Although there are many aspects of this pandemic that are bringing us closer together and breaking down barriers between people, our country and our world continue to be incredibly divided along political and ideological lines, which has significantly negative consequences for each of us and all of us. As I write about in my new book, We’re All in This Together, while it isn’t easy or often encouraged in a real healthy and productive way, our ability to connect with people who see things differently than we do, politically and otherwise, is so important, especially right now.
I was on a plane a few years ago flying from Fort Lauderdale to New York. I’d spoken at two events in south Florida, was flying up to New York for some meetings, then on to Boston for another event, and then back to Florida for my final event before heading home. It was a crazy but exciting week. I was in full-on work/travel mode, which means I had tunnel vision—focused just on getting to where I needed to get to, taking care of myself physically so I’d be ready to go when it was time to speak, and getting as much work done as possible while on my flights and in my hotel rooms.
I was working on my laptop even as people were still boarding the plane that afternoon. Sitting on the aisle, I had to get up when the two people who were in the window and middle seat came to sit down. I greeted them briefly. They were together—a man who looked to be in his mid-50s and a woman who looked to be close to 80, whom I assumed was his mother.
As the flight began to take off, I had to put my computer away and wait for the plane to get to 10,000 feet before I could start working again, so I started flipping channels on the live TV in front of me. I landed on CNN and was catching up on the news of the day. We reached 10,000 feet and I pulled my laptop out and began to work. I had e-mails to catch up on and I was reviewing my latest podcast episode—so I pulled my headphones out of the airplane armrest and plugged them into my computer.
About 10 minutes later, out of the corner of my eye, I saw the man sitting to my right in the window seat motioning toward the TV screen in front of me. It was still showing CNN, but I wasn’t paying attention to it and couldn’t hear it since my headphones were plugged into my laptop. Then I heard him say, “Fake news, fake news!” I wasn’t sure if he was talking to me, to his mom, or just talking out loud to himself. So, I ignored him and kept working. Then he did it again, this time more demonstratively, his voice getting louder as he pointed at the screen.
I stopped what I was doing, took out my ear buds, turned to him, and asked, “Are you talking to me?”
“Yes! CNN is fake news. It’s just a bunch of liberal propaganda.”
I was a bit taken aback by his intensity. He seemed angry, and I wasn’t sure what to do. I felt nervous, but also intrigued. He and his mom both had the TVs in front of them turned to Fox News. I said, “I notice you’re watching Fox.”
“It’s the only honest news on TV,” he said passionately.
At this moment I realized I had a choice. There were various ways I could avoid getting into an argument with him. I also had a ton of work that I needed to get done. But my heart and mind were racing—I felt scared and defensive, but also excited and curious. I wanted to see where this conversation might go and what might happen, so I said, “Well, I’d be careful if I were you. I’ve read some studies that say people who consistently watch Fox are the most misinformed news viewers in America.” As you can imagine, he didn’t appreciate this comment.
“Oh, I see, you’re one of those liberal elites who thinks he knows everything.”
And then we were off to the races from there. We argued about Donald Trump, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, immigration, the economy, climate change, the military, guns, the police, and a number of other issues. I tried to stay calm and not get defensive, but that didn’t work so well. He continued to call me names and it got heated.
It was an odd and interesting experience to find myself in a pretty aggressive debate with this man whom I hadn’t known an hour before. And while I wasn’t concerned for my safety in any way, I did find it uncomfortable and upsetting. I also didn’t really enjoy being called “wimpy,” “whiney,” “snowflake,” and other things.
As the conversation escalated, I finally said, “Stop! Look, we clearly disagree in some pretty fundamental ways about these issues. But my deeper concern is that here we are, two strangers sitting on an airplane, and you’re calling me names simply because we disagree about politics.”
Then I shifted gears completely and asked him a question. “Do you have children?” He looked at me with surprise and said, “What?”
“Do you have kids?” I asked again.
“Yes,” he said. “I have four.”
“Wow,” I said. “That’s great. We have two young daughters.”
“We have two boys and two girls,” he said. “Our oldest is thirty and the other three are in their twenties.”
“So, you’ve been at the parenting thing much longer than I have,” I said. “I worry sometimes that I’m doing things (or not doing things) that might be messing up our girls. I try to do the best I can, but sometimes I wonder if I’m doing a good job as a father.” Then I asked him, “Do you ever worry about that, or did you when your kids were younger?”
He paused, looked at me in a different way than he’d been looking at me, and didn’t answer the question initially. Eventually he said, “Of course. I think every parent feels that way at some point.”
“I suppose you’re right,” I said. “Maybe, just like as a father I try to do the best I can and think my ideas, decisions, and actions are right, with respect to some of these big political issues, I have strong opinions, but I’m not sure I know what the solutions are. Some of these challenges are so large and complex, it’s possible that the answers are much bigger and more involved than I can even understand.”
At this moment, he was looking at me like I was a little crazy, but there seemed to be some recognition of what I was saying in his eyes. He said, “I guess?”
We both laughed a little, there was an awkward silence between us, and after almost 45 minutes of arguing, we just stopped. I went back to my laptop and he went back to chatting softly with his mom.
As my heart rate came down and I sat there reflecting on the intense conversation that had just taken place, a few thoughts came to mind. First of all, I had no idea if either of us convinced the other of anything. I didn’t walk away agreeing with his ideas or political views, and I doubt he did with mine. However, I did learn a bit more about where he was coming from and felt the anger, fear, and frustration he had about the media, the country, and the state of politics, which was actually enlightening for me on a number of levels. This man who was more than 10 years older than I am, a father of four, and a fire fighter from Long Island had a very different background and worldview than mine.
Second of all, when I was being self-righteous and defensive, it was hard for me to listen, hear, understand, and connect with him in any way. However, when we talked about our children, the conversation got more vulnerable and real, and I was able to find some common ground with him, which allowed us to, momentarily at least, connect with each other—human being to human being, father to father. And in that instant, I felt more empathy, compassion, and understanding for this man sitting across from me, even though we fundamentally disagreed about some pretty important issues.
Our country and our world are intensely divided right now. Although getting into arguments with strangers on airplanes may not be the most productive route, the only way we’re going to bridge this divide is if we’re willing to have these important and often uncomfortable discussions with each other.
If we have the courage and willingness, we can find common ground and when we do, we can have more understanding, insight, and appreciation for those who see things differently than we do. And, when we do this, we can start talking to each other about these important issues, and not just about each other to those who already agree with us. By doing this, we’ll remind ourselves and each other that we truly are in this together, and we’ll be more effective in addressing some of the biggest challenges we face collectively right now and as we move forward.
Feel free to leave a comment, question, or piece of feedback below.
This is an adapted excerpt from We’re All in This Together, by Mike Robbins, published by Hay House Business, April 2020
We all have privilege. Some of us, like me as a straight, white, affluent, American man, have more than others. However, for a number of reasons, many of us have a hard time acknowledging and owning our privilege. It has become almost a slur, or even an outright attack to be called “privileged.” In our current social and political climate, there has been a lot of important discussion about white privilege and male privilege specifically.
A simple Google search of the word privilege comes back with this definition: “A special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group.” The synonyms listed are advantage, right, benefit, prerogative, entitlement, birthright, and due.
In a larger culture that aspires to values such as hard work, fairness, opportunity, and meritocracy—and given some of the societal dynamics at play in recent years— it’s understandable that privilege can be seen in such a negative light and why many of us have a hard time owning our privilege. In some cases, we even argue that we don’t or try to hide that we do.
However, the bigger issue is being able to realize that we’re not all starting at the same place and it’s not a level playing field. Some of us simply have advantages that others don’t, and in many cases there’s not much we can do about them—they’re literally based on where we were born and what we look like. But it’s important to be able to see that these things exist and to try to understand the impact they have on us and others, all the way around.
A few years ago, a high school teacher posted anonymously on a site called Bored Panda about an important lesson on privilege he shared with his students. He wrote:
I place a trash can in the front of the room, and have my students take out a piece of paper and crumble it into a ball. I then ask them to try to shoot their paper ball into the trash can from where they’re seated. I explain to them first that they as a class represent the country’s population, and that the trash can represents America’s upper class. Being that we live in the “land of opportunity,” everyone will be given the chance to “make it big” and become wealthy by throwing their paper ball into the trash can. Whoever successfully shoots their ball into the trash has made it to the upper class.
Most likely, my students sitting all the way in the back of the classroom will start complaining, saying that their peers sitting in the front have an unfair advantage. I use this opportunity to make the perfect segue into talking about privilege and inequality. The closer you are to the trash can, the better odds you have, the more privilege you have. It’s not impossible for those in the back to also shoot their paper balls into the trash can, but it’s a lot harder for them.
I make a point to explain that the students sitting in the front row were probably unaware of their privilege initially as they only saw the 10 feet between themselves and their goal. I also point out that the people who were complaining were the students sitting in the back. I wrap up the lesson by stating that education is also a privilege, and that my students are capable of using that privilege in order to advocate for those who are behind them.
I love this simple yet powerful example of privilege. With respect to diversity, inclusion, and belonging, our privilege often gets in our way of noticing, seeing, and understanding certain things, as well as our willingness to engage and take action to make necessary adjustments and changes.
In her Netflix special The Call to Courage, Dr. Brene Brown says, “To not have the conversations (about inclusivity, equity, and diversity) because they make you uncomfortable is the definition of privilege.”
One of the realities of being in a dominant or majority group of any kind is that often we aren’t necessarily forced to think about, talk about, or address these issues. And because they can be scary, difficult, and messy to deal with, we either choose to opt out or we simply don’t pay attention.
More deeply and even scarier to admit is that sometimes we don’t want to acknowledge or let go of our privilege because we’re worried about losing it, and afraid of what increased access and opportunity for others might mean to our own ability to succeed.
Our privilege itself and then the denial of the privilege we have are both things that make having authentic conversations about diversity difficult and make it challenging for us to do what needs to be done to create environments of real inclusion.
However, by understanding our privilege more deeply and owning it, without blame, shame, or judgment, we can genuinely address some of these complex issues and move towards creating an environment within our team and company (and society at large) where everyone has a true sense of belonging.
This is an excerpt from We’re All in This Together, by Mike Robbins, published by Hay House Business, April 2020
Given all that is going on these days and the intense level of uncertainty in our world, many people are understandably feeling scared, angry, sad, and more. One of the best things we can do to address this and support everyone around us, including ourselves, is to lead with compassion.
As I talk about in my new book, We’re All in This Together, I’ve heard compassion described as “empathy in action.” While empathy is about understanding and feeling the emotions of others, compassion is about wanting to contribute to their happiness and well-being. Compassion, therefore, is more proactive, which means we can make a habit of it. Teams that intentionally and habitually show compassion to one another are more connected and successful. In operating with compassion, we’re demonstrating our care for each other in a specific, overt, and powerful way.
In an interview for Psychology Today in April 2018, Chris Kukk, professor of political and social science at Western Connecticut State University and author of The Compassionate Achiever, said, “Success is often associated with the individualistic idea of only looking out for number one. However, even Darwin suggested that the most efficient and effective species have the highest number of sympathetic members.”
According to Kukk’s research, compassion helps build resilience, improve physical health, and is a consistent characteristic of success—individually and collectively. Teams that create a culture of compassion are more likely to be engaged, innovative, and collaborative with one another, and to perform at their best.
I had a chance to interview Scott Shute on my podcast. Scott was the VP of global customer operations at LinkedIn for six years—leading an organization of 1,000 people. His interest in leadership, culture, and performance led him to take on a new role in 2018 as the head of mindfulness and compassion programs. Scott and his team have implemented programs to support the people, leaders, and groups at LinkedIn to expand their awareness and skills. “One of the biggest skills needed to achieve our vision at LinkedIn is compassion,” he said. “We believe that compassion is not just a better way to live, it’s a better way to build a team and grow a business that is successful, sustainable, and has a positive impact in the world.”
Kindness, like compassion, is something we can cultivate, nurture, and practice. Different from being “nice,” which we previously discussed, being kind is about consciously and authentically choosing to be friendly, supportive, generous, and considerate toward our teammates (and everyone else we work and interact with). According to a study conducted by the American Psychological Association, people who were treated kindly at work repaid it by being 278 percent more generous to co-workers compared to a control group.
The great thing about both kindness and compassion is that they’re contagious. The more willing we are to be compassionate and kind to our fellow team members, the more likely they are to be that way with us and everyone else on the team. And, as we consistently and deliberately practice compassion and kindness with the people on our team, we demonstrate our care for them and contribute to a culture that can allow us all to achieve our best results.
Here are a few things you can do to cultivate compassion and kindness right now:
1. Check in with people – Ask people how they are doing, and give them the space to really answer. Being interested in others and their well-being is one of the best ways we can let them know we care and it is the embodiment of compassion and kindness.
2. Listen without giving advice – What most people want more than anything else, especially right now, is to be seen and heard. When we listen to people with empathy and hold back from giving them advice, unless then specifically ask for it, we let them know we care about and value them.
3. Share how you’re feeling with vulnerability – The nature human response to vulnerability is empathy. The more willing we are to share our authentic feelings with others, the safer they’ll feel to do the same with us. And, when we operate with vulnerability it liberates us, connects us authentically with those around us, and encourages compassion all the way around.
* This is an adapted excerpt from We’re All in This Together, by Mike Robbins, published by Hay House Business, April 2020
When I wrote my latest book, We’re All in This Together: Creating a Team Culture of High Performance, Trust, and Belonging, I had no idea it would come out in the midst of a global pandemic which has had a significant impact on every aspect of work and life in our world. However, now more than ever, for our teams to navigate these challenging times successfully, we must come together, connect authentically, and lean on each other, which is what my new book and my work are all about.
For the past 20 years, I’ve been studying, researching, speaking, and writing about the qualities of great teams. I’ve been honored to partner with organizations like Google, Wells Fargo, Microsoft, Schwab, eBay, Genentech, Gap, the NBA, the Oakland A’s, and so many others—helping them enhance the culture and performance of their teams.
In addition to these large, well-known brands, I’ve also worked with small businesses, government agencies, educational institutions, nonprofits, local school districts, and more. And, while each team and organization have their own unique challenges, goals, and dynamics, there are some universal qualities that allow teams to effectively collaborate, trust each other, and perform at the highest level.
Here are the four key traits of high performing teams that I’ve learned through all of my research and experience:
1. Create Psychological Safety. Psychological safety is a shared belief that the team is safe for risk-taking. People on teams with psychological safety have a sense of confidence that their team will not embarrass, reject, or punish them for speaking up or taking risks. The team climate is characterized by an atmosphere of interpersonal trust and mutual respect in which people are comfortable being themselves without fear of negative consequences to their self-image, status, or career. Essentially, psychological safety is trust at a group level.
Harvard Business School professor Amy Edmondson has researched and written extensively about psychological safety over the past 20 years. “It’s not enough for organizations to simply hire talent,” she says. “If leaders want to unleash individual and collective talent, they must foster a psychologically safe climate where employees feel free to contribute ideas, share information, and report mistakes.”
A 2017 Gallup study found that only three in ten employees strongly agree with the statement that their opinions count at work. Gallup calculated that by “moving the ratio to six in ten employees, organizations could realize a 27 percent reduction in turnover, a 40 percent reduction in safety incidents, and a 12 percent increase in productivity.”
2. Focus on Inclusion and Belonging. An essential element of creating a safe environment that allows people to trust each other, collaborate with one another, and perform at their highest level as a team is inclusion and belonging. There are countless studies linking inclusion to higher profits, increased engagement scores, and enhanced business results.
For example, according to a study of 140 U.S. companies by Accenture alongside the American Association of People with Disabilities and Disability:IN, those that offered the most inclusive working environment for employees with disabilities achieved an average 28 percent higher revenue, 30 percent greater economic pro t margins, and twice the net income of their industry peers between 2015 and 2018.
Inclusion means “having respect for and appreciation of differences in ethnicity, gender, age, national origin, disability, sexual orientation, education, and religion.” It also means “actively involving everyone’s ideas, knowledge, perspectives, approaches, and styles to maximize business success.” And, as important as it is for us to focus on both diversity and inclusion, the ultimate goal is to create an environment on the team and in the company where everyone feels as though they belong, regardless of who they are, the role they have, and their background.
3. Embrace Sweaty-Palmed Conversations. Great teams embrace conflict and feedback as natural and important aspects of growth, collaboration, and success. This means we have to be willing to have those awkward, uncomfortable, sweaty-palmed conversations with each other. The problem is that because conflict and feedback can be hard, most teams aren’t very good at it. However, when team members create an environment that is conducive to having healthy and productive conflict, they have an ability to connect more deeply, navigate challenges effectively, give each other feedback in a way that makes everyone better, and innovate in ways that allow them to thrive. Research conducted by CPP Inc., publisher of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, has shown that in the U.S., workplace conflict costs companies more than $350 billion a year. And that figure reflects just the time people spend dealing with conflict; it doesn’t include the emotional, psychological, and physical toll it takes on people personally.
Nate Regier, author of Conflict without Casualties, whom I had a chance to interview on my podcast, says, “The purpose of conflict is to create, not destroy.”
4. Care About and Challenge Each Other. What I’ve seen, experienced, and learned about high-performing teams over the years is that they understand and have a balance of two important things at the same time: Caring About Each Other and Challenging Each Other. Both are essential and both have to be focused on with the same level of intensity for the team and all of its members to perform at the highest level.
For a team to thrive there must be a deep level of trust that everyone has each other’s backs, has good intentions, and is moving in the same direction together.
In a piece published in the Harvard Business Review in 2017, neuroeconomist Paul Zak writes, “Compared with people at low-trust companies, people at high-trust companies report 74 percent less stress, 50 percent higher productivity, and 76 percent more engagement.” In other words, creating a strong culture of trust, as well as an environment where people know they’re cared about and supported by their teammates, leads to significantly greater engagement and performance.
When our team understands, practices, and embodies these four key traits, we can create a culture of high performance, trust, and belonging. And, doing this allows us to thrive, even and especially when we’re facing uncertainty and challenge like we are today.
For more information about the book click here. Feel free to leave any questions or comments below in the comments section.
* This is an adapted excerpt from We’re All in This Together, by Mike Robbins, published by Hay House Business, April 2020
This piece was originally published on Business Insider on March 30, 2020
The coronavirus has had a significant impact on the world, the economy, and just about every aspect of our day-to-day lives. For those of us who are fortunate enough to have a job that allows us to work from home, we’re now working in a completely virtual environment, which poses a whole new set of challenges for people, leaders, and teams.
How can we communicate, connect, and collaborate effectively? How will we brainstorm and solve problems? What’s the best way for us to give and receive feedback? How can we make sure people feel included and have a sense of belonging when we’re isolated from one another (and from just about everyone else in our lives)?
These and other important questions have become front and center for many of us and most of the leaders and teams I work with. And while working from home and connecting virtually has been a normal part of our working lives for many years now (and often seen as a perk), being forced to work remotely because of a global pandemic and not knowing how long it will last isn’t something any of us planned for or even thought was possible.
And, here we are. How can your team still thrive in the midst of this challenging experience? Through my work and research on team performance over the past twenty years, I’ve learned that there are two things that separate good teams from great ones: Authenticity and Appreciation.
In the environment in which we find ourselves at the moment with everyone working from home, it’s essential for teams to double down on authenticity and appreciation, so that the team can stay connected, communicate openly with one another, support each other, and still do great work in the midst of everything that is going on.
Here are a few specific things you and your team can do right now in this regard:
1. Lower the waterline on your iceberg – The metaphor I use when talking about authenticity is the iceberg. How we can show up more authentically and enhance the culture of authenticity on our team is by lowering the waterline on our iceberg – sharing honestly about how we’re really feeling and what’s truly going on for us. There’s a powerful exercise that I’ve facilitated for many years with teams which I explain in my TED talk on authenticity called, “If you really knew me…”. Each member of the team takes a minute or two to answer this question and shares how they’re feeling in the moment, vulnerably, with the team. This is a great exercise to do regularly, especially right now.
2. Reach out for support – Most of us are more than happy to help others, but we have a harder time asking for help. One of the best ways to be authentic in a practical way and to create more connection with our team, particularly when we’re separated from one another, is to reach out for support. And, when we do this, not only might we get the help and connection we’re looking for, we give other people the opportunity to do something that most people love to do – contribute to others. As the saying goes, “The answer is always ‘no’ if you don’t ask.”
3. Check in with each other – Now more than ever it’s important to check in with the people on your team. People are understandably feeling stressed and scared. Everyone is dealing with a lot right now – children at home, people in their lives they may be worried about, uncertainty about the future, isolation, loneliness, and more. Checking in with one another about more than just work, projects, and deadlines, but about life and how people are actually doing and feeling, can go a long way in both staying connected to each other, and also supporting everyone’s well-being.
4. Ask for feedback – Feedback is hard to both give and receive, although it’s necessary for our growth and development, individually and collectively. And, given the circumstances we find ourselves in right now, it’s even more challenging to make sure we’re getting and giving essential feedback. One specific way to make this easier all the way around is to pro-actively ask for it. When we do this, we not only make sure we’re getting important feedback ourselves, but we make it more conducive for others to give it. We all have to make lots of adjustments right now, so we’re going to need even more feedback than usual. A great way to do this, which I talked about on a podcast episode early this year, is to ask, “What can I start, stop, and continue doing right now to ensure that I’m as effective as possible.” This “start, stop, continue” technique is simple, specific, and direct.
5. Appreciate each other – There’s a really important distinction I’ve learned over the years working with people, leaders, and teams. It’s the difference between recognition and appreciation. Recognition is about what we do. Appreciation is about who we are. Both of these things are important and motivating. And, appreciation runs deeper and cuts to the core of who we are and our relationships with one another. Teams that appreciate each other authentically have a huge advantage, especially in difficult times of change, adversity, and uncertainty, like right now. Take time when you connect one-on-one with each other on video or the phone, and especially when you meet virtually as a team, for everyone to get some genuine appreciation from others. People are starving for appreciation, especially right now, and if we can make sure that everyone on the teams knows that we value them, care about them, and that we’re all in this together, it can make a huge difference in their lives personally and in the success of the team.
Feel free to leave a question, thought, or comment below.