Category Archives: Working Relationships

Deborah Tannen: Talking from 9 to 5

Deborah Tannen is not a manager. And neither is she a management thinker. But she deserves her place in this blog, for her contribution to our understanding of the way men and women communicate in the workplace.

Tannen is no merchant of easy solutions, nor a broad system-builder. Rather, she is a detailed observer of what happens when people communicate through the medium of natural language. And she has made her focus the communication between men and women.

If your working world is inhabited by both women and men, then her work should be on your reading list.

Deborah Tannen

Deborah Tannen

Short Biography

Deborah Tannen was born in 1945, in Brooklyn, and studied English Literature at Harpur College. Following her BA in 1966, she went on to get an MA at Wayne State University in 1970, before moving to the University of California, Berkeley to study linguistics. There she was awarded an MA and then a PhD in 1979.

That year, Tannen became an Assistant Professor in the Department of Linguistics at Georgetown University, where she remains today, since 1991 as a University Professor.

Tannen first came to public attention with her 1986 book, That’s Not What I Meant. This  popularised her detailed research into how we converse with one another, and the effect our style has on our relationships. Her 1990 follow-up was a huge best-seller: You Just Don’t Understand. This analyses the different conversational styles of men and women, and the impact it has on us.

However, it is Tannen’s third book for the popular market that will interest us. In 1995’s Talking from 9 to 5, she looked at the impact of the different ways men and women use language on the workplace. It links differences in style to the differences in perception and power that arise.

Since then, Tannen has written four more books that will be of interest to anyone curious about language, gender and family relationships.

Deborah Tannen’s Research and Ideas

Deborah Tannen is a sociolinguist; she studies the way different people in society use language. We are familiar with the idea of dialect: different versions of the same language arising from regional variations. Sociolinguists recognise different sociolects; different versions of a language arising in different parts of society. Sociolects can arise from just about any societal differences. Ethnolects arise from the ethnic backgrounds of the language speaker, and genderlects from the gender. Ultimately, we all speak our own personal ideolect.

Tannen’s methodology is observational and rigorous. She observes, transcribes, and analyses conversations. She does not see her role as offering solutions, but as one of relating and classifying what happens.

At the heart of Tannen’s explanation is the idea of a tension in all of us, between the need for independence from other people, and the need for involvement with them.

Deborah Tannen - Involvement and Independence

Deborah Tannen – Involvement and Independence

If your goal is to communicate information and you have no interest in involvement, then your communication is likely to be short, clear and factual. But in a social world, what it is necessary to say, and how to make it clear is far from obvious. So we add a tier of politeness that seeks to balance the need not to impose, with the desire to connect.

Many of our differences in the way we tackle day-to-day communication challenges arise from how our social norms dictate we should handle this balance.This manifests very clearly at work.

Men and Women at Work

The patterns Tannen observes are of more indirect and polite communication among women and more direct and factual communication among men. Problems arise when we fail to recognise the differences as arising from style and assume they are communicating substance.

Or, worse still, problems also arise when we do see the differences as arising from style, but we then go on to judge that style difference as representing a difference in capabilities to which it bears no relation. Glass ceiling anyone? And, although Tannen focuses on the differences arising from genderlects, let’s remember that ethnolects mean that cultural differences between people of different family heritage can also cause the same two problems: misunderstanding and prejudice.

An Example

Let’s end this brief overview with a concrete example. I’m drawing the idea for this example from Talking from 9 to 5, but embellishing it from my own experience. Let’s look at Jacqui, a female manager, and her male direct report, Anil.

Anil creates a poor report summarising the project he and Jacqui are working on. But he is new, and Jacqui does not want to demotivate him. So in giving feedback, she works hard to identify the strong points of his work, before highlighting the need for changes.

Anil re-does his report, but Jacqui is horrified. He has made few changes and the report remains inadequate. With little time left, she sees no alternative but to work late and re-write it herself.

If all of this seems reasonable, let’s look at it from Anil’s point of view. When he hears the next day about what she has done, he is angry and upset. Firstly, Jacqui lied to him. His report was not good, with the need for a few changes; it was poor. Why didn’t she tell him? Her diplomacy comes across as dishonesty.

And then Jacqui took it upon herself to re-write the report. Clearly she does not trust Anil. Jacqui’s concern to avoid asking him to work late seems to Anil like distrust.

But it gets worse. When Anil tells Jacqui what he thinks, she is upset. So when her boss comes around and asks her about how the reporting process went, she gives plenty of credit to Anil for the final report. Yet when her boss speaks to Anil, he tells the boss that Jacqui was indecisive about the report, and left her final changes to the last minute.

Jacqui’s boss leaves with the impression of Jacqui as a weak manager and Anil as a strong subordinate.

Deborah Tannen: That’s Not What I Meant! – Signals, Devices, and Rituals

 

Adam Grant: Natural Giver

So many of the management thinkers we have covered have superlatives attached to them and their achievements. The one most often applied to Adam Grant is youngest… youngest tenured professor and also most highly rated. But what comes out of the numerous interviews and assessments of him I read is ‘most generous’. For a man who has researched and written about the relative merits of giving and taking, he certainly lives up to his admonition to give more.

Adam Grant

Very Short Biography

Adam Grant was born in 1981 and grew up in Detroit. He went to Harvard in 1999 to read for his Psychology degree and, while there, worked at Let’s Go publications, where he became a top seller of advertising and achieved promotion to director. However, his future lay in academia and so, following his graduation in 2003, he went to the University of Michigan to read for an MS and PhD in Organizational Psychology.

After a short spell as a postdoctoral visiting scholar at Britain’s University of Sheffield Institute of  Work Psychology, Grant took up his first academic post, at the University of North Carolina, in 2007. Two years later, he joined the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, as an Associate professor, gaining tenure in 2011. He became a full Professor of Management and Psychology in 2013.

Grant has been showered with academic awards and plaudits, and his first book, Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success, (2013) was a deserved bestseller. His new book, Originals: How Non-conformists Change the World, came out in early 2016.

The two things that comes out from profiles, are Grant’s energetic productivity and his genuine generosity. He gets masses done, moving at warp speed from one thing to the next, yet still finds time to respond generously to a huge number of requests for help from his students and others. He regularly responds to dozens of these emails a day, dispensing advice (informed by psychological research), linking people to contacts (he offers to do this for any of his students, who trawl his LinkedIn account for opportunities) and providing citation references for colleagues (who see him as encyclopaedic in breadth and faster than Google).

In this way, Grant is a role model of his (to date) most powerful idea. (I have not read Originals yet, as I am writing this prior to its publication). He has also served in a number of voluntary roles – currently as a Board Member of Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In Foundation (Sandberg has written the foreword to Originals).

Give, Take, or Match

Grant’s research, documented in Give and Take, concerns ‘prosocial behaviour‘. This is behaviour motivated more by a desire to contribute than to serve ourselves. He divides people into three groups; those who:

Give
Givers enjoy contributing – whether it is ideas, help, mentoring, introductions, or advice. Givers typically achieve a lot or fail spectacularly, depending on the choices they make in giving. The successful givers, Grant believes, significantly out-compete takers and matchers, and the organisations they work for gain in measurable ways. Successful givers principally give high value help that has a low cost to themselves – what Grant terms: ‘five-minute favours’.

Take
Takers try to get as much as they can from others while contributing as little as they can get away with. They believe that the world – and work in particular – is a zero sum game, wherein if others win, they must necessarily lose. They are therefore focused on each individual interaction as an opportunity for short-term success. Grant posits that Takers will find it increasingly hard, as social media make it ever easier for society to punish them. In the past, this has been the function of gossip. Now gossip is global in reach, open in visibility, and potentially indelible.

Match
Matchers seek to create an even balance of give and take. Theirs is a fair world, but with less initiation of generosity, so therefore less reciprocation and hence less opportunity for real growth in the prosocial economy.

Grant’s interest in motivation leads him to conclude that we are motivated by the opportunity to help others and that, by giving people more opportunities to do this, or by framing their work in this way, we increase overall motivation and therefore productivity. His book and research papers cite many examples of this.

The takeaway, therefore, is clear: it really is better to give than to receive!

The Power of Powerless Communication

Adam Grant at TED

 

 

Robert Owen: Fair Management

Robert Owen is often referred to as a social reformer. So what is he doing in a blog about management?

In fact, in his espousal of management over pure command and control, we can see in Owen the first shining of the light of humanistic management, that was not to become the norm in his home country of the UK for nearly two centuries.

Robert Owen

Short Biography

Robert Owen was born in 1771, in Newtown, in Wales. After working in several drapery businesses around England, in 1790, he became the joint owner of a textile factory in Manchester. Because he had little experience of manufacturing, he started off wth a rigorous regime of intense observation of how his employees worked. Through this, he said, ‘I maintained order and regularity throughout the establishment’. Could this be an early variant on ‘Management by Walking About’: Management by Observation?

Along with other investors, Owen bought a Mill in New Lanark in 1799. The realities of what was then regarded as enlightened mill ownership were that he inherited a workforce where 5 and 6 year olds were expected to work up to 15 hours a day. His first act was to stop taking children from the local poorhouse, to raise the minimum age of children he employed to 10, and to ban the use of corporal punishment.

This was the start of a series of reforms that led to Owen being labelled variously as a social reformer, a socialist, an educational reformer, and a utopian (by Marx and Engels!) But at this time, certainly, Owen justified all of his changes on purely economic grounds. He used profits to fund social improvements for his workers and found that productivity subsequently increased. Eventually, the New Lanark Mill showed a 50% Return on Investment (ROI).

Eventually, his reforms were to include taking no children into the mill, creating the first night school in the world, for his workers,  starting what became the basis of the British Co-operative movement, and founding the Grand National Consolidated Trades Union in 1834 – sadly, it did not survive the year. He also tried in 1815 and failed to introduce new legislation to improve working conditions nationally.

It may shock us now that his aim of increasing the minimum working age to 10, reducing the maximum daily working hours to 10½, and requiring a minimum of half an hour a day of education for all children was seen as a serious risk to the wellbeing of business. Lesser legislation was passed in 1819 and we still hear the same arguments about potential legislation around worker’s rights today.

Consult other sources…

If you want to learn more about his social reforms, educational work, or attempts to create trades unions and co-operatives, there is plenty of good material. I would like to focus on the things Owen did in management, that were almost a century ahead of his time, to only really be formalised by the likes of Mary Parker Follett and George Eastman, and the later humanistic management leaders, like Elton Mayo and Douglas McGregor.

Five Visionary Approaches

Humanistic Management
Owen recognised that, in his rapidly mechanising industry, machines would never attain a greater importance than the people who worked them

Abandoning Command and Control
Owen preferred to manage his workers, rather than issue commands. And to help him, he started selecting his managers on merit and giving them training.

Empowerment
Okay, so he would never have used this modern buzzword, but he firmly believed in the value of giving his managers real autonomy.

Change Management
Not only did Owen understand the value of winning trust from his workers before trying to impose change; he actively sought out influential individuals among them to help build and disseminate his case: what we call ‘change champions’.

Performance Monitoring
Every day, supervisors would assess the work of their workers, and award a colour code (from poor, black to blue to yellow to white – best), which would be displayed on a wooden block (his ‘silent monitor’) for all to see. Peer pressure and pride are powerful motivators!

 

 

Dame Fiona Reynolds: Conservation and People

Fiona Reynolds may have little profile internationally. She may even be little known in her home country of the United Kingdom. But her contribution has been hugely valuable and her approach to change offers a simple lesson we can all learn from.

Fiona Reynolds

Short Biography

Fiona Reynolds was born in Cumbria, in the North West of England, in 1958. She studied Geography and Land Economy at Cambridge University, graduating in 1979. She then took an MPhil in Land Economy, before taking her first job at the Council for National Parks. This is an umbrella organisation for a range of campaigning conservation organisations and amenity-holding organisations (now called Campaign for National Parks). She rose to Secretary to the Council, before moving, in 1987 to The Campaign to Protect Rural England, where she remained until 1998.

It was, perhaps, a surprising move, when Reynolds left the conservation sector and joined the UK Cabinet Office (serving Government) in 1998. There she took the role of Director of the Women’s Unit. Of her time as a senior Civil Servant, Reynolds say she found it frustrating. But she did learn how to make things happen without authority, by working with and around people. This was to serve her well in her next – and most important – role. She was honoured with a CBE for services to conservation, in 1998.

In 2001, Reynolds took up the post of Director General of The National Trust, where she stayed until 2012. She felt she had been brought in to make changes and indeed she did. At the end of her tenure, in 2012, she handed over a very different organisation to her successor. In 2008, she was awarded a DCBE and became a Dame.

In 2012, she became the Master of Emmanuel College, Cambridge – one of the oldest educational institutions in the UK, some of whose alumni founded Harvard University. Around the same time, she also accepted a number of non-executive directorships including Wessex Water and, most notably, the BBC. In 2014, she became Chair of the Green Alliance, and in 2015, became Chair of the Cathedrals Fabric Commission for England.

Changing the National Trust

When Fiona Reynolds took over as Director General of the National Trust, it was a much loved institution that felt like a club for those who loved it most. For the majority of visitors, the experience of visiting one of its buildings was very much of their being privileged to be allowed in. There was a sense that the Trust tried to hold its assets in a vacuum and visitors were, at best, a necessary source of funds and often, were seen as a distraction and a nuisance.

But the Trust’s role is to hold its land and property assets in Trust for future generations – and our own. Reynolds set about reforming the Trust to create more visitor friendly and engaging experiences. She sought to involve families with ‘open arms conservation’. She restructured the Board, allocated funds for developing renewable energy sources, and placed children at the heart of visitor experiences. Easter egg hunts, Santa trails, craft and dressing up all came to the Trusts properties, and so, increasingly, did visitors.

At the heart of her conservation philosophy was localism, so the cafes and restaurants at attractions featured local produce, and more of this was grown on the properties’ own land and in their gardens. The Trust is now a thriving institution with full car parks for many weekends, and a real influence over Government policy, that comes from over 4 million members (membership almost doubled during Reynolds’ tenure).

Reynolds’ Approach

Reynolds has said little publicly about how she led the changes at the National Trust. However, what seems clear is that she did so by recognising that people and conservation are mutually interdependent. She is a gregarious person, who has become comfortable and adept at persuasion and negotiation, as well as deploying strong, evidence-based arguments.

While her role as Master of Emmanuel is not explicitly as a change agent, this ancient institution needs to continue to change, as it has done for hundreds of years. And it seems that Reynolds is an ideal person to lead this. Her management style looks simple, but never confuse simple for easy. She simply likes people and enjoys working with them. And if you want to understand how to make change happen, there is little more you really need.

Mastering Difficult Conversations: What sort of monkey are you facing?

Today we have a guest blog from author Pete English, who has just given a successful presentation at CIPD’s Annual Conference and Exhibition on the topic of ‘Mastering Difficult Conversations: What sort of monkey are you facing?’. Pete’s website is www.peterenglish.co.uk and he can be contacted at pete@peterenglish.co.uk   He has written three Pocketbooks: Tackling Difficult Conversations, Confidence and Succeeding at Interviews.

We’re all primates.

Many of our day-to-day behaviours have been hard-wired into us over thousands of years of evolution. Our ancestors survived by being excellent threat-detectors (it was important to decide quickly whether an animal or situation was safe) and by being good at sucking up to the leader of the pack, to put it bluntly – according to the evolutionary psychologists, being friendly with the alpha male or female enhanced your survival prospects.

So, we’ve evolved to be vigilant and status conscious. Apparently when we meet someone, the first thing we unconsciously assess is their level of status – do I need to be wary of this person? Do I need to keep on the right side of them?

And other primates are sniffing you, picking up cues as to how powerful you are, how much respect they need to give you.

If you want to master this game, it helps to know what kind of monkey you are dealing with. Let’s consider the Chimpanzee and the Bonobo.

Chimpanzees

In the wild, chimpanzees are very territorial, competitive and (particularly when threatened), ferociously aggressive. There is a strict hierarchy with a male chimp at the top.

Chimpanzees

 

In your organisation, you know you’re dealing with a chimp when:

  • you feel like they’re trying to dominate (often using their tone of voice and body language), and they are inclined to displays of power and status;
  • the conversations often have an argumentative tone – there’s a Win/Lose feel to the interaction;
  • their focus is on the task in hand, with little or no attention paid to pleasantries.

Bonobos

Bonobos are very different. They are much more relaxed about their territory. Rather than seeking to dominate, they engage in ‘affable social networking’. Bonobos are much less hierarchical than chimps, and tend to form matriarchal groups.

Bonobos

You know you’re dealing with a bonobo because:

  • their body language is responsive and affirming – lots of smiling and nodding;
  • the conversation is friendly, and relaxed;
  • you get the impression that their primary focus is ‘mutual stroking’, with the task being secondary.

Next time: how to handle each type of monkey (and what they think of you).

 

Karen Stephenson: Social Network Analysis

The Social Network was a hugely successful movie about the founders of Facebook. For a real understanding of social networks, we need to deploy some powerful mathematics, implemented by sophisticated software. Don’t worry, there will be no maths in this blog, but we will look at the founder of the field, corporate anthropologist, Dr Karen Stephenson.

Karen Stephenson

 

Stephenson’s work takes the early history of social networks to a new, modern, scientific level. Her methodology for analysing the networks within and between groups (who may be within and among organisations) leads her to be able to identify points of resilience and points of weakness. Stephenson asserts that social network analysis can help strengthen organisational learning, plan and develop leadership succession, enhance creativity and innovation, and facilitate change.  These capabilities flow from the trusting relationships that networks represent, and those relationships offer the single greatest route, Stephenson would say, to organisational success… or failure.  She describes this as her ‘Quantum Theory of Trust’, about which she has written a book of the same name.

Brief Biography

Karen Stephenson is a polymath, with first degrees in fine art and chemistry, and a doctoral degree in anthropology. She acts as an independent consultant, runs her company, Netform, which conducts social network analysis, and is an academic, currently lecturing at Rotterdam School of Management at Erasmus University. This was preceded by five years at the Harvard School of Design and ten at the UCLA Anderson Graduate School of Management. Her ability to analyse networks made her a valued consultant to the US Government, following the terror attacks in 2001, whom she helped analyse terrorist networks and how they could be weakened.

Social Networks

Stephenson identified six types of knowledge network, that underpin our organisational (and private) lives.

  1. Daily network – whom we see day-to-day
  2. Wider social network – whom we actively stay in touch with
  3. Innovation network – with whom we test out new ideas
  4. Expert network – to whom we go for expertise and knowledge
  5. Strategic network – to whom we go for guidance and advice
  6. Learning network – who help us move from what we know to new knowledge and expertise

Her most widely known contribution is to identify three key roles within all of these networks:

  1. Hubs – who are central to a network of social connections
  2. Gatekeepers – who link social networks together
  3. Pulsetakers – who have strong insights into the group psychology

Social Network

 

You can learn more from a range of valuable resources on the web:

You might also like: The Working Relationships Pocketbook

…and this excellent video from .

A Model of Integrity

I am not sure why, but something made me think of ‘integrity’ when I was pondering what to write about this week.  I wondered if anyone had created a useful model of integrity which could be used as a basis for discussing the topic. I found relatively few in my researches – although a lot of very interesting and thoughtful discussions that could be used readily to create a model.

The Yacht Model

One model that appeared a couple of times in my searches is presented by at least two different businesses with stunningly similar text.  The business may be linked or there may be some borrowing going on, but for me the challenge is to properly credit the model: it may belong to Integrity and Values .com, to Dynamic Creation, or to someone else.  I welcome clarifying comments and claims, below.

Whoever owns it, it is a nice and simple model that captures a lot of what I understand by integrity.  It is re-presented in Pocketblog format below.  While the basic metaphor of a boat is the same, some of the details have been changed to create a different but related model.

Integrity Model

In this model – and I do like the metaphor – integrity is represented by the mast. It ties everything together and allows the boat to function consistently and as a whole.  When the mast is warped, weak or broken, that is no longer the case.

I am no sailor, so I don’t know how well the metaphor works technically, but I do feel indebted to Integrity and Values .com or whoever developed the metaphor for a nice way of representing integrity.

Keeping Promises

I was also struck by an exchange in one of my favourite TV shows, The West Wing, in which one character (it was Josh, if you are also a fan) noted that the problem is not when we fail to keep a promise.  It is when we make a promise that we are not completely sure we will be able to keep.  At the end of the episode, he is asked about something he has said: ‘is that a promise?’ says another character.

‘No’ Josh says. ‘But we’re going to do the best we can.’

That seems fair enough.  If we go on to do just that, and work hard to do the best we can, then that is integrity.

Integrity is when your beliefs, your words, and your actions are all in alignment.