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What is Empathy?

Lots of Pocketbooks use the word ‘empathy’.  The problem is that scientists still find it hard to properly characterise.  New Scientist magazine ran a fascinating feature article on 13 March 2010 called ’Empathy Overkill’.  In this article they studied what we can learn when our empathy systems go into overdrive.  There are some people who suffer from forms of extreme empathy, such as:

    unconsciously echoing other people actions
    …..– even inappropriate ones

    feeling the physical sensations they
    …..observe in others

Mirror Neurons

MirrorNeuronsEmpathy appears to be due to some specialised brain cells called mirror neurons that are at the top of our brains.  They activate in the same way, whether we do something or we see someone else do it.  They let us ‘try out’ other people’s movements and gestures.

It seems that some people’s mirror neurons are not inhibited enough, causing them to literally live-out the actions or sensations they observe.

Empathy and Compassion

As well as the medical implications of extreme empathy, scientists are also looking at the link between empathic responses and compassion.  Evidence suggests that an inability physically identify with other people’s pain does correlate with high self-assessed levels of ‘cold-heartedness’.

So, it is your mirror neurons that let you know how other people are feeling.  When a colleague walks into work tomorrow, they will help you know whether that colleague is feeling good or bad.

Sustainable Competitive Advantage

John Mattock is passionate about the value of cross cultural empathy in business.  If you want to work with business people in another culture, being sensitive to their cultural norms and making the effort to understand them will bring you sustainable competitive advantage.  The Cross-Cultural Business Pocketbook is chock-full of great tips to build up your understanding and for how to communicate effectively across cultures.  A series of two-page mini guides to a handful of cultures on their own make this an insightful and valuable book.

CrossCulturalBusiness

So here’s the deal

If you want to read other people’s minds, let your mirror neurons tell you what’s going on.  What you choose to do with that information is up to you. If you work with people from other cultures, then your empathy skills may be stretched to their limits, but if you prime them well and are sympathetic to the emotions your mirror neurons detect, then you may just get better results for your efforts.

Other Management Pocketbooks you may enjoy

If you have come across from our sister site, the Teachers’ Pocketbooks Blog, or are interested in empathy in the classroom, you may like this short post.

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Be West of the Rest

Telephone conference calls are a great way for a geographically dispersed project team to stay in touch.  The biggest problem is timing.  If you are working in Britain, with colleagues in California, what time should you make the call?

A quick look at a map of time-zones reveals the problem.  At noon British Time, it is 4am in California.  Let’s say you are planning a 90 minute call.  Typically, nobody likes getting up in the early hours, so you have to either move the call back to late evening or early morning in California.  Let’s try them out:

Option A: Start at 9pm California; 5am Britain

Option B: Start at 9am California; 5pm Britain

My guess is that both parties will prefer Option B.  The British won’t have to get up unrealistically early and the American’s won’t have to stay at work late.  But this does mean that, while the Californian’s are bright as a button, the British are tired, at the end of the working day, staying on to 6:30.

The Challenges of Virtual Team

This is one tiny example of the challenges facing virtual teams – teams that do not work together physically.  They are an increasing feature of the modern workplace.  Even if your business is not a global or multi-national company, you are not immune.

Many small businesses work in complex global networks contributing products and services to international supply chains.  Even many schools are now linking up across continents to enrich pupils’ learning opportunities.

VirtualTeamsIn his Virtual Teams Pocketbook, Ian Fleming is spot on when he identifies technology as a key enabler, and also crushes the assumption that virtual teams are all about technology. What Ian does do is give practical advice about using a range of technology tools to your advantage.

It is all about Communication

Technology is an enabler for the most important part of team working: communication.  Whether your team is spread around offices across the world, or a series of local organisations, your top priority is to find the best ways to allow team members to stay in touch informally and to exchange formal information reliably.

Swift trust

In his Pocketbook, Ian Fleming describes a great process, called Swift Trust.  The idea was developed by three authors called Meyerson, Weick and Kramer in 1996.  Their thesis is that trust can be built quickly by :

  1. Presuming each team member has earned their place
  2. Trusting other people’s expertise and knowledge
  3. Creating shared goals and a shared recognition/reward scheme
  4. Defining a clear role for each person to play
  5. Focusing on tasks and actions
  6. Taking responsibility and acting responsively

Yes Please

How many groups have you worked in where one or more of these characteristics is missing.  Deep trust comes from the one thing Swift Trust is designed to do without, personal relationships.  However, surely each of the six characteristics above is essential for any team.

So here’s the deal

Whether your team is virtual or sitting around the same table, day after day, tailor your communications to build trust.  Focus on the checklist above, and then look for ways to build personal relationships too.

Other management Pocketbooks you may enjoy

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Put Yourself on Display

Just last month, the CIPD’s People Management magazine reported that one of the big audit firms has resumed its full graduate recruitment programme.  Perhaps this is a sign that the professional and managerial job market is on the move again.

If this is true, we will start to see more work going into running assessment centres.  John Sponton and Stewart Wright identify three purposes for assessment centres in their Managing Assessment Centres Pocketbook:

  1. Recruitment
    Finding the best candidates
  2. Promotion
    Evaluating readiness and skill sets objectively
  3. Restructuring
    When job roles and responsibilities are changing

ManAssessmentCtrs

More than just efficient

If you are designing an assessment centre, you have a big job.  You need to create exercises, schedule activities, secure and brief assessors and do a raft of other tasks.  These are well set out in the Pocketbook.

In all of your focus on efficiency, one thing is easily overlooked: the messages you give the candidates.  A good assessment centre will not only allow you to assess the candidates, it will allow the candidates to assess your organisation and the role you want to fill.  Everything you organise will tell them about your organisation.

So how can you design your assessment centre to fully reflect the values, culture and priorities of your organisation?  This has to be more than a few opening remarks and some posters.  Your exercises and the way that you evaluate them must be linked not just to the job requirements, but to the way you want the successful candidate to act, once in post.  Here are two examples.

School Head Teacher

In recruiting a head teacher, many schools include observations of how candidates interact with pupils in formal and informal settings.  Assessors are looking for a style that accords with their school’s values.  Many will even include pupils in the assessment process and, when they do, they typically find pupils’ comments insightful and often in accord with the far longer observations of the governors.

Management Consultants

Professional services firms take in large numbers of new graduates and all are competing for the brightest.  However, academic talent is only a starting point.  Consultancies look for a complex combination of team and leadership skills, and the ability to follow a lead, whilst also thinking independently.  Consequently they provide complex team activities with multiple observers.

AssessmentCentre

What about Being a Candidate?

Whilst you can expect interviews and formal reasoning tests at many assessment centres, there is often little you can do to prepare for the assessment itself.  The following are important:

  • Practise your interview techniques and think about answers to the obvious questions
  • Make sure you have researched your prospective employer
  • Think about what questions you have for the assessors
  • Get your travel plans right

Sometimes you will be asked to prepare something specific.  If you are, you can be sure that this will be important to the assessors, so don’t leave it to last minute and then rush it.  Remember that this is your chance to really distinguish you from other candidates.

Perhaps what is most important for you is what is most important for the assessment centre.  The organisation wants to show you its values, culture and priorities.  You should aim to show assessors yours.  If they cannot see a fit then, no matter how well qualified you are, you will not get hired.  And if there is no fit, then why would you want the job anyway?  Within months, you would be unhappy.

So, here’s the deal

Assessment centres are good for candidates and good for employers.  When they are well designed, they give employers the best possible insight into candidates’ performance under realistic conditions, and they give candidates the best possible idea of what it would be like to work in the organisation.

Given the cost of recruitment, promotion or redeployment, it is best to invest a little more to get it right.

Other Management Pocketbooks you might enjoy

As employer …

As candidate …

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Time to Plan

Whatever business you are in, and whatever level you occupy, now is the time to be planning for your next financial year.

Start with a Strategy

Every business needs to know where it is heading, and if you don’t choose that direction, it will be chosen for you by circumstances: your market, your competitors, and events.  You can better generate sustainable profits when you choose your market.

On the 24th January 1848, while building a sawmill for wealthy landowner John Sutter, John Marshall bent down and picked up a shining object from the river. It was gold! Then he found another, and then another.

Stories of the gold soon got round but there was no gold rush. Nobody believed the stories. So an enterprising San Francisco merchant, Sam Brannan, decided to capitalise on the find by spreading the word.  Consequently, the Gold Rush made Sam Brannan the richest man in California.

What was Sam Brennan’s strategy for getting so rich?
He sold shovels and pick-axes!

1903776139The Strategy Pocketbook gives you a wealth of tools to understand your business and its marketplace.

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Next, you need a plan

By this time of the year, most businesses with a 31 March year end are well into their business planning.  One aspect of the process many of us forget – or feel more comfortable putting to one side – is disaster planning.  Whether you are a sole trader, an SME, or a global player, two things are true:

  1. You are not immune to disaster
  2. You won’t know how well prepared you are until you test your plans.  Don’t wait for nature to set up the test!

The start of your disaster planning process is to identify the threats to your business.  The new edition of the Business Planning Pocketbook offers you three broad categories of disaster to consider, when identifying your risks:

BusinessPlanning

  1. Manmade Disasters
  2. Technological Disasters
  3. Natural Disasters

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If you are fortunate enough to own both Strategy and Business Planning Pocketbooks, you can find some nice overlaps.  For example, you could apply PESTLE analysis (in the Strategy Pocketbook) to your disaster identification, to give you not three, but six categories of disaster:

  1. Political
    Okay, so calling the outcome of the next election a ‘disaster’ may be a bit much, but it could have significant implications for your business.
  2. Economic
    Arguably, we are on the way out of this economic disaster, but who knows?  Double-dip anyone?
  3. Social/Cultural
    Demographic trends and changes in the way people buy can destroy businesses – just ask the folk at Readers’ Digest.
  4. Technological
    Thankfully, the new models of computers and software never go wron&.  Bu£ let”s 7u$t t@ke a lo0k a! Toyota.
  5. Legislative
    How can changes in regulation and legislation affect your business?  Large additional costs can be de-stabilising.
  6. Environmental
    Mother nature has a way of hitting us back when we least expect it – and it is frequently below the belt!

So here’s the deal

Start planning for disasters today.  If you have a plan then test it – tomorrow.  And set aside time at least twice a year to get a range of people from within and outside your organisation around a table, to peer round the next bend to spot more possible futures.

Other Management Pocketbooks you may enjoy

Figuring your way through the planning process …

And when it comes to implementation …

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The Power of Silence

‘Silence is a powerful, ambiguous medium of communication’ says Seán Mistéil in the new edition of the Communicator’s Pocketbook.

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It is well worth looking at how to use silence to your benefit.  For a little fun, let’s start with its ambiguity.

A Man for All Seasons

If you haven’t seen the play or the excellent 1966 movie with Paul Schofield and Robert Shaw, then it is well worth looking out for.  At the trial of Sir Thomas More, Thomas Cromwell is prosecuting:

Cromwell: Now, Sir Thomas, you stand on your silence.

More: I do.

Cromwell: But, gentlemen of the jury, there are many kinds of silence. Consider first the silence of a man who is dead. Let us suppose we go into the room where he is laid out, and we listen: what do we hear? Silence. What does it betoken, this silence? Nothing; this is silence pure and simple.

But let us take another case. Suppose I were to take a dagger from my sleeve and make to kill the prisoner with it, and my lordships there, instead of crying out for me to stop, maintained their silence.
That would betoken! It would betoken a willingness that I should do it, and under the law, they will be guilty with me. So silence can, according to the circumstances, speak! …

More: …  the maxim of the law is “Silence gives consent”.
If therefore you wish to construe what my silence betokened,
you must construe that I consented, not that I denied.

Cromwell: Is that in fact what the world construes from it?
Do you pretend that is what you wish the world to construe from it?

More: The world must construe according to its wits;
this court must construe according to the law.

This edited extract from the wonderful text by Robert Bolt shows just how slippery silence is.  And powerful: in this trial, More’s life is at stake.

Use the Power of Silence

When I speak, do you listen?  I mean, do you really listen?  What most of us do is half listen; part of me is listening to you, while the other part is listening to myself, as I plan out what I am going to say next.

If we are arguing, I may not even hear your point; as I decide how I am going to respond to what I expected you would say in response to my point.  If we are chatting, I don’t really listen to your story of how upsetting yesterday was, because I am deciding whether to start my story with today’s journey to work, or yesterday’s argument in the supermarket.

Instead, take the time to really listen.  The risk we feel is that if we don’t plan our next comment, the other person will think us slow, dim-witted, weak in argument.

I suggest that this is not so.  What does that silence betoken?  Perhaps it says:

  • I really listened and am thinking about what you said
  • Your comment was profound enough for me to have to think about my reply
  • I am a thoughtful person

And if I am comfortable with silence, and you are not, who will fill that silence with more words?  You will.  In a debate, this will be when you weaken your argument, in a sales call this will be where you give something away, in an argument this will be when you start to feel you are losing.

So here’s the deal

Practise listening with 100% attention

Practise holding your silence

Practise setting aside your prejudices about what my silence may mean.  It may not mean I am angry, or I am confused, or I am deaf, or I am day-dreaming, or I am upset.

It may just be silence pure and simple.

Other Management Pocketbooks you may enjoy

And coming soon:

  • Body Language
  • Handling Resistance
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Feedback Welcome

Welcome to the Management Pocketblog.

This is a blog dedicated to all things management and we want it to reflect the values and style of the management pocketbooks series.  You can read more about the blog at the ‘New Readers’ tab.

What Feedback do you give?

9781906610128 The newly published Feedback Pocketbook opens with a shocking statistic:  33% of British employees consider they rarely or never get feedback on their performance.  If you have an equivalent statistic for any other country, please do let us know in the comments section, below.

So let’s assume that this represents around a third of British managers, failing to offer feedback – at least in a form that it is recognised.  Are you one of them?

Wasted opportunity

Feedback helps us develop and is arguably the most valuable performance-enhancing tool that managers have.  So if you are not giving great feedback, you are losing a noticeable slice of potential performance.  It doesn’t take a big performance loss, when multiplied across all  of a manager’s team, to account for the difference between a profitable and failing business, or a successful or collapsing service.

How big could that difference be?

Bandura and Cervone

In the early 1980s, Albert Bandura and Daniel Cervone conducted experiments with students at Stanford University, on a cycling ergo meter.  They measured the performance of eighty cyclists and then split them into four groups, balanced for gender and ability:

  1. Group A
    were set goals for performance improvement
  2. Group B
    were given no goals, but feedback on their performance
  3. Group C
    got both performance goals and feedback
  4. Group D
    were a control group and got neither goals nor feedback

At the end of a training period, Bandura and Cervone found that the twenty cyclists who had received both clear performance goals and feedback had improved their performance to a higher degree (by a factor of more than 2) than any other group.  Not surprisingly, the control group (D) showed least improvement.  Surprisingly, however, the control group only improved a little less than groups A and B.

Bandura&Cervone

Goal Setting and Feedback are both vital to great performance

So here’s the deal

Our goal

… is to engage in a dialogue with Management Pocketbook readers and anyone else interested in management.  Over the next six months, we’d like to get to at least 100 readers a week, and we want to get comments on most of our posts.

Your feedback

… is more than welcome.  Let us know what you think of our blogs and our books, and contribute your ideas to supplement ours.  Give us information and ideas, and tell us what you want.

Subscribe to this blog, so you don’t miss any of our posts – we look forward to the conversation.

Reference:
Self-Evaluative and Self-Efficacy Mechanisms Governing the Motivational Effects of Goal Systems,
Albert Bandura and Daniel Cervone,
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 1983,
Vol 45, No. 5, 1017-1028

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