Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Clues Emotions spread like viruses

‘I‘d like my life back

When Tony Hayward, CEO of BP at the time of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill said these words, millions of people shuddered. It was a careless, stupid and thoughtless thing to say when the human, environmental and economic cost of the BP disaster is almost incalculable.

His apparent insensitivity was made emphasised by reports and footage taken of him sailing off the Isle of Wight shortly after.

I doubt anyone felt sorry for him though if you know about The Almond Effect®, you’ll know where that statement came from.

The Almond Effect® - Lack of judgment

His words and actions showed a complete lack of judgment. It was The Almond Effect® in full force. Tired, battered, desperate for a solution and an end to the disaster, Hayward wasn’t thinking. His emotional brain was talking.

This was a very public example of the need we all have to manage our amygdala and develop the skills to think before we speak or act.

Split second actions

Can you, like me, think of times when you wish you could go back in time and regain the opportunity to do or say something differently?

The email or SMS sent too quickly, the words that just tumbled out of your mouth, the inappropriate facial expression or body language, the action you regret – all happening in a split second, without thinking, just reacting – like Hayward.
Not stopping to think about the impact of what you say or do on others.

Do you use one-liners and throw-away lines?

One-liners and throw-away lines fall into the same category. The words are probably meant to be funny but instead make the target of the remarks and people around at the time cringe? It’s another example of our amygdala talking, it’s certainly not the thinking brain unless we rationally intend to do emotional harm.

Emotions spread like viruses

In addition to the stupidity of the words, there is another element to Hayward’s blunder that is almost as scary – and it impacts all of us who want to bring about change at work. It is the speed with which Hayward’s gaffe, and the negative emotions associated with it, spread around the globe.

We know that emotions are contagious. People catch emotions the way they catch a cold.

Now add the power of global media and social networking into the mix.

How long does it take a negative comment in your place to spread? How many of your people are on Facebook, twitter or simply SMS. In addition to the chatter, facial expressions and body language, all it takes is a phone.

Lessons for leaders

When you take on the role of leader, I believe you also take on the responsibility to watch every word that comes out of your mouth, especially when you’re tired, stressed, having a bad day, had an argument at home or simply that your coffee tastes awful.

Learn the skills to recognise your triggers and ANTs before your amygdala precipitates you into saying or doing something you regret or that negatively impacts changes you are trying to bring about in your organisation.

This skill that will not only make you a leader that people want to follow but it will significantly enhance your career.