Thursday, June 26, 2014

Do you find it easy to talk to your CEO?

Can you talk comfortably with your CEO and senior management?

Can you relate to this?

One of this Blog's readers, let's call her Sue, recently wrote to me:

"I wonder why we sometimes avoid speaking with people our senior at work? When I changed positions and organisations I vowed that I would be more open to people my senior in the workplace. This was for two reasons: first to be more approachable and second to further my career by being 'top of mind' so to speak. But again this hasn't happened very easily. I still avoid speaking with the CEO, so is it to do with a fear of rejection of some sort?

In one position I had held for a long time I had no fear of the CEO and ended up doing an interview with them for an assignment I was doing about leadership styles. I felt very comfortable in that organisation and had a good depth of knowledge so was very much an 'expert in my field'.

But I would like to be able to join an organisation and feel comfortable speaking with seniors even without a so called 'expert' hat on.

I wondered if you could shed some light on this, or whether other people may have approached you with the same issue."

How's your EQ?

As I read through Sue's email, a number of thoughts were running through my mind. My first response is ‘well done Sue' for recognising that her ‘fear' and discomfort may not only make some work relationships uncomfortable but also could be career limiting.

There is no doubt in my mind that success and indeed strong leadership at work is built on good relationships and the capacity to have them. This depends on the ability to communicate well with people at all levels of the organisation up, down and laterally.

To make the journey up the career ladder, expertise and skill are essential but are, in my view, simply the platform from which other much more important capabilities must spring or develop.

I am, of course, talking about emotional intelligence. Most readers know that the core skills of EQ are:

    the ability to recognise what emotions we are experiencing and when;

    how they impact us and others, and to manage both those impacts;

    to recognise what emotions others are experiencing;

    to understand how that might be affecting them; and then

    to take all that information into account in whatever decisions are made and/or actions carried out.

EQ also involves resilience, motivation and persistence. I think that a heap of courage is also involved particularly in situations like Sue's.

Check out your amygdala

Sue is certainly sufficiently self-aware to know that an emotion, probably fear, is impacting her ability to develop rapport with people her senior at work. Her next step is to see where that is coming from and then to manage it.

Sue says she has had both successful and not so successful experiences with CEOs before. When it was successful, Sue said she had no fear and "was very much an 'expert in my field'". So is it fear of not being seen as having expertise that is holding Sue back?

We know that The Almond Effect® can cause us to react inappropriately or retreat from an invalidly perceived threat.

So Sue should be looking into the emotions she is experiencing and asking ‘Where did that come from?' In fact to assist her, I'm going to send Sue a copy of my e-book Where Did That Come From? How To Stay In Control In Any Situation. Proven Tips To Manage The Almond Effect®

Of course, I would encourage Sue to continue to build her expertise.

See them as a person first

In addition my advice to Sue would be to stop thinking about the title or level that someone has in the organisation. Instead train yourself to see them first and foremost as people with jobs to do.

When Sue meets these people, she should take a genuine interest in what they are doing; ask or say something about that and think of/suggest ways in which she can help them achieve their goals. Sue can talk about what work she is doing that is contributing to the overall goals of the organisation.


If Sue feels uncomfortable initially about that, she should at least find out what else interests the CEO and other senior people so that she can make a comment about that.

A key component about the ability to build relationships and to influence others, is 'likeability', i.e. that we like and respond to people who are like ourselves. That makes sense from an evolutionary perspective - we are not threatened by members of our own ‘tribe'.

I think Sue should also actively confront her ‘fear' and seek out the opportunity to work directly with the senior people. When this happens Sue needs to get information from the senior people about how they like to be worked with!

If Sue does this, she will immediately improve the quality of her dealings with senior people - she is giving them what they want and in the way that they want it. It will also diminish her fears as she has removed uncertainty about whether she is doing the right thing.

I have a small presentation on Managing Upwards if you want to this information. Email me if you would like a copy.


Some of you have attended my workshops where we talk about not only what The Almond Effect® is but also how to manage it. In essence you need to be a STAR:

= S: = When you catch yourself getting worked up or feel an unhelpful emotion coming on, like fear, anger, frustration, STOP. Stop yourself from immediately reacting. Take a deep breath. Count to 10 - whatever it takes.

= T: = Then THINK about what is really going on. What are the consequences/ outcomes you really want to come from this situation?

= A: = Then ACT - do whatever you have decided is the best thing to do for the outcomes you would want outside the heat of the moment.

= R: = Finally reflect and review what went on. Where did the reaction come from? What caused it? How can you learn to manage that reaction in future? In other words, how can you REWIRE your amygdala?

Stop - Think - Act - Rewire.

Sue will be a STAR in future I'm sure.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Does life sometimes catch you by surprise?

Life's little surprises sometimes catch us out. It's usually a consequence of failed expectations.

Great expectations

Some of you will think I'm crazy. Mark and I set off for three days to the Neptune Islands, off Port Lincoln in South Australia. These islands are famous for Great White Sharks!

We were going diving with Andrew Fox, the son of Rodney Fox who survived a horrendous Great White Shark attack and later advised on the Jaws movies.

As soon as we left Port Lincoln, the crew began chumming. A dead tuna was hung off the back of the boat so that its blood dripped into the sea around us. Soon after the crew attached a big bucket of tuna blood and guts to the back of the boat so that this too, washed into the ocean, to attract the White Pointers.

We were full of anticipation. Even though we would be in a cage, and even though I was standing on the deck of the ship, my amygdala had my heart beating much faster than usual as I scanned the ocean for big dorsal fins. You recognize this as The Almond Effect®!

Shark bait

Day one - no sharks sighted yet. We dropped anchor and geared up to go down in the cage to check out what was below. The water was freezing - 14C!

And as I entered the cage, my heart started to race.

So using my STAR model (Stop-Think-Act-Rewire), I stopped and thought about what was going on. My pre-frontal cortex (PFC) reminded me that I was safe in the cage but I still had to convince my amygdala with slow, deep, rhythmic breathing.

Safely down at 15 meters we saw bull rays, giant cuttlefish, big blue groper, and handfed lots of jacks and other fish - but no sharks.

Day two - the sea was turning red and still no sharks. So to pass the time we decided to land on one of the islands to look at the baby seals.

We have been privileged to be near seals previously so we knew how to behave next to these lovely animals. When we came upon a small group of them, I immediately sat down low and still on the rocks.

They were about 5 metres away. One of the baby seals gently started moving towards me. I was excited as I thought it might nuzzle me.

Wrong! Instead of nuzzling me it bit me on my leg, painfully! Talk about false expectations!

The role of expectations

And this surprise encounter reminded me of the work of Robert Coghill and also Lorimer Moseley. Both are neuroscience researchers in the field of pain and their work includes the impact of expectations on the level or experience of pain that we have.

In other words they ask the question: how does what goes on in our brain affect what we feel? How do our expectations impact our reactions?

I heard both of these men speak at several NeuroLeadership summits. Although they research on different continents, their message is the same: basically you feel what you expect to feel.

Indeed Coghill told us that he has found that, due to the impact of their expectations, patients can experience a reduction in pain equivalent to 0.08mg/kg morphine.

A similar well known and documented outcome is The Placebo Effect. This is when a patient's symptoms are altered in someway (usually beneficially) when they take an inert substance (e.g. a sugar pill) expecting and/or believing it will work. In essence, expectations and desire are key components of The Placebo Effect.

Application to the workplace

What can we draw from this for the workplace? It seems to me that if the neuroscientists can prove that expectations have a measurable impact on physical pain and can even positively impact physiological disorders, then one day neuroscientists will be able to prove what we already know intuitively, that our expectations have a great deal to do with our psychological pain including disappointment, frustration and anxiety at work.

I am particularly thinking about the implications for the way managers motivate and lead their staff through change and experiences such as performance reviews.

Expectations depend on individual experiences

If a nurse approaches you with a large needle and says" this won't hurt a bit" -depending on your past experiences, it may hurt you a lot or not at all. For another person faced with the same situation, what they experience will not be the same as you. In each case, how you react will depend on your past history with needles, the present context and what you perceive are the future implications of the jab.

Similarly if your manager says to you: ‘the new system will make your life easier', or ‘this restructure will cut costs and make us more competitive', or ‘no jobs will be lost in this merger' or ‘performance reviews are a two way discussion of how we can work together better in the future' - again how you and other team members respond will depend on each individual's past experiences of this kind of event (wherever they may have happened), the present context and what your brain predicts will be the future implications.

Everyone is different. Just as we each respond differently to physical pain depending on a range of variables, environmental, emotional and cognitive, so too we all perceive what happens at work differently.

One size doesn't fit all

The message for managers is clear - we can't manage everyone in the same way. We need to discover as much as we can about our people, their experiences, their motivations, their aspirations, their expectations.

We also need to think about ways to give our people training in the skills they need to be able to better manage their own reactions to events which do or could cause them psychological pain.

Neuroscientists and others are developing and using neurofeedback devices (in contrast to biofeedback) to train people to alter their brainwave patterns to achieve the optimal state for whatever it is they are being trained for.

To date the research shows that neurofeedback has some success for people with ADHD (attention deficit) and it is reported that it is also being used with sports people to improve their performance.


Teaching them STAR skills is a great way to start the process. Let me know if I can help you and your team develop the skills to Stop-Think-Act-Rewire.

Day 3

Our expectations and excitement are shattered. Despite doing everything possible (including snorkeling with seals) we didn't attract any Great Whites. So we headed for home.

And clearly the next time we go - and yes we will go looking for the Great Whites again - our experience will be different because, based on past history, we know we might not see them.

And maybe if I get bitten by a seal again, based on my revised expectations, it won't hurt as much!


The impact of The Almond Effect, ANTs and STARs is enormous. The teams now have a common language to support each other and support our customer interactions." Michelle Bevan, General Manager, Customer Service Division, ICAA __________________________________

Thursday, June 05, 2014

Using EQ to cope with complexity and chaos

One billion people practising Emotional Intelligence by  2039. That's Joshua Freedman's goal. if we get there, it will change the world.

Watch Joshua talk about it @TedxSantaCruz talk