly influences their decisions. Conversely, if needing publicity or status, they are prone to wild predictions.

If authority figures can convince us we had a bad night’s sleep when we didn’t, then they can convince us we can’t do something when we can. When they say someone wouldn’t be a good hire, it’s not because he would be. It’s because they set expectations in our minds that he won’t be. Therefore, when thinking outside the box, we will often find authority figures forming some of the sides.

Sometimes these declarations have a contrarian effect, spurring us on to prove them wrong. Still, we are the governors of our minds. We must be wary who claims authoritarian status in them.


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Leadership's secret physical characteristics that influence people's assessment of leadership.

Physical characteristics strongly influence people’s assessment of leadership.

This Secret to Leadership Series began by stating leadership is an affect, an emotional influence that moves group members to action. It’s no secret that our physical characteristics influence people. The secret is the degree to which they do when they assess our leadership competency.

“The Look of a Leader” (The Economist, September 27, 2014) details these characteristics. This influence cuts across demographics and education. As with any subliminal influence, those who believe they are not influenced are the ones most influenced. They don’t take adequate thinking and emotional precautions.

For instance, simply knowing information is wrong doesn’t protect us from its influence. Even childish influences such as people’s names sway scientists when awarding grants. Dice rolls and lunch influence judges’ sentencing decisions. Unsurprisingly, the article concludes, “The evidence is strong that candidates for top jobs can still be undermined by superficial things like posture and tone of voice.”

Among others, the article cites these prominent physical characteristics in leaders:

  • Height: Whereas only 3.9% of the American population (and about  7% of males [pdf]) are 6’ 2” or over, 30% of its Fortune 500 CEO’s are.
  • Voice Sound: Voice quality accounts for 21% of listeners’ evaluations and content only 11%.
  • Deep Voices: Of 792 male CEO’s, those with deepest voices earned $182,000 a year more.
  • Physical Fitness: CEO’s in the S&P 500 who had finished a marathon earned 5% more.

To a degree, we can manage some physical characteristics. Fitness is one. Speaking style is another. Upticks in speaking tone at statements’ ends detract significantly from our leadership competency. They’re correctable. Erect posture, square stance and firmly planted feet slightly apart are others.

Military leaders and sports officials are taught to appear decisive even when doubtful. Yet, most leadership and MBA programs ignore leadership’s subliminal aspects. In many ways, learning to act well is critical to leadership.

Yes, being the leader you are feels grand. It does nothing though to combat the primitive, superficial emotions driving leadership selection. It also does nothing to tackle selectors largely believing they are immune to such influences.

In short, if we want to be a leader, we better start acting like one.


This video contains explanations and examples of speaking upticks at end of statements:


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Four Horsemen of Apocalyptic Decision Making

Dealing with uncertainty means establishing reserves, flexibility and regular flow of current information

When four horsemen of apocalyptic decision making (Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity [VUCA]) confront us, we tend to avoid them. We avoid uncertainty in our decision making by focusing more on what we do know.

Not knowing how known factors might play out characterizes uncertainty. In Nathan Bennett’s and G. James Lemoine’s (“What VUCA Really Means for You” [Harvard Business Review, January 2014 edition]) example of a competitor’s product launch, we know the product, markets, timing, advertising and others. We’re uncertain about the outcome though.

Other examples where outcomes might be cloudy include:

  • Introducing a new manager to a department
  • Competing with a strong competitor for a prospect
  • Revamping an existing website
  • Launching a new song, book or ad campaign

Tackling uncertainty in our decision making means gearing up to secure information, interpret, communicate and address it on an extremely timely basis; and it means priming people to adapt quickly. It also means keeping resources in reserves, especially budgets, so we can address new, important information.

Until outcomes become clearer, this also means taking many quick, small steps, seeing what works then adjusting. We should expect having to make many small decisions rather than a few big decisions. From a personality perspective, it means relying upon people who are comfortable with issues regularly surfacing with ongoing injections of real-time information, sometimes conflicting.

Managerially, the biggest nemesis will be consensual decision-making processes and their well-established protocols. We address by coming to consensus on who will make what decisions before the event. Gaming exercises running through various scenarios and contingencies can help tremendously here. This is very much like traditional contingency planning minus the legalistic documentation.

Thus, when dealing with uncertainty, it helps much to work reserves and flexibility along with a regular diet of current information into our planning.


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OZA No 461 (Punishment's Purifying Effect in the Workplace)While many won’t go through the mental moral gymnastics and anguish of Rodion Raskolnikov, Dostoyevsky’s protagonist in Crime and Punishment, for their wrongs in the workplace, punishments help employees’ feel better about their employers and themselves, emotionally purifying them. Often though, we’re too focused on extracting retribution or Pavlovian behavioral change, or simply too ignorant or disbelieving to reap these benefits for employers and employees.

Even though we’ve known atonement’s benefits for almost two millennia, Brock Bastian’s (The University of Queensland) work is a rare scientific examination (Cleansing the soul by hurting the flesh: The guilt reducing effect of pain) (“The Masochism Tango” [The Economist, February 5, 2011]). In the workplace, application is deceivingly very simple and effective. Once employees acknowledge that they’ve wronged and feel badly, we do two things:

  1. Avoid judgment
  2. Ask, “What do you want to do about it?”

What’s deceiving is that it’s extremely easy to fall into the traditional approach of retribution and behavioral change. This certainly happens when we don’t feel the punishment is enough or don’t feel we’ve ensured change by issuing threats such as, “If this happens again . . .” At this juncture saying something like, “I also want you to know that I don’t see this wrong reflecting upon you as a person.” Disappointing us then becomes a deterrent while subtly hinting they can’t expect this from everyone. People will strive to preserve the good we see in them.

Therefore, punishment’s purification works when people punish themselves, we don’t judge them, and we don’t treat them as behavioral projects. We might not satisfy our base retributive instincts, but we avoid planting resentment’s seeds and return pleased, productive employees to work who have created their own motivation to change.



Additional readings and research citing this work by Brock Bastian and his colleagues Jolanda Jetten and Fabio Fasoli.

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Group Presentation

Mentioning people, using names and referencing people allow us to personalize our remarks to groups.

In addition to initiating and encouraging interaction, we can structure and deliver our remarks to form and tap relationships in group settings such as presentations or meetings. Again, looking at them strictly as avenues for molding relationships and business culture, let’s ignore message.

Whereas we might rely upon our message to do this, delivery techniques exist too. First, we need to remember that within all groups are sub-groups and within these are individuals. We can briefly tailor them to sub-groups and even individuals. State of the Union speeches are prime examples.

Second, people don’t remember our entire message. Thus, people won’t need to like our entire message; they only need to like a small portion to like it all. Different people will like them for different reasons. So, we target our remarks to different sub-groups and individuals.

The techniques accentuating this approach are:

  • Mentioning individuals
  • Using names
  • Addressing by people’s names
  • Make positive references to individuals and sub-groups

For example, mention individuals even if they’re aren’t in the interaction. The mention will not only get back to them, but we will demonstrate that we recognize people’s efforts. Use names. Just as names make for an attractive article, names make for attractive remarks. Address people by name when they ask questions or make comments. If we don’t know their names, we ask. We demonstrate their names are important.

Finally, we make references to individuals and sub-groups:

  • Jeannette and I were just discussing this yesterday.
  • Anwar’s question relates to Nicole’s remark earlier.
  • Our Data Integrity team worked well together.
  • Our Project Managers in our IT Division kept us on target.

These techniques allow us to connect individually in group settings. Though we can’t mention everyone, unless group is small, our effort will demonstrate to all that we value such connections.

Here are two examples of State of the Union speeches in which the message was parsed to appeal to different issues groups, governmental units and other constituencies. Moreover, names were used and references made to individuals regardless of their attendance. This personalization helped to convey personal connections with entire audience:


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We easily think of our personalities as being a uniform whole. The idea of aspects of our personalities hiding, even for decades and more, isn’t considered. Yet, a change of personality is really a change of perspective.

Very often, how we see ourselves – our self-view – is based on what others say about us or what we’re told to do. Pavlov’s classical conditioning theories apply to humans as well as dogs. Habitual, unthinking actions come to represent our behaviors and us. In actuality, they were formed by following rules and leaders, and by following the prompts of family and friends. In effect, thinking for ourselves and discovering ourselves can be challenging.

Illustratively, looking at the top half of the schematic below, we see one dot brighter than its surroundings, another darker and one blended in. In reality, as the bottom half shows, all three dots are the same. The left dot could illustrate that we come across brighter and happier than those around us, the right darker and moodier. Thus, the personalities and culture around us will shape our self-view especially if they prompt us as in “you’re always so happy.”

Change of Personality or Change of Perspective

Just as we can alter the appearance of photographs by changing frames, changing the frameworks of people lives can give the appearance of personality change.

If the dots now represent an aspect of our personality, the center dot hides for long periods if circumstances or culture don’t change. When something changes, that particular aspect is brought out, as shown by either left or right dot. Tremendous challenges and crises often bring out dormant personality aspects. Introverted celebrities are quite different on stage. Yet, we claim “events changed them.”

We easily change photographs’ appearances by changing frames. Highlighting different colors for example changes perspective. Photographs don’t change though. Similarly, changing the framework of people’s lives will give the appearance personalities have changed.


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Pluses and MinusesIn the workplace, positivity has negative side-effects when used to terminate, reprimand or sideline productive employees whom it characterizes as doubters, questioners and dissenters by labeling them “negative.” Soviet-style communism illustrates well positivity’s use of this weapon by ridding people of those who might threaten their careers.

For instance, the Soviet movie, Alexander Nevsky, a 1938 drama depicting the invasion of an ancient Russian city by the Teutonic Knights, showcases such unfailing positivity in Prince Alexander. Even though vastly outnumbered, Alexander expressed fearless confidence in victory. Those who questioned or doubted him, or the cause, were depicted as weak, almost traitorous. They weren’t thinking positively.

Additionally, in a cooperative spirit, the Soviet-United States documentary, The Unknown War (a film dedicated to educating the Western public on the Soviet people’s feats in defeating Nazi Germany) always positively framed victories as Soviet successes, never as Nazi mistakes. In the Moscow victory, the film made no attribution to Hitler’s ill-timed mistake sending much needed forces to Stalingrad before finishing with Moscow. Positivity encourages erroneous attribution of causes, promoting Pollyannaism.

Contrastingly, we see American heroes’ doubt and question in movies such as Rocky, Star Wars and even Safe in which ultra-confident character, Luke Wright, confides his fear to a young girl. Dissent and conflict can bring out the best in organizations where it’s managed as such. However, where it’s managed against a backdrop of Soviet-styled positivity, successfully labeling questioners, dissenters and doubters as negative will create opportunities for others’ career advancement just as it did for those in Soviet-styled communism.

Thus, even though positivity is a tool promoting hope, confidence and betterment, it can also be a weapon undermining those competing for promotions, status, money and recognition or threatening careers. Users determine tools’ natures.


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Meeting - Extroverts & Confident

The extroverted and confident can weaken meeting outcomes by given more weight to social influences than to knowledge.

Meetings are one of the big three time wasters in the workplace. One reason, they easily get off track. Agendas help but retard problem-solving discussions. Another reason, two personality types are often problematical in both keeping meetings on target and having productive discussions. However, subtle ways exist to manage this.

Jay Eskenazi’s article, “How to Fix the 5 Most Common Mistakes with Focus Groups” (UX Magazine, May 13, 2011), excellently summarizes the commonly known personality challenges in focus groups. Extroverted and alpha personalities, usually male, often create lopsided fact-finding discussions. These same personality-related challenges exist in everyday work meetings. Yet, focus groups’ facilitators receive far more training in managing these challenges than business managers do.

In “Bring Out the Best in Your Team” (Harvard Business Review, September 2014 edition), Bryan L. Bonner (University of Utah) and Alexander R. Bolinger (Pennsylvania State University), go further, stating these challenges, if unmanaged, can unravel tasks around which managers are trying to rally their teams. Their research showed it’s in “large part because the most confident, outgoing people get the most airtime” and produced the worst performances.

Bonner’s and Bolinger’s solution was simple, subtle and effective:

. . . team members should discuss the knowledge each brings to the table, that changes the criterion for power from social influence to informational influence . . . and help members tune out irrelevant factors – not just confidence and extroversion but also status, experience, tenure, assertiveness, gender and race.

Managers can do this without stating what they are doing. Effectively, an unconscious shift of focus and power occurs. As I consistently emphasize in my blog, managers would do well to learn some basic anchoring techniques to orient their teams’ thinking. Word choice matters. Bad choice can demotivate teams, leaving ignorant managers wondering and incorrectly attributing cause elsewhere.


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Programming People with Big Data

By Mike Lehr
Danger in using big data too mechanically

Danger in using big data too mechanically

Big data allows us to overcome the human tendency to oversimplify. Whereas we focus on one or two big causes to our problems, big data allows us to see the integration of many smaller causes. As the article, “Be My Guest” (The Economist, December 21, 2013 edition), exemplifies, this allows further detailing of our standard operating procedures. It means further programming our employees’ comments and actions, especially in customer service.

Oversimplification means focusing on the big things at the expense of the small. Six Sigma and Lean have proven big payoffs can come from small improvements. Translating to customer service, customers’ impressions originate from the collective impact of many small incidents not just a couple big ones. Big data allows us to leverage small incidents, thus transforming customer service and its training.

If you don’t tell a joke right, it falls flat. Customer service is like that. Big data teaches us to say the right things at the right times, but if we don’t deliver right, as early findings are showing, we convey mechanicalness or worse, creepiness. Tone might not fit words. Response might have mirrored exactly a co-worker’s earlier one. Too many personal particulars of the customer might have been referenced.

Big data isn’t about showing customers how much we know them. It’s about delivering without leaving the impression we know anything at all about them. It’s the joke comedians tell a million times as though they’ve just thought of it even though everyone knows it’s well planned, rehearsed and delivered. It’s the dancers, musicians and athletes who deliver performances seducing us into believing they required no practice.

Just as better information helps them, big data can do the same for customer service . . . as long as training methods adapt to incorporate that information.

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