Self-righteousness is dangerous and damaging to our relationships, our teams, and our ability to communicate and collaborate. Removing our self-righteousness is a challenging but important thing for us to do as leaders, people, and those who want to positively influence and impact others.
This does not mean watering down our opinions or decreasing our passion. Believing strongly in our opinions, as well as in our values and beliefs about life, work, and everything else, is important. However, understanding the difference between conviction and self-righteousness is essential.
When we’re coming from a place of conviction about something, we believe it to be true, we think it’s “right,” and we’re often willing to speak up about it, to defend our position, and to engage in healthy dialogue or debate about it. But we must also have enough humility, awareness, and maturity to consider we might be wrong—or that, at the very least, there may be other ways to look at it, even if we can’t see or understand them. We’ve all had experiences when we were convinced we were 100 percent right about something, only to realize we were wrong. As humbling as this can be, keeping it in mind can help keep us from crossing the line over to self-righteousness and give us the perspective to stay in a place of healthy conviction.
When we do cross over into self-righteousness, we’re no longer interested in hearing what anyone else has to say if they disagree with us or have a different perspective. We’re right and anyone and everyone who doesn’t see it our way is wrong.
Look at the tenor of the political discourse in our country and our world right now. Many of us, myself included, have very strong political opinions, and there are serious issues that divide us. Instead of engaging in healthy and productive debates about these things, there is so much intense self-righteousness we seem unable even to listen to one another, which is almost as scary and dangerous as any of the specific issues or challenges we’re facing. We end up demonizing people who don’t agree with us, refusing to talk or listen to them—or, when we do, we make our case in such a self-righteous way that we create more separation and disconnection. Turn on cable news, or read the comments section of many news websites or blogs, and you’ll see the intensity of self-righteousness playing out right in front of you.
And this doesn’t happen just with politics; it happens right in our own lives, families, and work environments. We separate ourselves from those who don’t think like we do or hold the same ideas, opinions, or beliefs. At work our self-righteousness leads to disconnection, unresolved conflicts, and factions within teams and organizations. Lines get drawn between departments, offices, regions, and levels within the company, making it more difficult to make decisions, collaborate, and get things done.
At an event a few years ago, I delivered a keynote address on authentic leadership in which I spoke about, among other things, the damage self-righteousness can cause. Afterward, a man approached me and said, “Hey Mike, thanks for your speech. I got a lot out of it.” He reached out to shake my hand. “I’m Dan.”
“Thanks, Dan,” I said, shaking his hand.
“I know your talk this morning was about leadership,” he said, “and while I was thinking about my team and how I lead, I couldn’t help but think about my mom, especially when you were talking about self-righteousness.”
“What specifically made you think about your mom?” I asked.
“Well,” Dan said, “my dad died a few years ago, and my mom’s getting older. I’m the oldest of four. We all agree that she should sell her house and move into a condo. Doing this would definitely make her life easier, and ours as well—since we’re constantly having to help her with so many things around the house that she’s getting too old to take care of, or that my dad managed when he was around. But she can be so stubborn. It’s hard to get through to her. My siblings have all stopped trying, but not me. I try to talk to her about it, but we end up fighting, which drives me crazy. It never occurred to me until today that maybe one of the reasons that she doesn’t listen to me is because I’m so incredibly self-righteous with her.”
I could see that Dan was starting to get emotional as he talked about his mother and their situation. I said, “I’m sorry to hear about your father’s death. I know every situation is unique. But both my mom and dad have passed away, so I do have some understanding of the emotional and practical challenges involved with losing a parent. I can tell how much you love your mom. You wouldn’t have come up to talk to me about her and this situation if you didn’t love her so much.” I paused before asking, “How do you really feel?”
“How do I really feel about what?” asked Dan.
“About everything going on with you, your mom, and your family?” I asked.
“Well,” he said, “I guess I feel scared.”
“What do you feel scared about?”
“My dad took care of her and of so many things. Even though I have a family of my own and have a lot of responsibility at work, I’m not used to taking care of my mom like this. I worry about her—worry that it will continue to get harder as she gets older. And I just want to do what’s best.”
“That all makes sense to me,” I said. “Have you had this conversation with your mom?”
“No, not specifically.”
“It’s up to you, of course, but you might want to let her know how you really feel. I bet she would hear you and understand,” I said. “The natural human response to self-righteousness is defensiveness. Your mom is just defending and protecting herself, which is what we almost always do when we feel self-righteousness coming at us. Being self-righteous doesn’t make you a bad son or a bad person; it just means you’re human. You could apologize to her for it. And I bet you have some good ideas and suggestions that might help her and her situation. If you can let go of your self-righteousness, she might actually be able to hear some of them.”
Like Dan, most of us can be self-righteous at times, and we often aren’t aware of it because we’re so focused on being right. It takes quite a bit of self-awareness to notice our self-righteousness, and it takes willingness and maturity to let it go, or to at least look at things from a different perspective. It can also be helpful to have people around us whom we trust to point out when we’re being self-righteous but may not be aware of it.
If we want to connect with those around us in an authentic way, and create an environment of openness, trust, and collaboration, we must be willing to recognize, own, and remove our self-righteousness.
How does self-righteousness show up in your work and your life? What can you do to remove it in service of your relationships, communication, and collaboration?
Portions of this article are excerpted from Bring Your Whole Self to Work, by Mike Robbins, with permission. Published by Hay House (May 2018) and available online or in bookstores.
When we stop hiding our true selves and become vulnerable, our work environment is more enjoyable—and productive—for all.
Have you ever wanted to speak up about an issue or situation at work, but were afraid to? Or wanted to share something about yourself, but worried people might judge you? Or pretended to understand something professionally that you really didn’t? If you’re anything like me and most of the people I know, you could easily answer yes to some of these questions.
However, to truly succeed in today’s business world, we must be willing to bring our whole selves to the work that we do. This means showing up authentically, leading with humility, and remembering that we’re all vulnerable, imperfect human beings doing the best we can. It’s also about having the courage to take risks, speak up, ask for help, and connect with others in a genuine way, allowing ourselves to be seen.
Of course, it’s not always easy to show up this way, especially at work, for a variety of reasons—our roles and personal background, the cultural norms of where we work, previous experiences, and more. And we may fear that there will be repercussions from employees or coworkers if we don’t fall into line or appear infallible.
In my new book, Bring Your Whole Self to Work, I argue that—regardless of where you work, what kind of work you do, or with whom you work—it’s possible to show more of your true self and become more satisfied, effective, and free. And whether you’re a business owner, leader, or just someone who wants to have more influence, leading with authenticity allows you to impact your team’s culture so that they can be more authentic, too—which will unlock greater creativity, connection, and performance for your company.
Here are five specific things you can do to be more effective, successful, and engaged at work, while encouraging others to follow your lead.
1. Be authentic
The foundation of bringing your whole self to work is authenticity, which is about showing up honestly, without self-righteousness, and with vulnerability. I call this the Authenticity Equation: Honesty – Self-Righteousness + Vulnerability = Authenticity. It takes courage to be authentic, and it’s essential for trust, growth, and connection.
Some simple things we can do to be more authentic at work are admit when we don’t know something, acknowledge when we’ve made a mistake, or ask for help in a genuine way. All of these take courage and require us to embrace vulnerability and let go of our need to be right.
A recent study conducted by Mark Fotohabadi and Louise Kelly published in the Journal of General Management showed that more authentic leaders tend to engage in active, constructive conflict behaviors—things like widening the lens to consider alternate viewpoints, or admitting your part in creating conflict. In other words, being authentic is essential to resolving conflict at work in a productive and positive way. It’s also been tied to less burnout, because it helps people deal more easily with jobs that involve a lot of emotional labor.
2. Utilize the power of appreciation
Showing appreciation is fundamental to building strong relationships, keeping negative things in perspective, and empowering teams. However, it is different from offering recognition. We often think of these things as the same, especially in professional settings; but recognition is based on results or performance—what people do or produce—while appreciation is about people’s inherent value or who they are.
Of course, we want to do what we can to effectively recognize successful outcomes like sales results, projects completed, or ideas implemented. But behind every success or failure is a living, breathing human being. Appreciation is about focusing on our gratitude for people’s effort, as well as the human qualities and characteristics they possess that we value—such as humility, kindness, or humor—regardless of the outcomes. It is something we can express at any time.
According to a survey conducted by Glassdoor, a job recruitment and employer review website, 53 percent of employees said they would stay longer at their company if they felt more appreciation from their boss, and 81 percent of employees said they were motivated to work harder when they felt appreciated. And research suggests that gratitude—a close cousin of appreciation—can really transform workplaces, bringing employees greater health benefits, happiness, and job satisfaction, and better relationships with coworkers.
3. Focus on emotional intelligence
Your emotional intelligence (EQ) is both about you (having self-awareness and being able to manage your emotions) and about how you relate to others (being socially aware and managing relationships). EQ is often more important for success than your professional skills, IQ, and experience, according to many experts. Some surveys find that employers value EQ as much or more than other job skills.
David Caruso of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence says, “It’s important to understand that emotional intelligence is not the opposite of intelligence, it is not the triumph of heart over head—it is the unique intersection of both.” Research suggests that having greater EQ can help prevent job burnout and may improve performance on certain tasks. One of the best ways to build our EQ is to cultivate a regular mindfulness practice. Whether it’s a specific form of meditation or simply using one of the new popular apps, taking some time to stop, breathe, and center ourselves on a regular basis allows us to be more self-aware and to manage our own emotions more effectively. And mindfulness often leads to more compassion and understanding of others, which helps us successfully manage our relationships.
4. Embrace a growth mindset
Having a growth mindset means approaching your work and your life with an understanding that you can improve at anything if you’re willing to work hard, dedicate yourself, and practice. It’s about looking at everything you experience (even, indeed especially, your challenges) as opportunities for growth and learning.
Stanford professor Carol Dweck makes a distinction between a growth mindset and a fixed mindset (the belief that our talents are innate gifts that we’re either born with or not, and that can’t be changed). Through her research, Dweck found that employees with growth mindsets are 47 percent more likely to say their colleagues are trustworthy, 34 percent more likely to have a strong sense of commitment to their organization, and 65 percent more likely to say their organization supports risk-taking compared to their fixed-mindset peers.
Trying new things, especially those that scare us and push us out of our comfort zone, is a great way to practice having a growth mindset.
5. Create a championship team
The people you work with and the environment around you have a significant impact on your ability (or inability) to fully show up, engage, and thrive. At the same time, the more willing you are to bring your whole self to work, the more impact you can have on others. Creating a championship team is about building a culture that is conducive to people being themselves, caring about one another, and being willing and able to do great work together.
When these actions—speaking up, taking risks, and owning mistakes—are modeled and celebrated, especially by those in leadership positions, it allows the team and the environment to be as psychologically safe as possible.Google conducted an in-depth research project between 2012 and 2014 called Project Aristotle, aimed at determining the key factors that contribute to high-performing teams. It involved gathering and assessing data from 180 teams across the company, as well as looking at some of the most recent studies in the fields of organizational psychology and team effectiveness. According to the findings, the most significant element of team success is what’s known as psychological safety: a culture of trust where people feel safe to speak up, take risks, and know that they won’t be ridiculed for making mistakes or dissenting.
These concepts are fairly easy to understand on the surface. But like many important aspects of life, growth, and business, it’s not the understanding of them that makes the biggest difference; it’s their application.
And the application of these ideas takes real courage. The activities, relationships, and goals that matter most to us (both personally and professionally) are always going to involve vulnerability, which Dr. Brené Brown from the University of Houston defines as “emotional exposure, risk, and uncertainty.” But the good news is that, if you are willing to bring your whole self to work, you can expand the impact, influence, and success of your work and your life…and help others do the same.
This piece was originally published in the Greater Good Science Center.
Crying is something that many of us have resistance to and judgment about, especially at work. Why is this? A lot of us have been shamed or criticized for crying, or simply coached not to do it. Some of this can be specific to our background, culture, age, industry, position, and other unique factors. And our gender definitely plays a role: most of us men were taught at a young age that “boys don’t cry.” We were also told to “suck it up” and “be a man.” Such messages— which I myself heard often growing up, especially in sports—can be emotionally damaging.
From a very early age, I was an incredibly sensitive and emotional kid, but from what I could tell that wasn’t a good thing. I didn’t get much emotional support or encouragement from my friends, teachers, coaches, or even at home. So like most of my male peers, I did what I could to shut off that emotional part of me. For a lot of men, it’s not just crying at work that’s an issue—it’s crying in general. Many of us have trained ourselves not to cry much, if at all, and we worry that if we do, we’ll be seen as weak.
As for women, many I’ve talked to about this issue have told me about receiving clear messages to “keep it together,” especially at work. “There’s no crying in the boardroom” is a saying that many women have quoted to me when talking about this. The feedback they get is that if they allow themselves to be emotional at work, and especially if they cry, they won’t be taken seriously and will be labeled as “too emotional” or “too sensitive,” damaging their professional credibility.
Crying can definitely be awkward, uncomfortable, and vulnerable. But one of the many things tears can do is remind us of our humanness, our connection to one another, and that there are things much bigger than the particular circumstances we’re facing. While some of us cry more easily than others, it’s an involuntary act. We cry for different reasons and from different emotions. Sometimes we shed tears of pain, sorrow, loss, disappointment, sadness, anger, frustration, embarrassment, or grief. Other times tears show up because of love, joy, inspiration, hope, celebration, or kindness.
Regardless of the underlying emotions, and even when the reason for our tears is painful, crying often makes us feel better and is one of our most authentic expressions of emotion as human beings. And it’s a healthy thing for us to do. According to a study by Dr. William H. Frey II, a biochemist at the St. Paul-Ramsey Medical Center in Minnesota, there are both physical and psychological benefits to crying. Tears help release toxins from the body. And according to Dr. Frey’s research, 88.8 percent of people feel better after crying, whereas only 8.4 percent feel worse.
Even though crying is natural and healthy, we still have to grapple with the stigma associated with it, especially at work. I see this a lot in my own work, and I’m often fascinated by how people react when tears show up, which is a fairly regular occurrence when I speak and especially when I’m working with teams.
I delivered a workshop for a leadership team a few years ago and we did an exercise called “If You Really Knew Me,” in which people are encouraged to share about themselves and their feelings in an authentic and vulnerable way. As we went around the table and people opened up, a few of the members of the team were moved to tears. When the exercise was complete, I had them pair up with a partner to talk about their experience. After a few minutes, I asked the group as a whole, “How was that for you?”
A woman named Judy spoke up right away and said, “That was awful!”
“What was so awful about it for you, Judy?” I asked.
“I hate crying at work. I’m too sensitive and I cry easily. I’ve worked really hard to control it, especially in this role and on this team, because I want to be taken seriously. And then you make us do this exercise and I’m a mess,” Judy said.
“Yes, sometimes being emotional and crying can be intense and get a little messy,” I said. “You weren’t the only one who got emotional during the exercise, though. What was it like when other people shared and even cried when they were talking?” I asked.
“I actually liked that,” said Judy. “I appreciated their courage, openness, and could relate to a lot of what they said. I was also happy to know that I wasn’t the only crier on this team.” As she said this, Judy laughed, and so did everyone else around the table. The laughter lightened the mood in the room. I was about to respond to her when Judy got that wide-eyed, lightbulb look on her face, and blurted out, “Oh my gosh! It never occurred to me until just now that when I break down and cry it feels messy and like I’m being weak, but when other people do, it usually seems courageous to me and I appreciate it.”
Judy’s insight that day was profound for her, the team, and for me. She identified an interesting but important paradox about crying and vulnerability in general. When we do it, it often seems like weakness to us. When we see others do it, however, it often seems like courage.
I’ve seen tears (and other expressions of emotion and vulnerability at work) dramatically shift people’s perspectives, change the dynamics of a conflict, and bring teams together. It has a way of breaking down emotional walls and mental barriers we put up within ourselves and toward others. Crying is natural, and a great human equalizer.
No matter who we are, the role we have, or the status of our job or career – we all have things that make us cry. Remembering this and giving ourselves and others permission to cry if necessary, or to express ourselves in other vulnerable ways, allows more emotional space in which to connect with one another as human beings, which is a big part of what bringing our whole selves to work is all about. And, when we feel safe enough to bring all of who we are to our work and those around us feel safe to do this as well, we can thrive individually and collectively.
How do you feel about crying at work? Feel free to leave a thought, question, or comment on my blog.
This is an excerpt from Bring Your Whole Self to Work, by Mike Robbins, with permission. Published by Hay House (May 2018) and available online or in bookstores.
Feedback is such an important instigator of growth. And one of the ways we enhance both our growth mindset and our practical skills is by eliciting and valuing feedback. But feedback can be tricky for a number of reasons. We’ve all had experiences of both giving and receiving feedback that didn’t go well or, in some cases, may even have caused real harm and pain for us and others.
There are four key things to remember when we’re giving feedback, if we want it to be well-received:
1. Permission – There has to be implicit or, ideally, explicit permission for us to give someone feedback. Unsolicited feedback, even if it’s spot-on and valuable, can be hard to take. Asking someone if they’re open to feedback or whether we can give them some, while sometimes awkward, can be helpful and important. This is true even if we’re their boss, parent, or mentor, or in any other type of relationship with them where permission for our feedback may seem implied. Making sure that we have permission to give feedback shows that we respect and value the person to whom we’re giving it. It also usually makes feedback feel less like judgment and more like help, allowing the person to be more receptive to what we have to say.
2. Intention – It’s important for us to check in with ourselves about the intention behind our feedback. In other words, why are we giving them this feedback? Do we genuinely want them to be more successful? Are we annoyed with them and want to let them know why? Are we trying to prove or defend ourselves? Are we trying to control them or the situation? There are all kinds of reasons why we give feedback to others, and sometimes there is more than one. But being real with ourselves about our motivation behind giving feedback can help us determine whether or not it’s even going to be helpful. And assuming we decide that it is, making sure our intention is genuine and positive will make it more likely that the person will be receptive to it.
3. Skill – Giving feedback effectively takes skill. Of course, from a growth-mindset perspective, giving feedback is not only important, but also one of many things we can improve upon the more we practice and dedicate ourselves to doing it. Because giving and receiving feedback can be a vulnerable experience for everyone involved, it requires attention, commitment, awareness, and courage to do it well. And even with all those things, it’s still not easy. The more willing we are to do it, the more we can develop our skill of giving feedback successfully. And there are, of course, different ways to skillfully give feedback. Oftentimes, especially at work, we may give it directly and explicitly as part of a review or development conversation. But as Melissa Daimler, Senior Vice President of Talent at WeWork and former Head of Learning at Twitter, once told me, “Sometimes the best feedback I’ve gotten has been when I didn’t even realize it was feedback.”
4. Relationship – The most important aspect of giving effective feedback is the relationship we have with the person we’re giving it to. We can have explicit permission, the most positive intention, and a lot of skill in how we deliver it — but if our relationship isn’t strong or it’s actively strained, it’ll be very difficult for us to give feedback to someone and have them receive it well. I could get the same exact feedback from two different people but react to it differently depending on my relationship with each of them. Let’s say, in one case, I know the person cares about me, appreciates me, and believes in me. I’m much more likely to be open to their feedback and to take it positively. But if, in another case, the person is someone I don’t know as well or may have some unresolved issues with, it’s less likely that I’ll be open and take their feedback well. This is all about personal credibility.
Making sure the relationships we have are strong and authentic helps us ensure that we can give feedback effectively when we need to do so. All four of these things — permission, intention, skill, and relationship — are important for us to remember when giving feedback. And they’re also important for us to think about in receiving feedback. The other side of the same coin is making sure that we give people permission to give us feedback, check in with and pay attention to what their intention might be, give them feedback about how they’re giving it or how we like it to be given, and work to strengthen our relationships with the people around us.
The most effective ways to enhance our ability to receive feedback are to ask for it, be open to it, and genuinely consider it when it comes our way. Receiving feedback is essential to our growth and success. And the more willing we are to seek it out and take it in, the further along the continuum of growth mindset we can move.
What makes giving feedback most challenging for you? What can you do to make it a little easier and more effective?
This article is excerpted from Bring Your Whole Self to Work, by Mike Robbins, with permission. Published by Hay House (May 2018) and available online or in bookstores.
As a former professional athlete, and as someone who worked in sales and has quite a strong competitive spirit, I know a few things about competition. I’ve also studied it and seen it play out in both healthy and unhealthy ways within teams and companies for many years. Competition is part of life, and especially of business. It can be harnessed in a productive way for teams, but it can also be incredibly damaging and detrimental to the culture of a team or company. So, it’s important to understand that there are two types of competition: negative and positive.
Negative competition is when we compete with others in such a way that we want to win at the expense of the other person or people involved. In other words, our success is predicated on their failure. Negative competition is a zero-sum game, and is based on the adolescent notion that if we win we’re “good” and if we lose we’re “bad.” It’s all about being better than or feeling inferior to others — based on outcomes or accomplishments. In a team setting, negative internal competition shuts down trust and psychological safety, and negatively impacts the culture. It usually takes one of three forms:
- One person competing against another person on the team
- One person competing against the entire team
- One team competing against another team within the organization
Positive competition is when we compete with others in a way that brings out the best in us and everyone involved. It’s about challenging ourselves, pushing those around us, and allowing our commitment and skill, and the motivation of others, to bring the best out of us and tap into our potential. When we compete in a positive way, it benefits us and anyone else involved. Of course, we may “win” or we may “lose” the competition we’re engaged in, and there are times when the outcome has a significant impact and is important. But when we compete in this positive way, we aren’t rooting for others to fail or obsessed with winning at all costs, and we realize that we aren’t “good” or “bad” and that our value as human beings isn’t determined by the result. Positive competition is about growth, grit, and taking ourselves and our team to the next level.
A very simple example of this comes from exercise. Working out with another person is a positive, practical strategy for getting in shape, because having a workout partner creates accountability, support, and motivation. Let’s say you and I decided to work out together on a regular basis, and we picked a few different activities such as running, biking, and tennis that we’d do a few times a week. And let’s imagine we decided to add a little competition to make it more interesting. If we competed against each other in a negative way, I would be obsessed with figuring out how to run faster, bike farther, and beat you at tennis. And if I got really into it, I might find myself feeling stressed before we worked out, and after we got done I’d be either happy or upset depending on how I did in comparison to you on a particular day. I might even find myself taunting you if I “won,” or feeling defensive, jealous, or angry if I “lost.”
However, if we went about these same activities in a positively competitive way, we could still compete to win in tennis or race each other in running or biking. We wouldn’t waste our time and energy attaching too much meaning to the outcome, but instead would realize that by pushing one another past our perceived limitations we would both get a better workout, helping each of us to be as healthy and fit as possible.
In a team environment, it’s important to pay attention to competition. We all have the capacity for both negative and positive competition. The more aware we are of our own and others’ competitive tendencies, the more easily we can talk about and pay attention to them when they manifest themselves. Championship teams embrace competition, and harness its positive power to fuel individual and collective growth and success. And creating a culture of positive competition can bring out the best in us and everyone on the team.
Are you competing in a positive or a negative way? What can you do to create an environment of positive competition around you?
This post is excerpted from Bring Your Whole Self to Work, by Mike Robbins, with permission. Published by Hay House (May 2018) and available online or in bookstores.