Category Archives: Emotional Intelligence

Can Civility Be Saved? Should It Be?

Can Civility Be Saved? Should It Be?

by Gael O’Brien (Reprinted with permission from Business Ethics Magazine 8/26/18)

An abundance of research on incivility points to the mountain we need to scale. Incivility (which includes behavior or language that is rude, disrespectful, offensive or demeaning) is on the rise. It’s also contagious – which is why it’s called “the incivility bug” – according to incivility and respect expert Christine Porath.

How does this apply to us? Well, few of us get a free pass here. In research done by psychologist Tasha Eurich and her team, as many as 90 percent of us are likely overconfident about how self-aware we actually are. This puts the kibosh on grade inflation around how well we know ourselves, our impact, how others see us or just how respectful we actually are. This “incivility bug” doesn’t just contaminate our work environments, it pollutes our leadership. It deals a blow to employee engagement, trust (on every level) and why anyone would want to be led by us or buy what we sell.

Asking the bigger question about our own leadership

These challenges inherent in being human go back to Adam, Eve and the snake. Nonetheless, the timing now seems critical to develop further our leadership capacity, challenge our own overconfidence and deepen our awareness of ourselves and how respect shows up in our impact on others. The outcome is a greater sense of personal wholeness – always helpful given the pressures of leading – as well as a more authentic, compelling leadership presence. To that end, let’s look at some resources and ideas supporting respect, self-awareness and presence. Afterward, you might even be inspired to reread psychologist Daniel Goleman’s classic on emotional intelligence “What Makes a Leader.”

Some might argue this approach is futile, going against the flow of the tone being set by the President of the United States communicating in tweets many consider bullying. For example, his encouraging a boycott of Harley-Davidson, when they pushed back against proposed tariffs. However, straw horses won’t take us where we need to go.

The bigger question is very personal — about the kind of leader your team and company need in order to achieve results, organizational purpose and mission as well as sustain crucial relationships. Leadership around civility and respect turns around organizations, creates sustainable engagement and changes lives.  Two examples: Douglas Conant, former CEO of Campbell Soup Company, led a financial and employee engagement turnaround with a conscious agenda to lead with civility. And it worked. Retired Boston Police Commissioner William Evans was honored for his “gift of empathy” during his tenure which saw a reduction in crime as well as a new vision for community policing that demonstrated respect and  earned him most Bostonians’ trust, according to a Boston Globe editorial. Evans is now Executive Director of Public Safety and Chief of Police at Boston College.

Leadership Failures

When our agenda rushes past the needs and humanity in others, we get outcomes like:

  • German scientist and preeminent empathy researcher Tania Singer, who was relieved of management responsibilities of her lab and agreed to a sabbatical as a result of accusations from lab colleagues that over the years, while doing her ground-breaking empathy research, she created an environment of emotional abuse and intimidation.
  • Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s derisive tweet backfired. He was outraged at a diver involved in the underwater rescue of trapped Thai athletes because he’d criticized Musk’s solution.
  • CBS has begun an investigation into six sexual harassment and intimidation complaints against Chairman and CEO Leslie Moonves. Moonves recently had become a prominent voice supporting Hollywood’s #MeToo movement, helping establish the Commission on Eliminating Sexual Harassment and Advancing Equity in the Workplace.

What to do; what not to do

In a recent podcast, “Curing the Incivility Bug,” Porath, an associate professor at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business, said stress and technology are the top reasons people give, according to her research, to explain why they are uncivil.

Stress overload is a signal every leader needs to monitor, but everyone is different in what methods most help recalibration. Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Exercises are one option. Recognizing our reactiveness and probing what is driving it can also help us slow ourselves down. If we allow stress to compound itself, it can lead to a situation Elon Musk described about himself in a recent interview with The New York Times, “Elon Musk Details ‘Excruciating’ Personal Toll of Tesla Turmoil.”

Respect pointers

As civility is also contagious, Porath had suggestions about how leaders can be more respectful in conversations with employees. Being present includes:

  • Making eye contact
  • Attentive listening (as opposed to multi-tasking on the lap top or iPhone)
  • Not interrupting whomever is speaking

Porath points out, little things (like smiling when you pass someone in the hall and saying thank you and expressing appreciation) add up. These gestures demonstrating you value others catch on and are replicated by others.

In a July-August 2018 Harvard Business Review article “Do Your Employees Feel Respected?” author Kristie Rogers cites Porath’s research that 20,000 workers worldwide ranked respect as the most important leadership behavior. However, they also said disrespect and uncivil behavior were increasing each year in their workplaces.

Rogers, an assistant professor of management at Marquette University, offers seven ideas for how managers and leaders can convey owed and earned respect in their workplace. One suggestion is establishing a base line of respect that is made clear throughout the organization; something Conant at Campbell’s and other companies have done.

Self-Awareness

Which brings us back to self-awareness: our ongoing discovery process of going deeper into what makes us who we are (strengths, weaknesses, values passion etc.), how we can sabotage ourselves and what our feelings and instincts tell us. It’s triggered by our focus on development or when we are in change, challenge or crisis. New insights break through our old sense of self. In doing so, we often have to surmount the human hurdle of our not seeing what we don’t want to see; as well as what author Anais Nin wrote nearly 60 years ago (that had its origins in the Talmud). “We don’t see things as they are,” she wrote, “we see things as we are.”

In addition to Daniel Goleman’s and Tasha Eurich’s work on self-awareness, leadership development experts Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman address diagnosing our weaknesses. They recommend searching out “a truth teller,” a person whom you can count on to share honest feedback who sees that you really want that feedback. If that doesn’t work, they suggest hiring an executive coach or therapist.

Presence

 The net result of our work to know ourselves far better offers the reward of creating what social psychologist Amy Cuddy refers to as presence. She describes presence with six words that translate into body language in her Ted Talk, “Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are:” passionate, enthusiastic, captivating, comfortable, authentic and confident.

In “Presence: Bringing your Boldest Self to your Biggest Challenges,” Cuddy explains we have presence when we are able to express our true self, operating out of values etc. that make us who we are. We have it, she elaborates, when we feel personally powerful—which is a power that comes from believing in and trusting ourselves. We have it when we are fully in the present moment.

It is presence, she explains, that enables us to meet life’s inevitable challenges with equilibrium and confidence, not “raging anxiety.” It isn’t a permanent state obviously. We move in and out of it based on our self-awareness.

The ROI is worth the journey.

Gael O’Brien, a Business Ethics Magazine columnist, is an executive coach and presenter focused on building leadership, trust, and reputation. She publishes The Week in Ethics, is a Kallman Executive Fellow, Hoffman Center for Business Ethics, Bentley University and Senior Fellow for Social Innovation at the Lewis Institute, Babson College.

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The Week in Ethics: Fraternities, Charlie Rose and the Hope of Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving invites our being more aware of others’ impact on us. How it feels to be seen, heard and valued for who we are. When we think about gratitude, it is people who generally first come to mind: those who have made a positive difference in our lives.

Events this year have shown what happens when our emotional intelligence is undeveloped or just shut down. When we are blind to our impact on others and they become merely a means to an end that works for us. We lose touch with our own humanity and ignore the essential elements of dignity in our treatment of others.

Two examples:

It was excruciating to read the November (2017) Atlantic Magazine’s “A Death at Penn State” about the hazing and death of sophomore Tim Piazza. To protect themselves and their Beta Theta Pi fraternity, his 16 fraternity brothers didn’t call 911 for 12 hours while he lay in pain and semi consciousness after falling head-first down a flight of stairs. The irony was that for security reasons the fraternity house had security cameras throughout, which is how the picture emerged of Tim’s fall and the next 12 hours. And yet there was still blindness.

photo of courageFor fraternity brothers who rationalize they are following a manly tradition, Penn State and any university whose “zero tolerance” is empty, alumni who shirk responsibility and national fraternity organizations who could control the harm and don’t, the unseeing eye leads to sexual assaults, traumatic injuries and student deaths.

The irony of the blind eye and myopic self-interest is that it makes us blind to ourselves and anything we think we stand for.

The current wave of powerful and prominent men — movie producers, actors, comedians, journalists, talk show hosts, executives and others — who’ve been blind to whether their serial sexual behavior toward those with little power was welcome — are learning it wasn’t.

Forced silence out of fear of reprisals has given way to women and men coming forward in the wake of sexual harassment moving out of the shadows of rumor. From ongoing revelations of sexual harassment at Fox News Division, to movie producer Harvey Weinstein last month and more than 30 other leaders in their fields since, distinctions between mutual consent and abuse of the power have made headlines.

Yesterday, (11/21/17) journalist and former talk show host Charlie Rose was fired from his roles at CBS, PBS and Bloomberg TV. The reason? Inquiries into the sexual misconduct allegations made by former employees and others associated with his work. In talking to a friend, we expressed a mutual sense of betrayal over the two sides of Charlie Rose. The person on TV who was so gifted at bringing out the essence of whomever he interviewed with a seeming stellar emotional intelligence. And how he acted when the camera wasn’t rolling, apparently so disconnected from himself; blind to the effect his unwanted attentions had on others.

Ironically, last week Rose interviewed columnist David Brooks about Brooks’ take on sexual harassment. Brooks talks about the harasser’s “inability to put yourself in the mind of the person you are pushing yourself all over. It is sort of humanistic blindness to another human being’s experience.”

So where does Thanksgiving this week come in?

In our digital world where we are looking to discoveries in artificial intelligence to advance productivity and innovation, we are still grappling with what emotional intelligence means in leadership — both leadership of ourselves and the impact we have on others. It is important to talk about this with people we trust to better understand ourselves and them.

The hope of Thanksgiving is that it can be a pause point.

Either enjoying our own company or surrounded by family or friends, it offers a time to  focus on our heart, not our head. To consciously take off any blinders that stop us from seeing our humanity and its connection to everyone else’s. It is a time to think about our impact on others and the impact we’d most want to have.

And in the midst of filling our plate with delicious food, to give more thought to how to feed our souls.

Gael O’Brien, November 22, 2017, The Week in Ethics

Gael O’Brien is an executive coach and presenter focused on building leadership, trust, and reputation. She publishes The Week in Ethics and is a Business Ethics Magazine columnist. Gael is an Kallman Executive Fellow, Hoffman Center for Business Ethics at Bentley University and a Senior Fellow Social Innovation, the Lewis Institute, Babson College.