Recently we’ve heard some great things about therapists Tes, Karim, Eliza and Ellie. So what, you might ask, there are probably lots of great therapists out there to choose from. What makes Tes, Karim, Eliza and Ellie unique is that they’re all artificial intelligence therapists. These AI therapists use pioneering software that enables them to both recognise and understand emotion in people and continually refine and develop that understanding. So how is robotic emotional intelligence learning new tricks? [Read more…]
The leadership moral grey zone. Or, more plainly, the tolerance of unethical leadership behaviour has a huge impact upon businesses, their people and, ultimately their success. If you’ve ever worked in a dysfunctional organisation where unethical practices are the accepted norm or bullying, gossip and favouritism is rife, you’ll be familiar with the grey zone.
Whether you’re part of a start up or an established business, your choice of leader (and the systems that support them is the bedrock of success). In spite of more immediate short term wins, there’s no longevity for a leader in the moral grey zone. The grey zone leader may appear to be achieving results, but they’re not sustainable. Think Siemens former CEO and Chairman, Heinz-Joachim Neuberger and Johannes Feldmeyer, fined for bribery. Or the arrest of Bruno A Kaelin Head of Corporate Compliance at Alstom following investigations into his alleged role in a bribery slush fund. One of the most infamous moral grey leaders was Kenneth Lay of Enron, convicted of 6 counts of fraud. His unethical behaviour resulted in the downfall of the company. Often tolerated, morally grey leadership wreaks lasting damage.
What does it look like?
Research from Knoll, Lord, Peterson and Weigelt ( 2016, Journal of Applied Psychology, 46) identified two factors necessary for predicting unethical behaviour;
- Moral disengagement
- Situational strength
So what does this look like in practice? The researchers found that for leaders to engage in unethical behaviour, for example (if indeed you do need an example).
Bullying, marginalising, spreading rumour, preferential treatment of ‘favourite’ staff, manipulating information, cheating, lying or using the workplace to enhance personal relationships or social status
They have to morally disengage their own moral compass, or ignore societal norms to enter into the above.
Can you spot them?
Surprisingly, yes. There are telltale signs. The research found that leaders in the grey zone typically;
- Have Low Levels of Emotional Intelligence. Grey leaders focus on the task and the results they want rather than their behaviours or how they get there. Self awareness and self regulation is usually low in unethical leaders. They are unable to heed internal clues and cues that their behaviour is unacceptable. They are also unable to recognise that such behaviours are shunned by wider society. They are oblivious to their behaviours and may even believe they are role modelling.
- Reduced Self-Organisation. When we operate effectively as human beings our values and systems are congruent. The lack of alignment that unethical behaviour produces is easily tolerated by grey leaders. When behaving unethically, they don’t feel dissonance between the beliefs they hold or espouse and their actions.
- Decreased Self Regulation. Unethical leaders display behaviours that lack impulse control, shouting, swearing, lying, bullying, creating a culture lacking in transparency, resulting in mistrust. Take time to reflect upon the worst office despot you’ve worked with and anyalse their behaviour, an ability to control themselves is usually in short supply. They are reactive, mercurial, the organisational grenade without a pin and more than just a little bit scary to be around.
- Lack Authenticity: They don’t know who they are or they are pretending to be something they’re not with a compelling variety of ‘Game faces.’ An individual’s level of authenticity is a significant predictor of unethical behaviour. High levels of authenticity are the armour against unethical leadership. People with high levels of authenticity have greater self awareness and self regulation. They are not driven by ego and status and place more emphasis on listening, learning and developing. They possess a congruence between their values and their actions and when they don’t they feel it.
The 4 Step Predictive Process
To disengage morally is a four step process. If you’re leading a business you may recognise the telltale signs in your own behaviour (don’t beat yourself up, you can change it). If you’re responsible for L & D these are the stages of moral disengagement to watch out for;
- Creating a story. This is characterised by ‘everyone else is doing it’ or ‘just this once’. A reconstruction that enables the unethical behaviour to flourish. It creates a reality where the behaviour is no longer immoral. The narrative is always creating justification for the behaviour e.g. ‘It’s not against the law’
- A reduction in accountability. Grey leaders place less emphasis on their own agency a more on the responsibility of colleagues by blaming others, organisational culture, systems and processes.
- They deny the result or pass the buck. Unethical leaders either deny or do not recognise the consequences of their behaviour. They are also adept at passing the buck.
- Victim perception. They will downplay their impact upon others or mentally reduce the status of those falling foul of their actions. Perceptions such as ‘They’re not important anyway’ ‘They don’t matter’ ‘They wouldn’t have a job without me’ scenarios are common. Unethical leaders often push the blame onto their victims, absolving themselves of all responsibility.
Is it their fault or are they misunderstood?
The researchers found another significant factor affecting the moral grey zone, situational strength.The cues and systems provided by an organisational culture will either support or discourage unethical behaviour. The people, the culture, reward systems, processes to ensure compliance, actions, punishments (or lack of) all come together to form psychological impetus for ethical or unethical behaviour. Organisational systems and structures often support unethical behaviour. You might not be approving it but are you tacitly saying it’s wrong?
Reflect on our checklist to see if you are supporting the development of unethical behaviour
- A lack of authenticity
- Your organisation places emphasis on task completion above all else
- Your business has considered objectives but not behaviours
- You do not explicitly disapprove of unethical practice
- Your systems promote a lack of ethics and may even reward them
- You recognise a narrative pattern that always seeks to blame others or justify behaviours
- You identify behaviours that fail to recognise the consequence of actions
- There is a narrative about how the impact of victims is negligent or it is their fault.
To learn more about selecting leaders or developing a workplace culture that promotes ethical behaviours contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or join one of our Leadership programmes. We offer espresso bitesize, half day, one day, conference or bespoke sessions.
Developing your assertiveness toolkit
Being assertive can feel like it’s easier said than done, but including new skills and techniques in your personal toolkit will develop your confidence as well as increasing assertiveness. Try these five tips to give your skills a boost:
1. Allow your self-belief flourish
Self-belief is the foundation of assertiveness. Develop a strong sense of self-belief by challenging yourself to try new things and learning new skills. Acknowledge and celebrate your successes. Spend time monitoring your inner dialogue; when you notice yourself making negative or energy-sapping statements, take time to dispute them with a positive, self-affirming response. With practice, the positive inner dialogue can become habit.
2. Develop your emotional intelligence (EI)
Assertiveness requires two core emotional intelligence skills, the ability to:
a) identify our own emotions and the emotions of others
b) manage our own emotions, and the emotions of others, whilst under pressure
We can all develop our level of emotional intelligence, and the best way to start is by taking small steps. Begin by challenging yourself to manage your own emotional responses in situations you know you will find relatively easy to control. Gradually build your skills: increase the level of challenge and practice managing the emotions of others. Think of your EI skills as being like a muscle: every time you use those skills that muscle is growing bigger!
3. Get modelling
Observe someone whose assertiveness you admire and think about what makes their skills so impressive. Are they cool and unruffled under pressure? Do they casually take their time? Can they manage aggressive challenges effortlessly? Is everyone wowed by their authoritative body language? Although this technique is about observing behaviour, you can also ask the person for their top tips. Once you have discovered exactly what they are doing, saying or projecting to be so assertive, model that behaviour for yourself.
Listening is a key technique in the assertiveness toolkit. Effective listening allows you to hear what the other person thinks, feels and needs. This information is invaluable and can help you to negotiate and influence much more effectively. Listening also provides you with an opportunity to:
- practice calm
- choose your assertive response
5. Stay calm
When we feel anxious and under pressure our bodies enter into fight, flight or freeze mode. The way in which the body responds includes the release of stress hormones into the bloodstream and a reduction in the ability to process complex thoughts – not a helpful situation when you want to be assertive! Finding a technique that enables you to remain calm whilst under pressure is vital, and what works for you will be as individual as your personality. There is no ‘one size fits all’ approach but some popular techniques include:
Stay calm with this simple anchoring technique
Practice holding your thumb and forefinger together whilst in a state of calm. It can help to think about a place or time during which you have felt extremely calm and relaxed. Next, ‘anchor’ the calm feeling to the thumb and forefinger action. Practice until you are able to prompt the feeling of calm just by placing your thumb and forefinger together. This enables you to use the thumb and forefinger technique, on its own, during times of anxiety, to evoke your moment of calm.
Remain calm by practising this easy breathing exercise
Breathing exercises are also a popular way to effectively handle anxiety. Breathing is connected to, and influences, all aspects of the mind and body. Research has shown that inhaling for 5 seconds and exhaling for 5 seconds five times per minute prompts the body’s mechanism for reducing anxiety into action. This technique enables you to manage difficult situations and respond assertively.
Fired up to learn more tips? Take a look at Julian Treasure’s TED Talk:
Want to find out more? Check out our Essential Assertiveness course on 8th December in London on our ‘Events’ page. We’d love to see you there!
Have you ever experienced a powerful emotion rising swiftly to the surface and felt powerless in it’s wake? We can all feel challenged by difficult interactions with others. The ability to manage emotion and choose our response in emotionally charged situations can sometimes seem like a Herculean task but mindfulness can provide the key to positive change.
Renowned emotional intelligence expert, Paul Ekman, identifies two core skills for mastering emotional response:
1. Establish what triggers your negative emotional behaviour.
2. Learn to increase the length of time between registering an emotional impulse and acting on it.
How to Establish themes and triggers
1. Keep a journal. Make a note of when emotions are high and record these moments in detail. After a month or so of maintaining the diary, analyse the information and look for patterns.
2. Connect trigger incidents and themes. What triggers the emotional behaviour? Where you noted incidents that prompted negative, disproportionate emotional behaviour, look for themes. You can establish your triggers by noticing how many incidents have the same theme.
3. Decide on a plan of action. Knowing which themes commonly trigger negative emotional behaviour alerts you to challenging situations in advance and enables you to ask, ‘what can I do?’ to manage the situation. Will a technique to reduce stress suffice and calm me or do I need to avoid the situation because it involves a strong trigger? Alternatively, you may recognise that a theme is present but decide you are feeling in good emotional shape and are prepared for any triggers that may arise.
4. Increasing the gap between impulse and action
Psychologist and holocaust survivor, Viktor Frankl, described the ability to choose how we respond to any
given situation as the ‘last human freedom.’ Emotional responses are often triggered by previous experiences which we store in our memory or, as Ekman terms it, our emotional database. The emotional alert database constantly scans for triggers and when it finds a trigger the emotional impulse occurs. The emotional alert database is not always accurate or helpful but when the emotional impulse reaches the brain it activates the emotion in all external behaviours, voice, facial expressions, posture.
5. How to identify when your emotions are negatively affecting your behaviour. A useful source of information can be the facial expressions of others. If the person on the receiving end of your behaviour looks horrified or disappointed in response to your words, posture or facial expressions, ask yourself what you might be saying or doing to prompt their reaction.
Developing the ability to identify your own physiological response in stressful situations is another useful technique for identifying negative emotion. Do you experience physical tension? Does your breathing rate, perspiration or heart rate increase? Perhaps you experience certain sensations in different parts of your body, a knot in the stomach or a tightness in your throat? The more able you are to identify the physical feelings that accompany emotions, the earlier you will be able to sense your triggers and themes and act to manage them.
6. Mind the gap. The good news is that there is a gap between registering the emotional impulse and it being translated into action. It is this gap that we are seeking to increase providing more time to choose a response rather than being hijacked by our emotions. Mindfulness is a great technique that can be used to lengthen the time between impulse and response.
Research shows that as little as 20 minutes of continuous mindfulness practice each day day increases our ability to recognise the themes that trigger emotions and choose how we respond to emotionally challenging situations.
7. One mindfulness practice to try today. Try this simple mindfulness technique to help develop your focus and manage your emotional response in challenging situations:
1. If you are new to mindfulness it can be useful to set a timer (or use a mindfulness app) for a duration of 20 minutes, or less if you want to gradually build up to twenty minutes. A timer can help avoid the distraction of wondering how long you have been practising the exercise.
2. Take a breath and notice how the air feels as you inhale. What other sensations do you experience?
3. Exhale and focus on the sensation of releasing the breath. Does your breath feel warm? How do other parts of your body feel as you exhale?
4. If your thoughts wander, don’t worry, this is normal, simply notice that your attention has wandered and return your focus to your breathing.
5. If you experience an emotion during this mindfulness technique, note the emotion, rather than the emotion defining you, label it, for example, ‘that’s a happy emotion’. Notice how it feels, including any sensations you experience physically in your body. Remember that this type of physical sensation is one of the techniques you can use for establishing that an emotion has been triggered. Identifying where you feel the emotion in your body during this exercise will help you identify the sensation and emotion at other times when that emotion is triggered. Return your focus to the breathing process.
Regularly practicing mindfulness and following the techniques to identify emotional themes and triggers will help you to increase the gap between impulse and action. A combination of all three techniques leads to an increase in emotional awareness and emotional intelligence which will enhance your relationships with others.