Death and Training

TombstoneDoes the Awareness of Your Own Mortality Create Positive or Negative Reactions?

“Live each day as if it were your last.” 

“Dream as if you’ll live forever, live as though you’ll die today.”

We’ve all heard these quotes.  Is it good advice?  As it turns out, it may not be.  People have varying reactions to the idea of death and their own mortality.  Clearly, humans have trouble thinking about death.  Yet we regularly see exercises that focus on our mortality in training classes–get to know activities and ice breakers.  Two examples…

“If you were to die tomorrow, what would you want your obituary to say?”

“Take ten minutes and write how you would like to be remembered at your memorial service.”

Without truly understanding the research about how people react when thinking about their own mortality we may get a reaction that we’re not looking for.


People use emotions, and anyone that uses emotions to focus his attention must have a healthy fear of death.  A great quote that reflects on this is “one cannot look directly at either the sun or death.”  La Rochefoucauld, 1665

As it turns out, for some people thinking about death can be a positive thing.  The awareness of their own mortality can improve their physical health and their behavior.  It can help them refocus and re-prioritize their values and become clear on their goals.  However, for others it creates anxiety and it reinforces belief systems that may not actually be healthy, positive or productive.  In truth, it’s inconclusive.  People react differently, based on the circumstances.

The research started with studies on how to cope with death and terror management.  Many of these studies have been supported over time and have been criticized over time.  The basic concept is that the anxiety or fear of death pushes people to maintain and sometimes actually strengthen faith in their own beliefs to a point that is often detrimental to others.  In essence, we become more prejudice, xenophobic when we think about our death.

One study looked at judges and put them into two groups.  They asked judges to set the bond for an alleged prostitute.  One group of judges that were just asked to set the bond set an average bond of $50.00.  The judges that were reminded of their mortality before setting the bond set the average bond at $455.00.  So, as you can see from that research study thinking about your death definitely impacts ones behavior.

What about the other side of the coin?  What about the side of the coin that thinking about death is a good thing?  Awareness of your mortality can improve your health and can help you strengthen your goals.  In another study, researchers had people walk through a cemetery which made them think about their death.  In that cemetery they had actors drop a notebook to see who would help that person who dropped the notebook.  In one of the scenarios the researchers had actors nearby talk about the value of helping others prior to the actor dropping the notebook.  When the value of helping others was made clear the number of participants who helped the individual who dropped the notebook was 40% greater than when the value of helping others was not made clear.  What this tells us is that under the right circumstances we can create more tolerance, more compassion and more empathy for one another when we are thinking about our own mortality.

So the next time you are coaching an individual, or running a training class, and you decide to use an exercise that gets participants to think about their own mortality, remember – for some it will be a positive experience and for others it may not, but if you want to increase your odds, make sure you make clear the value of helping others as a part of that process.

To build or not to build? That’s the inclusion question

InclusionInclusion has become an approach to working with employees that are different or have special needs. Typically inclusion efforts are employed because an organization notices that there is a morale issue within a certain group or within the organization as a whole, a legal challenge has been brought forward against the organization, or there has been an effort to organize a union.   Unfortunately, many of the inclusion or diversity efforts fail because they are reactive tactics used to pacify a group or groups.  Even much of the discrimination and harassment training that exists is utilized to stay out of legal trouble or in direct response to a legal issue.  What a large number of organizations fail to see is that a reactive effort to respond to these types of issues actually alienates and disenfranchises many employees.

Employees do not want to be treated well because they are different.  And employees do not want to be treated well because the organization is afraid of an organizing effort. Employees want to feel respected, included and valued, not sometimes, but consistently.  To demonstrate respect, interest and value in your employees on a consistent basis an organization must develop a strong, clear and productive culture.

When a culture lacks clarity and is ambiguous we create many of our inclusion problems.  Amazingly, human nature generally shows that under stress and in ambiguous situations, we fill in the blanks incorrectly or exaggerate; usually toward the negative.  Individuals tend to infused negative motives on the other person(s) or company and provide opinions as facts to support their perspective.

Two consistent aspects of a strong, clear and productive culture are that it builds trust and reduces fear.

Trust has to do with our Present Interest.  The question we should consistently ask ourselves in different situations is “What is my Present Interest?”  If my Present Interest is truly in others meaning the person in front of me, my team, customer then I will create more trust.  The opposite is also true.  If my focus is on myself, Self Interest, then trust levels will be reduced.  Think of it as a continuum.  The more self-interested we are, the more our relationships will suffer or be superficial.  This is due to the fact that we cannot focus on other people and their needs when we are focused on ourselves.  We just cannot be in two places at once.  The challenge we face is that most of us are naturally self-interested; it is human nature.  Our leaders must role model an interest in others for a culture to be built.

Success is about reducing fear and anxiety.  Everyone wants to be a part of a winning team.  But what makes up a winning team? Success has to do with our Present Motive.  The question we should consistently ask ourselves in different situations is “What is my Present Motive?” or “why am I making this decision?” If my Present Motive is centered on Opportunity, meaning I am focused on what is possible then I will create more success.  The opposite is also true.  If my focus is on Risk, then I am trying to reduce my liabilities and will create less success or achievement. We know that this, too, is a continuum.  The less we are able to work through our fears, the more likely we will be unsuccessful.  There are two reasons for this phenomenon.  The first reason is based on the concept that we cannot focus on opportunities when we are too worried or about risk.  The second reason is if we act on our fear, the very thing we fear most will come true.

The reality is that many of our company cultures have reacted too much to our national culture of litigation.  We spend a great deal of time focusing on how not to get sued or called on the carpet by a government agency.  By responding to the current climate in this way we tend to create the very problem we wanted to avoid.  Cultures that focus on creating an incredible place to work typically have less inclusion problems and less legal issues.

Here are some tips on creating a culture that is more inclusive:

  • Create a leadership development process and program that is mandatory for all leaders
  • Develop a process for selecting the most appropriate leaders and not just promote those who are good individual contributors
  • Ask employees for feedback on a regular basis including the use of 360 feedback tools and engagement surveys
  • Encourage people to talk face to face when possible rather than use email
  • Discourage multi-tasking by asking people to work on the 20% that creates 80% of the impact rather than on everything
  • Transparency. Transparency.  Transparency.  Secrets are cancer.  While you cannot share everything…share as much as you can, as soon as you can.
  • Communicate, communicate, communicate.  In multiple ways and multiple times.  Messages must be heard often to stick
  • Get to know your employees.  Know who they not just what they do.  We tend to include those we understand.

Remember we spend more time at work then we do with our families.  Our organizations are more than a workplace they are a home. Our organizations should be a place where everyone we hire feels like they have a place and space, feel involved, included and respected. A place where there are shared norms, goals and expectations.  A place where you can feel free to be yourself and are valued for your uniqueness.    And a place where you feel safe.  Ask yourself, how many of our employees consistently feel like they are a part of a family and have a place in our workplace home?

Originally published in: Words on Wise

I Will Huff and I’ll Puff! The Challenge of Re-Engagement!

3 Little PigsRe-engagement: Coming Back from a Difficult Time and Culture in an Organization

We have said that engagement begins with the individual, grows among team members, and shapes the future of the organization. However, this is not always a smooth progression. What happens when there is a loss of engagement? The loss may be due to a difficult relationship or event, or the more far-reaching impact of a culture shift in the entire organization.

How do we re-build when there is not only a lack of trust, but a loss of trust? Can the promises that once worked create a sense of confidence among employees who are “once bitten, twice shy”?

There is good news and bad news about re-engagement. To offer the bad news first, regaining trust has special challenges. The process must begin with an understanding of what went wrong, and the dedications to make the necessary changes to be sure it won’t happen again. As in the story of the “three little pigs,”  the right materials must be found to make sure the house isn’t “blown down” each time a storm of controversy arrives at the door.

The process of identifying the problems and their impact must be sensitive to the fact that different people may have been affected in different ways by the events that created the loss of engagement. Those affected by the problems and those responsible for them must find a way to identify solutions which everyone can accept, in spite of their differences.

It is only as plans to move forward and implement the solutions materialize, that there is the opportunity to re-establish a spirit of engagement. The good news is that as this happens, there is the opportunity to reap the rewards of what has been learned to create a stronger and more “storm proof” environment for the future. Individuals will be able to apply what they have learned about themselves, their team members, and the organization, as they seek to make a greater contribution. Heroes can emerge in this process who had not assumed this role before. Employees can assume a greater commitment to not only create a spirit of engagement, but to recognize its fragility, and their role in building the engagement culture “brick by brick” each day. In this way, employees can see how their contribution is needed more than ever to keep their work environment safe and sound.

As with individuals, fluctuations in engagement in an organization are inevitable. They create difficulties, but also opportunities for insight and growth. They point to weaknesses, and highlight areas of strength. The important thing is to approach them with more engagement and openness, not less, and to build engagement strength through increased resistance. In this way, employees will not to be left with no structure to support them, like the pigs in the woods!

In building your culture of engagement, it is important to discuss in advance what you will do when the wolf comes to the door. What are the values and outcomes you will protect at all cost? How are individuals in your engaged culture empowered to identify and communicate concerns before they increase in size? What resources are dedicated to reviewing the issues of concern and determining what action, if any, should be taken? How will this process be monitored? What result is anticipated, and how will this contribute to the success of the organization and its engagement  culture?

Dr. Edward Morler, an organizational psychologist who works with leadership teams, refers to “integration” or “disintegration” in describing individual personality characteristics. His point is that as individuals assume a more “win-win” mentality, they adopt the best characteristics of other personality types. On the other hand, if they are less committed to what is best for others, they may adopt some of the less desirable characteristics of other personality types.

The challenges faced by an organization suffering a loss of engagement present the opportunity for the to move to a more “win-win” environment, adopting new positive characteristics along the way..  It is a process that requires patience and commitment, but is well worth the effort.

What challenges to engagement does your organization face? How are they addressed? In what ways can they help you to become better, and stronger in your commitment to engagement, than before?

Engagement is Collaboration: Art in the Making

Underwater SculptureLast week I said…”It has been said that human beings use only a small amount of their true abilities, cognitively as well as in their roles at work, in performing their duties each day. If each of us can do so much more, can you imagine what highly engaged people can do in teams? However, every bit of the benefit of teamwork depends upon collaboration – an art that has been lost as we focus on what we can do individually.”

This week I want to highlight what is possible when we do have a higher mission than ourselves and we can cut our self-interest enough to truly collaborate.  Watch the video below that highlights what can happen when two parties collaborate not quarrel.  It will surprise you!


All Salute and No Shoot! What we Have Here is a Failure to Collaborate.

It has been said that human beings use only a small amount of their true abilities, cognitively as well as in their roles at work, in performing their duties each day. If each No Violenceof us can do so much more, can you imagine what highly engaged individuals can do in teams? However, every bit of the benefit of teamwork depends upon collaboration – an art that has been lost as we focus on what we can do individually.

The lack of ability to collaborate often shows up most clearly in the political or legislative process, where agreement if not true collaboration is required to gain approval. In this environment, attention is given to issues that are used to inspire emotion in order to win people over to a cause or point of view. One of the recent examples of such an issue, which has been a challenge for some time, is violence in our society.  This was most recently brought to light because of the tragic circumstances in Newtown, CT.

In a truly engaged environment, such issues would be recognized for high levels of collaboration and dialog. A shared focus on what is best for all involved would prevail. The objective would be identified and would guide discussions that consider all points of view.  However that is far from what happened after Sandy Hook and other incidents.

Both sides started in immediately.  People on the side of gun control wanted all sorts of things to occur such as a ban on all guns.  Others on the opposite side of the argument viewed any discussion regarding gun control as an act of tyranny.  The irony is that the conversations that have occurred have generally limited our ability to solve the problems we face and rarely honored those that were victims.

We might imagine that in such a situation, those concerned would focus on the issue we all share, that of safety and security for our homes, families and businesses. We would also consider the importance of Constitutional rights and civil liberties. Instead of asking for gun control or protesting against it, we could imagine starting with an inclusive question such as… “How can we make this society safer and less violent while attempting to maintain our civil liberties in the process?”

We have a much better chance addressing the “real issues” from this starting point as opposed to the divisive one that has been used.  And I mean “used” in its most derogatory form.

These decisions, of course, do not occur in a vacuum. If we are not collaborative in the larger vision for our country our ability to make good choices is compromised.  We see this behavior very quickly crawling and spreading into our boardrooms, schools and living rooms. Our leaders, cable channels, networks, newspapers and magazines have fostered a win at all costs, they are the enemy, half truth version of the truth. And many of us have bought in hook, line and sinker.  We cannot talk about issues anymore.  People are afraid they will be labeled, called names or worse ostracized.  Of course, conversations happen among the like minded, but that only serves to increase the barriers between us.  We see others in caricature form.  So, where the issue appears to be a stand-alone opportunity, it is clearly a beacon showing us the importance of having a culture of engagement and collaboration, nationally, organizationally, and individually.

This example highlights something important about the relationship between collaboration and freedom. The greater collaboration and engagement in our society, the less likely we are to take the easy road of straight compromise or the road to nowhere based on the lack of willingness to compromise. Collaboration…real collaboration leads to new ideas and innovation.  That is what this country is based on.  A new idea.  That is what our economic success has been based on.  New ideas.  Let’s return to that important principle.  We must open our minds and our arms.  We must start our conversations collaboratively and inclusively focusing on opportunity rather than fear and on what is possible rather than why it won’t work.

As you seek to create value in your organization, what opportunities do you have to collaborate? Is there a process in place to support this effort? Is the process flexible enough to meet the needs for which it is designed? As you seek to go the extra mile, do you help others do the same? What are the larger issues in your organization that can be addressed by collaboration, and what freedoms are at risk because of the inability to collaborate? How are you “taking aim” to protect the freedoms that support the opportunity for engagement and trust?  How have you made it safe for everyone to speak openly regardless of who they are, where they are from, what part of the organization they work in, and their willingness to challenge the status quo?

Customer Engagement is not a Bait and Switch!!!

I just got an email that says “Thank you” in the subject line.  Great who could it be from and why are they saying thank you.

The first line in the email says…”We love having you as a customer.”

And then it states, “We’d like to thank you for being our customer. To show our appreciation…”

Doesn’t that sound great?  They want to demonstrate their gratitude.  Well, actually, they want to sell me something.

The rest of the email continues…“we want to tell you about this special offer on…”

Talk about having the opposite effect.  If you want to thank me then thank me.  If you want to demonstrate appreciation then provide a gift of some kind.  But do not say you want to and then try and sell me another service.  It is disingenuous!  It is self interested!  And it is inauthentic!

Customer engagement and loyalty require transparency, authenticity and a sincere interest in your customer.  Let’s leave these old sales tricks that are outdated where they belong…in the past.