In this episode we discuss emotions at work. Do they have a place? What can you do about them? We look at why you should be less passionate about your job, we explore the science behind actually being motivated at work and prevent yourself from being burnt out, and we share a powerfully simple emotion management checklist you can start using right now with our guests Mollie West Duffy and Liz Fosslien.
Liz Fosslien and Mollie West Duffy are the co-authors of No Hard Feelings: The Secret Power of Embracing Emotion at Work. Liz has run workshops for leaders at organizations such as Google, Facebook, Nike, and Stanford on how to create inclusive cultures. Her writing has appeared in CNN, The Economist, The Financial Times, and NPR.
Mollie is an Organizational Designer at global innovation firm IDEO. Her writing has been featured in Fast Company, Quartz, Stanford Social Innovation Review, Entrepreneur, Quiet Rev, and other digital outlets, and she’s taught design courses at Stanford.
Why you should be LESS passionate about your job
Caring too much about your job can actually be bad for your health
How do we “take a chill pill” and distance ourselves from our work?
The Power of Rest and Recovery and the diminishing returns of over working
Give yourself time from the inundation of phone calls, meetings etc
Carve out time to think, carve out time to be alone, make time for friends and family
Make sure you’re cultivating your personal relationships to prevent burnout
What do people get wrong about motivating and inspiring themselves?
Your emotions can create and sustain your motivations
What are the things that kill motivation?
Lack of control
Not finding your work meaningful
How to take back control of your work and deal with a tough or micro managing boss
The “progress principle” - small incremental progress of small wins can snowball
How do you build motivation at work? (And stop the things that kill your motivation)
How do you integrate and find more learning opportunities back in work?
It’s biologically impossible to stop feeling emotion. You cannot make decisions without emotion.
All good decision making integrates emotion
Is it possible that envy can be a productive emotion? Can envy help you make better decisions
“Envy contains very valuable information”
Can anger and anxiety be productive tools to helping you achieve your goals?
Why you should say “I’m not stressed, I’m excited"
You always have more options than you think you do.
We walk through a great emotional management checklist that you can start to use right away to improve your decision making
Discover your decision-making tendency - satisfiers and maximizers - what are the differences and why is that important?
Run your thinking by another person - verbalizing the out loud forces you to synthesizes information and identify biases in your thinking
Psychological safety - An environment where people feel like they can:
How do you create psychological safety? One easy strategy is to positively reinforce someone taking one of these risks.
You can also do a “bad idea brainstorm” to help get goofy, take away the competitive edge and help people feel more comfortable
Use “generative language” to keep ideas flowing and open
The concept of “task conflict” - we like each other, but we clash with each other over the CONTENT of our work
Write your own “User Manual” or “How To Work With Me Guide” to give to your boss, coworkers, etc
Sometimes the best solution might be to do nothing
Your feelings aren’t facts
We often react and interact with each other based on assumptions that we never both to explore or look into at all
The words we say are not always what we mean
"When you X, I feel Y"
"Don’t just do something, stand there"
The 3 things to do if you have an issue with someone
Label your feelings
Understand where those feelings are coming from
Feel calm enough to have a conversation about your emotions without getting emotional
An in person request is more than thirty times more likely to be a yes than an emailed one
What are some best practices for digital communication?
Over email (especially dealing with someone who is senior to you) you are much more likely to assume it’s negative
Use emojis to express tone and emotional cues in digital communication
Homework: Sit down and write down everything you’re feeling to develop your emotional granularity and self awareness. Take the time to reflect and think about what you’re feeling. Then identify the NEED behind those feelings.
Thank you so much for listening!
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Want To Dig In More?! - Here’s The Show Notes, Links, & Research
Liz and Mollie’s website
Liz and Mollie’s Twitter
[Article] Challenge vs. Threat: the Effect of Appraisal Type on Resource Depletion by Erin N. Palmwood and Christine McBride
[Article] Huffpost - “A Culture of Feedback: Making it Tangible” By Mollie West Duffy and Kate McCoubrey Judson and Illustrations by Liz Fosslien
[Article] Design Feaster - Pride, Work and Necessity of Side Projects: Illustrator Liz Fosslien and Designer Mollie West Duffy Advocate Emotion at Work
[Article] CNN Tech - “15 Questions with ...Liz Fosslien”
[Article Directory] Liz’s work on Medium
[Article Directory] Quiet Revolution: Liz Fosslien and Mollie West author directory
[Article] IDEO - What Org Design Actually Looks Like by Mollie West Duffy
[Article] Everipedia Wiki page: Mollie Duffy
[Podcast] Your Working Life with Caroline Dowd-Higgins - Mollie West Duffy
[Podcast] BrandiSea - Interview with Author Liz Fosslien on Emotions in the Workplace – Episode 077
[Podcast] Uphill Conversations - 107: LIZ FOSSLIEN – NO HARD FEELINGS
[Book] No Hard Feelings: The Secret Power of Embracing Emotions at Work by Liz Fosslien and Mollie West Duffy
[Book] The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right by Atul Gawande
[SoS Episode] Seven Catalysts To Creating Progress and Becoming A More Effective Leader with Dr. Teresa Amabile
[00:00:04.4] ANNOUNCER: Welcome to The Science of Success. Introducing your host, Matt Bodnar.
[0:00:11.8] MB: Welcome to the Science of Success; the number one evidence-based growth podcast on the internet with more than three million downloads and listeners in over a hundred countries.
In this episode, we discuss emotions at work. Do they have a place? What can you do about them? We look at why you should be less passionate about your job. We explore the science behind actually being motivated at work and preventing yourself from being burnt out and we share a powerfully simple emotion management checklist that you can start using right now with our guests Mollie West Duffy and Liz Fosslien.
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In our previous episode, we shared how to get over yourself and stop taking things so seriously. We discuss the important relationship between confusion and clarity and we explored the art of letting go of the need for safety, security and control in your everyday life, so that you can relax into who you've always been with our previous guest, Dr. Mark Epstein. If you want to take things less seriously, listen to our previous episode.
Now for our interview with Mollie and Liz.
[0:03:00.1] MB: Today, we have two exciting guests for the show with a double interview. We have Liz Fosslien and Mollie West Duffy. They're the co-authors of No Hard Feelings: The Secret Power of Embracing Emotions at Work. Liz has run workshops for leaders at organizations such as Google, Facebook, Nike and Stanford on how to create inclusive cultures. Her writing and illustrations have appeared in CNN, The Economist, The Financial Times and much more. Mollie's an organizational designer at Global Innovation firm IDEO and her writing has been featured in Fast Company, courts, The Stanford Social Innovation Review, Entrepreneur and many other outlets. She's also talked design courses at Stanford.
Mollie and Liz, welcome to the Science of Success.
[0:03:44.2] MWD: Thanks for having us.
[0:03:45.6] LF: Yeah, excited to be here.
[0:03:47.4] MB: Well, we're very excited to have you on the show today. Love what the book is about and the message. As we were talking about in the pre-show, for listeners who do end up checking the book out, the illustrations which Liz created, there's some hilarious, really, really funny images and just encapsulate all kinds of little nuances around office culture and work life and all these things. I thought the book was really great.
[0:04:11.6] LF: Thank you.
[0:04:13.1] MB: I'd love to start out with and maybe just dig into something that you open up pretty early on in the book, which seems to fly in the face of a lot of things we hear, or maybe even some people would think about as conventional wisdom, which is this notion of being less passionate about your job. Tell me more about that.
[0:04:31.3] MWD: Absolutely. We have several new rules of emotions at work that we write about. The one that we write about in the health chapter is the less passion about your job, why taking a chill pill makes you healthier. The idea is that caring too much about our job can actually be a little bit unhealthy. It's great to have passion for your job, we're not saying that, but that going overboard with that is going to make small problems or throwaway remarks feel like huge problems to you. It's possible to be overly attached to any job. By caring a little bit less, we're not saying totally stop caring, we're just saying care about yourself more, carve out the time for yourself, or the people you love, for exercise and so on.
[0:05:20.3] MB: That totally makes sense. I'm curious, what are some of the strategies that listeners could use? I mean, sometimes and I think I experienced this as well, it's hard sometimes when you get caught up in it and get really frustrated or angry about something that's going on at work, how do you create that distance, or start to as you put it take a chill pill?
[0:05:42.1] LF: Yeah, so one great way is just don't neglect your personal life. I definitely had this earlier in my career, where I thought that I just really wanted to get ahead, and so I was just going to work, work, work 24/7. That's actually not sustainable. Research shows that the productivity drops off a little bit after we've worked 50 hours a week. I think anyone who stared at a computer screen for nine hours in a row, you just feel yourself sagging, your brain turns to mush. Just really making sure to step away from the computer, put your phones away. I think we hear this advice all the time, but it's really nice to have another reminder that will just help you be more creative.
Another thing is to give yourself time away from the inundation of phone calls and meetings to really get a lot of work done, so that you don't feel so stressed at the end of the day, or on the weekends. One thing that I really like to do is just block off three hours in the afternoon and I say, “I can't schedule meetings here. I can't take a phone call. I'm only going to get a lot of work done.” I think, I hear so often from friends that it's the weekend and finally, I feel I can catch up on my work. That means that you don't have any time off, which is super crucial.
Then one last thing is if you're a manager, really setting an example. We love, we've heard examples of companies that institute policies where employees just can't e-mail each other after 7:00 p.m. Or if it's a holiday, unless it's crucial that you contact someone, just stepping away from e-mail. I think managers really set the tone for that. Just making sure, usually that e-mail doesn't really need to go out at 11:00 p.m. and so you can schedule it to go out the next morning, just these really small changes that can create a culture in which people feel a little better taking the breaks that they absolutely need.
[0:07:37.5] MB: You bring up a couple points that I think are vitally important and very interrelated, but also distinct points; one is this idea of carving out time that's not trapped in that constant state of reactivity of phone calls, e-mails requests, demands and really having a space for proactive and creative work. That's something that I personally – I try to spend – I have the opposite schedule, where I try to set my mornings to be my creative time and then have my meetings in the afternoon, but I think it's so vital.
Then the second piece of that that's also tremendously important is this notion of rest and recovery and having the reality that the research shows that there's a serious amount of diminishing returns to overworking.
[0:08:23.3] LF: Yeah, definitely. Just one other study that comes to mind on this that I really love is researchers looked at the day-to-day fluctuations in people's emotions and they found that workers are happiest and least stressed on weekends, which I think no one is surprised there. They also found out that people who are unemployed, or who were not in an office were also most happy on weekends. What they figured out was that the mechanism behind that was just that they were spending time with their friends who went into offices.
It's also crucial. It's carve out time to think, carve out time to be alone, but then keep bringing great people into your life, make time for friends if someone's in town. It might be worth it to have dinner with them and then maybe stay up a little later checking your e-mail, or just make sure that you are cultivating your personal relationships. I think the science shows that having a support network around you really helps prevent burnout, makes you happier and then that all channels into more productive.
[0:09:22.8] MB: It seems so counterintuitive that spending some time, having dinner with friends and instead of staring at your screen and sending out that e-mail at 9 p.m., it seems that's less productive and maybe especially for Americans. It's so counterintuitive and yet, research shows it and the reality is you need that downtime, you need that rest and recovery.
[0:09:45.7] LF: Yes, completely.
[0:09:47.1] MB: I want to come back to this and I hinted at it, but there's some of these cultural factors and things like that and how Americans differ from other countries, but before we dig into that, one of the other topics that I found to be really interesting was motivation and inspiration. What do people get wrong about motivating themselves, or inspiring themselves?
[0:10:09.9] MWD: Yes. I think a lot of times, we think about motivation as external factors. Obviously, we want to get paid to work and that makes a big difference. You never really know how much can you motivate yourself. Are you unmotivated because your work seems pointless? Or does your work feel pointless, because you're unmotivated? It's just so hard to figure that out?
We write about in the book that you really can inspire yourself and emotions are a big part of this, that your emotions can create and sustain your own motivation. We talk about why you might be lacking motivation, so one thing is that you don't have control over your work. The emotion of feeling you lack control can make you demotivated. Even if you can't change how much autonomy your boss gives you, there are small things you can do, even if you have a micromanager to just give yourself a little bit more control, so you can focus on small wins, you can ask your manager to define the outcomes, rather than the processes; these small tweaks that we can all do.
[0:11:16.0] MB: Tell me more about some of these things you can do to take that control and feel like you have control over your work.
[0:11:21.8] MWD: Yeah, absolutely. As I said, the first thing is just thinking about how can I have control over the processes to get towards end results. Your boss has an end result in mind. For example, I work a design and a lot of times our clients come in and they say, “Here's what we want out of this project. They don't always get to say how we do it. In fact, we have a lot of control over the process that we use, the design process that we use, and so we find that really satisfying when we come to work.
What are the ways that you can say, “I'm going to get you to the right outcome. Can I decide how I spend the day, the week, the month to get there.” Then the research shows, there's actually great research by Harvard Business School professor named Teresa Amabile and she calls it the progress principle. She says that even if you just take these very small steps every day, very incremental progress. You sent an e-mail that you'd been putting off, or you wrote a report that was on the bottom of your stock, that will make you feel like you did something that day and will actually energize you. To remind yourself these small goals do connect to a larger purpose to work towards. I love those too.
[0:12:39.4] MB: Those are both great strategies. Teresa Amabile is actually a previous guest on the show as well, so we'll make sure to throw that interview into the show notes for listeners who want to check that out.
Another thing coming back this idea of motivation, what are – so lack of control is one of the things, what are some of the other factors that you discovered that sabotage motivation?
[0:13:00.5] MWD: Yeah, so the next one is that you don't find your work meaningful. When you're like, “Oh, just working on e-mail, or working on a dataset or something,” it's really important to understand the broader impact of your work and studies show that that does make you more productive. A Wharton professor Adam Grant, we love; he did the study where he had workers at the university’s call center who were doing scholarship fundraising. He actually had the meet with some of the scholarship recipients at the university and it was a five-minute meeting. They understood how much their efforts had affected these students’ lives. The scholars who had spoken – the scholarship recipients at the end of the month raised twice as much as those who did not. Mindset really, really matters.
Another thing is that you're not conceptualizing work as a place of learning. Sometimes, we feel like, “Oh, okay. We went to college. We got a job, so learning is done. Now we're just in the workplace.” Actually, one of the best ways to learn is through action and that can be a really big motivator. Thinking about what are the side projects you want to work on, or who are the co-workers who have different skills that you could tap into, to learn any skill from, super important.
Then lastly, you don't enjoy working with your co-workers. We talk about it in the book how – okay, all of this can matter, but then sometimes there are some mornings where you're just like, “Okay, forget meaning, forget autonomy. I'm just irritated to be at work right now.” People who have friends at work always are going to find their jobs more satisfying, even in those moments. Understanding which work friends you can tap into to get that little motivation in the mornings when you need it, super important.
[0:14:55.7] MB: What are some of the strategies to bring learning back into the workplace?
[0:15:02.9] MWD: Yeah. I imagine, I think a great one is thinking about swapping skills. Finding a time with a co-worker where they can teach you something and you can teach them something and it's win-win. Starting side projects. Liz could give this example, where she wanted to learn coding basics. She actually built her personal website from scratch and it looks awesome and she taught herself how to code.
The important thing here is that it's uniquely yours. You're not doing it for anyone else, and so you're going to have to go back to your first thing, you're going to have complete autonomy over that. Then lots of organizations do have ways to learn within the organization. Looking for that through your learning and development organization, or any part of the organization you can find that in.
[0:15:52.8] MB: All great suggestions and good strategies to solve the puzzle of workplace motivation, which can certainly be a challenge. Another really interesting topic that you bring up and discuss in the book was this idea of emotions and how they interact with decision-making. Should good decisions be decisions that are completely devoid of emotion?
[0:16:14.8] LF: Yeah. I love how you phrase that, because nothing can ever be devoid of emotion. I think it's a really incorrect belief that we hold that you have rationality on one side and then you have emotions on the other, or the bigger thing that I think a lot of people still believe about work is that you can check your feelings at the door, which is just we are emotional creatures in any circumstance, it’s biologically impossible to stop feeling emotion.
That's said, given that emotions are going to be in your decision-making process, you have to acknowledge that they're there and that then allows you to filter out which of these emotions that I'm feeling are useful and which are not. In the book, we describe those as irrelevant emotions and relevant emotions. To give two quick examples, one of each; an irrelevant emotion is one that does not have anything to do with the decision, but likes to stick its tentacles into your decision.
Imagine, let's say that I'm stuck in traffic for two hours. I'm going to be irritable. I'm going to just be really grumpy when I get into the office. If I'm then making a big decision of even something as big as should we hire this person? I might come to that decision and just be – there's research that shows that when we're angry, we're more likely to relay on stereotypes, we make faster decisions. That's not the state that you want to be in when you're making a choice. Really understanding in that moment, “Okay, I'm upset. I'm upset, because I sat in traffic, and so I need to take half an hour before I go to this hiring decision.” Super important, because if I'm not acknowledging the state that I'm in, it's going to affect the choice I make.
Now a relevant emotion is one that is directly tied to the decision at hand. Examples of that are regret. If you think about – let's say you're thinking about taking a new job and the idea of not taking that job fills you with regret, that's relevant. You shouldn't base your decision on that emotion, but it should be a data point that you factor in. Then another relevant emotion, my favorite one that we touch upon in the book is envy. I think envy is this thing that we often think of as bad and that's stigmatized, especially at work.
Mollie and I do not endure letting your envy turn into bitterness, or having it affect how you act towards someone. It's again, one of these things that you should hold up to the light and examine, because envy contains really valuable information. One of the people that we interviewed was Gretchen Rubin, who's written The Four Tendencies and The Happiness Project. She told us that at some point she was a lawyer and she was thinking about her next career move. She looked in her school's alumni magazine. When she read stories about lawyers who had excellent careers, she thought that was cool and maybe she felt a little burst of motivation. When she read about alumni who had amazing writing careers, she said she actually felt physically sick with envy.
To her, that was just a really clear sign that she probably wanted to go into writing, and so then, that helped her make the decision of, “I should maybe think less about law in the future and look into how could I make a career out of writing, which is clearly something that I love, because I want the careers of people who have done that successfully.”
[0:19:39.9] MB: Two really, really good points, this idea that emotions are inevitable and that the right way we have to integrate them is to build them into our decision-making and take the information that we're getting from them. One of my favorite quotes about emotion is that emotions are data, but not direction.
[0:19:59.4] LF: Oh, I love that. Yeah, that's very in-line with our point in the book.
[0:20:04.6] MB: Even something, you threw out anger and I don't disagree that it oftentimes could be a terrible emotion for decision-making. Even anger could be a relevant and useful emotion. I sometimes feel anger is great fuel when you need to make changes and really aggressively change things. Sometimes if I'm angry and something completely different has angered me, I'll then turn that to whether it's projects, or my calendar, something like that and I'll just take a buzz saw out and start hacking away all of these things.
It can be really productive to say, but you have to have that self-awareness at the beginning, right, to check in and say, “Hey, I'm angry. How can I make this productive, instead of making it unproductive?”
[0:20:46.4] LF: Totally. I think anxiety is similar too. I am probably more anxious than most people. That often means that I worry about am I making the right decision, or even separately, am I going to do well on this? Am I going to meet the deadline? That actually is very motivational for me. I'm usually able to then say I have all this energy. We talked too in the book about this concept of reappraisal, which is that the physiological symptoms of anxiety, which is elevated heart rate, your palms start to sweat, they're very similar, almost identical to excitement.
If you're able to tell yourself, “I'm not anxious. I'm excited,” you can channel that productively and suddenly, just have a burst of motivation and again, start just checking things off your to-do list. I love this concept that you brought up about taking these things that we might normally see as scary, or bad emotions and should suppress and actually figuring out, well how could this be useful to me? Also I need to examine why I'm feeling this. Then again, address the need behind that and turn this all into productivity and then happiness and well-being. I think it's all part of the same big cycle.
[0:21:55.5] MB: Tell me a little bit more about reappraisal and how can somebody concretely start to actually apply that idea.
[0:22:03.4] LF: Yeah, so this comes from HBS STEM Professor Alison Woods. She found that again like I said, sorry Alison Wood Brooks, she found that when we experience anxiety, a really great way is to actually just say out loud in that moment, “I'm excited.” Let's say you are about to give a speech, this is something again in the research a lot of people are afraid of public speaking. If you feel your heart rate elevating, you feel yourself getting short of breath, that also happens when you're extremely excited, when you're about to tell someone great news, or if you’re waiting for a surprise birthday party to yell ‘surprise’, you're also going to have an elevated heart rate, you might get a little short of breath.
Really just saying again, it's as simple as saying, “I'm not stressed. I'm excited.” The research there does show that people who do that end up performing better, when they're able to reappraise their emotions and redirect that energy into a positive direction.
[0:23:05.8] MB: Very cool. It's a great strategy and another really thoughtful way of thinking about how to integrate emotion into performance and into our work lives. Another thing that you shared in the chapter on emotion that I thought was really important was this decision-making checklist. Tell me a little bit about why you decided to include a checklist.
[0:23:27.9] MWD: Yeah. We love checklists and Atul Gawande has famously wrote about how they save lives, pilots and surgeons use them to make sure that they're not skipping important steps. For this one, we called it a manager mind checklist. I think it's really important I think, especially for people like me and Liz, where we do have a fair amount of anxiety. It's really nice to say, “Okay, I'm going to go through this checklist that is a very standard operating procedure to help me do this thing, which can feel really daunting and irrational and emotional.” Even though we just talked about with learn from emotion, it still can be helpful to go through this process.
Just briefly, we recommend writing out your options. Usually when we think we just have two options, you actually have more options. This is something I constantly have to remind myself of, where I get into very black-and-white thinking and it's like, “Okay, I can either stay at my current job, or take a new job.” There's probably a third option out there, which is stay at my current job and ask for a promotion, or stay at my current job and work on the side project like writing a book. There's always more than two options.
Write them out, list everything that you're feeling and those can be relevant or irrelevant emotions, go through that process of regulating each emotion that is not relevant and then link the remaining emotions that are relevant to specific options. Notice if they're tied to a specific choice, are you most excited when you imagine yourself picking option A and you're most afraid when you think about picking option B. Then ask why. Instead of saying, “What my afraid of?” Thinking about why am I afraid. That gets you a lot deeper and helps you understand a little bit more.
We also recommend figuring out your decision-making tendency. You might have talked about this on your podcast in the past, but there's famous study where there's two types of people in the world; there’s satisficers and maximizers. Satisficers are usually happy with their decision when they just pick it, it's just like, here are the requirements that I have. I'm going to meet those requirements and I'm going to be happy about it. Whereas, maximizers are just like, I want to have the optimal options. I'm going to go through everything.
It tends to be that satisficers are a little bit happier, but it's not that one is better than the other. Just understanding your decision-making tendency is really important, so that you can know if you're a maximizer, you might go into inconclusive second-guessing of everything. Then run your thinking by another person. Find a friend or a colleague who you can think about your options. A lot of times verbalizing those out loud forces you to synthesize that information and they can help you identify biases. After you've done all of that, you can make a decision of knowing that you've gone through the checklist and you can make sure that it was the right one.
[0:26:35.7] MB: Great suggestions. I love all those strategies. Obviously, Checklist Manifesto, Atul Gawande’s book is a great read. One of the most powerful things that I think you just shared is just hidden in that cascade of wisdom was this idea that you always have more options than you think you do. Outside of this whole context of decision-making, I think that's a really powerful mental model and an idea.
[0:27:03.2] MWD: Yeah. Like I said, I have to remind myself of this all the time and I think, the best outcomes have usually been not the first two things that I have thought of, but it's a third or a fourth thing. You can have your cake and eat it too. If you want two things and they seem in opposition, how can you somehow have them both? You may not be able to have them both at the same time and you could say, “I'm going to have this year and the other one next year, or this during my work day and this in the weekend,” something like that. How can you reframe it for yourself?
[0:27:40.1] MB: Yeah, that thinking for – I hate to use this term, but thinking outside the box, nonlinear thinking, all of that stuff, that's something I've been personally really interested in for a long time and I've deeply studied the science behind it and the neuroscience around it and tried to develop and build that skill set, because I think it's so powerful once you can start to step out and realize there's always so many more options than you think that you have.
[0:28:05.0] MWD: Totally.
[0:28:07.0] MB: I want to Segway and dig into some of the communication strategies and team strategies that you talk about in the book. Tell me a little bit about the concept of psychological safety and how that fits in with the way we should interact with others?
[0:28:23.9] LF: Yeah. Psychological safety is when people feel they can suggest ideas, admit mistakes and take risks without being embarrassed by the group. If you think about it, it makes sense that this is the most crucial part of a team. There was a big study at Google called Project Aristotle a few years ago, where researchers went in and collected all this data on different teams. Then we're trying to see if they could predict which teams would be most successful. They were looking at things like is there a senior person on the team? What's the average tenure of all the members? Do we have introverts and extroverts?
What they found again was it's not really who's on the team that matters, it's how the team works together. The teams that had psychological safety where people could sit in a brainstorm and just feel they could say whatever was on their mind and that they could flag issues, those were the teams that outperformed.
Again, it sounds so obvious when you hear it, but it's just still so many places are not actively working to cultivate that environment. In the book, we give a few ways to really make sure that people – that you're getting the most out of all of your employees. One thing else that I want to say as well is that when we think about diverse teams, I think generally there is a correct notion that when you have more diversity, you're going to have more creative solutions. Again, that outcome is contingent upon psychological safety. If you have five people in the room and they all come from different backgrounds and they have different skill sets and they view the world through different lenses, that's all great. You want all those things. That's why you have a team, because people bring different things to the table.
If you're not creating a space in which each of those people feel they can share everything that makes them unique, you might as well just have five robots in the room, because you're just not going to get everything within each of those people. In the book, a few ways to create psychological safety; so the first is really simple and this you can do if you're a manager, you can do if it's your first day, which is just to positively reinforce someone taking a small risk.
If someone says in a meeting, “Hey, here's a potential issue I think could come up that we should think about and be prepared for,” just take the five seconds to say, “I'm so glad you brought that up. It's really important that we all come – flag things that we think might be issues.” That little thing can really make a big difference. Then a more a more fun thing that we suggest is teams can also host bad ideas brain storms. This is just to help people get goofy around each other. It takes the competitive edge off, because it's no longer who's the smartest. Let's just really throw out horrible ideas. It's a great way to get people to feel comfortable around one another. Also, often you'll find that in the worst idea, there's some nugget of wisdom and it might actually spawn into something cool.
Then a third one, the last one that I'll cover here is to use generative language. Instead of shutting ideas down immediately, or saying that'll never work, if you think that it's cool and it wouldn't take a long time to prototype or try it out, maybe just saying like, “Hey, let's try it.” Or just saying something like, “Yes.” Instead of countering with, “But, always.” I know that's a big thing at Pixar animation studio where you’re supposed to always respond with, “Yes, and,” because it's just a nice way of again not instantly rebutting someone's idea, but building off of it.
[0:32:04.7] MB: I've never come across the term, all these ideas categorized under the moniker of psychological safety, but I'm a huge advocate, huge proponent of all of these notions. The fact that whenever you create an environment where people are open and transparent, willing to admit their mistakes and failures, willing to challenge anybody's ideas, that's so important and really crystallizes and leads to some of the best possible decisions.
[0:32:30.9] LF: Absolutely. There's also research that shows that when we feel safe around our colleagues – a great example is LinkedIn. A few years ago, they started adding questions into their employee engagement survey. One of the questions was I feel that someone at work cares about me. The other question was when I make a mistake, I feel safe. The world isn't going to end, I'm not going to get immediately fired. Those two questions ended up being the biggest predictors of how long someone was going to stay.
When we do feel a sense of psychological safety, we're happier on the team and we want to stay at the company longer. We're more loyal. Again, that translates everything good is correlated with that happiness, well-being. You have the short-term, like you're going to get more innovative ideas out of people. Also the long-term is that you're just going to have happier colleagues that you get to keep for longer.
I think, there's an illustration in the book where one of the worst things is when your best friend at work quits. If you want your best friend to stay, positively reinforce them when they take a small risk.
[0:33:37.0] MB: Great suggestions and I want to continue to implement these in my own life and work and try to create those environments as much as possible. One of the other ideas that I found really interesting in that same chapter was this notion of – I think there was a whole grid that outlined each of these, but the notion of task conflict in particular and the different ways that people can be in conflict, because it's not necessarily always over the same thing. Explain that idea to the listeners and tell me a little bit more about it.
[0:34:06.3] MWD: Yeah. Task conflict and relationship conflict. The grid that you're mentioning is one of Liz’s amazing illustrations. The different axes are I like you and I hate you and I like your idea and I hate your idea. Relationship conflict is I like our idea and I hate you. Task conflict is I like you and I hate your idea.
We'll talk about task conflict first. Task conflict is when we like each other, but we are clashing about something due to the content of the work. Liz and I have this a fair amount actually when we were writing this book, so we give the example of I like to very quickly write an initial draft and send it in to our editor to get immediate feedback. Whereas, Liz really likes to mull over sections and send the editor a more polished version.
There was just a lot of conflict of I would say, “Okay, let's send it in.” Liz would be like, “No, I need another week.” I would be sitting there stewing. Over time, we realized that this actually is really helpful that we have this difference, because Liz make sure that we don't send something out that's half-baked and we're going to regret and I make sure that we are not spending two weeks obsessing over syntax.
It's just really important to talk this over and figure out what is attention and how can we actually do well with it. Every team is going to have conflict, but you have to create the structures that make sure it stays productive. In the example we've given and Liz mentioned, Pixar they have this thing where they review all of their daily draft of the films and they're encouraged to make comments that are about the shot and not the animator. It's keeping it to about the task and not the relationship.
Another example that we give is writing your own user manual. If you have different working styles that are going to clash, one thing that you can do is write like a how to work with me guide. You can answer questions like, what are your quirks? What drives you nuts? What do you value that we work with? Then small things, like what time do you want to get to work? Do you take a lunch ride? All of those things.
Then share those with the people that you work with and really take the time to do this. I often say one of the biggest things I think that we don't make time for in the workplace is the time to talk about potential conflict and how we'll deal with that when it comes up. It can be awkward. It's just really important to set aside time to do that.
Then relationship conflict, so Liz and I think fully that not have as much of this, but relationship conflicts would be if Liz had said to me, “I think it's a really dumb idea to send this chapter in right now.” I would be personally offended by that, because she's saying that I as a person am dumb. Relationship complex is much harder if it gets to that, because it can really hijack a relationship.
the way to deal with this is sometimes by simply hearing each other out. There's two different types of people; there's seekers and avoiders. Seekers are going to want to engage in conflict and avoiders would really rather do anything than deal with confrontation. It's important to understand which you are and then just share that with each other and hear each other out about the style that you're going into a team with and how it's going to affect the work. Then I think in addition to trying to preserve psychological safety to remember that sometimes if you're having a conflict with a co-worker, the best thing might be to do nothing. If you keep getting into the same issue with them, just take a deep breath, walk away realizing that there's only so much you can do. You can't change another person, and so how can you detangle yourself from that situation?
[0:38:07.5] MB: I love that suggestion. It seems very counterintuitive, but I totally agree. Sometimes doing nothing is the best strategy.
[0:38:15.3] MWD: Absolutely.
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[0:40:28.2] MB: I want to dig into one of my favorite phrases from the book that I personally really like this, but I feel may rub some people the wrong way. The subtitle of one of the chapters is this idea that your feelings aren't facts. Tell me about that and why you decided to use that language and what does that mean?
[0:40:48.3] LF: Yeah. This is from our chapter on communication. The idea here is that we often react to one another based on these assumptions that we never bother to look at more carefully. This is so crucial. It's really important to explore your assumptions and create a space with someone else, where they can give you their perspective, because the words we say are not always what we mean. It's just so rife for miscommunication. Not to mention, I think we have a whole section in the chapter on communication about digital communication, because when you just have text and there's nonverbal gestures, you don't have the tone of someone’s voice, I think then it's just even harder to really understand what someone's words mean.
Just to give a quick example of what we really mean by your feelings aren't facts, I had a colleague. When he first started, I realized that any time I would ask him a question, he would start speaking extremely slowly and enunciate every word. I took that as this guy thinks that I'm a complete moron. I remember being so irritated every time that he would slowly answer one of my questions.
A few weeks later, we all were going out to dinner the team and he and I were getting along really well. I just brought it up in a very not aggressive way. I was just like, “Hey, do you realize that when I ask you a question, you start speaking really slowly?” He was like, “Yes. I am aware of that. It's just because I want to be really sure that I don't sound dumb in front of you.” That's so different than my perception. It's actually the complete opposite.
[0:42:29.2] MB: Wow. Yeah, that's crazy.
[0:42:31.0] LF: Yeah. I just been sitting there for weeks doing on this. When in fact, I should have just been like, I wasn't creating psychological say for him. I think it's just a wonderful example of what we say in the book is really to talk about your emotions without getting emotional. The formula, so for people who just want to have a sentence that they can say in a situation like that is a great one is when you do X, I feel Y.
What's wonderful about this is that it's simply about starting a conversation by saying that you are not creating a perpetrator and a victim, it's just saying, “Here's what's happening. Can we explore this together?” I think anytime that you're in conflict with someone, it's great – first of all, I would say first biggest thing which we talked about now in decision-making and we've talked about in conflict is just calm down. Some piece of advice that we have is don't just do something, stand there.
I think a consistent theme throughout the book is if you feel yourself having a very emotional response to something, it's totally fine and usually the best thing to just take a moment. Maybe take 15 minutes, go for a walk around the block, because once that spike has gone down a little, you'll also be able to just approach the problem and find a solution much faster. We say in the book if you have an issue with someone, the three steps to take are the first is just to label your feelings. You would say – in this case, I might say with this guy, “I'm frustrated.” Or maybe even like, “I'm hurt, because I think he thinks I'm not as smart as he is.”
The second is really understand where those feelings are coming from. Then the third is feel calm enough to have a conversation about your emotions again, without getting emotional. I think those three steps combined with a sentence of when you X, I feel Y are really crucial to starting a path of exploration with someone else, so that you can get the full picture of what's going on and make sure that you're not just sitting there having a strong emotional reaction based on something that's completely inaccurate.
[0:44:46.5] MB: There was another great illustration in the book that had – I don't remember if it’s in this chapter now, but had – it was waves of anger and it was when the event happens and then later on and then it was when you should talk about it and it was – that was when it was completely – the anger level is completely gone basically.
[0:45:04.7] LF: Yeah. Yeah. We are just very against – there's this cliché or traditional advice that says never go to bed angry. I think Mollie and I both are always like, “Go to bed angry. It's totally fine. You'll probably wake up, you'll probably have a clearer vision for what you want to say and you're probably also less likely in that moment to say something that you really deeply regret later.”
[0:45:28.0] MB: You touched on this, but I'd love to briefly dig into some best practices for digital communication and even something that's increasingly prevalent, remote working and how all this applies to that as well.
[0:45:43.3] MWD: For digital communication, you have a couple of suggestions. The first being that when you're first getting to know someone, you should always default to richer communication channels; ideally in-person. If not, if you’re remote, default to video is really important. The research shows that there's so many emotional cues that come from body language and facial expressions that we miss when we can't see the person. Starting with that.
I think the other reason that's really important is that when we're texting or e-mailing, especially with people we don't know well, or especially with people who are more senior than us like our bosses, that we are much more likely to interpret ambiguity as negative. If you get an e-mail that has no emotion in it that's like, “Can we chat in an hour?” From your boss, you are immediately going to assume that something bad is going to happen. If he you didn't say good or bad. I mean, it's just a check-in, but without a smiley face or it's no big deal, or if you saw her in person, a smile, you are going to assume that is negative and that's just something that we do as humans. That's the first thing.
The second thing is when you are writing e-mails of stocks, or texts, or whatever to do what we call as an emotional proofread of the message. there's a great example of the chief talent officer at [inaudible 0:47:12.2] Group, he does this thing where he asks his employees to raise their hand if they have ever successfully defused an emotional issue via e-mail. No one raises their hand. Then he says, “Have you ever inflamed an issue via e-mail?” Everyone put their hand up.
It's just we can so easily get ourselves into trouble. Four minutes in, reread to make sure your message is clear and you are conveying the intended tone. Some people even send an e-mail to themselves, so that they can see what it feels like to have that appear in their inbox and make sure that the emotion is clear.
Related to that, use emojis. You don't want to use a ton of emojis, especially if you don't know the other person well, because that can undermine your professionalism, but when you know them somewhat, emojis really can help express tone and send emotional cues. That's super important. Another thing is to realize that typos send a message. Really interesting study was done by this researcher Andrew Brodsky. He says that typos are emotional amplifiers. If you send an e-mail that is already a little bit critical or angry and there are typos in it that is going to amplify that message. The receiver is going to imagine that you were hammering out an e-mail in a blind rage. Be like, “This person is really angry.” The same thing if it's positive, but obviously that's not quite an issue. Just making sure that your typos aren't amplifying an emotion that you already are sending.
Then lastly, don't use e-mail when you need a yes. Research shows that an in-person request is more than 30 times as successful as an e-mailed one. For some reason when we get an e-mail request, we see it as non-urgent, or especially if you don't know the person who see it, then must like a little bit untrustworthy. If you do have to do e-mail negotiation, it does help to schmooze with the person beforehand, before you send the e-mail. Let me pause there. That was a lot for digital communication.
[0:49:27.7] MB: Yeah, that was great. One of my favorite stats from the whole book was that stat around you're 30 times more likely to get a yes if you use in-person as opposed to e-mail. I thought I was fascinating.
[0:49:39.0] MWD: Yeah, absolutely. Then you asked about remote workers, which is something that is increasingly common. Liz actually does a little bit more remote work than I do, so she can feel free to jump in here. I think one thing as I mentioned, super important, thinking about defaulting to video. This matters even more with remote.
Trello which is a project management software company, even if just one person is remote, everyone on that team gets on a video call. Super important, because the person who's remote is going to have a tendency to not feel included if they're calling into this whole conference room of people who are chatting, and so it's much easier if everyone gets on their computers and does the video together. Liz and I – happened to us. I'm in New York and our editor is in New York, but she lives at Berkeley and we had our first meeting with her, I was there in person and she was calling in. We had this disaster of a meeting where Liz couldn't get into the conference line and then halfway through somehow she cut out. She had been saying all this stuff, but we couldn't hear her, so we were just talking over her. She tried to call my cell, but I had no service. We just kept on chatting and she just felt terrible and let her jump in and say how she felt. We then decided to default to video after that.
[0:51:03.9] LF: Yeah, I think that's just a great example of just the importance of again like Mollie was saying, richer communication. If I had been on video during that, I think they would have seen me talking, or just getting really frustrated, or the screen would have gone blank and they would have been immediately known that something was wrong. I’ll make one other point about remote work, because as Mollie mentioned, I have worked remotely for a few years and I think the biggest thing is just realizing that it's as important to positively reinforce remote workers, to make them feel they're part of the organization as it is to do that for the people that you're in person with.
It is a little harder to do that for remote workers. I think it's so easy if you're never on a video conference with someone, if you're never asking them a little bit about their personal lives, it's really easy to just start to see them as this really – this name that keeps popping up in your inbox and just this robot coming out of nowhere that keeps e-mailing me. Just what some companies whose workers are all remote do is they have a Slack channel where people can just as they see fit, not everyone has to participate, but they can share pictures of their personal lives, give each other updates.
Some companies also have pair calls, which is remote workers can opt into this pair call program. Every two weeks, they're randomly assigned with another remote worker. Then on the calendar as part of work, you have an hour to talk about that person, or talk with that person, but you can't talk about work. It's a really lovely way of just getting to know someone, again seeing them face to face. Back to Mollie’s points about digital communication, once you have established a relationship with someone and you know a little bit more about them, you feel a connection, it's just going to smooth any communication after that so much.
If my mom e-mails me, I have a pretty good sense of what she means, just because I know her so well in person. Versus if someone I've never had a conversation outside of work with e-mails me. I'm much more likely to read into that something that I shouldn't be reading into it.
[0:53:11.1] MB: Great suggestions. That story was really insightful as well. For listeners who want to concretely implement some of the things we've talked about, I know we've gone over a lot of really concrete specific strategies on here, what would be one piece of homework that you would give to them as a starting point or an action item to begin to execute on some of these ideas?
[0:53:33.7] LF: I think a great one is to start by when you're feeling strongly, sitting down and writing down everything you're feeling. A lot of I think what helps you do that is just to expand your emotional vocabulary. In the book, we talked about this concept called emotional granularity, which is when you're able to very finely pinpoint what you're feeling. Instead of saying, “I feel bad,” you're able to say, “I feel frustrated, or I feel a lack of caffeine.”
Again, research shows that when we're able to accurately describe what we're feeling, it's much easier for us to regulate those feelings. Again, that's correlated with happiness, well-being. I think really taking the time to reflect, think about what you're feeling and then something that's so important and I think like an absolute next step is to identify the need behind those feelings.
An example, a few years ago I was leading a design project. A few days ahead of a deadline, I found myself just getting so irritated with everyone. I went for a walk around the block and I was able to say, “Okay, I'm very irritable.” then what I realized was driving that was just anxiety around meeting the deadline. The need behind both of those feelings was that I just needed to know that we were going to hit the deadline. That probably involved cutting some stuff out of the project, but I was able to go back to the team and say, “What's everyone working on? What are the non-essential things we can cut, so that we make sure that the thing we really need to deliver we’re able to deliver it on time and in with high-quality bar?” Once we'd had that conversation and I felt assured, I was no longer irritable.
I think it's so important for people, identify what you're feeling, identify where that feeling is coming from and that allows you then to address the need. I think it's also great in organizations, a lot of people work in companies where you probably can't just walk into the office and be like, “I have all these feelings and I want to talk about them with everyone.” If you're able to identify the need behind your feelings, it also allows you to discuss your emotions at the workplace without necessarily having to say like, “I'm feeling these emotions.”
Again, when I was able to say, “I would just like to know that we're all on the same page, that we're going to be able to hit this deadline,” I was talking about my feelings, but it was still presented in a way that fit the emotional norms of that organization.
[0:55:58.8] MB: That's such a powerful idea, that finding the need behind the emotions. I really love that suggestion.
[0:56:05.9] LF: Yeah. I think there's a lot of dealing with emotion, but sometimes the best way especially when it comes to stress, to deal with stress is just to figure out what's stressing me out and if I can do something about it, I should just do that. Then it's remarkable how quickly that alleviate stress.
[0:56:20.2] MB: For listeners who want to find both of you and your work online, what are the best places for them to do that?
[0:56:26.4] MWD: We have a website, it is lizandmollie.com. On that, we have actually a whole tab of resources. We have some practical guides, we have e-cards which have Liz's amazing illustrations and we have some great assessments. That was going to be my recommendation is to take – we have an assessment called how do you express your emotion? You can go on and see if you are an under-emoter, even-emoter or over-emoter. I think that's really helpful. I'm an under-emoter, which means that I don't always share all of my emotions. I have been challenging myself in the last couple of months to get a little bit more vulnerable, especially as a leader of a team sharing more of my emotions. We give tips for all of those in the assessments.
You can also follow us on Instagram. We’re @LizAndMollie there. Liz is posting amazing illustrations, super fun. Also on Twitter @LizAndMollie there.
[0:57:25.6] MB: Well Liz, Mollie. Thank you so much for coming on the show for sharing all this knowledge, some incredible insights, some great practical, tactical strategies. It's been a pleasure to have both of you on here.
[0:57:37.2] LF: Yeah, thank you so much. This was a great conversation. Thanks for having us.
[0:57:40.9] MWD: Yes. Thank you so much, Matt. Really great.
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