Disagreeable Feedback

It is a simple fact that in order to improve in any skill, whether it be management, communication, or computers, feedback is needed. Great feedback happens when it is very specific, given timely, and in a way that is supportive of the recipient. However, we have all experienced feedback that doesn’t work for us. In fact, some feedback may simply be inappropriate or wrong. What is the best way to respond?

Kim Scott, author of Radical Candor, is one of the leading experts on effective workplace communication. In a post on her blog, 5 Tips for When You Disagree with Feedback, Kim is very straightforward with the notion that you do not have to agree with feedback.

You can and should tell the person that you disagree. If you just say, “Thank you for the feedback” through gritted teeth, you seem Manipulatively Insincere. Better to take the time to explain why you disagree. Once, a CEO to whom I’d offered criticism told me the next day, “I reject that feedback — but I love that you told me what you think! Do you want to hear why I disagree?” Of course I did — and I actually felt better about my coaching of him after that because he’d been so totally open to criticism before that moment that I wondered if he was really hearing it.

Kim Scott

Kim wants to ensure that the person providing the feedback is honored for doing so. That way they understand you appreciated the effort even if you disagreed with their assessment. She then provides five tips on how to deal with feedback. The first is to check your understanding.

Repeat back what you think you heard, and say, “Did I understand correctly?” or “Did I get that right?” This is a good opportunity to show you care about the person, and what they think.

Learn more tips about how to respectful respond to disagreeable feedback on the Radical Candor web site.

What Your Brain Really Does

The human brain remains one of the deepest mysteries in biology. It is the most important part of our body, but even with all the advances in neuroscience we still don’t fully understand how it works. In productivity circles it is often assumed that better knowledge of brain function might improve efficiency and creativity.

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In a recent interview in GQ magazine, neuroscientist Lisa Feldman Barrett reveals surprising facts about how our brains really work. For starters she reveals what the brain’s most important role is:

The brain’s most important job is not thinking or seeing or feeling or doing any of the things that we think of as being important for being human. Its main job is running a budget for your body—to keep you alive, to keep you healthy. So every thought you have, every emotion you feel, every action you take is ultimately in the service of regulating your body. We don’t experience mental life this way, but this is what is happening under the hood.

Read the rest of the article on the GQ web site or pick up her new book: Seven and a Half Lessons about the Brain.

Make a habit about not worrying about your habits

Developing great habits is one way to succeed at life. Whether it is being productive, healthy, or financially free, our habits drive our daily behavior towards the longer term goals that inspire us. However, there are many days, especially this year, where sticking to good habits is a struggle. Whether it is the temptation to watch TV instead of work, eat a big bowl of ice cream, or splurge on a fancy new toy, it is easy to slip out of our desired habits. When they happen should we feel guilty about these indulgences?

In a recent blog post, Darius Foroux argues that we should stop worrying about missed habits. Being too strict around them is actually counter productive. He writes:

We humans have this tendency to take everything to the extreme. And when it comes to habits, I found that majority of my friends, family, readers, and students have an all or nothing mentality.

You either work out every day or you do nothing. You either write every day or you do nothing. Why so serious? The reason for this is negative self-talk. We assume that we messed up if we miss our habits for a few days.

Darius Foroux

Foroux advises that we not worry about missing one day of a habit.

If you practice true mindfulness, there are no streaks. There’s only now. You shouldn’t care about what you did yesterday. Only care about what you’re doing today. And always try to make the best of it.

Every day is a new day that has nothing to do with yesterday.

Read the full post on his web site.

Why Did I Make that Dumb Decision?

Have you ever made a decision you quickly regretted? We have all made choices in our life that seemed well thought out at first, only to have the results turn out sour. Decision making is something we do every day, but very few people take the time to examine their decision making process. Even fewer attempt to understand the hidden factors that effect our cognitive process and cloud our view of the world.

In a recent workshop for PCI Webinars I explored the role that fallacies and probability play in our decision making process. I started out the webinar with a quote from former US Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld that demonstrates the complexities of our ability to understand the world.

“Reports that say that something hasn’t happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns—the ones we don’t know we don’t know. And if one looks throughout the history of our country and other free countries, it is the latter category that tend to be the difficult ones.” – Donald Rumsfeld – US Secretary of Defense – 2001-2006

To learn more about six big fallacies the effect our decision making and to discover how our inability to understand probability leads to bad choices, read the text version of the workshop on the Efficient Librarian web site.

What is Killing Your Focus?

Have you ever been distracted?

We are often our own worst enemy, as it is very easy to be enthralled by the next shiny bauble. However, sometimes it is other who distract us. The ability to focus is key to getting anything done well. There are many possible reasons for our inability to focus. In his recent article The Two Things Killing Your Ability to Focus published in the Harvard Business Review, writer William Treseder narrows down the culprits to two specific causes, our electronic devices and meetings.

First, we increasingly are overwhelmed with distractions flying at us from various connected devices. Smartphone and tablet use is spiking, and we now use digital media for an average of over 12 hours per day. This hyper-connected state does not allow us to process, recharge, and refocus.

Second, we rely excessively on meetings as the default form of interaction with other people at work. Studies indicate that we spend anywhere from 35–55 percent of our time, and sometimes much more, in meetings. If we want to stay focused on truly meaningful activity, something has to change.

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How do we get around these obstacles in order to better focus? Treseder suggests several approaches. For example, to make meetings more useful he suggests we shrink the number of people in attendance.

Countless studies, starting with this 2015 HBR research, have shown the benefits of smaller teams. Focus and responsibility are more challenging with too many people — which is how you end up with folks staring down silently at their laptops for an entire meeting. To stay focused, keep your team focused. Limit the number of people in any meeting to eight or fewer unless it is a meeting that is purely informational.

Read the full article to learn the other suggestions that will

How Leaders Make Decisions

Leadership at one of its most basic levels is the science and art of decision making. To be a leader is to be someone who makes decisions.

This past week I had the honor to present a webinar for PLAN titled “How Leaders Make Decisions.” The webinar explored ideas such as “kind” vs “wicked” environments, the dangers of decision making fallacies, and how to bring a team together around a decision. The script of the talk is available in the Articles section of my web site.

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Here is a short sample of what I discussed:

We make decisions constantly ever day of our lives.  Most of our decisions are small and only affect ourselves.  However, leadership decisions directly affect others, ranging from a small few to an entire organization.  Therefore, it is important for leaders to understand the art and science of decision making not only for themselves, but their colleagues and customers.

Decision making can be very challenging for leaders because of the impact.  Since leadership decisions often have public implications, leaders are subjected to second guessing regularly.  Psychologically the very act of making a decision is stressful because of the risk of making the wrong choice.  Every decision we make means all other options were rejected in favor of one choice.  This sense of finality can be scary.  Sometimes people avoid making a decision altogether.  However, not making a decision is a form of decision making with consequences in itself.  Deferring decisions may be useful at times, but often there comes a point where making a decision is unavoidable.

Read the rest of the article to learn more.

Are You Being Tricked (By Your Own Mind)?

Here is a quick test. Which would you prefer to receive: $150 today or $180 next month? When this experiment is run most people would rather take the smaller amount now than wait one month. But consider this fact, if you were able to invest $150 now at a 20% rate of return, you would have $180 the following month. In the world of investing, a 20% return is massive. Yet for some reason our minds discount future money, even if it is worth more. This is a prime example of a cognitive bias.

In The Atlantic a while back, Ben Yagoda wrote an article diving into the many cognitive biases that affect everyone. He notes that there are over 185 different biases listed on the Wikipedia page. While not all are important, some affect us more frequently.

The gambler’s fallacy makes us absolutely certain that, if a coin has landed heads up five times in a row, it’s more likely to land tails up the sixth time. In fact, the odds are still 50-50. Optimism bias leads us to consistently underestimate the costs and the duration of basically every project we undertake. Availability bias makes us think that, say, traveling by plane is more dangerous than traveling by car. (Images of plane crashes are more vivid and dramatic in our memory and imagination, and hence more available to our consciousness.)

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In the article, Yagoda’s explores the question of whether it is possible to educate ourselves to avoid cogitative biases or if we are doomed to always fall for them. To learn his findings, please read the full article.

Deal or No Deal Mr Hall!

I have always enjoyed game shows. Although I have never been on one it is fun to think about different strategies to win.

Recently I was listening to a episode of a great podcast series called Choiceology. It is about how we make choices especially focusing on the factors that lead us astray in those decisions. The specific episode dealt with how framing decisions in terms of potential loss leads us to different decisions than framing them in terms of potential gain. In the episode they interviewed a contestant from the show Deal or No Deal.

I finished the episode not only pondering how we frame problems, but realizing that the contestant made a huge mathematical error that skewed his thinking even as much as the framing. In fact, it is a problem that is encountered on other game shows including one called Let’s Make a Deal.

To explain why a poor grasp of probability not only hurts our ability to win game shows but also to make other important life decisions, I wrote an article to explore the topic. The core of the piece discusses a classic puzzle known as the Monty Hall Problem.

Here is the puzzle. You are a contest on Let’s Make a Deal. Your game is to pick one of three doors. Behind one is a new car and behind the other two are goats. (For purposes of play assume you want the car.) Monty Hall invites you to pick a door, so let’s say you choose Door #1. Monty, who knows what is behind each door, opens Door #3 to reveal a goat. Then he gives you the opportunity to switch your choice to Door #2. The question: Are your chances of winning the car better, worse, or no different if you switch doors?

Read the entire article to learn the correct answer to this problem and how the Deal or No Deal contestant should have behaved.

Productivity Guilt

I have come to realize that this is a pandemic is a strange time to evaluate productivity. Our society is in a weird space were many people are over worked due to the essential nature of their jobs. Conversely, many people are now under worked due to being laid off or furloughed. It is the very few whose work continues unaffected by the disaster.

No matter where your work lies on this continuum, the changes in the world around us have an impact on our mental state. With so much of the future unknown a new definition of productive is needed. With this in mind I came across an article by Scott Young titled, “What is Productivity Guilt? (And How Can You Prevent It?)” In the piece he provides advice on how to be easier on yourself to avoid productivity guilt. For example:

Accept that you’ll always be imperfect. That’s okay. Everyone is. Nobody, including me, does everything perfectly all the time. … I go through phases where my habits evolve. Old ideas I wrote about get replaced with new ones. Not always because the new is better than the old, but because I’m always changing (as will you). If you see, instead, that everything I’ve written about is a static and permanent part of who I am, when you sum it all up, you’ll get to something that’s probably unmanageable as a whole.

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Young goes on to provide the following advice when facing the specter of productivity guilt:

The real source of the guilt, however, isn’t because the standards imposed are too unrealistic or even undesirable, but because there’s always a gap between how we see ourselves and how we would like to be. The right move to make is always one that pushes you a little, but takes where you are as a starting point. That also includes your psychological strengths and weaknesses.

The rest of the article is available here.