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BW Businessworld

Book Extract: Know Your Flaws

A leader needs to take into account receiver’s worldview to communicate effectively. Adam Galinsky, professor of management and organizations at Columbia Business School, has spent much of his career studying power

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When new york giants defensive end Michael Strahan came downstairs from his hotel room, he found that the team bus had left without him. He glanced around in confusion, checking his watch. It was still a few minutes before the bus was scheduled to leave. Unfortunately, Strahan had forgotten the difference between real time and “Coughlin time.” Coughlin time ran five minutes earlier than the actual time. It was yet another infuriating peccadillo of the new head coach, Tom Coughlin.

Coughlin was notoriously obsessed with the details. He punished his players for being even a single second late, he insisted that every player wear the same color practice jerseys, and he berated players for having their helmet straps unbuttoned—even while off the practice field. This pedantic obsession with seemingly trivial details drove Michael Strahan and the rest of his teammates crazy. “What difference does it make what color socks you wear to practice?” Strahan would complain. Hired in 2004, Coughlin had a reputation for being a tyrant. The six-foot-two-inch gray-haired curmudgeon was known to yell at his players and staff at the top of his lungs whenever they made a mistake. Coughlin had always communicated like that. It’s how his heroes like the legendary Green Bay Packers coach, Vince Lombardi, communicated. As Coughlin put it, his own philosophy was simple, “The coach speaks, the players listen. My way or the highway.”

This wasn’t just the attitude Coughlin took with his team. It was how he operated with the media too. And for that reason, journalists abhorred Coughlin. They thought he was rude, abrasive, and confrontational, and he made their jobs hellish. Coughlin paid for it in the unfavorable coverage he received. One day, Tom’s wife came home and said, “Tom, the media doesn’t just dislike you. They hate you. So I’m telling you right now: Do something to help yourself.”

But Coughlin didn’t feel much urgency to change. That was, until the beginning of his fourth year with the Giants, when he discovered that he was in danger of losing his job.

In 2007, with one year left on his contract, Coughlin learned that the Giants were considering not renewing him. Management made it clear that one of the reasons was his poor relationships with the team and media. The Giants management encouraged Coughlin to fix the problem—or else. Now Coughlin felt the urgency. He needed to change, and fast.

To Coughlin, the reason for his poor working relationships had always been clear to him. He was misunderstood. His team didn’t understand his policies or his approach. Heck, they didn’t even understand his directions. During team meetings, he would lecture his team using what he thought was crystal-clear communication. But now, when it was almost too late, he finally realized that everyone had interpreted his lectures very differently. So he started asking for feedback from his team, his fellow coaches, and even from his critics in the media. To his surprise, he heard the same complaint over and over: Coughlin didn’t understand them.

In order to lead effectively, we need to be understood. But in order to be understood, we need first to understand. People are complex creatures, and we can’t communicate with and influence them effectively if we don’t know their interests and positions. Often the way we think they see the world isn’t the way they see the world. As a result, our words don’t land the way we intend. In order for us to communicate effectively, especially when we’re in leadership positions, we have to take into account the receiver’s worldview. We need to take that person’s perspective. Perspective taking is an exercise in reflective thinking. And as we’ve learned before, reflective thinking is inherently difficult. As cognitive misers, we like to get away with the least effort possible.

But for leaders there’s an additional challenge. By virtue of their position of power, leaders have an even more difficult time taking others’ perspectives. As we’ll learn in this chapter, while being a follower increases your ability to take perspectives, leadership diminishes your ability. Before you throw up your hands, there’s a bright side. Although the powerful are less likely to take others’ perspectives, when they do, it turns out they’re great at it. The combination of power and perspective taking has synergistic effects. When leaders actually focus on perspective taking, it becomes a real competitive advantage for them...

Why Power Has a Difficult Time Perspective Taking
Adam Galinsky, professor of management and organizations at Columbia Business School, has spent much of his career studying power. Recently Galinsky decided to conduct a series of experiments to understand how power affects people’s ability to see someone else’s point of view.

Galinsky used a technique called priming to get participants into high-and low-power states. He did this by asking half of the participants to recall a time when they felt powerful, and the other half a time when they felt powerless. He was able to do this because while power, as he defines it, is “asymmetric control over valued resources in a social relationship,” it isn’t just a judgment about someone’s status. Power is also a psychological state; we feel more powerful at times and less powerful at others. Recalling these high and low experiences helped Galinksy tap into these states.

Once he primed the participants, he asked them to write the letter E on their foreheads. This may seem like a silly task, but psychologists have been using the exercise as a reliable way to indicate perspective taking for decades. If a subject writes the E in the direction in which she herself could read it, it suggests a self-orientation. On the other hand, if she writes the E in the way others would be able to read it, it suggests an others-orientation, evidence that the participant was likely engaging in perspective taking. The results of Galinksy’s experiment? The high-power primed individuals were almost three times less likely to write an others-oriented E than low-power primed individuals, supporting the claim that power diminishes people’s ability to take perspectives.

Extracted from Persuadable by Al Pittampalli. Published 2016 by HarperBusiness, imprint of HarperCollins