Saturday, 18 May 2013

Bitter Tastes makes us harsher judges

So what do you drink when sitting at your desk, do you go for a plain stilled water or something a little more flavoured?

If you go for the latter, you may need to think about your choice of flavours. Research by Kendall Eskine at the City University of New York found that bitter flavours make us more judgemental. Eskine and colleagues asked 57 volunteers to rate how morally questionable a set of scenarios were on a scale of 1 to 100. Some of the scenarios included a man eating his already-dead dog, cousins engaging in consensual sex.

At the start and again midway through the scenarios, participants were given a bitter drink or water.

Participants given bitter drinks were much tougher in their judgements than those who drank water, giving scenarios a score that was on average 27 per cent higher. It seemed that taste perception significantly affected their moral judgments and the physical disgust (induced via a bitter taste) produced feelings of moral disgust

Participants were also asked if they were political conservatives or liberals. Interestingly, the politically conservative individuals were more strongly affected by bitter tastes than liberals

So if you are taking a client or the boss out for a drink or dinner, try and stay clear of the bitter drinks or food if you are looking to get the OK for some radical proposal. If you want them to judge a rivals proposal harshly, recommend the fish with extra lemon juice, washed down with a glass of Aperol.

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Funny Works

There are many studies which espouse the value of humour in the work place. An often quoted study by Professor William Hampes looked at the relationship between humour and trust. Those who scored high on a test that measured sense of humour for social purposes were considered more trustworthy.

Other studies suggest that humour is good for group cohesiveness and leads to richer, more efficient communication. One such study by Jessica Mesmer-Magnus, David J. Glew, Chockalingam Viswesvaran looked at how humour is associated with employee health (e.g. burnout, health), work-related outcomes (e.g. performance, job satisfaction, withdrawal), perceived supervisor/leader effectiveness and how it can counteract workplace stress.

They found that employee humour is associated with enhanced work performance, satisfaction, workgroup cohesion, health, and coping effectiveness, as well as decreased burnout, stress, and work withdrawal. That is no joke. Supervisor use of humour was associated with enhanced subordinate work performance, satisfaction, perception of supervisor performance, satisfaction with supervisor, and workgroup cohesion, as well as reduced work withdrawal.

As is the case with many studies in this area there is the challenge of defining what is funny (some people just don’t get it). We also need to be careful not to cross any lines with sexist or some other non-appropriate humour among work colleagues.

That aside, given the positive associations with being able to make a few wise cracks, perhaps humour should be a skill we look for when building teams or hiring a supervisor. Worst case scenario, they will be a good laugh on company nights out or a bit of light entertainment on a dreary Monday morning.

To get started try this out ‘I said to the librarian I hope you don't have a book on reverse psychology ‘. Funny?, well you had to be there. Btw, free humour tip: If you find yourself Saying "You had to be there" chances are you need to work on your funny game a bit more.

Sunday, 12 May 2013

Crazy Deadlines good for Creativity?

So does a deadline help deliver creative solutions? I once worked with a colleague who always felt he needed a deadline to get things done, that kicked off the ‘backs to the wall’, ‘consider anything’ type of thinking that worked for him.

I came to realise over the years however that this guy was a procrastinator and it was the deadline shaking him out of his procrastinating routine that delivered for him. It wasn’t that the deadline made him anymore creative, it just got him focused on the job. That guy probably thought that serious time pressure was the only way to get resourceful when it came to delivering, because he had never actually tried it any other way.

I recently read an article on the Harvard Business Review by Teresa M. Amabile, Constance N. Hadley, and Steven J. Kramer which directly addressed the question of whether a deadline helps creativity.

The paper uses a case study from a software developer who was set an impossible deadline to deliver a complex specification that required coming up with creative solutions under very tight deadlines. Anyone who was worked in software development will identify with this. The industry has a long history of the time needed to complete complex work being underestimated, with dire consequences for those involved (never mind the software produced).

The summary from their research is that on days of the most extreme time pressure, the people involved were 45 percent less likely to come up with a new idea or solve a complex problem. Even worse, there was a kind of “pressure hangover,” with lower creativity persisting for two days or more.

According to Amabile and colleagues, ‘working under the gun’ as they put it, is a bad idea when complex, creative thinking is needed. I agree and I know plenty other software developers who have been there and would concur.

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Set 'Get Better' Goals to drive Improvement

There are many ways to set a goal and endless guru tips on how to achieve various goals. One interesting take on it I found was in a 99u post by Elizabeth Grace Saunders on setting “get-better goals”.

This allows us to think about what we are doing in terms of learning and improving, accepting that we may make some mistakes along the way, but we stay motivated despite the setbacks that might occur. We should see setbacks as part of the journey and a chance to improve even more. By deliberately trying to get better at what we are doing we stand a great chance of succeeding.

Saunders gives the example of a toddler comparing their first shaky steps to the expert strides of an Olympic marathon runner. If the toddler did that, they would end up feeling hopeless that they would ever learn to walk, let alone run. But with steady acknowledgement of improvements as measured against their own past attempts, they will be running around in no time. Saunders  says “In the same way, you’ll want to celebrate incremental progress from your own past achievements instead of immediately measuring yourself against the top in the field”. Wanting to be the best from day one might not be the right approach, getting better every day could be a more useful strategy.

So if you are new to a job or career or have to learn a new skill, just set yourself goals on getting better each time, once the improvements come, the expertise will follow. Every marathon runner was once a toddler.

Monday, 6 May 2013

Because you're worth it

If we have had a bad day, maybe lost an important deal or got singled out for criticism by someone, we can feel pretty bad. When this happens people often think about their family, their good health or some other positive aspect of their lives. Psychologists call this ‘Self-affirmation’. It involves reminding ourselves of our self-worth when things go wrong.

Rather than only do this after things have gone wrong, a little self affirmation could be a useful daily habit. One study from Carnegie Mellon University suggests that Self-Affirmation improves problem-solving under stress. Highly stressed individuals who took time out to remind themselves of their self worth performed under pressure at the same level as participants with low chronic stress levels. They solved more problems that their stressed peers who did not indulge in a little self affirmation.

Another study showed that people who affirmed their self-worth make less errors than those who do not. Better again, they seemed to be particularly aware of mistakes they did make and corrected more errors.

The tip here is to consider taking time to remind yourself of your value as a person, in a way that is not tied to your work life. It can help reduce the effects of stress and make you a better problem solver in high pressure situations. This can also make you less likely to make mistakes and if you do make a few, it can help you learn from them and correct your behaviour.

So don’t be afraid to tell yourself how great you are, because you’re worth it and its worth your while

Friday, 3 May 2013

Be Centre Stage

Have you wandered into a meeting room, made small talk with whoever is already there  and took a seat without thinking about it that much? Does it actually matter where we sit? Maybe it does.

Most people make the unconscious assumption that people in the centre are most important and therefore don’t tend to notice their mistakes as much or interrogate their contributions. This is known as the ‘Centre Stage Effect’.

It is covered in a 2005 paper from Berkeley which looks at a number of studies.  It tested the centre-stage effect using observational data from a real television show, The Weakest Link. Results show that players assigned at random to central positions are more likely to win the game than those in extreme positions.

There are a number of other similar lab based studies which come to the same conclusion, we fail to consciously look at and accurately assess the 'important' person in the centre. This leads to a biased (although favourable) assessment of whoever is in that central position.

Moral of the story? Want to get away with it? Get to the meeting early and grab the centre seat. The guys on either side will take brunt of any criticism flying about.

Thursday, 2 May 2013

The most urgent decisions might not be the most important ones

I read a really good post recently on time management. It put forward the idea of The Eisenhower Matrix. This is based on the notion that the most urgent decisions are rarely the most important ones.
You may go into work  this morning with your tasks for the day mapped out, calls to make, meetings to attend. A few problems or decisions then cross your desk or inbox. You start reacting to whoever is shouting the loudest (hopefully just in the figurative sense). It is very easy to start doing the most urgent responses straight away. The end result may be that you do not allocate enough time (or in a really bad case forget) to deal with the most important tasks.
I've seen this happen quite a bit in software development where developers/project managers get urgent calls to fix bugs or make product changes. The rationale was often, 'we need to do this to win or keep a customer'. The important job of making sure you have a stable code base, that changes are peer reviewed, that the product development is driven by strategy not client whims can get ignored or put to one side. There is no deliberate decision made to drop the important aspects of the software development process, it just happens. The important stuff like version control and scheduled upgrades get left behind.
So if something does cross your inbox, figure out if it is urgent or important or both. Use the Eisenhower Matrix to figure out when to do it or who to delegate it to. You may have a little more time on your hands and get to make those important decisions at the right time. By getting the important decision right, in the long term you should have less urgent items landing as surprises in your inbox.