Book Review-Trust Rules: How to Tell the Good Guys from the Bad Guys in Work and Life

Trust is fundamental. It’s essential. It weaves together not just trust but also trustworthiness and, unfortunately, betrayal. Trust is a bet that the benefits of the trust are going to be more than the cost of betrayal. It’s based on the belief of the other person’s trustworthiness. Like horse race handicappers, we’re constantly looking at other people and judging the degree to which we should trust someone else. It would be a big benefit if we could learn what factors might lead to people being more trustworthy and what things might lead to betrayal. With that information, we can make better decisions about who to trust, to what degree, and when. That’s the root of Trust Rules: How to Tell the Good Guys from the Bad Guys in Work and Life. It’s a guide to knowing when to trust.

Morality in these Times

What would you think if you did a survey that revealed that 60 percent of students had cheated on a test in the past year? Would you conclude, as Michael Josephson, the director of the Josephson Institute of Ethics, that we have a hole in the moral ozone? Would you conclude that we’ve given up honor in the name of expediency? (See Who Am I? and The Normal Personality for more on honor and its opposite.) What can you say about the erosion of trust in people and institutions when the data seems to suggest that the trust isn’t well placed?

One could argue that there’s even less reason to trust in others and the world we think we see around us. Counter arguments are equally easy to make by simply selecting different data points. There’s no chance that a review, or the book itself, could safely settle this issue. However, what the conflicting data can tell you is that in either case we can improve our ability to discern when – and when not – to trust.

The Only Way Out is Through

The first way you can find a trustworthy person is to look for the person who doesn’t steer clear of trouble and instead braces themselves and then tackles the problem directly. Directly confronting problems and accepting the consequences of poor decisions, mistakes, and mishaps is a key characteristic of someone whom you can trust.

It’s simple really. If someone is willing to do the right thing and do the hard work when it really is hard, then the chances that they won’t live up to the trust you place in them is small. It’s still possible that your trust is misplaced, or the struggle will become more than they can cope with; however, it’s less likely than placing trust in someone who isn’t interested in doing the hard work.

Criticism and Accepting Fault

The trustworthy person is always seeking to better understand themselves and the world around them. As a result, they accept criticism and seek to use it as fuel to better themselves. That is not to say that they always accept criticism or that the criticism is always warranted. However, a person who is willing to consider the potential validity of the feedback is likely more self-aware and therefore more likely to behave consistently.

Similarly, trustworthy people accept fault. They accept that they’re not perfect and they’ll need to apologize from time to time, not because they’ve intentionally disappointed or harmed someone but because they cannot be perfect. That is not to say that trustworthy people instantly jump to an apology. Trustworthy people focus on understanding the harm before acknowledging their role in it – and carefully avoiding taking responsibility for something that isn’t theirs to own.

Handling Standards with Care

Trust Rules says that “Trustworthy people hold themselves to the same standards they establish for others and they genuinely consider others in their lives.” I disagree. However, I do agree that untrustworthy people are unwilling to hold themselves to the standards that they have for others. What I know about the most trustworthy people I am acquainted with is that they hold themselves to higher standards than they hold others to.

The problem is that if you hold yourself to the same standards as others, differences in perceptions will creep in. When you believe you’re within the line, someone from a different perspective may rightfully believe it’s over the line. As a result, the most trustworthy people I know hold themselves to higher standards – not the same standards. I believe that Linda Stroh is, again, fundamentally correct in the converse. Untrustworthy people won’t hold themselves to the same standards. They’re somehow special, different, or apart from the standards of other people.

For Better or Worse

Have you ever wondered why wedding vows often include the phrase “for better or worse”? There will be good times – times when you want to share the experience with your friends, colleagues, and partner. There will be bad times, too, when you don’t want to share your misery with your friends, colleagues, and partner but when you need them to help support you. Trustworthy people will be there when things are good and when things are bad.

The “for better or worse” language emphasizes the kind of relationship marriage should be – one where the partners can count on one another no matter what happens. The kind of people who remain with you when things are bad – not to share in the joy but also in the burden – are the kind of people to keep around you.

Holding Everyone Accountable

It seems like holding everyone – themselves and all others – accountable might not be a very likeable characteristic and therefore not the kind of thing you’d want to surround yourself with. However, when people are willing to have difficult conversations and hold everyone accountable, they’re willing to be honest with you – and thus more trustworthy.

It’s not that people who hold others accountable are callous or uncaring. They are in fact, quite concerned with how they interact with others. It’s not uncaring, it’s clear. It’s clear where they stand and what they believe. (See No Ego for more.)

If you want to understand more about who to trust – and who not to – you should read Trust Rules and apply a few to your world.

Book Review-Overcoming Job Burnout

I fundamentally disagree that burnout is limited to the job. Burnout is a condition that impacts people in their personal lives as well as in their jobs, no matter what definition the World Health Organization has adopted (for political or structural reasons). However, Overcoming Job Burnout doesn’t say that burnout can only occur in a job context, it’s just the context that Beverly Potter is talking about.

One might wonder why a year after the publication of Terri and my book, Extinguish Burnout: A Practical Guide to Prevention and Recovery, I’m still reviewing other people’s burnout books. The short answer is to better understand others’ perspectives and find new pieces that I can take from them to bring to people that are struggling. Overcoming Job Burnout had a few of those nuggets that I can share.

What’s the Point?

Central to the burnout problem are the feelings of hopelessness. (See The Psychology of Hope for more about hopelessness and hope.) While most definitions of burnout center around exhaustion, cynicism, and inefficacy because of the Maslach Burnout Inventory, inefficacy is different – and causal. You see, we’ve all been exhausted and totally not in burnout. We’ve completed the climb to the top of the proverbial mountain and have found ourselves with nothing left to give. We collapse to recharge and recover, not in burnout but in triumph. Cynicism happens not in burnout but any time we don’t feel like we can change the situation any longer. Cynicism is a result of the feelings of inefficacy, not a cause of burnout.

Inefficacy, our painful wondering “What’s the point?” is at the heart of burnout. Our feelings like we’re not good enough (see The Gifts of Imperfection for more) drive us to feeling like nothing we do will matter – and this is the dangerous place to be that has signs naming it both burnout and depression depending on which side of town you enter from. If you enter from a clinical point of view, depression is the likely name; if you enter from the wisdom and ignorance of popular culture, this place goes by the name of burnout.

Right Radio, Wrong Station

I was reminded of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, in which an alien race of machines captures our Voyager space probe and helps it by returning it. The probe, in the movie, can receive a command that indicates that it’s made it home. However, the receiver was intentionally burned out. To satisfy the dramatic needs of the movie, it was necessary to go directly to the probe and enter in the message. While this is just a movie, I was reminded of it, because there are some times when people desperately need to know that they’re loved, and they’re valuable, and they matter – and then they actively avoid accepting the very thing they crave when it comes to them.

Potter is speaking about a woman, Ann, who isn’t getting the supportive feedback that she needs. I was struck by the alternative conclusion that she wasn’t letting in what she needed. One can be in Boston or New York and get wrapped up in the hustle and bustle of the city. One could argue that there is no place to just relax, connect with nature, and recharge. However, that’s simply not true. Both cities have vibrant park systems that create adequate green space for people to connect with – if they choose.

I’m not trying to deny that some people don’t get the encouragement and positive affirmation they need. Tragically, not everyone does. However, I’m left to wonder how much of burnout isn’t about feeling appreciated as much as it is failing to recognize how you’re appreciated. This walks dangerously close to blaming the victim, but that’s not the intent. The intent is to say that sometimes the thing people need most isn’t more affirmation but rather a way to accept the affirmation they’re getting already.

Burnout Isn’t the Result of Personal Weakness or Inadequacy

Shame and stigma still surround mental health issues in the world today. (See Brené Brown’s work regarding the caustic effects of shame in I Thought It Was Just Me (But It Isn’t).) While it’s societally acceptable to not be able to bench press 300 pounds, it’s not acceptable to succumb to the weight of emotional issues related to the loss of life, love, liberty, or livelihood. I’ve been told repeatedly that we should talk about thriving instead of burnout, because burnout is perceived as a weakness, and people don’t want to admit to it. The skills that we teach in Extinguish Burnout are thriving skills – but that framing doesn’t help the people who need it most.

It’s possible, and societally appropriate, to view burnout as a weakness. However, the truth is that it’s more likely than not a simple lack of skills that can be taught, the result of which aren’t just recovery but revival. Burnout is – but shouldn’t be – more shameful than not knowing how to sew your own clothes. We all need clothes, but few of us know how to sew them anymore. We don’t blame or shame people for their lack of clothes-sewing skills.

Small Goals and Small Improvements

If you want to find your way out of burnout, the path is filled with many steps – but all of them are small. The best way to escape the grip of burnout is to set small goals and meet them. Set one small goal and meet it, then set the next small goal and meet it, and so on. The result is a feeling of accomplishment – no matter how small – and the awareness that you’re not completely ineffective. Efficacy in the small things over time adds up to efficacy in large things.

No One Ever Truly Accomplishes Things on Their Own

Even the solo pilot or the sprinter has someone that they needed to become what they are. The pilot needs the mechanic to take care of the plane – or the designer to design it. The sprinter has a coach who taught them how to be a winner. To believe that we’re supposed to be successful alone is to deny reality. We are a society of people that are interdependent, needing one another for the support that we can’t do for ourselves.

Providing Your Own Structure

The human body is supported by a structure. Our bones allow us to stand and walk – and be something other than a puddle of skin on the ground. We all need structure – but sometimes we can become too reliant on structure. When it’s missing, we can believe that we’re not effective simply because there’s no structured thing for us to accomplish.

A critical factor to resisting burnout is our ability to accept ambiguity and a lack of structure. Thus, if we want to find ways to escape burnout, the simple tactic is to add structure to our world. The more we can structure our world, the more we demonstrate our ability to shape and control it – and also the more tangible feedback we can generate that we are getting something done – and thereby see that we are effective.

Difficult is not Impossible

If you spend your life avoiding difficult things, you’ll begin to see them as impossible. After all, your experience – the loudest teacher you have – says that you’ve never achieved something that’s difficult. If you’ve never attempted anything difficult or you’ve never persisted until the difficult thing is done, then the perception that they’re impossible is entirely reasonable. However, there’s a completely different experience you get if you try difficult things and sometimes, or even most of the time, fail.

Despite the failure, you learn that, occasionally, you’re able to accomplish difficult things. In doing so, you demonstrate your self-efficacy in the face of difficult things, and that can make all the difference in the world when it comes to avoiding or recovering from burnout.

Reading Overcoming Job Burnout is neither difficult nor impossible. It’s a solid book on burnout when you can’t read Extinguish Burnout.

Book Review-The Change Masters

My journey through change management work led me to The Change Masters in an indirect way. When I mentioned that I was writing a course on change management, and I listed off several of the authors’ works I was using in the course, my colleague mentioned that, years ago, they had learned change management from The Change Masters – but it was a book I hadn’t heard of and hadn’t heard people refer to. Like it frequently happens when books arrive in my consciousness this way, there are many useful nuggets.

Published in 1983, there is already a concern about the ability for organizations to be innovative. We may have managed to conquer the assembly line and mass production, but it seems that most people have lost their ability to innovate, to try something new. This is the heart of the change that The Change Masters is focused on – how do you help people be more willing to look at things in a new way?

Efficiency and Effectiveness

Efficiency is doing things right. Effectiveness is doing the right things. It is a subtle but profound distinction. We had gotten so good at optimizing processes that we had forgotten to ask whether we were optimizing the right things. We were asking whether we were using the right tool to chop down the tree without realizing we were in the wrong forest. In an age of mergers and acquisitions, we had become slave to the quarterly earnings report and had lost our way to long term performance.

It’s certainly true that we need goals to pull us forward, and small, incremental goals can be useful. The problem is that this must come in conjunction with, not instead of, a long-term strategic perspective. With CEOs and management teams trading positions like kids playing musical chairs, there’s no reason to be concerned about the long-term performance of the organization. What matters is the next quarterly earnings report and the bonus that’s attached to the right outcomes – whether they created them or not.

Innovation

Being innovative is hard. It requires a diversity of skills, a willingness to see a new future, and a heaping of trust. If you’re expecting that your next mistake will cause you to be the first one to laid off, you’re not going to be willing to make mistakes – and being willing to make mistakes is what makes innovation possible. I’ve done a lot of research on innovation (see Innovation by Design, The Art of Innovation, Unleashing Innovation, and The Innovator’s DNA for a start). I’ve come to realize that there are interrelated factors of safety, courage, trust, and diversity of thought that are woven into the fabric of organizations that are innovative.

The Edge of Us

An interesting topic explored by Trust: Human Nature and the Reconstitution of Social Order is what happens when the locus of trust is placed in different places – in the individual, in the family, or in the country. The Evolution of Cooperation touches on this as it explores mathematical models and computer simulations for the best strategies of organisms. The funny thing is that the larger we define the boundaries of “us” – and the fewer people we’re willing to put into the category of “them” – the greater our chances of success – and even survival. Jonathan Haidt in The Righteous Mind makes the point that we didn’t become the dominant biomass on the planet because of our fur protecting us from the elements, our keen eyesight, or even our talons and claws. We became the dominant biomass on the planet because of our ability to work together. The trick is how large do we draw the circle of us and how many people fit in it? Robin Dunbar pegs the number at around 150 people, with some people having more and some having less. (See High Orbit for more.) The larger we draw the edge of us, the greater the opportunity for diversity (see The Difference for more on why we need diversity) and the greater our opportunities for creativity. (See Creative Confidence for more.)

If we want to reach forward into innovation, we need to learn how to draw the boundaries of us beyond our department, our division, and maybe even beyond our own organization.

Change and the Loss of Control

Hidden somewhere deep underneath the obvious reasons why we avoid change, there lies another more honest reason. Of course, when there are changes, there are fears that the change may mean something worse than our current situation; but there’s a deeper fear that we may not be in control as much as we think we are. Someone externally changing things on us is a painful reminder that we’re not in control as much as we might like to believe we are. In Compelled to Control, J. Keith Miller points out that everyone wants to control – but no one wants to be controlled.

The change masters, those who are the best at helping organizations and individuals change, can convince someone that the change was their idea, like Tom Sawyer convincing the other boys to whitewash the fence for him. Mark Twain, and Tom Sawyer by extension, was ahead of his time. It would take decades for people to explore intrinsic motivation and how to get others to do things for you. (See Influence, Pre-Suasion, The Hidden Persuaders, and Influencer.)

15 Minutes Ahead and To the Victor Go the Spoils

Woody Allen was worried about an advanced civilization that was 15 minutes ahead of us. They’d always be first in line at the movies. They’d get the best parking spots, and they’d never be late for a meeting. He was concerned that it didn’t take a big lead to make a big difference. Even a small lead would do.

This is particularly true if the world operates under the model of “To the victor goes the spoils.” That is, the person who wins the first round gets more of the benefits than the loser. The winner therefore has an even bigger advantage the next time. Over time a small advantage can become a big advantage. It’s how Steven Kotler explains the extraordinary feats that some people are capable of in The Rise of Superman.

Immobilizing Managers

Nothing immobilizes a manager – or anyone in mankind for that matter – faster than uncertainty and insecurity. When trust is vacant, and the outcomes are uncertain, people – not just managers – hunker down and brace themselves for whatever is coming – whether it make sense to do so or not. When faced with uncertainty, the most likely response is nothing. The response is that we should “hold tight,” “stand pat,” or “seek wise council.” In short, do anything that looks like something but is a statement about intentionally doing nothing.

Change masters work hard to increase trust and instill in others a sense of safety. The sense of safety must go beyond the challenges the organization is facing. You can’t keep moving forward without hope and the sense that it will be okay. You can’t keep trust and safety in a storm of ambiguity and uncertainty.

With the Flick of the Tongue

Within a few years of starting in business, I was working for the CEO of a manufacturing company doing special projects. He had pulled me away from my IT position and asked me to “just do stuff.” It was a variety of things, from pairing me up with a sales guy to relieve some excess inventory to helping change the efficiency of the direct import operations.

One of the things he said was that he had to be very careful about how quickly he changed direction. He described himself as the big gear at the center of a very large machine. If he turned too quickly, it would send all the little gears spinning. He was very wise and knew that a simple comment he might make, a simple flick of the tongue, could send people scrambling. Sometimes that could be in the right direction, but at the wrong speed and more critically, it might send people off in the wrong direction.

No Surprises

The real change masters know that people don’t like surprises – other than a few people who like surprise birthday parties. That’s why effective project and change managers are good at making sure that people arrive at a meeting, and there are no surprises. If they’re in the hot seat over something they did or didn’t do, they know it’s going to happen before they get there.

It helps people feel safe knowing that they won’t be ambushed in a meeting, and that safety plays out in a greater willingness to take risks.

Specific Requests Get Specific Action

One of the characteristics of great leaders – in change or any other discipline – is their ability to reach clarity. They’re able to cut through the fog of the conversation and find the root of the problem, the key missing ingredient, and identify the key next action. Change masters are therefore good at making the specific request that they need, not some vaguely-worded plea for help.

Though this can be perceived as some as overly direct, pushy, or even rude, clarity in the request creates action. General pleas for help are generally ignored. Specific requests may be denied, but they’re more frequently accepted.

Tolerance for Uncertainty, Not Just Any Old Risk

Success in change isn’t the same as a high tolerance for risk. Adventurous people may be willing to take risks, both personally and professionally, that no one else will take. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll be in the right position to help enable change. Bridges in Managing Transitions explains that change means navigating a neutral zone of uncertainty – and that isn’t easy.

When looking to build the capacity for change, the key is not the development of risk tolerance in general but is instead about the development of an acceptance for ambiguity – the kind of ambiguity that is the natural result of change.

Touching Them Personally

Many organizations believe that involving employees in every decision or every important decision is a way to help them feel more connected and more loyal to the organization. However, this can just as easily motivate them to leave. Most employees see the kinds of wicked problems that leadership faces as “above my paygrade.” What they are, however, interested in are two things. First, their perspective on the big issues should be heard. Second, in the kinds of day-to-day annoyances that they face, they want to be able to share their input, expertise, and solutions.

Strangely, we’re less concerned about the big picture issues than we are the tiny annoyances. We’re more concerned with the daily mosquito bites than the potential bear in the woods. If you want folks to rally around their cause, sometimes it’s necessary to make the cause tiny and impactful to them personally.

Local Experiments

Carl Rogers used to say that people are experts in themselves. (See Motivational Interviewing and A Way of Being.) If we want to be effective, one way of doing that is to tap into that expertise and allow individuals to share their expertise on their life and their world through the development of small-scale experiments that appear to work for them.

While not every experiment will work, that is not the point. The point is that the people with the most expertise in the situation are trying to make it better.

Plans as Symbols

Eisenhower said that no plan survives engagement with the enemy. If that’s the case, then why plan at all? The answer is that the planning process has value – even if the plan doesn’t. In organizations, the plans send a strong signal to the organization about what’s important, the way the organization is approaching the challenges, and what they expect or hope to do.

While the plan itself may be useless, the planning process has inherent value.

Understanding the Pig Roast

Relayed in The Change Masters is a story of how a young boy set fire to a house in which a pig is trapped. After the fire is extinguished, the villagers discover the now roasted pig and eat it. They love the delicacy. They then proceed to trap a pig in a house and set it on fire every time they want to eat roast pig.

In many organizations, we do this. Because we don’t know what about our actions created the result we want, we keep doing all of the actions with sometimes outrageous costs. The lack of understanding of what things caused the result means that we can’t get to the root of what we need to do. Therefore, we sometimes burn down houses for the sake of roast pig – instead of putting the pig on a fire.

While no one book can convert you from a change neophyte to a change master, The Change Masters isn’t a bad start.

Book Review-READY, Set, Change!: Simplify and Accelerate Organizational Change

What surprises me the most about the world of change management is how there can continue to be new things that I learn about it. Sometimes, the things I learn are closer to me than I could have ever realized. That’s the case with April Callis-Birchmeier’s book, READY, Set, Change!: Simplify and Accelerate Organizational Change. The proximity I’m referring to here is both geographical and relational. April’s in Michigan – the next state over from my home in Indiana. Relationally, the person she used to help publish her book is someone who I see several times a year at networking events. It’s truly a small world.

Models

There are no shortage of models when it comes to change. April introduces another model – the READY model:

  • R: Relevant and relatable messaging about the change
  • E: Engage Leaders as sponsors and actively promote the change
  • A: Advance
    communication to ensure messaging is received and advocating for stakeholders
  • D: Develop, support, and train on process and technology
  • Y: Reinforce WHY and reduce resistance to adoption

This model definitely aligns with other models. Prosci’s ADKAR model (see Successful Technology Change and ADKAR and Change Management), Kotter’s 8-Step model (see Leading Change and The Heart of Change), Stages of Change (see Motivational Interviewing), and Bridges’ Transitions model (see
Managing Transitions
). It also aligns with Simon Sinek’s work in Start with Why.

More broadly, it connects with The Psychology of Hope by emphasizing the need for support and training. (See Job Aids and Performance Support for ideas on support and Efficiency in Learning, The Adult Learner, and The Art of Explanation for more on training.) In not so short, it’s sound advice for people who are looking to make change effective in their organization. So, while it’s another model to consider, it is well founded.

Setting for Success

In Collaborative Intelligence, Richard Hackman asserts that as much as 60 percent of the probability of a team’s success is based on what happens before they come together. Here, April encourages the proper preparation in the change process to lead to better chances for success. There are, of course, no guarantees, but the more work that can be done ahead of time to prepare the organization for the change that’s coming, the more likely it is they’ll be able to accept it and the initiative will be successful.

Readiness is an Emotional Choice

There is no magic formula for helping people be ready for the change. Readiness is, in fact, a personal choice. It’s a choice about how capable you feel of coping with the transition (to use Bridges’ words). This, too, is supported by evidence. Richard Lazarus, in Emotion and Adaptation, explains that our emotions are formed based on a stressor (stimulus) and our assessment of that stimulus. Individually, we can become more ready for change through developing our courage (see Find Your Courage) and our waypower – that is, our understanding of how we’ll make the change (see The Psychology of Hope).

Technology, Training, and Barriers

Demand explains that small barriers make a big difference. While it may not seem like much, sometimes the inability to find where to start can stop people from starting at all. Instead of displaying tenacity, persistence, and grit, people give up all too easily. (See Grit and Willpower for more.) Speaking as a technologist, some problems are hard to solve – and as a change specialist, some are harder to solve if you make them people problems.

There’s a tendency – particularly at the last minute – to make gaps in the technical solution a training problem. That may, or may not, be the right answer. The truth is that all gaps should be assessed from the perspective of their capacity or propensity to derail the change initiatives success. Sometimes, it’s better to delay a little, get the technology tighter, and ultimately be ahead from an adoption perspective.

An Ounce of Prevention

An ounce of prevention is often worth a pound of cure. In change management, the preparation you do can reduce the amount of time that your success will take. Reading READY, Set, Change! may be a good start to that preparation.

Book Review-How to Be a Change Superhero: The Business Toolkit to Help You to ‘Do’ Change Better

There’s the moment right after you realize that you’ve been assigned to your first change project when panic sets in and you begin to wonder How to be a Change Superhero. Whether the thought crosses your mind early in the process or late doesn’t matter. What matters is that moment of panic when you realize that you don’t have the tools you need to accomplish the change you’re being asked to move forward in the organization. How to be a Change Superhero: The Business Toolkit to Help You to ‘Do’ Change Better is all about helping you cross the chasm between your current self and the hero that exists inside of you.

Joseph Campbell wrote The Hero with a Thousand Faces and developed what he believed to be a universal story arc that has become known as Campbell’s Hero’s Journey. The journey always starts with a limited awareness of the current situation and proceeds through a period of self-denial and self-doubt before the hero emerges. Everyone wants the hero to emerge.

The Change Equation

Richard Beckhard and Reuben Harris developed a change equation that is C=A*B*D>X, where C is the degree of change, A is the level of dissatisfaction with the status quo, B is the desirability of the proposed change, D is the practicality of the change and X is the cost of change. Said more simply, change only happens when the pain of changing is less than the pain of staying the same. In principle, I agree with the formula, though I’m careful about the multiplicative aspect of the terms. I’m not completely convinced that they’re mutually exclusive or that the effect is as dramatic as the multiplication might suggest.

Everett Rogers expressed it differently. In Diffusion of Innovations, he explained that there are five factors that influenced the rate of adoption of an innovation (the rate of change): observability, trialability, simplicity (lack of complexity), relative advantage, and compatibility. In Rogers’ model, the lack of any of these discourages change.

Against Our Will

One of the most powerful realizations in change is that you’ll likely not succeed if your approach is to get people to do things against their will. Commanding people to do something just doesn’t work as well as we would like it to. People don’t appreciate the idea that they have no choice, that it’s not their desire to do it but they must. This builds resentment, and resentment results in friction everywhere. Not only will the specific thing that’s being commanded face resistance, but so, too, will most things that you ask the person to do – even things they do want to do. The resentment around one area of their work world will bleed into other areas as well.

You Can’t Fake Sincerity

If you want to care for the people that you’re asking to make change, you’ll have to be sincere. It’s not possible – in a sustained way – to pretend to be sincere about your concern for others but not really be concerned. Somewhere, somehow, it will eventually leak out, and the resulting backlash will generally make people not trust you any longer. So, while in the short-term, faking sincerity might be possible, it’s a bad idea, and in the long term, it’s not possible at all.

Becoming a Superhero

If you want to become a change superhero in your organization, maybe read How to Be a Change Superhero.

By the way, Lucinda Carney has a toolkit related to the book available if you’d prefer to start with that.

Book Review-Reading the Room: Group Dynamics for Coaches and Leaders

Have you ever had that bewildering moment when you’re in a conversation and you suddenly realize that you have no idea what the conversation is about? You’re going along, disagreeing but still conversing, until you reach the moment when you’re aware that you’re not talking about the same thing as the other person, and you wonder exactly how you got here. Reading the Room: Group Dynamics for Coaches and Leaders is designed to help you better understand the dynamics that are in play in a room and be able to observe and react to them better.

I was first introduced to David Kantor’s work via Bill Issacs’ work, Dialogue. The revelation that was shared was that people speak from three different points of view: power, meaning, and feeling (affect). When people are in the same conversation but speaking from these radically different perspectives, it’s often as if the people in the conversation are talking past each other, unable to even hear, much less process, what the other person is saying. As I was preparing the Confident Change Management course, I decided that I needed to dig a bit deeper into Kantor’s work. I’m glad I did.

Operating Systems

When a computer boots up, it starts the operating system, and thereafter it just becomes a part of the way the computer works. It’s largely unnoticed except when you go to launch a new program. Yet all the time, the operating system is coordinating and shaping your experience with the computer. The operating systems that we use in life are the same. They’re the default assumptions, way of working, and underground of our consciousness. Kantor explains that there are three operating system types:

  • Closed – We believe we have all the answers, and we must share them with the world so they can execute our great ideas.
  • Open – Collectively, we know more than anyone can know. We just need to bring everyone together in a conversation (or dialogue) to expose it.
  • Random – Insights come but only if we’re willing to ignore the structure and work through problems in the way that feels the most natural.

None of these are good or bad – just good or bad for the environment they’re used in.

Communications Domains

The power, meaning, and feeling (affect) I mentioned above make up the communication domain. Some people are concerned with the movement of power, some with the meaning of it all, and some with how it will make people feel. What is important here, as it was with operating systems, is that people don’t realize this is happening.

They have a style of communication that is their preferred style. It is the one they’ll fall back to most often, particularly when stressed. Communicating with people speaking in a different domain can be as foreign as speaking with someone in a foreign language. It takes great concentration and focus to understand what the other person is saying.

Action Modes

The third part of the model (or third layer, if you’d prefer) is the way that someone is responding in a conversation. Here, most of us have more flexibility, but still tend towards one of the following approaches:

  • Move – A drive towards action
  • Follow – Support of a previous mode
  • Oppose – To move against the proposed move either by stopping or moving in another direction.
  • Bystand – Watch what is happening and observe, but don’t outwardly act.

Kantor says that people can only take one of these four stances in a conversation. I disagree, because I think it underplays the need for curiosity, inquiry, and understanding. Whether you want to use Motivational Interviewing, The Ethnographic Interview, or some other guide to understanding the position of another person, I believe that it’s essential to communication. So, I support the attempt to identify archetypical moves, I’m not sure this is the comprehensive list.

Dialogue Mapping exposes the IBIS model of dialogue mapping that includes questions, ideas, pros, and cons. Fundamental to this approach is the question, which is both the central theme for discussion and a way that the problem can be clarified.

Seeing Ghosts

A key, and appropriate, observation of Kantor’s is that sometimes the conversations aren’t about the conversation happening in the room at that time but are instead ghosts left over from our childhood, the stories we told ourselves, and the patterns we were left with. We see reasons to trust where none should be given. (See Trust => Vulnerability => Intimacy, Revised for more on trust.)

Sometimes the challenge with the conversation that’s going on has nothing to do with the here and now and instead is some remnant of some experience that was had a long time ago, and it’s left an indelible mark on our psyche, a permanent fixture that we’ll spend the rest of our lives covering up or addressing.

In the Shadows

Shadows are places where the ghosts live. They’re the places that people don’t want to go. They’re spooky, scary, and frightening. However, the greatest risk to our conversations isn’t in not learning a new skill. The greatest risk is in not being able to address those things that hold us back.

Whether these barriers to success surface as ghosts or as undesirable consequences of our default operating modes, learning to shine light in the shadows of our psyche – and then having the discipline to do it – makes us more complete as humans, coworkers, and leaders. Unlike many popular psychology books today, Kantor invites us into the space of our weaknesses, so that we can discover them more fully and learn to address the most grievous issues that are causing us harm.

Courteous Compliance

In Radical Candor, Kim Scott has a place called “ruinous empathy,” where there’s caring for the other person but no willingness or ability to challenge directly. Kantor calls this “courteous compliance,” when you disagree with the conversation but aren’t willing to speak up to have your voice heard. Kantor explains that we need to have the other voices to test and check our perspectives. It’s the silence of dissenting voices that can prove disastrous to the person and to the organization. (See The Difference for more on being inclusive of all voices.)

Control

Often in organizations, you see compensating systems. These are systems with the purpose of limiting the negative effects of other individuals. Instead of confronting the person directly about the problem, you’re faced with a system designed to limit the limitation of a leader or group. The system might take the form of an additional review meeting, an extra sign off, or additional activities, but ultimately the goal is to prevent the negative consequences from happening again.

The problem with these systems is that they are necessarily both wasteful and incomplete. They’re wasteful, because if you could only correct the root problem – or even create a higher awareness – the system wouldn’t need to exist. They’re incomplete in the fact that they’ll never cover every possible situation.

Chaos

Organizations exist through their ability to keep the chaos of the market and the world on the outside. They resist change, because it’s the status quo that keeps the organization together. People with random operating systems are a threat to the very nature of the organization. They’re called disruptors, and there’s a reason. They disrupt the carefully crafted control of the organization and replace it with just a little chaos.

Organizations resist the chaos that those with a random operating systems bring only to often find themselves unresponsive to the broader world until it’s too late.

Model Building

Kantor continues with a conversation of model building. That is, building a way that the organization will function – a leadership model. Though he uses different terms, it’s the same following, fluent, detaching approach that I’ve discussed before that is the heart of the apprentice, journeyman, master trades model. (See Presentation Zen, The Heretics Guide to Management, and Story Genius for other places where it’s occurred and Apprentice, Journeyman, Master for a core conversation about the progression.)

He uses the words imitation, constraint, and autonomy for the progression, but the concepts are nearly identical to the following, fluent, and detaching that are more commonly used.

Perhaps it’s because I’ve been through the progression myself that I don’t get locked up with Kantor’s approach to everything. However, I feel as if I’ve gained some appreciation and skills for Reading the Room through reading the book.

Book Review-One Minute to Midnight

It was the closest that the world had ever come to a global nuclear war, and it started in America’s back yard. Metaphorically speaking, it was just one minute from the end of the atomic day. The clock advanced to just one minute before midnight, a whisper from the end of the world. Then slowly, magically, it receded to a spot where both sides stepped back from the abyss and found a way towards peace. It was a peace that would start the world on a track of lower risk of mutually-assured destruction.

The time spent one minute from midnight started from October 16th, 1962, when the President of the United States, John F. Kennedy, was notified that we had aerial reconnaissance confirmation of Soviet missiles in Cuba. The Cuban Missile Crisis had begun, and it had the effect of advancing the atomic clock to One Minute to Midnight.

The Story

In brief, the Soviets had worked with Cuban leader, Fidel Castro, in a partnership that put medium-range ballistic missiles (MRBMs) on Cuban soil aimed at the United States. Castro has suffered intrusions into the Cuban state through US-sponsored incursions, most notably The Bay of Pigs. The relationship with the Soviet Union was a way of protecting himself from the US and at the same time allowed Nikita Khrushchev a way to give the US back some of what it was giving to Moscow. The US had deployed MRBMs to Turkey – roughly the same distance to Moscow as it was from Cuba to Washington, D.C.

The situation was ultimately resolved through a blockade and subsequent diplomacy, but not before having nearly two weeks of very tense moments. The missiles were removed from Cuba and the US agreed to remove the missiles from Turkey.

That’s the history lesson and the context of the book. However, in addition to the twists and turns the story takes, there’s a second story that’s told of how our world has changed and how it has stayed the same.

Communications

Perhaps the most striking observation was the change in communications from then to now. Commands relayed from Washington could take 6-8 hours to make it to the commanders of the Navy stationed in the Gulf of Mexico. Official communication to the Soviet Union could take 12 hours or more. Even before the red phone was installed to provide direct communication between the US and the Soviet Union, we had improved communications dramatically.

Today, we take for granted that we can reach out and contact anyone on the planet in a matter of minutes if not seconds. We have video calls with friends and colleagues half a world away. We expect that our messages will arrive nearly instantaneously and that everyone has access to the internet in one way or another. However, at the time, the internet wasn’t a thing. It wasn’t even a wish.

One of the major challenges for the Soviet submarine commanders was the requirement that they surface to communicate with Moscow each day. While the timing made perfect sense in conflicts centered around Moscow – midnight – it made them very vulnerable during the daylight in the Atlantic waters.

Time and Distance

Never had the Soviet Union deployed ships and troops in such quantities so far away. Simple challenges like communications seemed onerous until they needed precise time signals that were too weak to receive from Moscow. Instead, they had to accept their time signals from US sources – unbeknownst to the US army.

Intelligence

It took nearly 30 hours for the US to notice that the Soviet ships that were on their way to Cuba to turn around and start heading home – after the initial awareness that the US knew of the missiles and Khrushchev started pulling back. Still, there was a spy providing the US with lots of useful information including the technical manual for the missiles being deployed to Cuba. We also had a sophisticated (for the time) set of listening posts that made it possible to detect the location Soviet submarines without their knowledge.

Spy planes, including the U-2, were used to gather aerial reconnaissance. (See The Complete Book of the SR-71 Blackbird for more about spy planes.) Where now we have satellites orbiting to safely photograph locations of interest, back then, we had to put people at risk to gather the photographic intelligence we needed to make decisions.

What we knew was mostly wrong – particularly as it pertains to the number of nuclear warheads that were in Cuba and the troop deployment. Moreover, we had dramatically overestimated the Soviet nuclear capacity. Where we underestimated the deployment strength, we vastly overestimated the total strength.

Missiles

The crisis wasn’t really about the ability to hit the US from Cuba. The truth was, as Kennedy was aware, that you were dead whether the nuclear warhead was delivered through an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) or a MRBM. Kennedy never liked the Jupiter missiles deployed to Turkey and he tried to remove them – but he was always blocked. His “ace in the hole” was the Minuteman ICBMs that were scattered throughout Montana, Wyoming, and the Dakotas. Where the Jupiter missiles were mounted above ground and took 15-30 minutes to fuel, the Minuteman missiles were in underground silos and were ready to launch “within minutes.” Their farm configuration – which spread the missile silos over large areas of sparsely populated space – made them difficult for the Soviets to wipe out in an initial attack scenario.

The missiles in Cuba were a pawn of the much larger nuclear one-upmanship that the two superpowers had been playing. It was the case of American imperialism against communist solidarity. The missiles weren’t the point – the fact that the US was being threatened was.

Cuba’s Castro

Ninety percent of Cuba was owned in some way by the United States companies or individuals before the revolution. Cuba’s liberation meant that the government ceased the assets of foreign owners for state control – and even despite this grab of economic power, the country nearly collapsed. Castro’s revolution was a success – barely – but his economy was a wreck. He was intent at doing whatever it took to ensure that the economy survived, so that the country would survive under his leadership.

He was, however, a revolutionary at heart, and as such, he was willing to go to much greater extremes than either the US or his Soviet counterparts. Where the US soldier wouldn’t tolerate poor conditions and as much as one-third of the soldiers becoming ill, this was tolerable for the Soviet troops. The Soviets had done testing on their own people with regard to the impacts of nuclear radiation. Many died as a result of their radiation exposure. Castro knew the impacts of nuclear radiation and was willing to poison his country for decades to stop an invading US force.

The Soviets brought more with them than the MRBMs. They brought tactical nuclear weapons that would wipe out an invading force – but not without rather permanent and lasting damage to the ability for Cuba to be habitable. This didn’t seem to bother either the Soviet suppliers or the Cuban Dictator, who seemed locked in his revolutionary ways and the belief that winning was all that mattered.

The Consequences of Nuclear War

Kennedy and Khrushchev were both painfully aware that there was no such thing as a limited nuclear war. They knew that once the first weapon was fired (even inadvertently), there would likely be little turning back. Where Castro seemed intent on using whatever means necessary, both leaders saw their roles in history differently. They felt like that if they stepped too far forward, there would be nothing to step back to.

What does it mean to be the victor when the world is destroyed, they wondered. Victory is hollow when it is only to survive longer before inevitable death.

Communism

The threat to democracy was communism. There was a belief that it just could be a better system of government, and the US’ democratic approach was bound to be buried by communist efficiency. Where Khrushchev made promises to crush the US economically, we now know that this was just bluster. That didn’t stop the inquiries at the time or the fear that our way of living might be changed by forces outside our control.

It’s interesting to me as I compare it to Microsoft’s response to Linux in the 1990s. Linux was a real threat to Microsoft’s Windows desktop market – only to be revealed to be a non-issue. Microsoft did lose some market share to Linux in the server market, but this was hardly as pervasive or as redefining as it was anticipated to be.

When you’re standing too close to the problem, you fail to put it into a proper perspective.

Kennedy

JFK is a hero. However, his image is much larger than the real-life person. His handling of the crisis, his push to the Moon, and his famous speeches anchored a place for him in the American psyche. Having been assassinated, he didn’t have to accept the messiness of the fall from grace. However, when you look deeper, you see parts of the man that don’t reflect the hero image.

His medical issues were a secret to me until One Minute to Midnight. I never realized all the care that he was receiving behind the scenes to remain functional. I recognize these host of problems as the result of stress and incongruency in his world – something that the doctors at the time didn’t appear to be aware of. However, the man that spoke for everyone in America was as fallible as any other man.

There are the stories that you hear about JFK and his infidelity. Marylin Monroe’s relationship with him – including the alleged sexual relationship – are well known. His string of sexual encounters was also well established. However, the relationship with his former neighbor and former wife of a senior CIA official was an aspect I had not previously been aware of.

I can only believe that these were different times for different people, when it was expected that men, particularly powerful men, would have affairs. I don’t understand it or how it would be acceptable to the wives, but it’s far from the last time that a politician – or sitting president – would have an indiscretion that the wife knew about and either condoned or concealed. (Think Bill Clinton.)

I don’t know that we’ll ever get to the same place that we were with the Cuban Missile Crisis. The Soviet Union’s attempts to keep pace with the US economy and defense spending broke it. Communism, it seems, wasn’t as great as it was made out to be. What I do remember from my history class is that those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it – and not just the high school history class. If for no other reason than avoiding the possibility of nuclear war, perhaps it’s time to give some thought to One Minute to Midnight.

Book Review-Kirkpatrick’s Four Levels of Training Evaluation

Sometimes, you say a thing and it just catches on. It’s a moment of insight that gets frozen in time like a mosquito in amber, and later you realize just what you have. Kirkpatrick’s Four Levels of Training Evaluation is like this. It’s a simple framework for evaluating the efficacy of your training program. Don Kirkpatrick uttered the words: reaction, learning, behavior, and results. His son and his son’s bride take up these words and refine the meaning that the industry gave to the words and adjust them back towards their original intent.

The Levels

Despite the fact that Don never uttered the words as levels, others added them to the descriptors, and eventually people began calling it the “Kirkpatrick Model.” It stuck. Today, professionals speak about the levels of evaluation like this:

  • Level 1: Reaction – Did the students report that they enjoyed the learning experience, including the materials, the instructor, the environment, and so on?
  • Level 2: Learning – Did the students learn the material that was delivered? This is the typical assessment process that we’re used to having to complete to be able to report successful completion of a course, but it’s more than that. It’s did we learn anything that we can retain after the class and the test are long over?
  • Level 3: Behavior – Ideally when we’re training, we’ve identified the key behaviors that we want to see changed. Level 3 is the measurement of the change in the behavior.
  • Level 4: Results – Did the change in behaviors create the desired outcome? Are we able, as training professionals, to demonstrate that what we’re doing has value to the organization in a real and tangible way?

The Process called ADDIE

Many instructional designers use a design process called ADDIE after the steps in the process:

  • Analysis – What results do we want, what behaviors need to change to support that, and what skills need to be taught to change the behaviors? (Here, I’d recommend looking at The Ethnographic Interview and Motivational Interviewing for tools you can use.)
  • Design – What kinds of instructional elements and approaches will be used to create the skills and behaviors that are necessary to accomplish the goal? (Here, Efficiency in Learning, Job Aids and Performance Support, The Art of Explanation, and Infographics are all good resources.)
  • Development – The long process of developing each of the individual elements of the course.
  • Implement – Implementation is the execution of the training, either instructor led or in a learning management system.
  • Evaluate – Assess the efficacy of the program – and, ideally, revise it.

If you’re unfamiliar with the course development process or you’d like to explore it in more detail, our white paper, “The Actors in Training Development,” can help you orient to the roles in the process and what they do.

The untold truth is that, in most cases, the processes is rushed, hurried, and many of the steps are skipped or given insufficient attention. Rarely does an organization even have someone with instructional design training much less the time to do the process right. There’s always more training that needs to be developed and never enough time. The Kirkpatricks are driving home an even more telling point. The evaluation process – how you’re going to assess the efficacy – needs to be planned for during the analysis and design phases. The development and implementation phases need to consider the conditions that will be necessary to get good evaluation results. Evaluation isn’t something that can be bolted on at the end with good results.

It’s sort of like Wile E. Coyote strapping a rocket to his back and hoping to catch the roadrunner. It always seems to end badly, because he never seems to think through the whole plan.

Leading and Lagging Indicators

I learned about the horrors of metrics through The Tyranny of Metrics but learned real tools for how to create metrics through How to Measure Anything. However, it was Richard Hackman who really got me thinking about leading and lagging indicators in his book, Collaborative Intelligence. He was focused not just on how to make teams effective in the short term but how to create teams where their performance remains good and keeps getting better. He was talking about the results as a lagging measure, an outcome from the creation of the right kind of team. Influencer picked up and reinforced the concept. We need to look not just at the outputs that we want but the behaviors that we believe will drive those outcomes.

It’s all too easy, as you’re working on developing the metrics for your training, to focus on the lagging metrics and say that you don’t have enough influence on them. After all, you can’t take responsibility for sales improvement. Some of that’s got to be up to the sales manager. And you certainly don’t want to say that your training sucked if sales dropped after salespeople took the course. As a result, training professionals too often shy away from the very metrics that are necessary to keep the organization when there’s a downturn. Instead of being seen as an essential ingredient to success, they’re seen as overhead.

By focusing on a mixture of both leading indicators and lagging indicators, training professionals can get to an appropriate degree of accountability for end performance. Leading indicators are – or at least should be – behaviors. They should be the same behaviors that were identified as a part of the analysis phase as needing to be changed. These should be very highly impacted by the training. The lagging measures are the business outcomes that also should have been a part of the analysis process – but are further from the learning professionals’ control.

Waypower

While it’s not true that we need to hope for good outcomes, there’s a bit we can learn from The Psychology of Hope with regard to training’s role in the process of changing behaviors. In The Psychology of Hope, Snyder explains that hope is made of two components: willpower and waypower. Willpower is what you’d expect. It’s the desire, perseverance, or grit to get things done. (See Willpower or Grit for more.)

Waypower is different. It’s the knowledge of how to get to the other side. It’s the knowledge of the how that learning professionals can help individuals with. It’s waypower that training professionals give to their students every day. This may be used for the purposes of some corporate objective, but in the end, it’s a way of creating hope in the minds of the students that they can get it done if only they try. (Here, a proper mindset is important, too, as explained in Mindset.)

Application

There’s nearly zero research on the relationship between overall performance on the job and well trained, knowledgeable people. The problem is that we don’t really know how much training does really matter. What we do know, however, is that the application of the skills and behaviors that are taught in the classroom don’t always happen. The problem is called “far transfer,” and it’s a relative secret that what we teach in classrooms doesn’t always get applied to the real world. (If you’re interested in some other relative secrets in the training industry, check out our white paper, “Measuring Learning Effectiveness.”)

There’s an absolute essential need to consider how the skills that are being taught in the course can – and will – be applied by the student in the real world. Discussions, case studies, and conversations make for learning experiences that tend to be more used long after the training has been completed.

About the Questions

The book wouldn’t be complete without some guidance on how to write actual evaluation questions, including avoiding superlatives and redundant adjectives when evaluating in a scale – and ensuring that the scale matches the type of question being asked. Question authors are encouraged to keep the questions focused on the learning experience rather than the instructor or environment to get better answers.

The real question for you is will you read Kirkpatrick’s Four Levels of Training Evaluation and apply it to the way you evaluate your training?

Book Review-Hostage at the Table: How Leaders Can Overcome Conflict, Influence Others, and Raise Performance

When you can look at the topic of conflict from the eyes of a hostage negotiator, you realize that it’s a unique opportunity. Few people have the role of hostage negotiator, and it seems like it’s a role that involves nerves of steel and powerful charisma. However, at the same time, it’s easy to think that the skills necessary for hostage negotiation aren’t skills that would be generally applicable to your day-to-day office environment. It’s rare for Suzi to hold a plastic utensil to the throat of Bill and threaten to hurt him if her demands aren’t met. (Whether the plastic utensil could hurt Bill is another question.) While, tragically, workplace violence happens, it’s rare. However, the applicability of the experience of a hostage negotiator extends to all conflict.

Hostage at the Table: How Leaders Can Overcome Conflict, Influence Others, and Raise Performance is a former hostage negotiator’s effort to take people into the experience, so the power plays, the victimization, and all conflicts can be addressed in ways that leave everyone more whole than when they started.

Making Ourselves Hostage

In a literal sense, most folks don’t make themselves a hostage. However, in a figurative sense, people often end up as hostages of their circumstances – or, as The Anatomy of Peace describes it, their boxes. We become hostage to our beliefs and perspectives, and we particularly become a hostage to our victimhood.

Martin Seligman and his colleagues, including Steven Maier, discovered learned helplessness in the late 1960s. Maier’s further research – with the help of an fMRI – indicated that it wasn’t learned helplessness at all. It was a failure to learn control. (See The Hope Circuit.) However, the result is still the same. Once a dog has learned that it can’t escape a mild shock, it stops trying. Even when it’s clear that escape is possible – and even easy – the dog wasn’t interested in freeing itself. The experience of learned helplessness is a trap. It holds us hostage to our beliefs that we can’t do anything about our situation. Like backing a wild animal into a corner, it’s dangerous, because you never know what might happen.

The Address of Victimhood

Victimhood is a place we all visit. We believe we’ve been victimized and feel frustration and anger. However, while victimhood is an ok place to visit, it’s a lousy place to build a home. Staying in victimhood is more than just feeling as if we were victimized one time. It’s the feeling that the situation is permanent, that we’ll always be victimized. It’s about us and who we are, so we can’t escape it.

The people who were able to escape from being a literal hostage are often those who never saw themselves as a victim. They refused to believe that they were powerless. They accepted their current reality but never gave up on changing it. Victor Frankl explained what helped concentration camp survivors make their way out in Man’s Search for Meaning. It wasn’t just some blind sense that someone would come rescue them – because, eventually, when that reality didn’t happen, their hope would be crushed. (See The Psychology of Hope for more about how hope works.)

One could easily conclude that a religious leader was wrong if they prophesized an event and it didn’t happen. The followers could look upon themselves and wonder how they could have been so misled. However, that’s not what happens most frequently. What happens most frequently is followers become more convinced that they were right. In Influence, Robert Cialdini explains how this process works.

Powerful forces lead us to lack of hope, learned helplessness, and descending deeper and deeper into our beliefs that the problems are internally generated, permanent, and global. The greater degree to which we see our circumstances this way, the more convinced we become that it’s our fault, and there’s nothing to be done. (See The Hope Circuit for more about attribution of circumstances.)

People Don’t Kill People

Of course, the instant response to “People don’t kill people” is “What is murder, then?” However, that is not the point that George Kohlrieser is trying to make. The point is that people don’t kill people – they kill objects. To allow themselves to kill, they’ve necessarily dehumanized the other person so that they’re now an object. Martin Buber in I and Thou helps us to understand how our interactions often drive us towards dehumanizing people and how that diminishes our relationships with them. Albert Bandura is more direct in Moral Disengagement, explaining how situations like the Nazi concentration camps could happen.

The more we can help ourselves and others see everyone as people – and not objects or sub-human – the better our chances at preventing violence.

Hostage Taking Triggered by Trauma

One of the statements that caught me most by surprise was when Kohlrieser indicated that he’d never seen a hostage situation start by anything other than loss. The trauma of a loss triggered some sort of change that made the hostage-taker feel like taking hostages was the only way to be heard and have their needs addressed. Hostage-takers didn’t proceed out of a sense of power or strength, they proceeded out of despair and desperation. It’s as if their powerlessness first took them hostage, and then they took others hostage.

The solution to both literal hostage-taking and the figurative hostage-taking that happens in our mind is bonding. That is, connecting with the hostage-taker whether in our brains or literally, is our way out.

Bonding

It’s fundamental to the human condition to need bonding with other humans. Our bonding mechanisms can become disrupted, and when they do, bonding becomes more difficult – sometimes difficult enough that it might be described as Intimacy Anorexia. At a lower scale, it may be found as people having difficulty relating to other people. (See The Secret Lives of Adults for more about how to form bonds with different kinds of relationships.) A failure to be able to bond to other people can result in loneliness, which has huge negative health implications. (See Loneliness for more.)

An area of bonding that’s most often overlooked is the bonding with ourselves. That is, how well do we accept who we are and talk to ourselves in a healthy way? Perhaps you’re a fan of Jonathan Haidt’s Elephant-Rider-Path model for how we coordinate the different aspects of our personality or you prefer to think in terms of Daniel Kahneman’s System 1 and System 2. (See The Happiness Hypothesis and Switch for the Elephant-Rider-Path model and Thinking, Fast and Slow for System 1 and System 2.

Focus on Freedom

As I mentioned above, there are some people who more or less refuse to remain hostages. They focus on their capacity to free themselves as soon as it’s possible to do so. High performers focus their minds on the positive and refuse to focus on the pains and challenges. They won’t get bogged down as they begin to struggle. They continue to tune out the unnecessary clutter and focus on only those things that matter. (Barry Swartz of The Paradox of Choice describes filtering as a basic function of consciousness.) High performers simply seem to be more able to filter out the clutter. When negotiating a conflict (both in the sense of navigating and, more traditionally, negotiating a position), the ability to filter out clutter is useful.

In Buddhism, there’s the story of the first dart (what someone else does) and the second dart (the way you process it). Basically, if you can ignore the darts people throw, you don’t have to throw darts at yourself. (See Resilient for more.) In conflict, our ability to remain neutral and detached serves us well. When we become emotionally engaged in a conflict, we’ve become the other person’s hostage. We’re no longer able to think rationally about what we’re doing.

Emotional Processing

The ability to remain emotionally detached is a goal for negotiators – of life. Dialogue quotes Richard Moon as saying that it’s not like the great masters never lose their center, it’s that they discover it sooner and recover faster. Such is the case with our ability to identify when we’re becoming emotionally triggered – and quiet our emotions quicker. In Emotion and Adaptation, Richard Lazarus explains that our emotions are one part stimulus and one part our appraisal of the situation. Specifically, it’s our ability to be okay.

All too often, we’re not taught how to process our way through emotions. The emotions are just things, and there’s nothing to be done about them. However, as we learn more about ourselves and our emotions, we can learn how to work better with them. When we realize that anger is just disappointment directed, we can process the judgements that lead to the disappointment and either more thoroughly understand our disappointment or realize that the judgement was wrong and the disappointment wasn’t necessary. (See A Force for Good for more.)

Emotional Covering

One of the most challenging aspects of our emotional lives is the real probability that the hurt we feel today isn’t caused by today’s events but is instead by the traumas from our past. Certainly, we can express a real and plausible reason for emotions today, but many times, the emotions that happen today are echoes and repetitions of unhealed hurts from our past. They’re wounds that have never healed and scars that have created sensitive spaces in our souls.

Whether it’s the feeling that the other person isn’t listening (we’re not being heard) because our parents ignored us, or it’s the feeling that the other person is out to get us because our childhood was filled with turmoil, we’ll never be able to address the current pains without moving backwards to address the root cause. Until we’re able to understand why we’re sensitive, to acknowledge and accept it, we’ll never be able to move forward.

The Not Knowing is the Hardest Part

We’ve all heard others say that it’s the not knowing that is the hardest part. From an emotional processing perspective, this is true. Once we know what the truth is, we can start the process of grief. (For more on the process, see On Death and Dying.) In our lives, we become hostage to the uncertainty and the fear that we’re not going to be able to survive what life throws at us.

Perhaps the hardest part about Hostage at the Table is not knowing whether it’s someone else – or it’s you.

Book Review-The Hidden Persuaders

I can remember as a child sending off a letter about an idea that I thought was powerful. It came from a story I ran across about a movie theatre that ran subliminal advertising for their concession stand. The idea was that the advertising was conveyed in a single frame. It was too short to be perceived by the audience consciously but apparently was quite effective at selling popcorn. I found a reference to this movie theatre popcorn situation in The Hidden Persuaders. Though Vance Packard, the author, treats the recollection with skepticism, I wondered as a child how this could be used for good – rather than commerce.

I don’t remember who the letter was sent to, but, being a kid, I assume I wrote the President of the United States. The idea was to leverage subliminal messaging in prisons to attempt to adjust criminal behavior. An answer came back, I think from the Department of Corrections, that the FCC had issued a rule banning the use of subliminal advertising, and that was that for me.

However, after picking up Influence and Pre-Suasion, I wanted to go back and dig into the stories about how advertisers in the 1950s and 1960s started paying attention to psychology and how they could manipulate people in ways that weren’t expected. What I found in The Hidden Persuaders was strangely familiar and foreign at the same time.

What We’re Sold

We are, in many ways, a consumerism-based society in the United States. We as a people follow fashions, replace our cars every few years, and practice retail therapy when we’re feeling down. (Retail therapy is buying something to feel better.)

The overwhelming array of choices we face has transformed, from awe at what is available to us now that only royalty would have been able to afford a few centuries ago to a sense of entitlement that we must have all these things. However, at the heart of this isn’t the item itself: it’s how it makes us feel. We feel like “I deserve this” or “I’ve earned this.” The “this” we’re referring to is the feeling of beauty, freedom, status, or any of the other desirables that we want to believe we are – but don’t always feel like we are.

An interesting dynamic to this is that we buy things expecting they’ll make us feel better about ourselves; however, they don’t. We expect that a new car will refresh our vitality, but it doesn’t. We want to impress others by wearing a status symbol and are disappointed when our friends and peers purchased the same thing. How are we supposed to demonstrate our superiority if we’re constantly being copied – and are copying others?

Saying and Doing

We are willing to go to remarkable lengths to do what we say we’re going to do and maintain our public image. When people are looking, we will bend our preferences to support the identity that we believe other people expect of us, as we learned in Pre-Suasion. However, we feel no compunction to behave consistently with our answers if we don’t expect that people are looking.

Marketers have long known that people will answer one way and then behave in a totally different way. You ask them to commit to a course of action, but if they don’t feel they’re being watched when it comes time to take that action, their previous answer will likely not have much impact on their behavior. We want to be seen as rational, reliable, intelligent, and consistent people, when that’s rarely the way we are. We store up our reliability for those times when we believe we’re being watched. Even then, we often behave in ways that aren’t objectively rational.

I’m the Most Important Topic to Me

Nothing appeals more to someone than themselves. It’s not exactly new news – it wasn’t even new news when The Hidden Persuaders was first published – but it is profound. We spend time trying to get people to be interested in something else – or someone else like ourselves – but we fail to recognize that, at the end of the day, what everyone is most interested in is themselves. While this news may seem like bad news to those who want to motivate us, nothing could be further from the truth.

Knowing that everyone cares about themselves, including how they feel about themselves and how they’re perceived, there’s a lot of room to help people feel good about themselves. Makeup can make you look beautiful. It’s not creating a beautiful appearance, it’s changing the person’s perception of themselves as more beautiful. A powerful car can make a man feel more vitality.

While when stated directly, it may seem far-fetched for someone to believe that a product can make them stronger or more beautiful in an intrinsic sort of way. But this is exactly the way we’re sold to every day. Having the latest phone doesn’t appreciably change the features for most folks, but it sends a signal about the kind of person you are – and if you’re that kind of person, you deserve a phone.

Avenues for Expression

We use the things we own as proxies for who we are. Are we dog owners? Are we townhome kinds of folks? The things we have shape how others perceive us – or, perhaps more accurately, how we project what we want others to see. Once an object has been imbued with meaning, the meaning tends to stick. This is how brands work. They associate a characteristic or a feeling to a product, and then the product is sold based on the characteristic.

Nowhere is this truer than in the American love affair with cars. There are truck people, SUV people, minivan people, sports car people, sedan people, and other variants too numerous to mention. When you hear about the kind of car they own, most people begin to form images in their heads of the kinds of people we’re talking about. Truck people are rough and tumble. Minivan people have a lot of kids to be transported to soccer games – too many to fit in an SUV. Sports car people are wild and adventurous; sedan people are refined and reserved.

The truth is that the automobile industry reinforces these images. It tries to convince us that, if we just bought their car, we’d regain some aspect of our lives that we’ve lost (or never had). The innovation of the hard top is one of those success stories.

The Wife and the Mistress

Dr. Dichter, one of the key players in the act of peering into our minds to sell us merchandise, says that men settle down with a practical, down-to-earth, and safe person. The wife, in his analogy, is a sedan. He continues, however, that in his perspective, a man never forgets his desire for youthful passion. Convertibles were this image of vitality, excitement, and passion. He considered the convertible the mistress. Convertibles were, at the time, canvas, because of the need to fold.

The introduction of the hard top, he argued, would be like the best of both worlds: the perceived safety and stability of a sedan and the excitement and toplessness of the convertible. Thus, a single car could help a consumer fulfill two aspects they have of themselves. They wouldn’t need to deny a part of themselves when they’re buying a car – or in their lives.

Kaleidoscope

Masters of the marketing game find ways to leverage these different aspects of products in a way that allows a product to be seen differently by different audiences. Younger adults see smoking as a way for them to look older, while older adults seek it to regain their youth. Both groups see the same set of products, but they see different facets of the products in ways that drive their interest.

The different perspectives for different audiences may be difficult to master and ever-changing, but, done well, it can be a powerful way to drive demand for your product.

Bad Looks

Of course, where there is a positive side, there is also the potential for a negative side. When you attempt to introduce an aspect of a product, it can conflict with core messaging or reason why people buy your product, as Jell-O found out. Jell-O is a convenient, inexpensive desert. It’s the kind of thing that you can do and not worry about it too much.

When Jell-O started running ads with these impressive, multi-color, molded creations, sales dropped. It turns out that people didn’t want to compete with what they were seeing in the ads. They wanted to be able to do something simple, and the beautiful creations interfered with that.

When we’re motivating people with features, we must expect that we may accidentally trigger a response we don’t want.

Higher Prices and More Sales

Traditional thinking is that higher prices result in less sales; however, the reverse is often true. As Predictably Irrational exposes, people use price as a signal for quality. If it’s low-priced, it must be junk. Thus, if the prices are high, it must be good. Whether it’s black pearls, turquoise, or anything else that people don’t know about, they’ll use price as a proxy for goodness.

Related to this is the awareness that people make decisions about how well they’re going to treat themselves, particularly with things that have no fixed price, like art or jewelry. The result is they go looking for something that matches the range they have set out to spend on themselves. Then they buy something in that range – or generally slightly above it.

Price should be about the exchange of money and should be logical, but it’s not. It operates in a different world of feelings and perspectives.

Frozen Panic

Another, unfortunate, thing that can be triggered in us irrational humans is being overwhelmed by panic. There is a state we can enter where we don’t feel like we know what to do. We’re overwhelmed, and we can’t process anything. It can be that we’ve got sensory overload (see The Signal and the Noise for more). It may also be that, in our quick assessment of whatever is going on, we’ve decided there’s nothing we can do. (See Emotion and Adaptation.) Said differently, we may have rapidly lost hope that there’s a way out of the situation. (See The Psychology of Hope.) Irrespective of the cause, the result is the same. The result is that we’ll do nothing. That’s why it’s important when communicating with the market that you don’t create panic, because the result is generally a lack of action.

Hopefully, you’ll decide that it’s time to look behind the curtain and find out more about The Hidden Persuaders.