emotional intelligence

Playing well is a vital skill at any age

Hold hands, & stick together = playing well

For many of us, September is when our children head back to school wearing a backpack full of new pencils, erasers, notebooks, and folders. We attend Open House to meet our child’s new teachers and to understand the expectations for the new academic year. Regardless of your child’s grade, the constant theme is one of collaboration and teamwork. For the elementary levels, this goal is shared in Robert Fulghum’s poem “All I Really Need To Know I Learned In Kindergarten” as ‘play fair’, and is outlined in a high school’s 21st-century learning framework as a specific skill.

Either way, collaboration, and teamwork are important skills for students to practice before entering the workforce, as they will need to rely on other people to succeed. It also serves as a reminder to those who have many years of work experience (and know the trials and tribulations of teamwork) that teamwork skills need to be continuously honed for mastery. Research by Alex “Sandy” Pentland found that the most important predictor of a team’s success is its communication patterns. These patterns are as significant as all other factors – intelligence, personality, and talent – combined.

At Bridging Distance, we found similar themes in our work. Our research shows that advanced communication dynamics in virtual teams significantly improved their ability to work well together and produce results faster. This is evident in successful virtual teams. By helping build explicit processes and critical skills, members stay energized and engaged in their work together. These processes center on getting the right information to the right people at the right time, via the right technology; it means expectations for posting documents and messages in a repository. This allows each team member to find what they need when they need it, without searching cluttered inboxes at a later date. It also means defining what types of situations are more urgent, and require a more immediate response. Posting updates and status allows communication dynamics to be a dialog about the significance of the information. These interactions tend to more interesting, and therefore more engaging to team members. It means the right people attend meetings, while those who only need to have updates can confidently and respectfully spend their time elsewhere.

Our research also shows that people with excellent digital communication habits are significantly happier in their jobs, therefore more productive. Managing digital interruptions is key; balancing responding to others versus staying present in the moment means you can be fully attentive to your current activity. Being curious about the environment of others paves the way to learning what you don’t know. Teaching leaders how to foster rapport across Distance enables them to motivate Millennials, communicate with a multicultural team, and respond quickly to change.

Technology dehumanizes relationships; our work helps re-humanize them. We use a simple tool for diagnosing root cause in digital workplace environment called The Distance Lens™. Viewing workplace performance through Interpersonal, Organizational, Physical, and Technological differences allow us to provide solutions to fix problem areas without inadvertently breaking ones that work well.

Bridging Distance provides behavioral-based solutions for companies to manage existing or anticipated distance complexities that impact employee performance. Through a combination of proprietary assessments, evidenced-based workshops, and customized coaching, Bridging Distance develops and maximizes employee engagement to accelerate productivity, profitability and employee retention.

So, heed Robert’s advice from Kindergarten and “when you go out into the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands, and stick together.” Partnering with Bridging Distance will build your pathways to move forward together.

The Curse of Knowledge

Here is a great little experiment for you to try on your next lunch break:

Think of a popular song like “Mary Had a Little Lamb” or “Happy Birthday” or your national anthem.  Without revealing the name of your song, try to tap out the rhythm of the song while someone else listens and guesses it.

It’s harder than it would seem because of ….(cue dramatic music and thunder clap)… The Curse of Knowledge.  You cannot tap the rhythm of the song without hearing the song in your mind, and it’s extraordinary difficult to believe that your listener doesn’t inherently share this “insider knowledge”.  Once you have that knowledge you can’t “un-know” it any easier than you can un-ring a bell.

Go ahead.   Give it a try.  See if you can tap “Mary Had a Little Lamb” without hearing it in your mind.  While you’re sitting there, enjoying the full ensemble, tapping merrily away, you’re likely wondering why it’s taking your dimwitted listener so long to figure it out.

But your listener isn’t dimwitted.  He simply doesn’t have the same “insider information” that you do.  From his vantage point, he’s listening to random tapping that might as well have come from pecking chickens.

In 1990, Elizabeth Newton earned her PhD. from Stanford University with this very experiment.  She took it to the next level by requiring the “Tappers” to estimate how often they believed they could get their message across.  They estimated that the Listeners would accurately guess their songs 50% of the time (1 in 2).  The actual success rate was 2.5% (1 in 40).

How does this apply to you?

Are you ever frustrated when your employees, teammates, or managers don’t “get” your ideas (or message)?  Perhaps, you — like the Tappers (like all of us, really)– inherently assume that some parts of your idea are obvious.  Once you “know” something, it is difficult to imagine what it was like to not know it.  You cannot imagine what it is like for the tappers to hear the tapping in isolation, without the benefit of hearing the song in their head.  You are “cursed”.

Practical Steps to Thwart the Curse

  1. Keep it Simple.  Begin with the basics, and add detail as the idea takes hold.
  2. Step out of your head.  Knowing that you hear the full score and your listener doesn’t can help you to create a more concrete message that is more fully understood.
  3. Be patient.  Ask your listener what additional information they need.  By working together, you can both eventually “sing the same song”.

Did you try it?  How did it go?

Save Our InBoxes!

Email overload.  It’s getting out of hand.  We spend an alarming amount of time each and every day simply responding to email messages.

Why?  And, more importantly, What can we EACH do to reduce this problem?

For years, we have been coaching people, teams, and organizations on the importance of managing email.  We have helped countless groups establish protocols that have helped to increase productivity and to unchain people from their ever-growing inboxes.

But it’s not enough.  Current research has shown that the average amount of time that each person spends during their workday on email is growing.

We need to get the word out, and here’s an excellent resource that can help you today.

It’s called the Email Charter.

The core principle in action is that every single one of us has to take responsibility for reducing the amount of time spent on email by our colleagues.  Here’s problem, as viewed through this lens:

For each email that you write, you are creating “work” for others.  Our instincts tell us it takes longer to write than to read, so reading an email should take less time than it did to write it, right?  Wrong. It takes longer to respond to an email than it does to write.  Here’s why:

When you “check your mail”, your process is more apt to be like:  scan your inbox; decide what to open; open it; read it; think about whether you need to respond or not; compose the response; edit your response; send your response.

Every time you engage in this process, you are removing yourself from your flow of work, you are diverting your attention and it takes time to regain that rhythm.

Now, think about this — every time you compose an email message, you are creating the same interruption of work for someone else.  Here are some very common email “habits” that add to the overloading of our inboxes and unnecessary consumption of our collective time:

  • Open-ended questions that are time-consuming to answer.  For example, “What are your thoughts on this?”, “How do you think we should proceed?”  Quick to ask, not-so-quick to answer.
  • “CC” – so easy to click and add multiple recipients, but each additional recipient exponentially increases the amount of time your email is consuming.
  • “FW” – forwarding and/or cutting and pasting text from other resources creates an increasing burden of time as your recipient scrolls, reads, and sorts through to find the salient points.
  • Links and videos – easy to add, but each link and video can take minutes to view.

We love the internet.  We love our email.  It takes an iron will not to linger and peruse all the wonderful, distracting nuances of the world wide web, and to share our discoveries with others, and they with us.  “Just copy a link, paste, and send … and boom, the world’s cognitive capacity takes another hit!”

All of these things contribute to the massive consumption of our work week.  We need to get it under control and we need to do so now.  I don’t recall any of my job descriptions (ever) including “checking email” as a line item, and yet, when I’m not careful, it can consume my day.

Book Your Email Vacation Now!

Email ‘vacations’ decrease stress, increase concentration

UCI findings could boost on-the-job productivity

— Irvine, Calif., May 03, 2012 —

Being cut off from work email significantly reduces stress and allows employees to focus far better, according to a new study by UC Irvine and U.S. Army researchers.

Heart rate monitors were attached to computer users in a suburban office setting, while software sensors detected how often they switched windows. People who read email changed screens twice as often and were in a steady “high alert” state, with more constant heart rates. Those removed from email for five days experienced more natural, variable heart rates.

“We found that when you remove email from workers’ lives, they multitask less and experience less stress,” said UCI informatics professor Gloria Mark. She co-authored the study, “A Pace Not Dictated by Electrons,” with UCI assistant project scientist Stephen Voida and Army senior research scientist Armand Cardello. The UCI team will present the work Monday, May 7, at the Association for Computing Machinery’s Computer-Human Interaction Conference in Austin, Texas.

The study was funded by the Army and the National Science Foundation. Participants were computer-dependent civilian employees at the Army’s Natick Soldier Systems Center outside Boston. Those with no email reported feeling better able to do their jobs and stay on task, with fewer stressful and time-wasting interruptions.  Measurements bore that out, Mark said. People with email switched windows an average of 37 times per hour. Those without changed screens half as often – about 18 times in an hour.

She said the findings could be useful for boosting productivity and suggested that controlling email login times, batching messages or other strategies might be helpful. “Email vacations on the job may be a good idea,” she noted. “We need to experiment with that.”

Mark said it was hard to recruit volunteers for the study, but “participants loved being without email, especially if their manager said it was OK. In general, they were much happier to interact in person.”

Getting up and walking to someone’s desk offered physical relief too, she said. Other research has shown that people with steady “high alert” heart rates have more cortisol, a hormone linked to stress. Stress on the job, in turn, has been linked to a variety of health problems.

Study subjects worked in a variety of positions and were evenly split between women and men. The only downside to the experience was that the individuals without email reported feeling somewhat isolated. But they were able to garner critical information from colleagues who did have email.

The Army is examining use of smartphones and such applications as email for soldiers on battlefields, said David Accetta, spokesman for the Natick facility’s research and development section. “This data may very well prove helpful,” he said.

About the University of California, Irvine: Founded in 1965, UCI is a top-ranked university dedicated to research, scholarship and community service. Led by Chancellor Michael Drake since 2005, UCI is among the most dynamic campuses in the University of California system, with nearly 28,000 undergraduate and graduate students, 1,100 faculty and 9,000 staff. Orange County’s second-largest employer, UCI contributes an annual economic impact of $4 billion. For more UCI news, visitwww.today.uci.edu.

Email Overload

What’s going on here?

Our research, completed in 2010, revealed that the average person spends 30 minutes PER DAY deleting, or thinking about deleting, email!!

When did email become our work product and why do we have so much?!  It’s getting out of hand.

No one expects you to be a drone and tap away at your computer endlessly, tied to your machine for every minute of every day, but 3o minutes deleting email?  Over the course of a standard work-week, that’s 2 1/2 hours.  In a month, 10 hours; in a year 120 (15 eight-hour workdays).  That’s a lot of time you’ll never get back.  And that’s just you.  Multiply that over your project team, department, or company, and you just might feel a little ill.

Why?  Why do we get so much email that we don’t read?  I’m not talking about email lists that you sign up for giving you the latest sales from your favorite store.  Those aren’t counted in this research.  This research focused specifically on work-related email messages that were sent by real people to real people.

Does this mean that, even after all this time, many people still don’t understand how to use email effectively?  Yes, indeed it does.

What can you do?  They answers are not as simple as they appear on the surface (as is true for our most persistent problems).  For the sake of this article, we’re going to take a look at how a simple shift in your attitude toward email can help reduce the number of unwanted messages that you send and receive.

First, understand the purpose of the “TO” and “CC” fields. “TO” requires action.  “CC” requires none, it is a “for your information only” indicator.

Second, use “CC” sparingly.  Sending your manager or team leader multiple messages every week in which no action is required from them is just an annoying way to say, “look, Boss, I’m doing my job!”; “look at me!  look at me!”; “still here, working away!”  like some yappy little dog.  If you don’t feel trusted to get your work done, then that’s a different conversation you need to have face to face with your team lead.

Finally, resist the temptation to “CC” your team lead / manager whenever you feel a dispute is in the works and you want an “official” record of your position. This culture of “CYA” – “cover your … ahem, derriere” leads to unnecessary email messages and wasted time.  Take your dispute off-line and work it out in person.  It will be infintely better, trust me.

We get too much email.  We send too much email.  We delete too much email.  But it doesn’t have to be that way.  Start taking control through the judicious use of the “CC” field.

This article is the first in a series designed to help reduce your email overload.  Please share with us any comments / stories you have about your own email situation.

Review: The Power of Reputation

The Power of Reputation by Chris Komisarjevksy, Amazon, 224 pages, $16.50

Here is a book review by Brianna Snyder of Women@Work.

Reputation Matters

How to manage your most important brand – you!

By Brianna Snyder/Women@Work

We’ve all been in the business of reputation management since middle and high school. Back when we were concerned with popularity and how we were received at the dance, at gym, at the cafeteria, we were all — some more clumsily than others — learning how to navigate the choppy and awkward waters of social interaction and public persona. We know now how crucial those lessons were to how we became grownups.

What Chris Komisarjevsky explores in his book The Power of Reputation is the importance of reputation to your business and your career. Reputation, he says, is trickily personal andprofessional — “One thing is for sure: there really isn’t any distinction between our personal and our professional reputations,” he says — which brings the challenge of figuring out what’s sharable in the workplace and what’s best kept at home.

The key, says Komisarjevsky, is to be genuine. In other words, be your engaged, interested, competent and sincere self. The writer shares anecdotes throughout the book (both personal and from colleagues and friends) to reinforce the idea that a reputation is the soul of a career. The writer breaks down what a reputation is and means, how it’s built on caring and respect, values and good communication. He incorporates the still-new challenges of social media and managing your online reputation and emphasizes the need to be mindful of the consequences of Facebook and blogs. He calls this “the double-edged sword of the digital world” — you can use these digital places to enhance an already-good reputation or watch in disbelief as these same places dismantle it.

We all know what makes our mechanic the best mechanic, our dentist or lawyer the best dentists and lawyers — these are the people we trust not just to be honest with us (though that’s infinitely valuable) but to do a good job. We trust that they know how to do their work, that they’re well-practiced and careful, and that they care about their jobs and us, whether they’re mending a tooth or a flat tire. They value our time and they do their jobs well. That alone is enough of a foundation for a great reputation.

Notable Quote:

“We are in an era in which the demand for candor, understanding and clarity of purpose is greater than ever before. Transparency creates confidence and underscores authenticity.”

Instant Recall:

  • Research what you’re selling — whether it’s you or your product — “to the point at which you believe there is nothing better out there.”
  • Talk to people. Let them know you care about them and their needs. Listen to them.
  • Respect your clients and your colleagues. The more you give, the more you get.
  • Be personal and personable at work; share your interests, passions and ideas.

Read this book if…

You’re just starting a new job or business, or even if you’re beginning to think about who you are in your career, what your personal “brand” might be.

Virtual Meeting Confusion

Virtual Meeting ConfusionIt never fails to amaze us how many different places people can be in and yet have the ability to come together for a common cause.  The virtual meeting.  It’s fantastic!

Companies and people have the freedom and the technology to truly be flexible.  We can — and do — meet with people around the globe without ever getting on an airplane.

Most of us take this for granted.  The fantastic has become the pedestrian.

We are reminded that everything has its pros and cons.

One stumbling block that our coaches are constantly asked to provide answers for is the challenge of everyone talking at once in a virtual meeting.

This can, and does, happen in any meeting, anywhere.  When everyone is in a room together people exchange looks — someone shrugs, someone else gestures for the most-anxious looking participant to continue — the meeting resumes.

The massive quantity and quality of unspoken body language transmitted between people is glaringly obvious in its absence.

What do you do when everyone is in their own space, shouting at their computer screen, tablet, or smartphone?

The critical first question you have to ask yourself is:

Is everyone excited or is everyone disagreeing?

Either way, you need to reign everyone in and re-establish a conversational flow.  If the former, you must do so without dampening that invaluable enthusiasm.  If the latter, you need to ensure that everyone’s voice is heard in a professional manner.

Specifically:

1.  Reclaim the floor with a simple phrase like, “Hang on!  I want to hear everyone’s opinion, so I’m going to call on each of you, one at a time.”

2.  Use this opportunity to call on the people you know to be a little more hesitant to join in the fray, but who have good insights and contributions.

3.  Continue to call on each person until everyone has been heard and the meeting is back on track.

Thank you for reading and we’d love to hear about your experiences in virtual meetings.  Why not get the conversation started?

En Garde! Dueling Loyalties

By nature, a matrix is flexible and allows people to come together when their experience, expertise, or knowledge is best suited for the project at hand.  It allows project leaders access to resources they wouldn’t have if they were limited to those people reporting directly to them in a traditional supervisor / employee structure.

The very flexibility that makes this a viable structure, also leads to the following challenges:

  • The lack of clarity makes people unsure, they don’t know how to proceed, and minor issues quickly escalate.
  • The lack of structure makes people feel unconnected and lost as they are squeezed between competing and conflicting goals.
  • Too many meetings, too much email, and too much personality drama.

In a perfect work environment, you would work half of each day for each team, assuming you are only part of two teams.  But our workplaces aren’t perfect and you constantly need to juggle these expectations.

What can you do to increase your effectiveness within this structure?

Have a presence with people — Respond to their requests, add value to others and they will be more likely to do the same for you.

Be clear about decisions – Is someone asking you for input, an opinion, a vote, or an actual decision?

Be proactive with conflict — Deal with tensions and misunderstandings quickly and explicitly. Often, simply acknowledging disagreements aids in a speedy resolution.

Clarify expectations — don’t assume!  As with any team, priorities shift.  When you are on multiple teams, it is incredibly easy for them to shift unbeknownst to you.  A quick email to confirm action items, goals, objectives, perhaps even which processes to use, can save you a lot of frustration.

Thank you for reading.

Have a comment?  Why not get the conversation started? ( :

Toxic Texting

Recently, a client confided that his staff’s texting habits are beyond frustrating for him; that staff members “whip” out their cell phones and begin texting at any time, and at all times!

Sound familiar? Is this disrespectful or efficient?

This client assumed these texts were of a personal nature and he wondered why he was paying people to have personal conversations on his dime. Would these same people answer a personal phone call in the middle of a work conversation or meeting?

When is it okay to text at work?

Each of us is likely to have a different answer to that question, based on our generation, industry, function, economic status, and perhaps even where we live.

We know that some, perhaps many, of your texts are legitimate, work-related messages. Texting can be a quick and efficient way to have a work question answered, to find out where the meeting was re-located to, or to find out where a co-worker is if you need to find them.

Ask yourself:

What is your body language when you text? How do others interpret that? If you are smiling and chuckling, does that tell people around you that you’re having a personal conversation? If you look serious or are frowning, will other’s think your text is work-related?

What about if you are working independently in your cube or even in a group setting, what assumptions might people make when they walk by and see you texting?

Next time your phone alerts you to a new text, stop and consider what is going on around you.  Are you in a setting with other people who are expecting you to pay attention, to be engaged with them? If so, how are they likely to interpret your actions if you are distracted with texting? What do you suppose they are thinking about you and your commitment to the task at hand? No matter how discreet you believe you are being, everyone around you is aware that you are texting.

Why does it matter, anyway? We live in a society where texting is fast becoming the go-to mode of communication. Even my 72-year-old mother has a smartphone and sends me text messages. Who cares if I read it and respond during a part of a meeting in which I have nothing to contribute at that moment?

Therein lies the rub.

People do care, and they care a lot.

There are unintended consequences of allowing personal conversations to distract you from the work that you are being paid to do. Short of a bona-fide emergency, these distractions often make a person appear unprofessional to their peers and leaders. Just last week, two co-workers were clearly texting back and forth during a meeting and the presenter was distracted by their behavior. We wondered if they (the co-workers) thought that no one could figure out what they were doing or if they just didn’t care that they were acting like junior-high school students passing notes?

Are you a Toxic Texter?

TRY THIS — for the next two days, track how much time you spend engaging in personal text messages while at work. Include time spent reading, pondering, composing, sending, editing, and checking for a response.   Additionally, keep track of your work-related text messages.

Evaluate your results. It might be time to turn off texting while at work. If you’re not sure if your workplace is “text friendly”, ask! Having an explicit conversation about acceptable and unacceptable electronic behaviors can be relationship-building and help bridge distance.

Happy Holidays and thank you for reading!

Being a Remote Intern

Bridging Distance decided to take the plunge where remote workers are concerned. The firm’s partners tested the virtual internship waters with an intern – me. While I spent my summer between Mozambique and South Africa, I worked with the team in Massachusetts.

As a TCK (third culture kid) from Mozambique, I spent eleven years of my youth outside my home country, so wearing my intercultural spectacles is almost second nature. As a Gen Y adult, I do not shy away from technologies that will help me bridge distances. If I had maintained enduring relationships despite the distance for personal reasons, then surely I could for work too? The key, I thought, would be observation and patience.

This is partly true, but it takes observation, patience and open mindedness from all team members. These are my summarized lessons learned from this experience:

  • Have weekly video calls. In my case, it was weekly Skype meetings. In an environment without brick and mortar, weekly check-ins maintain momentum and strengthen relationships that may otherwise seem one dimensional via email.
  • Defining productivity. Productivity for us meant delivering on pre-defined goals. I did not have to send incomplete bits of work I had produced during the week. The key was delivering a good quality end product.
  • Reading electronic body language. This is a skill that I am learning about and developing. Through this internship I have discovered just how many things we do or encounter as we use technology that we do not have predefined rules of engagement for. For example, When should I CC the partner in an email? What is the expected response time for emails? It will do well to either test the waters until you establish a pattern, or discuss some of these issues with your team members. Having e-tact is also key to being a remote intern.
  • Make small talk. Relationships can be built by getting to know each other’s interests, hobbies, home life, etc. Small talk bridges gaps that are accentuated by the distance and lack of face-to-face contact.
  • Flexible meeting times. When working across time zones, it is important to establish times that suit all team members. Rotating meeting times means that it will not always be one person getting the short end of the stick. Be open to flexibility to ensure fairness.
  • Empathy. This component of emotional intelligence allows people to “listen” to emotional queues given by others that are many times unspoken or communicated indirectly.
  • Passion. Having an interest for the work you do fuels self-motivation and drive. Without this you’ll find yourself doing… well, nothing.

Another point worth mentioning – working across time zones can have a way of potentially hampering productivity when feedback is critical. In those cases, opt in making a phone call at an acceptable hour.

Feel free to share your comments/stories about working remotely.