Mindful Leadership and the influence of emotions on trust

Emotion: happyIn preparation of D. Goleman’s presence and presentation in Lausanne at the IMD later this week, I was reading some very interesting articles/research about emotions and their influence on trust.

As more and more leadership publications and organizational excellence discussions talk about emotions and how important these are for successful self-management, people-management and organizational functioning and well-being (for the company as a whole as well as for the people in it), I find their influence on trust highly important. Trust is indeed necessary for effective teamwork, functioning partnerships, management, social life etc. It really is the main ‘ingredient’ for making things happen, able to reduce the complexity that we are confronted at all times so that we can be together, work together, deal together in business matters and other things. Once lost, it is very difficult to re-build trust in whatever context.

Thanks to research conducted in the field of psychology and neuroscience we now slowly begin to better understand and value how our ‘brains’[1] function and why it is so important to listen to both of them. The idea, that certain emotions can influence trust is hence extremely interesting.

So far, I only knew of research identifying links between affective states (moods and emotions) and unrelated judgments[2] and not how specific emotions influence subsequent judgments. “Unlike moods, emotional states are typically shorter in duration (…)”[3] and they are more complex than moods. In their research, Jennifer Dunn and Maurice Schweitzer, found out the following correlation:

“Happiness and gratitude—emotions with positive valence—increase trust, and anger—an emotion with negative valence—decreases trust. Specifically, (…) emotions characterized by other-person control (anger and gratitude) and weak control appraisals (happiness) influence trust significantly more than emotions characterized by personal control (pride and guilt) or situational control (sadness). (…) Emotions do not influence trust when individuals are aware of the source of their emotions or when individuals are very familiar with the trustee.”

Applied to leadership, these findings are of great importance. As we have seen in one of my previous posts, certain mental qualities or attitudes, “(…) provide a rich soil in which the seeds of mindfulness can flourish: [4]

  1. Patience
  2. ‘Letting Go’
  3. Non-Judging
  4. Trust
  5. Generosity

To summarize: Under certain conditions, emotions such as happiness and gratitude thus increase trust whereas a key attitude for being able to plant the ‘seeds’ of mindfulness is also trust. If you thought that mindful leadership is out of your reach, well here’s a place to start!



[2] See Joseph P. Forgas for example

[3] Jennifer R. Dunn and Maurice E. Schweitzer:  “Feeling and Believing: The Influence of Emotion on Trust”, page 737

[4] Jon Kabat-Zinn: “Wherever you go, there you are”, New York 1994, p. 3.

Managing conflicts – an intercultural approach

In the intercultural field, we all know about “high-context” and “low-context cultures”, theories defined by anthropologist Edward T. Hall who helps us to understand which powerful effect culture has on routine communication. According to him, “in a high-context culture, many things are left unsaid, letting the culture explain. Words and word choice become very important in higher-context communication, since a few words can communicate a complex message very effectively to an in-group (…), while in a lower-context culture, the communicator needs to be much more explicit and the value of a single word is less important.”[1]

High-context cultures would include Asia, Africa, South America and much of the Middle East; low-context cultures are more or less found in North America and Western Europe.[2]

Applied to conflicts or simply “dealing with difference” it becomes very obvious how different the negotiation and mediation styles and skills have to be when addressing issues in one context versus the other. “High-context communication tends to be more indirect and more formal.  Flowery language, humility, and elaborate apologies are typical.” Whereas in the low-context culture, “(…) people value logic, facts, and directness.  Solving a problem means lining up the facts and evaluating one after another.  Decisions are based on fact rather than intuition.”

Interestingly, very often even with people from the ‘same’ context, meaning Western Europe and North America for example (low-context), huge differences appear as to how conflicts and difficult situations are dealt with and managed. It becomes even more tricky, when the people around the table speak one language (English for example) but have in fact different mother tongues and own different passports (or residencies in different countries). Even though these people might be in a similar context, their “(…) communication style difference of intellectual and relational engagement provides a rich area for misinterpretation (…)” and their level of intercultural sensitivity, meaning “(…) the ability to experience cultural difference (…)” might also be a complete different one.[3]

An interesting study from 2008, entitled “Workplace conflict and how businesses can harness it to thrive” whereby workers attitude about conflict were analyzed questioning 5,000 full-time employees in nine countries around Europe and the Americas (Belgium, Brazil, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and the United States), found out that conflict “(…) has a bounty of positive potential, which if harnessed correctly, can stimulate progress in ways harmony often cannot.”

Interesting thoughts indeed… It shows once again how intercultural competence, sensitivity and related skills are necessary in order to address the issues of the 21st century where people are more connected, mobile and dependent on each other than ever!

[2] Compare also with http://www2.pacific.edu/sis/culture/pub/Context_Cultures_High_and_Lo.htm

[3] http://www.idrinstitute.org/allegati/IDRI_t_Pubblicazioni/4/FILE_Documento.pdf


Multitasking: An Impediment to Thinking & Behaviour

Man multitaskingMore and more articles on the web state that multitasking and doing 10 things at a time, not only hamper creativity and innovation as well as reduce people’s ability to behave in an ‘emotionally intelligent’ way; even worse, it can affect your memory and lead to stress, thus illness.

Whereas these facts are more or less known, little action is taken to reduce multitasking in work environments. On the contrary:

  • People spend most of their days in calls
  • At the same time they receive an enormous amount of emails, many of them ‘urgent’
  • Very often, latest findings and messages have to be simultaneously posted on various external social media channels as well as fed into internal communication channels
  • Urgent calls are also coming in which were not scheduled beforehand
  • And: maybe you are even supposed to be in a face-2-face meeting during the day

Fortunately, we cannot clone ourselves (yet); we simply cannot be at different places at a time and do various things at once. In order to cope with the daily workload and demands, we usually try very hard to live up to everybody’s expectations.

For a certain while, we might even be able to handle all the demands and inputs successfully… but then, we normally feel overwhelmed or at least we cannot remember properly what was said in a call (where we were on ‘mute’ doing something else in the meantime) or when our colleague came to our desk to talk to us.

What should we do? We need to learn to scale down and approach tasks, demands and workload in a different, mindful way. Nobody can handle everything at the same time and people – yourself even more – deserve your unbiased attention.

You also might want to try implementing these little tips:

  1. Prioritise your emails: only answer the ones which are of major importance and where you are the direct recipient (not in cc and not in bcc).
  2. Instead of responding to chains of mails, make a quick call. Your issue might be solved in a couple of minutes
  3. When attending phone conferences, ensure that there is an agenda, clear objectives and you have an active part to play. You will find that most calls have no outcome and that very often your attendance is not necessary.
  4. When you do attend a call, switch off your other phone and concentrate solely on what is being said (without writing mails or surfing on the net on the same time); make notes and write down action points to make the most out of it.
  5. When attending face-2 face meetings or speaking with somebody, ensure you have enough time and switch off your various devices so that your attention lies on your discussion partner or the people in your meeting.

If you feel too overwhelmed and would like to speak about it, please don’t hesitate to contact me. I would be happy to coach you (even online) so that over time you can find strategies that work for you and adapt them. Mindful and systemic approaches are very much needed to ensure that your time is spent in an effective and creative way.

Thanks for reading, have a great weekend! Jenny

About Mindlessness and Mindfulness

Leading the wayWhen reading about mindfulness in the workplace and more “mindful” organizations, have you ever thought about what it meant if somebody is “mindless”?

In her article “A call for mindful leadership” on the HBR Blog Network, Ellen Langer addresses this interesting question. She rightly says:

“When leaders keep everyone in their place with the illusion of knowability and possession of this privileged knowledge[1] the benefit to them is that we ‘obey’ and leaders feel superior. The cost is that they create lemmings. Their mindlessness promotes our own mindlessness which costs us our well being and health. Net result, the leader, the led, and the company all lose.”

I don’t know about you but I have seen many “mindless” people throughout my career. Many are scared of change, scared to look inside themselves and listen to their gut feeling, scared to loose their jobs, in sum: scared of uncertainty and not-knowing what will happen next.

Mindfulness in turn, allows you to live day by day and to deal with threats/take up opportunities as they arise; you are confident and positive as you know yourself and your abilities. As Margaret Wheatley puts it:

“Leaders are so afraid of paradox, so afraid of uncertainty. It takes a lot of bravery even to consider that uncertainty is not a threat, that in fact it’s creative and powerful. “

Or in the words of Ellen Langer:

“By learning how to exploit the power of uncertainty maybe all of us will wake up.”

Are you ready to take up the challenge?

[1] In fact being mindless as they cannot predict the future.

Storytelling – A powerful tool for changing organisations


Earlier this week I posted “Strengthen and Sustain Culture with Storytelling” from Nancy Duarte on LinkedIn. It instantly sparked reactions, also on other social media channels.

Storytelling in communications and marketing is not new but the fact that it can and should be applied to organizational culture is very relevant. As an organization you certainly want to live up to your mission/vision and attain your objectives. If you do it by retaining talent, motivating people intrinsically and  making them feel ‘part of the game’, even better.

In line with the ongoing discussions about emotional intelligence and its importance for modern businesses, a story is an emotionally  – and from a communication perspective very important  – ‘tool’ that:

  • bonds people together (not only the ones featuring in the story itself)
  • conveys values and culture
  • motivates intrinsically as people feel concerned
  • visualizes objectives, measures etc. in a powerful way
  • makes people remember what you were talking about
  • etc.

As Ms. Duarte points out correctly in her TEDxEAST talk, “if you communicate and idea in a way that resonates, change will happen”.

Now, let me ask you: is your organization investing money into making people communicate more effectively with each other?

Have an excellent rest of the week,