First: Get Your Head Straight

Have you ever let emotion get the best of you? Or rather, have you ever reacted to a situation in a way you’re not proud of? Probably.

It’s even more frustrating after the fact, when you reflect on the situation and realize how you may have made the situation worse. That’s hard to swallow. The negative impact of such reactions could be damaged trust in an important relationship. If we’re honest, though, we can acknowledge that we’ve all been there. It’s also important to acknowledge that we are emotional creatures, and wholesale suppression of emotions is neither desirable nor realistic.

So, what can you do and why does it matter?

Emotional Intelligence is one of those areas where small, incremental improvements yield massive results. We call this asymmetric risk/reward. A 10 percent increase in your self-control makes you wildly more effective and influential among others. 

Research for High Performers

At Ameriflex, we did some research a few years ago to flesh out what our high performers do, which others may not. We needed to discover behaviorally specific things. In other words, something that two different people with two different perspectives could observe yet draw the same conclusion about. We came up with 26 items that we now call our Ameriflex High-Performer Behaviors. 

Here are two:
  • Behavior 4: High performers never assume negative attributes or motives regarding another person. They think about a plausible reason why a good, conscientious person would produce the negative result so that they can gather facts and draw conclusions in an unbiased way.

  • Behavior 7: High performers understand that angry or disappointed stakeholders don’t necessarily mean someone at Ameriflex screwed something up. They gather facts before drawing conclusions and they don’t act based on assumptions. They may apologize that the stakeholder is upset, but they do not apologize on behalf of the organization’s error without knowing where fault lies.

Breaking Down Behavior

Both of these behaviors came from a classic problem I’ve seen at many companies, and one that took us years to tackle at Ameriflex. Here’s the scenario: A customer complains about something or someone at your organization. A salesperson or account manager listens to the complaint, and in a completely innocent act of empathy, agrees with the customer, accepts blame on behalf of the company, and apologizes for the incompetence.  Salespeople and account manager types are in a difficult position of having to advocate for company and its customers – frequently at odds with each other. The effect of this behavior is people feeling like they’ve been “thrown under the bus,” and trust is lost.

When trust is lost, people who are supposed to be on the same team begin withholding information from each other. Communication breaks down, and less work gets done. This is a self-perpetuating thing – meaning, if you don’t address it in your culture, relationships get worse until people are in impenetrable silos of faltering morale.

What causes this behavior?  

Psychologists call it “fundamental attribution error” (FAE). In other words, people naturally attribute problems they experience with character flaws in other people. The last time someone cut you off in traffic and you made an unflattering statement about their intelligence, you committed fundamental attribution error. How about the last time the word “idiots” crossed your mind when thinking of people who voted for a different candidate for President than you?

So how did we eliminate FAE?

Well, this is a natural human tendency that everyone falls victim to, so we can’t eliminate it. Let’s just say our employees are 50 percent better at it than average, similarly-situated professionals. 50 percent more trust and 50 percent more teamwork is a big deal in the bottom line of a customer service organization.

Here's how we do it.
  • We make big deal about it. We bang the drum frequently. You saw for yourself how we published specific behaviors on the topic.

  • We take a lesson from Crucial Accountability. We’ve put most of our managers through this training, which begins by teaching people that before they can have a productive conversation about accountability, they must “master their story.” When something bad happens and you come up with an unflattering story why, adrenaline starts pumping, guaranteeing that you will assume the moral high ground and have a bad interaction.  Mastering your story means asking, “Why would a decent person deliver this result?” It sets you up for gathering facts, not placing blame.

  • Training yourself to sidestep your emotional brain is a rewiring process. It’s a developed skill and a highly perishable one at that. Many of our managers and most of our high performers keep a simple journal in which they take a few minutes to reflect on the following question: “What did I notice about myself today?” This exercise works best when it’s done daily, and the answer includes actions, thoughts, and most importantly, feelings.

Are we perfect and dealing with screw ups and perceived screw ups in a productive way?  No, but we’re pretty good at it.  And, aside from the fact that our culture is better off, we’ve found that we solve problems faster and we improve faster, when we have our heads straight. 

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