Brain Over Brawn by Anne Kreamer

What to do if your boss yells at you If someone is screaming at you at work, just imagine him or her as a 2-year-old.   What seems like a funny idea has serious science behind it.

What scientists call metacognition, or the ability to change the way you’re viewing a situation, allows you to If I can step back and see my big boss screaming at me as just a kid having a tantrum, it will empower me.”

In other words, you might not be able to change his bad behavior, but you can change how upset you get and whether you feel like a victim. You can take that lesson home from the workplace too. “We all have our personal narratives that we keep repeating over and over again about where we are in the world or who is to blame for different situations,” Anne says. “But as you get older, you realize you can change your view of yourself and your window on the world.” It’s not easy, and we don’t do it a hundred percent of the time, she says, but it helps us weather crises and move on gracefully.

Why You Really Shouldn't Curse at Work (Much) by Anne Kreamer

The media brouhaha over Carol Bartz's coarse language in the wake of her firing was telling. Rather than responsibly assessing her merits as the chief executive of Yahoo!, the conversation instantly devolved into what kind of woman swears on the job. That, to me, is so twentieth century. When we've reached a point in our anything-goes culture that the anchors of the most important newscasts (Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert) curse nightly, and public figures like prime-time teenage role model Lea Michele, the actress who plays a goody-goody(ish) character on Glee, talks (as we used to say) like a stevedore in interviews, it strikes me that managers and executives need to seriously rethink the words they choose to communicate displeasure.

In fact, we're now so inured to vulgarity that it takes something really over-the-top — say, the baby doll being sold this holiday season that apparently curses — to make us stop and take notice. Taboo words, with a couple of true taboo exceptions, have always been used sparingly to communicate powerful emotions, but when swearing becomes simply reflexive and ubiquitous — as it is today — those words cease to have much power or meaning. And when crude words do shock, the language deflects our focus from the serious issues at hand.

Take, for instance, the internal Goldman Sachs e-mail that Senator Carl Levin read aloud last year during a Congressional hearing: "Boy, that Timberwolf was one shitty deal.'" Hard to tell without more context whether the guy who wrote that e-mail (now a Bank of America division president) was proud of the group for pulling the wool over the public's eyes, or just candidly stating the facts. But one thing became clear pretty quickly — to the American public, the language made what looked like double-dealing cynicism more memorably rotten. And the immediate consequence? Rather than suggest to their employees that they not sell bad deals to their clients, Goldman Sachs chose to focus on the language and its potential for embarrassment, instructing their employees to stop using profanity in e-mails. The emotionally laden words that communicate our more powerful feelings are particularly slippery at work, where we spend the majority of our waking hours and where our livelihoods hang in the balance.

How we choose to interpret hyper-charged no-longer-taboo words changes from moment to moment and office to hallway, according to permutations of status, gender, ethnicity, education, age and the particular setting — one person's obscenity is another's spicy punctuation. "In-house" language is often at odds with public norms. I was talking with a female partner in a New York corporate communications company that advises companies on critical communications challenges. "I think of swearing," she told me, "the way I think of Yiddish. It's very expressive." But she also asked to be quoted anonymously, perhaps anxious that her cheerful acceptance of workplace swearing might be seen as an endorsement — and might offend clients, current or prospective. And yet many of the people I spoke with about this subject, men as well as women, suggested that swearing was a strategic part of the lexicon they developed to be taken seriously as potential alphas of their organizations. I can relate. My first jobs were in banking and then media sales — businesses at the time completely dominated by men and fueled by a backslapping, crude-joke-telling camaraderie. Swearing definitely helped me come across as one of the guys, and thereby granted me access to the kind of casual gossiping and information-trading upon which deals are sometimes built. "Swearing," as one senior female attorney told me, "gives others, men and women, reciprocal permission to let their hair down and feel comfortable sharing revelations." This approach — swearing as an effective social tool that can enhance work relationships and allow women in particular to present an equal-to-men or even crypto-masculine identity — has been documented by psychology and linguistics researchers.

But not all swearing is equal. Take swearing in anger. Swearing is positively correlated with extraversion and Type A hostility and many scholarly studies (Jennifer Coates, 1993, Vivian de Klerk, 1991, 1997) identify swearing as intrinsically aggressive. Take Dick Cheney's unapologetic snarling at Senator Patrick Leahy on the Senate floor, or Serena Williams's outburst to a ref about a foot-fault call. Their curses were meant to take charge, to intimidate. And swearing men and swearing women are perceived differently. De Klerk discovered that women risk being viewed more negatively than men when using obscenities. Elizabeth Gordon, who studies speech and gender stereotypes at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand, has found in her research that women who were "non-standard" speakers — that is, foul-mouthed — were judged to be of lower social and moral strata. We've seen this play out in public. Cheney refused to apologize for his f-bomb and reported that he felt "better" after his exchange with Senator Leahy, whereas at Serena Williams's next press conference, she was subdued and entirely contrite. These days, it's practically meaningless and way too easy to say something "sucks," or (much) worse. And the rough waters in which we all now work makes it increasingly important to be clear and precise about what is going on emotionally inside and around us — not to be milquetoasty, but to be calibrated. As a person who allowed (and, I confess, still occasionally allows) herself to resort to default swearing, it seems to me that in this laissez faire age, and as we start a new year with new intentions, that it's a good idea — indeed, a damn fine notion — for business leaders to get more truly creative about their language and use the various linguistic bombs only sparingly.

What Do Glenn Beck, Jim Cramer, Rush Limbaugh and most bosses have in common? by Anne Kreamer

They don’t understand their anger. “In a culture where it’s easy to fire of a snippy e-mail or text,” reported Elizabeth Bernstein in her Wall Street Journal column ‘Friendly Fight:  A Smarter Say to Say I’m Angry,’  “most of have a hard time honestly expressing anger face to face.  If someone upsets us, often we shout, stomp off, roll our eyes, refuse to speak to the person or complain to everyone else.  Or we kid ourselves that we aren’t upset and subconsciously fume – until one day we explode over the seemingly littlest thing.”  And no one likes to be on the receiving end of explosive anger.

Sound familiar?  I bet it does.  In the research I conducted for my book, 60% of all Americans reported seeing their boss get angry with someone on the job during the past year.  And yet, none of us are ever taught how to deal with managing our anger or how to deal with others.

Anger is a biologically driven response to threat.  When threatened, we release the hormone epinephrine, followed by norepinephrine (noradrenaline), prepping the body to react – increasing our heart rate and blood pressure, and narrowing our focus as we prepare to flight or flee.  And this is what is at the crux of the issue for modern homo sapiens in the workplace:  pretty much as they did 200,000 years ago, our bodies continue to automatically process psychological threats as physical threats.  Deep inside we are all irredeemably very old school.  But the reality is that reacting to a psychological threat with a physical response is wildly inappropriate.  And this disconnect – this evolutionary lag in the development of more emotionally calibrated or sophisticated responses to psychological challenges – is a huge contributor to what makes navigating modern life so incredibly hard.  As the economist Terry Burnham, the author of Mean Markets and Lizard Brains:  How to Profit From the New Science of Irrationality, put it, “The caricature view would be, the caveman wins the battle, has more babies, crushes his enemies, then puts on a suit 10,000 years later and goes into a boardroom and still wants to crush his enemies.”

To be effective at work we need to learn how to handle this evolutionary gap in responding to non-physical threat.  I have created many tools to aid us in developing this challenging skill and one of the best is something I call DING.  Which relates to the concept of self-reflection or meta-cognition, which I’ll address in another post.

Botox and Emotional Expression by Anne Kreamer

In Anger: The Misunderstood Emotion, Carol Tavris wrote: "Modern psychologists have supported Darwin's idea that extreme emotions -- great joy, rage, disgust, fear -- are registered on the face, and that these facial expressions are universally recognized (and therefore biologically wired in). We should be happy for this bit of adaptvie advantage, too, these researchers add, because it means we will always be able to tell whether a stranger is happy or about to attach us in a fury."

Hmmm.....what does botox do to our ability to interpret facial cues? Are we be able to tell if our boss is upset?  Or pleased?

Because Botox prevents frowns, Rob Horning wondered what are the consequences if people always seem content?

Seems like the face of life experience might be evolving in unhelpful ways. What do you think?