What I Learned the Week of May 6th, 2022

From a Podcast – Basketball, Meaningful Connection and Psychological Safety

Eat. Sleep. Work. Repeat. Interview with Dan Coyle the author of the Culture Code and the Culture Playbook. Full disclosure I have never read either of Dan’s books though they have been recommended to me many times. After listening to him in this interview I will now have to make it a priority to check out at least one of them.

Dan has had the unique opportunity to be a fly on the wall of many successful organizations for the sake of understanding how their cultures work and what makes them successful. I most appreciated the story about the San Anonio Spurs and their current head coach Gregg Poppovich. Gregg is claimed with being the most winningest coach in NBA history and possibly the greatest NBA coach of all time. And while it was noted on the court that he can appear to be quite firm with his players it is off the court that seems to be the magic. His focus is on creating connection with his team between each other using strategies that are totally unrelated to basketball. The most interesting story I recall was just before a big game of the season he came to give the team their “pep” talk in which he apparently never once talked about the actual game. He spent the entire time talking about an Australian Indigenous holiday which happened to be that day and the importance of that holiday to Australians, its history, etc. One of the Spur’s centers, Jock Landale, was from Australia and this opportunity gave Poppovich the chance to put a unique spotlight on him and build more connection with the team. A radical approach that seems to be working.

Besides this story, and many others, shared by Dan there was a key quote that went something like “Psychological safety is not about creating safety it is about making space for Voice.” Psychological safety is certainly talked about a lot these days in creating positive workforce culture. However, I think we forget the true purpose of it. Dan went on to say that until the quietest person with the least power is speaking up on your team then you have not yet created psychological safety. A good reminder for us all.

From a Book/Article – Using Game Theory to Understand Trust

A Game Theoritic Framework on Trust by Arjen Van Witteloostuijn, published in the International Studies of Management & Organization in the Fall of 2003.

Overall, the article was spotlighting how we can learn quite a lot by introducing behavioral economics into the basic trust-related literature that is often referenced. The article leverages basic concepts of game theory to demonstrate how “a game emerges as soon as parties with conflicting interests start to interact.” Trustworthy behavior depends on the players’ characteristics and the rules of the game. A player might be inherently more cooperative however change the rules of the game and we might see different trustworthy behavior than expected. 

My takeaway was further confirmation on the importance of understand the systems in organizations and how they promote the conditions under which trustworthy behavior can be expected. My POV is that there is still too much emphasis on competitive behaviors, assuming this will increase performance results collectively in some way. Leveraging behavioral economics, we understand quite a bit about individual behaviors and quite a bit less so about organizational condition. 

One definition of trust, “was that the other party will not behave opportunistically in the face of the beneficial opportunity to do so — (which) implies that, without a conflict in interest, the issue of trust is irrelevant.” The key meat of the article focuses on “a game theory of trusts that analyzes competition among parties that behave trustfully and untrustfully: under what circumstances will trustful behavior pay off.” And the element of how many “games” or interactions make a key difference as well. 

A couple of very simple examples that were demonstrated in the studies experiments were

  1. Having an explicit end-date to an organizational alliance is likely to trigger untrustworthy behavior
  2. When the payoff structure shifts in favor of cooperative behavior then there is a decrease in opportunistic behaviors and increase in cooperation. 
  3. Higher patience for when one is expected to reap rewards (e.g., profits) also stimulates trustworthy behavior. 

All of these seem obvious to me in conditions to consider when attempting to generate trust. Not always easy to implement and harder in many cultures than others depending on the individualistic nature of that culture. My simple POV would be to make sure these key points are discussed from the start and how they might affect trustworthy behavior. If the conditions that promote untrustworthy behavior (i.e., contract must have an end date) cannot be avoided then make counter decisions that will mitigate their impact. And ideally be able to prioritize the conditions that support trustworthy behavior over those that do the opposite.

From Social Media – Lack of Connection

This is not a new observation by me or the times we are in. It has often been said we are more connected than we ever were while at the same time more disconnected through the social media apps. This week showed examples of both. 

I write a bit about the key topic that sparked both the connection and disconnection in my personal reflections. But overall, I was amazed at how both sides are so quick to gang up together and against each other in a forum that seems to provoke antagonistic conversations more than anything meaningful. 

What I love is how it creates a space for those who are looking for others to share in their emotions, to find validation and possibly feelings of relief that others feel just as strongly about your belief systems that it is so easily found. To be stewing alone on your own does not feel particularly healthy and there are times when it is not that feasible to get out and find others you can talk to either safely or at all.

What I find particularly disturbing is how so many people want to make others “wrong” and shame them. People who I know are very knowledgeable that shame as a tool is not very effective will still leverage it. Sure, it’s an outlet for this as well but I just wonder how much this is creating a divide for everyone. 

I personally get more out of reading the counter opinion threads on their beliefs when they can share why they feel/believe the way they do (and not do the making wrong/shaming thing) than reading either side when they get into that game. 

I know it’s complicated to imagine having a system that looked for shame and humiliation statements on social media and paused the person before they posted to say something like “Hey looks like you are trying to shame or humiliate this person. Research shows that is never effective in changing a person’s mind and usually has them dig their heels in more. Still want to do that?”

From Others – Vulnerability Dismissed

This week is Canadian Mental Health Week and the focus is on Empathy this year. I was delighted to be invited back to speak with the IBM Canada team on such an important topic. And thrilled to be joined by Rumeet Billan, Ph.D.and Rohan Thompson and the IBM BeeWell team David Griffiths Krista Nolan and Brad Antle.

My big takeaway from today’s session was Rumeet’s story on the impact of “vulnerability dismissed”. Rumeet shared a time when she had been vulnerable with colleagues and the impact of them ignoring what was shared. I can appreciate others challenges in showing compassion and empathy to vulnerable stories as that requires you to connect with whatever “yucky” feeling that was just expressed. However, the impact of ignoring that something was shared and at least acknowledging the vulnerability is disrespectful. Here are a few suggestions I can offer for those who might struggle with these situations.

“Thank you for sharing. I do not know what to offer to help but I appreciate your vulnerability.”

“Thank you for sharing. What can we do to support you in this moment?”

“Thank you for sharing. What do you need right now?”

“Thank you for sharing. I want to acknowledge your vulnerability and the courage that took. Can we connect after this meeting to see how else I can support you?”

Notice the consistency in the first part. Notice the absence of trying to fix anyone in the follow up. The letting that person stay in control. The offer of either supporting them in the moment or later depending on what else is going on in that moment. 

I timed myself with the longest of those four sentences and going fairly slow you might take 15 seconds to share that with about a five second response expected after that (e.g. Yes that would be great or No I just needed to express what I was feeling.) I think we can all give 20 seconds to showing a little respect to those who had the courage to be vulnerable.

Thanks to both Rumeet, Rohan and Dave for sharing their personal stories and insights.

From Myself – Being in Rage vs Curious

To catch myself as I am getting sucked into the social media posts on recent Roe vs. Wade activity. Whether I fall into the rabbit hole of those who think like me or those who do not think like me I find myself feeling rage. And when I get curious about that rage, I realize it is not so much about what is happening but about the clear disconnect that both sides seem to have. Everyone in the conversation seems most interested about telling the other groups wrong they are and producing facts (all of which we will assume are true for now) that support their own position.  

It is hard at the best of times to stay curious and be willing to understand other’s perspectives. When it feels so viscerally wrong, when you can feel your blood start to boil at the thought of the topic, your head feeling like it might explode a bit due to the rush of blood flow, all of this is surely not a way to be in conversation with anyone. Much less your own self-reflection about how you feel.  

I personally need to find a way to stay out of rage while in conversation. Note that doesn’t mean that I pretend I do not feel rage and try to shove it in a box. Also, not helpful. I need to find a safe place to express it that is not going to damage any current or future relationships I want to honour. 

As much as I may disagree with another’s POV taking it as a personal attack against me I want to instead respect that they genuinely believe they are right and that their POV is the best for all. Until we can do this with each other we will not be able to find a place to move forward that is meaningful. Sooo hard!

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