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Posts on Jan 1970

Act Your Way into a Different Way of Thinking

theater-masksSheryl Sandberg famously advised women to ‘Lean In’. However, when dealing with difficult tasks and decisions women and men might be better advised to ‘Lean Back’. Research has revealed that people who are having trouble making decisions can benefit from creating some physical, and thereby psychological, distance between themselves and the problem.

The researchers, Manoj Thomas (Cornell University) and Claire Tsai (University of Toronto), examined whether psychological distance reduces the difficulty and anxiety in choice situations. In one study, they presented participants with two products on a computer screen and asked them to choose one of the items or defer the choice until later. Half the participants were told to lean toward the computer screen and the other half were instructed to lean away. The results revealed that those who leaned toward the screen found the choice to be more difficult and were more likely to defer the choice than those who leaned away from the screen. This suggests that when making difficult decisions, leaning back or away from the problem can reduce the perceived difficulty. In other words, it appears that bodily distance helps create psychological distance.

All very interesting, but so what? Well, in the first place, these findings offer a new way of understanding why an uninvolved third party, such as a friend or colleague, might see the answer to your problem far easier than yourself. So it’s certainly worth getting a second opinion. Second, it supports the notion that taking time out from a problem can help (as if you needed another excuse to take a break). Perhaps most interesting of all is the support this research gives to the theory of ‘embodied cognition’, the idea that the relationship between our mind and body is two way: our mind influences the way our body acts, but the action of the body also influences our mind. For example, sitting straighter increases self-confidence, while slouching makes us sadder.

According to a series of experiments conducted by Erik Peper, professor of psychology at San Francisco State University, slouching, head down makes negative thoughts and memories more likely, while sitting upright encourages positive thoughts and memories. It may be that the increase in collapsed sitting and walking, from sitting in front of computers and looking down at smartphones, has contributed to the rise of depression in recent years. On a positive note, Peper’s research suggests that it only takes two minutes to change your body chemistry, meaning you can change your mood while waiting for the kettle to boil (you might not even need the caffeine then).

If you would like to find out more, try Amy Cuddy’s 2012 TED talk, and remember, in the words of Bob Dylan (or it may have been Leonard Cohen), “Act the way you’d like to be and soon you’ll be the way you’d like to act.”

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Effective Meetings

3I am an introvert. That doesn’t mean I’m shy or afraid of what people might think of me: I’ve spent my career standing up in front of people. It just means that I tend to get my energy from quiet time, when I recharge my batteries, and I like time to think and reflect. You will not necessarily get the best out me by asking for my opinion at the drop of a whiteboard marker. I’m the sort of person who can leave a meeting thinking ‘I wish I’d said that.’

Meetings are most effective when they harness the unique insights of every member. So, when thinking about how to get the most out of meetings it’s worth considering if you have any introverts in your team. Conversely, it’s good to identify the extraverts too. Those who use talking as a way of focusing their thinking, and may leave a meeting thinking ‘I wish I hadn’t said that.’

The key is to give everyone the opportunity to speak their mind. In the first place make it clear that you want everyone’s opinion to be heard and they have permission to venture an ill-formed thought, without fear of being marked down or laughed out of the room. But setting clear ground rules is only the first step. You must follow through intentions with action and role model the behaviours you seek.

To allow introverts to contribute, send out the agenda and key documents a few days in advance. Also consider asking for everyone’s initial thoughts on the issue or issues before the meeting, then circulate them to all attendees. This helps to avoid anchoring and first speaker advantage, the tendency for social conformity to silence our individual beliefs and convictions.

Choose the running order deliberately. Either pick at random who will speak first or start with junior members first, this will help stop senior people dominating and again prevent anchoring. In the British Army’s Courts Martial System junior ranks always speak first during deliberations on the case in hand.

This can of course be rather daunting for some junior members of staff and for those of a more introverted nature, but to offset the personal cost of discord or looking foolish, encourage and reward their contributions. Welcome disagreement and good ideas, and make sure they get the credit for them. Chat to those who you think are too shy and explain the value of their input. At the end of the meeting, canvass the views of those who have not spoken. Ask them specifically how they feel about the issues discussed and have they anything they would like to add? After the meeting thank them and encourage them to speak more often.

Finally, and if you’re really feeling daring, try this for cutting short the digressions and long-winded rambling of the more effusive and extravert. Make clear in the ground rules that anyone is entitled to tap the table with their pen when they feel a colleague is going on a bit, and to keep tapping until they stop!

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