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Leadership Ling- English

Reading notes (2021, week 23): On pluralities of people, mindsets of a leader, and why it pays to notice emotions in the workplace

Pluralities of people come in three kinds

I read this on Alan Jacobs’ blog:

One of the most fundamental ideas that Auden held in the 1950s — the period of his career that I’m working on right now — was that “pluralities” of people come in three kinds. From an essay called “Nature, History, and Poetry” (published in Thought in 1950), with bold type added by me:

  1. “A crowd consists of n members where n > 1, whose sole characteristic in common is togetherness. A crowd loves neither itself nor anything other than itself. It can only be counted; its existence is chimerical.”

  2. “A society consists of x members, i.e. a certain finite number, united in a specific manner into a whole with a characteristic mode of behavior which is different from the behavior of its several members in isolation (e.g. a molecule of water or a string quartet). A society has a definite size, a specific structure and an actual existence.”

  3. “A community consists of n members, all of them rational beings united by a common love for something other than themselves.”

The tragedy of social media is this: Each given social-media platform consists of a crowd pretending to be either a society or a community.

To which I add – The tragedy of the modern corporation is this:  Each given company consists of a society pretending to be a community (“here at ABC Inc., we’re a family“).

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source: Alan Jacobs, pluralities (accessed 210601)


Six mindsets of a leader

  1. Transcender: Seeks benefits for the whole ecosystem
  2. Builder: Zeroes in on building the organization
  3. Dynamo: Focuses on clear strategy or set of goals
  4. Chameleon: Adapts to surroundings and will serve anyone
  5. Egoist: Tries to maximize benefit to himself or herself
  6. Sociopath: Serves no one and believes the rules don’t apply

Questions: Which one are you? Which one is your manager?

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source: Modesto A. Maidique and Nathan J. Hiller, “The Mindsets of a Leader” in MIT Sloan Management Review (accessed 210601)


Why it pays to notice emotions in the workplace

Emotional acknowledgment is the simple act of noticing a nonverbal emotional cue — like a frown or grin — and mentioning it. This mention can be a question or a statement such as “You look upset,” or “You seem excited.” (…) this small act can have a powerful effect because it is read as a sign of genuine intentions.

in a work environment, a supervisor who shows concern for others’ emotional state is signaling a willingness to get involved in a potentially messy situation. “A leader could very easily see someone in distress and choose to ignore it,” Yu says. “But only a leader who truly is benevolent and cares about employees would risk getting involved by voluntarily acknowledging the distressed employee. Thus, employees might take this as a signal that this leader is someone who can be trusted with their well-being.”

in  research across six studies, (…) participants reported higher levels of trust in people who engaged in emotional acknowledgment than those who did not.

This result aligned with the theory

Asking someone who seems unhappy about their emotional state engenders higher levels of trust because it is riskier and involves a greater investment of attention, time, and effort than asking someone who seems happy.

There was, in addition, an unexpected finding:

acknowledging an employee’s emotional state is more powerful than only acknowledging the situation that produced the emotions. “It turns out that saying something like, ‘You looked upset after that meeting. How are you feeling about it?’ lands better than saying something like, ‘It looked like the meeting went poorly. How are you thinking about it?’ Yu explains.
“People trust the person who acknowledges the emotion directly more than the person who acknowledges the situation. There’s just something special and unique about emotions — they are really core to a person’s inner experience and sense of self. So when we acknowledge emotions, we humanize and validate the person being acknowledged.”

And another unexpected finding: you don’t even have to get it right

the trust-building effect of emotional acknowledgment is not always dependent on correctly interpreting emotions, particularly when positive feelings are misread.

But emotional support is not part of my formal job expectations as a manager!

If leaders want to signal care and build trust, they need to meet people where they are. The worst thing leaders can do when employees are feeling badly is to do nothing. Our research suggests one way to do that is by proactively engaging in emotional acknowledgment because it grants employees the space and license to share their emotions.

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The paper: Alisa Yu, Justin M. Berg, Julian J. Zlatev, “Emotional acknowledgment: How verbalizing others’ emotions fosters interpersonal trust”, Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, Volume 164, 2021, Pages 116-135. The report:  Theodore Kinni, “All the Feels: Why It Pays to Notice Emotions in the Workplace”, Insights, Stanford Business, May 13, 2021.