The Making of The SharePoint Shepherd’s Guide for End Users: 2016

A few weeks ago, we launched the 2016 version of the SharePoint Shepherd’s Guide for End Users. This is our fourth build of the productivity aid and book since its 2007 release. Updating and delivering the content is something we know how to do. Our big achievement for this release wasn’t in the content – though it continues to get better – the big advancements this time was transforming the way the content looked when it was deployed to SharePoint.

Goodbye Wiki Version, Hello Publishing

We often spoke of the corporate edition by calling it the “wiki” edition. That was because the corporate edition deployed as a wiki library in the client’s SharePoint. This was convenient, because it allowed users to be able to modify the pages on their own. It also meant that we could sell the Shepherd’s Guide to users with Windows SharePoint Services or SharePoint Foundation and they would be able to use it because wiki libraries were available in every version of SharePoint.

However, times have changed. Microsoft is no longer offering a SharePoint Foundation version, and therefore every customer for SharePoint 2016 will have at least SharePoint Server Standard, which includes publishing pages. For us, this was great, primarily because it allowed us to solve some formatting problems that had plagued the content due to the nature of the wiki’s HTML processing (or mangling) engine.

If you read the book you saw that we had full-color highlights in the text to indicate which things you were supposed to click on. When we generated the HTML for the wiki, these were stripped by the HTML engine. We lived without these highlights that we had painstakingly put into the content because there wasn’t a solution. However, with the 2016 version and the migration to publishing pages, we could get them back in the corporate edition.

The use of the publishing feature allows us to structure the content better and improves some other handling, but the big value of this move is in how we allow you to customize your content.

Customizing Content

One of the hallmarks of the SharePoint Shepherd solution since its initial release has been the ability to customize the content. You can customize what we provide as well as adding new content of your own. None of the other help solutions for SharePoint allow you to do this. It’s been one of the things that customers have repeatedly told us was essential to their needs. They were using the Shepherd’s Guide to get a head start on their support for their users, and customizing was a big deal.

Historically, we’ve not needed to do many updates to the content once it was released. Microsoft started changing this in SharePoint 2013 when they changed SkyDrive to OneDrive post-release. The changes for SharePoint 2016 are anticipated to include the new modern UI. That meant we had to plan for situations where we were updating content and users were updating the same content. We needed an elegant way to manage updates in a more fluid way.

The switch to publishing allows us to do this. We track the version of the content we deploy. If the user changes the content, we detect this and we don’t overwrite their content. Instead, we post a non-major version of the content into the library. The impact of this is that editors can look for items which aren’t published as major versions to evaluate the content that we have updates for and decide whether to keep their changes our ours. It also means that the standard tools in SharePoint work to help you identify changes in the content.

In doing this we’ve delivered a way for you to both receive updates and to customize your content at the same time.

Multiple Versions

While listening to customers, we began to hear about organizations that were struggling with multiple versions of SharePoint. They had everything from SharePoint 2007 through Office 365 and the support staff was struggling to provide answers on how to do things no matter what the version of SharePoint. So, we added support for multiple versions of the Shepherd’s Guide content – including the ability to instantly shift from one version of the content to another – from every page.

If you’re looking at a task in the 2016 version, you can go back to the 2007 version of the guide because that’s the actual version you’re trying to use – or the user interface is stuck in that version. Users can find the version of the guide that matches their user interface and get the help they need.

The Ultimate Solution

While we still sell the Shepherd’s Guide by version as a one-time purchase, we’ve added a new way to get the guide. The Ultimate Guide includes every version of the guide we’ve published, including updates. As Office 365 continues to evolve, we’ll publish updates and provide them as a part of The SharePoint Shepherd’s Ultimate Guide for End Users. This subscription-based offering will allow you to have all the end user support content you need for your users no matter what version they’ve been on – or will be on.

The ultimate solution allows you to create your own content, edit ours, and stay up to date all at the same time. There’s no reason to build your own support content for SharePoint. We’ve got that covered.

Look at what we’re doing with the ultimate guide on the SharePoint Shepherd site at www.SharePointShepherd.com/Ultimate.

OneDrive Sync to a SharePoint Library with a Required Field

A few months ago, I upgraded to the next generation sync client for OneDrive for all my synchronization to SharePoint libraries, and one of my libraries – on all the computers I synchronize to – had a problem. When I would try to edit files from the library, Word was complaining that the files were read-only, or I was out of space. When I went to the back office, it showed me that the file was an offline copy.

In file explorer, I saw little green locks overlaying the document icon.

I couldn’t figure out what the issue was because check in/out wasn’t required, or even turned on, in the library. Approvals weren’t required and versioning was set for major versions. None of the files were declared as in-place records, nor were they on a legal hold. I ultimately disabled a workflow to find that it wasn’t an issue with workflows running on the library. I was mystified until I walked someone through every field on the list. I realized that one of the fields – status – was a choice field with a default set, but it was also set to required. As soon as I set the field to not required, every file in the library resynchronized and the lock icon disappeared and was replaced with a checkmark (indicating it had synchronized).

So, even though all of the documents had the required field, and a default was provided, OneDrive (the new sync client) refused to synchronize the library correctly with a required field. Because of the integration between OneDrive and the Office applications, they were refusing to sync files too.

If you’re wondering why you can’t save documents or why you have little green locks… perhaps all that’s required is to set the fields to not be required.

Book Review-A Way of Being

I started 2017 off with my review of Motivational Interviewing, which serves as a structure for how to communicate with those who are struggling to help them be more successful. It’s foundationally based on active listening, which is attributed to Thomas Gordon in Parent Effectiveness Training. The other foundation of motivational interviewing is the work of Carl Rogers, so I decided to look into A Way of Being, one of his final works. It wasn’t a single-threaded thought expressed across the pages of a book. Instead it was a collection of essays, presentations, and papers that together form a sense for this great psychologist who urged us to listen and truly hear people as they speak.

Psychology the Profession

I have both a deep respect for psychology and an uneasiness about how it’s been used over the years. I’ve seen, through the works of others and personally, how it can be misused. (See House of Cards, The Cult of Psychology Testing, and Science and Pseudoscience in Clinical Psychology for some of the underbelly of this profession.) Rogers was present at the formation of psychology as a profession. He was the president of the American Psychological Association in 1947 and was also aware of the problems with creating any profession.

Rogers acknowledged that credentials didn’t completely separate the good psychologists from the bad ones – or those who shouldn’t be licensed. He recognized that non-credentialed laypersons were doing more good than some of the credentialed psychologists of his day. He also acknowledged that the key challenge with codifying something into a profession is the fact that in doing so you necessarily retard the growth of the practice of the profession. Credentialing relies upon agreement on the skills and beliefs that a credentialed person should have, and that necessarily must lag the exploration at the edges of the profession.

However, the perspective is one of awareness, as he could see the mind-expanding properties of education and the mind-shrinking properties of traditional therapy. Education expanded the boundaries of the mind, where therapy typically shrank the number of options.

Really Listening

It was in the 1970s when Gordon wrote Parent Effectiveness Training and spoke of active listening. As radical as this was for its time, Rogers had been gradually refining an approach of person-centered therapy, where listening to what the client was really saying was core. He had realized that when someone was in a crisis what they often needed most was for someone to understand them. They needed someone to connect with them through language and words. They needed to be heard.

This is the core of active listening – reflecting what the other person says in a way that helps them know that they were heard and understood. It’s in that way that you connect with them and help them know that they’re not alone.

Separateness

In person-centered therapy, you intentionally connect with someone to understand their world without accepting it as your own. By allowing the other person to have their opinions without trying to persuade them of something different, you both recognize where they are as well as accept that their answer is not the only answer. (See How to Be an Adult in Relationships for more on allowing.) There is both acceptance of the other person and boundaries between their reality and your reality. (See Boundaries for more on boundaries, and Choice Theory for more on inner world realities.) Rogers deeply believed in the right for others to have their views – even if they contradicted his own.

Outside Looking In

One of the comments that caught my attention was, “In my younger years, although I was not a hero-worshiper, I definitely looked up to a number of men whom I felt were ‘real psychologists,’ whereas I existed on a poorly accepted fringe.” I think the reason this comment was so interesting was because I believe that we all have experienced this belief that we’re on the outside, or that we’re not doing the “real work” of the profession. It’s refreshing to know that some of the men who defined their professions have felt like they too were on the outside once.

It’s comforting that everyone feels like they’re on the outside looking in at what others are doing, which seems to be more impactful or more relevant to the profession. For me, it was learning to do software development and considering those professionals creating compilers and new languages. I felt like I didn’t understand. Later in my career, it was those folks who were doing agile development or learning patterns before I had time to learn and use these techniques.

As I spent more time in the industry, I realized that there is an ugliness that doesn’t show from the outside. I’ve seen how projects that were trumpeted as winners never accomplished their goals. However, the press coverage was good.

Wanting but Not Expecting

Rogers continues later: “Writing is my way of communicating with a world to which, in a very real sense, I feel I do not quite belong. I wish very much to be understood, but I don’t expect to be,” after relating that psychologists aren’t interested in new ideas – in ideas that challenge the status quo. It’s easier to accept that we have the answers rather than question whether we do or don’t.

Inherent in people – including Rogers, you, and I – is that we want to be understood. As the father of person-centered therapy, he knew this completely. He desired to be fully understood and at some level knew, because of his intelligence and his different view of the world, that he wouldn’t be. He chose to write his ideas, to give him time to optimize their clarity and to articulate the dimensions of his thoughts.

However, no matter how much he crafted his prose, he never expected to be fully understood. He longed for people of his era to understand his message and simultaneously didn’t expect that this was possible. At some level, this feels like a lonely place. He’s the misunderstood artist. He’s the genius that no one gets.

The people that I respect the most are people who feel a bit like misfits. They have a message burning inside of them, but they feel as if they may not be able to get the message through to a world that needs it. I feel this way at times. I identify with the thought that there are parts of my experience that are difficult, if not impossible, to relate to others.

We Have a Choice

The debates of Roger’s day reverberated through social consciousness and are still felt today. Skinner and some of his colleagues believed that man has no choices, that humans are a result of their genetics and environments, and therefore don’t have the choice in how they act. Everything is preprogrammed and running like a large clock down until the end. This, however, denies free will and the ability for us to make our own choices and alter the course of our lives. If you’re driven by the desire to help people, thinking that you’re helpless to influence your goal isn’t motivating.

The repercussions of the disagreement between Skinner and Rogers can be felt today. Dweck had to study and write about the idea of a fixed vs. a growth mindset. (See Mindset for more.) We read of the different ways that people see time in The Time Paradox. Depending upon your frame of reference, we’re either prisoners traveling in the train of time, or we’re conductors of the train guiding our own destinies. Glasser struggles for acceptance of his Choice Theory because we’re so caught up in controlling others by controlling their experiences.

Ultimately, the growth of Motivational Interviewing and other techniques that can be helpful to others are proof that we do have a choice in how we act and react. I suppose the counter-argument is that it’s hard, as evidenced by John Kotter’s often-quoted responses about most organizational change initiatives failing.

Quenching of Desires

Maslow wasn’t wrong when he expressed his hierarchy of needs, but he wasn’t entirely right either. We all have basic needs that we need met. We start with physiological needs like air, water, and food, and move up the hierarchy to self-actualization. Where he wasn’t quite right is that we don’t work on the lower level to the exclusion of the higher level. He said that we work on it to sufficiency before proceeding, but that misses the fundamental element of time. We satiate or quench our desires, but we never fully put them out.

When hunger rears its head, it can block or delay higher pursuits; but sometimes we can delay our hunger to obtain our higher-level goals. We quench our thirst for water for a while. It takes mental energy to pursue higher goals while our lower needs are not fully met, while at the same time we know that our lower-level needs may never be completely met.

Degeneration and Generation

Entropy says that the universe is a clock that is slowly winding down. The complex order of things is being disrupted by the continual decline and deterioration of things. However, on the opposite side of the fence, we know that stars convert less complex atoms into more complex – or at least heavier – atoms. We know that there are forces that are converting single-celled organisms into multi-celled organisms. There is generation as well as degeneration happening at the same time.

Bohm (see On Dialogue) described the growth of a tree from an acorn as the emergence of the tree through the aperture of the acorn. It would be silly to say that the tree was inside the acorn. The tree is much more voluminous and has a much higher mass. However, when considered as the opening through which the tree emerges, one can see that the tree isn’t inside the acorn – but the acorn is the way the tree comes into being.

The constant ebb and flow of generation and deterioration means that there is change. People can and do change. They have the capacity to tear down old patterns of behavior and create new ones where the old ones were, like a forest that sprouts up new life where a fire has occurred.

The Demands on the Therapist

Another one of Roger’s quotes that is intriguing is, “As I have considered this evidence and also my own experience in the training of therapists, I come to the somewhat uncomfortable conclusion that the more psychologically mature and integrated the therapist is, the more helpful is the relationship that he or she provides. This puts a heavy demand on the therapist as a person.” In other words, one has to be very centered and mentally healthy themselves to withstand the buffeting by those that they seek to support. They must be open to the inner turmoil that exists in the worlds of their patients while not losing themselves.

I often think about the scene from The Matrix where Nero no longer dodges the bullets. He stops them, investigates one, then drops it. This is powerful. The ability to see the “slings and arrows” fired your way while not reacting to them is something Buddhists train extensively for.

While neither you nor I are likely to be therapists, A Way of Being can help us understand what it is like to be a fellow, supportive human being.

Announcing: The End User’s Guide to Manual Migration

Over the years, I’ve helped numerous clients migrate from one implementation of SharePoint to another. Sometimes this was because of version upgrades, sometimes as they migrated to the cloud, and sometimes just because their first implementation was so “challenging.” Over the years, I picked up a few useful ways to think about the migration process when you’re asking a user to do it. I created a two-page guide (one sheet, double-sided) that we would share with every user as a part of the migration process. However, it didn’t look that good.

So, I partnered with Sharegate to help “make it pretty”. The result is available on their web site at https://get.share-gate.com/manual-migration-reference-guide. It may seem weird that an organization that sells migration tools would be interested in helping you know how to do it yourself. However, the truth is, they care about you getting to the new platform. In some cases, the right answer is their tools. In other cases, the right answer is for the users to migrate the content themselves. If you’re looking for a guide that you can share with your users, check it out.

Book Review-Organizational Traps: Leadership, Culture and Organizational Design

The first quote from the book in my notes is, “Anyone who has spent time in an organization knows that dysfunctional behavior abounds. Conflict is frequently avoided or pushed underground rather than dealt with openly.” This is the heart of why I knew I needed to read Chris Argyris’ book, Organizational Traps: Leadership, Culture, and Organizational Design. I knew of his work through other authors, including Peter Singe’s The Fifth Discipline, Jeff Conklin’s Dialogue Mapping, and William Isaacs Dialogue. I’ve used his ladder of inference in my presentations before. It was finally time to get around to reading how he saw organizational traps.

In Organizational Traps, Argyris walks us through the traps that organizations find themselves in and to a lesser extent what to do about it.

Double Binds

Chinese finger traps are fun to play with once you know how they work. Until then, it can be an infuriating situation to have your fingers caught in a device that gets tighter the harder that you pull. This is the nature at the root of organizational problems. It’s a trap that prevents you from moving forward – or backwards. It’s a set of circumstances that are hard to get out of by their nature. The system is set up such that problems occur.

Systems thinking is the idea that the structure of the system can drive outcomes in sometimes unpredictable ways. (See The Fifth Discipline and Thinking in Systems for more on systems thinking.) Organizations create double binds unintentionally: they’re the side effect of incompatible and conflicting instructions.

I mentioned that I took a stand-up comedy course some time ago in my post I Am a Comedian. What I didn’t mention was the double bind that we were put in as students. On the one hand, we were encouraged to learn a famous comedian’s material and be able to deliver it. On the other hand, we were nudged on the issues around plagiarism and told not to be too rigid on the stage. Necessarily to deliver someone else’s material requires that you maintain their posture and timing – which means you can’t be relaxed. I pointed this out to the instructors and they dropped the recommendation to learn someone else’s material and there by eliminated the double bind.

Defensive Routines

While working on my review for Dialogue, I wrote an entire post on defensive routines. These unconscious responses trigger us to defend our position. We experience diffuse physiological activation (DPA) and have our thinking compromised. (See The Science of Trust for more on DPA.) These defensive routines are in operation by default, because our brain functions mostly on what Kahnman calls “System 1”. That is, the automatic, pattern-matching, threat monitoring, low-power lizard parts of our brain, not the System 2 executive function that is the heart of our consciousness (see Thinking, Fast and Slow).

The Difference Between Saying and Doing

The largest gap on the planet earth isn’t the Mariana Trench or the Grand Canyon. The largest gap is between saying and doing. The largest gap exists between what people say they do and what they actually do. There are three reasons why people don’t say what they do:

  1. They forget
  2. They are unavoidably prevented
  3. They don’t do the hard work.

This gap between saying and doing – the fortitude to do what you say you’ll do – is a bedrock foundation upon which defenses against organizational traps sits. (See my post The Largest Gap in the World.)

Espoused Beliefs

There’s another reason why people don’t do what they say they’re going to do. In short, they don’t realize that they’re not doing it. They believe that they’ll do the right thing, whether it comes to finding a lost item, or making a decision to help an elderly lady cross the street – but too often they don’t. An old study was performed with seminary students and an accomplice. The study had the students head across campus to an important interview. Between them and their goal was a person, the accomplice,ho was seemingly in distress. This should have seemed like a perfect example of the Good Samaritan story from the Bible. Despite this, few students stopped to help the person who was seemingly struggling.

When we’re aware of our gap between statement and action, it’s one thing. It’s quite another to observe people who are behaving in a way inconsistent with their espoused beliefs. Sometimes it’s these gaps between what we say we believe and what we actually do that become undiscussable in an organization, because it’s uncomfortable to be shown how you’re not behaving in ways which are consistent with what you say you believe.

Discussing the Undiscussable

There’s a saying in recovery circles that “you’re only as sick as your secrets.” This is an admonishment at a personal level that it’s important to communicate with others and share your burden – not so much as a solution than as an invitation for others to share your space. At an organizational level, the same principles apply. The organization’s sicknesses are revealed in the undiscussable items in the organization.

Just as the healthiest people are those who are capable about speaking of their weaknesses, so too the healthiest organizations have few undiscussable or taboo items. Instead of running and hiding from the hard parts of the organization, they expose them to the light of day, so that their true size is exposed. The result is quite often that the taboo topic wasn’t as big and scary as it seemed.

Slay the Sacred Cows

Every organization has sacred cows. Those things that “must” be. However, when organizations define themselves by things that must remain the same, they often die as the world changes around them. The Pony Express might have been a great company, but defining themselves as the “Pony Express” rather than accepting their role as communications delivery, they died when the railroad could transport mail faster.

If National Cash Register (NCR) was still exclusively in the business of cash registers, they would not have survived. While not thriving today, they’ve had a pretty good run as an organization. They survived – and at points in their history thrived – because they were willing to slay their sacred cows and say that cash registers aren’t going to be their core business or their only business.

When an organization is ready to slay its sacred cows and the market is not, the market will help the organization stay true to its roots. When Netflix wanted to split into two brands, the market told them that this wasn’t the right move, and they went back to a company that used mail delivery for DVDs and one that delivered videos via streaming. Ironically, Netflix’s name reflects the true desire of the leadership, who were adapting with mail delivery until their vision could become a reality. They’re raising their sacred cow – that someday to survive they’ll have to slay.

Confronting Conflict

The challenge with slaying sacred cows is that it invariably means conflict, and many of us are conflict adverse. We don’t like it, and so it’s hard to stay “in the fight” when you don’t like fights in the first place. In the workplace, the challenges around failing to have what Vital Smarts calls Crucial Conversations leads to a lack of transparency and trust that ultimately lead to the downward spiral of an organization.

Confronting conflict, while difficult to do, is the best way of disrupting the organizational traps and diffusing them. By refusing to “play the game” you’re uncovering and disarming the traps so that no one can step in them. Too few organizations value the need for appropriate, natural, and healthy conflict inside the organization.

Trust

The move to being able to have crucial conversations isn’t a one step process. Developing the capacity in the organization to have those hard conversations requires more than a fair degree of trust. When your family’s welfare is on the line, you’ve got to trust – really trust—that the organization won’t get rid of you just because you’re having the hard conversations. Most people who have been in business for a while have seen people who were the “trouble makers” get separated from the company. You can’t be a disruptor if your livelihood depends upon the organization and you simply can’t risk being let go.

Trust flows in both directions though. Leadership in the organization needs to trust that your motives for discussing an issue aren’t self-serving or designed to make the leadership look bad. They have to develop a trust that the reason for talking about things is to help the organization become better.

Eventually when enough trust develops it’s possible to start the journey towards dialogue.

Dialogue

If organizational traps are in the breakdown of communication, then dialogue is the daily vitamin that helps prevent the illness. Rather than repeat a discussion on this topic here, I’ll refer you to my three-part review of Dialogue: The Art of Thinking Together
and my post Discussion and Dialogue for Learning. Dialogue is the antidote to many of the organizational traps that Argyris shares.

Self-Fueling and Self Sealing – The Power of Traps

The problem with Organizational Traps are that they’re self-fueling and self-sealing. They’re a system that has its own positive feedback loops, making them self-fueling. Once you stop talking about one sacred cow, it’s easy to ignore the herd that follows. The self-sealing nature of the pain associated with cleaning up the mess of having not dialogued about items makes it harder to start the conversation. In this way, organizational traps function because they load themselves and spread throughout the organization. That is, unless you have someone or a group of people who intentionally set out to disarm organizational traps to help the organization be its best.

I wouldn’t expect that reading Organizational Traps will prevent your organization from having organizational traps – but it may just help you disarm them.

Article: Developer Productivity: Managing Cycle Times in Iterative Development

Thus far in the series, we’ve focused on managing productivity at an individual developer level. However, sometimes developer productivity results from the best management of the developers and the rest of the team. Measuring individual developer productivity is convenient because it tells you how well a single developer is performing. However, even the best developers can perform poorly when they’re put into a cadence that doesn’t work for the project or the organization. Here we’ll look at iterations, and how quickly we cycle can make a big difference.

Part of the developer.com series, Developer Productivity. Read more…

The Psychology of Not Holding Children Accountable

No one really wants to be held accountable if you get right down to it. I’m not saying that we don’t hold ourselves accountable or that we don’t want to hold others accountable – I’m saying that we don’t like having to be accountable. (A corollary to this is that we all want control but we don’t want to be controlled, as I mentioned in my review of Compelled to Control.) However, we know that we need to learn the discipline to hold ourselves accountable and to teach this accountability to our children. Despite this need, too many parents fail to hold their children accountable, and in doing so they create struggles for their children down the road.

I want to walk through a model for why parents don’t hold their children accountable and what the long-term impacts of that are.

Why Accountability?

Before getting into the systems and factors that drive the desire for a lack of accountability, it’s appropriate to consider why we care. Why does it matter that people are held accountable? As it turns out, it matters because without it we can’t maintain stable social relationships. Societies are built on trust. (See my review of Trust for the economic impacts of trust, and Trust => Vulnerability => Intimacy for more on trust and its relational impacts in general.)

Accountability is applying consequences when someone doesn’t meet a commitment. The consequences for failing to meet a commitment can be as simple as disapproval or can involve much more tangible losses. Few people would argue that, if someone were to break the terms of a legal contract, they should be held accountable to address the losses of the other party. But how far does this expectation extend?

When a friend promises to you they’ll be there and they aren’t, do you discuss it with them? If they just say they’ll commit to being there, do you discuss it? A promise is a stronger commitment than just committing to being there. Comments like “I’ll try” or “I think I’ll make it” are weaker statements that don’t rise to the level of commitment; therefore, there’s no need to hold someone accountable to a comment.

If accountability is applying consequences only when there is a commitment, the easy answer is to not make commitments. Unfortunately, there are many implied commitments that happen in the course of interacting with other people. Children have an implied commitment from their parents that they will be taken care of at least until 18, and frequently beyond that. Barbers have an implicit agreement that they’ll deliver a reasonable haircut for the money you pay them. There’s a commitment that the barber will meet processional standards.

Social Commitments

Whether we like it or not, we’re social creatures. We exist in relationship to others. When we’re not connected to others, it causes serious health issues (see Emotional Intelligence for more on the 1987 Science article). The size of our social networks is related to the size of the neocortex, as Robin Dunbar pointed out – and humans have a large neocortex. (See my post High Orbit – Respecting Grieving for more.) Our ability to influence others is strongly connected to our social connection with them. (See Influencer and Diffusion of Innovations for more.)

As inherently social creatures, our commitments to one another are interwoven in the fabric of our relationships with each other. We build trust by making commitments, and it’s these commitments that we must – unfortunately – be held accountable to. (See Building Trust: Make, Renegotiate, Meet for more on how building trust is accomplished.)

By holding ourselves and our children accountable to our explicit personal and implicit social commitments, we can develop the skills that will help our children be effective in this world.

Parental Distraction

One of my favorite stories about holding children accountable revolves around a trip on a subway: a father and his young children get on the train and the children quickly begin playing games and being loud, to the frustration of the other passengers. The man seems completely oblivious to the havoc that his children are creating on the train. One of the other passengers, who had become quite frustrated with the man’s failure to hold his children accountable, approaches him in anger, and asks the father why he doesn’t do something about his children’s behavior. The response was a stuttering, “I’m sorry. I didn’t realize. We just came from my wife’s funeral and I just didn’t realize.” In a moment, the frustration and anger melts away and is replaced with heartfelt compassion.

This story poignantly demonstrates that there are times when a parent might be so distracted by their own inner world that they’re simply incapable of noticing the impact that their children are having on other people. The implied social commitment of not allowing your children to disturb other adults is relaxed not due to malice or incompetence but instead because of an inner struggle.

While there are certainly cases where we might not accept the distractions as reasonable, few people would find fault with the father who has just lost his wife. However, many people would find fault with a father who was lost in Facebook or his phone while his children ran amuck.

Unfortunately, parents are all too often involved in their own lives in ways that make it difficult for them to see and understand how their children aren’t meeting the societal norms and should be held accountable.

Parental Time

Our generations are growing up with a greater awareness of their rights and entitlements and less of what Tom Brokaw recognized in “the greatest generation” as commitment to each other and society. (See America’s Generations for more on generational differences.) Parents have traded the quantity of the time they have with their children for the supposed quality time – which all too often isn’t quality at all. It’s just the few minutes that the parents spare for their children.

Certainly there’s a need to rest and recharge. With seven children, it’s impossible to be focused on all of them at every moment. However, there is balance between the entitlement that a parent should be able to have alone time and the need to be present and persistent as a parent. Some time to oneself and with one’s spouse is important, but too much of it looks a lot like shirking duties as a parent.

Parental Friendship

Sometimes the barrier to holding children accountable isn’t a lack of awareness or attention to them, but rather a lack of conviction to the parenting process. Parenting children is hard work. I’ve never found anyone who’s willing to argue this point. Everyone knows that it’s a difficult, tiring, and often thankless job. If you do your job as a parent well, you have no guarantees that your child will actually like you – or that you will like them.

Too many parents seek a friend in their child above being a parent. They’ll happily fulfill the duties of parent as they understand them until it conflicts with the ability of the child to be their friend. It’s hard to tell children no if the result is that you won’t be liked. It’s hard to enforce consequences for their actions – to hold them accountable – because it will necessarily mean negative feelings.

All too often, these parents aren’t complete inside. They’ve got holes in their soul where they’re missing friendship from other adults or are trying to get to a relationship they never had with their parents. Often in this mess there’s a confusion between liking someone and respecting them.

They never respected nor liked their parents, and rather than hoping that their children will respect them as a parent, they settle for being liked, and in the process, prevent the hope that children will respect them. We only respect people who can make the right choices, even when those choices are hard.

Parental Strength

Sometimes those hard choices are simply too hard for a parent to make. Their internal perspective and position doesn’t allow them to feel strong enough to make the tough calls. Sometimes this is a physical perspective: they fear what will happen if their child strikes out at them physically; but more frequently it’s the strength of conviction that they must be a parent first.

Perhaps it’s the lie that our children need our friendship more than they need us as a parent. After all, teenage suicide is on the rise, isn’t it? Unfortunately, teenage suicide rates are alarming. However, is the cause of these suicides because their parents held them accountable, or are there other causes? Sometimes, it’s the belief that there’s nothing wrong with not holding our children accountable. In other words, what’s the worst that could happen? Unfortunately, the worst that can happen is that our children learn that they can get away with anything and their ethical base is eroded.

Vulnerable Child Syndrome

Another variant of why parents won’t hold their children accountable is described as the “vulnerable child syndrome”. (The name comes research conducted by Green and Solnit.) Consider a child who has a kind of cancer that has a reasonably high incidence of mortality within the next five years. How hard is it to get a child to meet a commitment – particularly an unpleasant one like brushing their teeth if you know that they’re likely to die soon? How powerful is the pull at the parent’s heart strings to let the child not do what they’ve been asked to do?

How much does it really matter anyway? In this case, it does matter. There’s a change in the infection risk based on whether they’re brushing their teeth or not, but even knowing the increased risk for infection won’t be enough to escape the grips of heart strings when your child is suffering and you can’t make it stop, so you sure don’t want to add to it.

Similar situations happen when a child loses a parent. No one wants to hold the children accountable because they feel sorry for them. How terrible it must be to lose a parent – we can’t make them eat their vegetables. It’s as if the relatives believe that they can compensate for the loss of a parent by offering them no vegetables and a desert at every meal.

While this is well-intended, it misses the fundamental need of children to have structure and control around them. (See Parent Effectiveness Training for a complete discussion on appropriate control of children.)

Parental Guilt and Shame

Perhaps the most unsettling reason why parents don’t hold their children accountable is because of their own guilt and shame. (See Daring Greatly for a discussion of the differences.) Parents are ashamed of something they’ve done, and as a result they’re unwilling or unable to hold their children accountable. Often after a divorce (for more on divorce see my review of Divorce: Causes and Consequences), parents will have trouble holding their children accountable, because they feel guilty about the divorce. They believe they’re to blame for the divorce; so how could they hold their child accountable for acting out when they’re really the one to blame?

The reason why this is so unsettling is because it easily leads to a negative feedback loop. As the parent feels more guilt and shame because of their initial issues, which get added to as the children become unmanageable, they feel more guilt and shame, making it more difficult to hold the children accountable and further perpetuating the cycle.

Outcomes for Children

If someone told you that a test involving a marshmallow administered to young children could be an effective predictor of success in life you might be inclined to laugh. However, the famous “marshmallow test” run by Walter Mischel did just that. (The test is widely covered in Mischel’s own book and in books like Willpower.) The ability to delay gratification and wait for two marshmallows instead of eating the one in front of them has proven to be an effective predictor of many things, including success, later in life. How can such a simple test provide such insights?

One answer is that it measures the ability for a child to delay gratification, and which is necessary for many other situations in life, where the better you are at delaying gratification the more successful you’ll be.

Take a moment to think about social skills – the kind of skills you develop when you’re held accountable to your commitments. This is one small sliver of the broader concept of emotional intelligence: the ability to form relationships with others and connect with them. Emotional intelligence, too, has been identified as a predictor of success in life – more so than IQ.

While there have been no focused, hard-science research on holding children accountable that I’m aware of, the supporting skills and the presumptions of what you’ll teach children by holding them accountable have been shown to indicate greater success in life.

If, then, you choose to not hold your children accountable, you’re more likely to stifle their chances in life – and no one wants that, do they?

Book Review-A Praying Life: Connecting with God in a Distracting World

It was December 17th, 2012 when I finished reading A Praying Life: Connecting with God in a Distracting World. Three days before my birthday and four days before I found out that my now ex-wife had filed for divorce. I had known it was coming, but we had an agreement that we’d wait until after the new year and our son’s birthday before filing. It’s little wonder that I put my review of the book aside. I had read it to try to heal my heart from the damage that the marriage had done.

I wanted to get closer to God, but I was deeply conflicted because I was clear about how “God hates divorce.” (If you want to see biblical perspectives on divorce, see my review of Divorce: Causes and Consequences.) The book was a great view of how to find peace in prayer and how to keep the noise of everyday life at bay. Just as I mentioned in my review of Intimacy Anorexia, my thoughts were too personal and raw to share at the time; however, with the passage of several years and after having found love again, I feel like I can write how I was able to find A Praying Life.

What Prayer Is

It seems fitting that, if you’re going to talk about praying, you should start by explaining what it is. Clearly, prayer is a conversation with God. It’s a way to communicate with your Creator. However, what most folks don’t realize is that in Greek, which the New Testament is written in, “prayer” is the exchanging of wishes for faith.

We often casually say that we don’t have enough faith. We believe that faith is something that we generate internally; however, faith is always a gift from God. Prayer is how we exchange our hopes, fears, desires, and wishes for that faith. So, when we believe that we don’t have enough faith, we should pray more – not less.

What Love Is

It was during this same dark time that I read God Loves You: He Always Has and He Always Will. (I finished that book on December 22nd of 2012.) I was struggling to understand God’s love for me personally. Both A Praying Life and God Loves You encouraged me to evaluate what God’s love was – and what it meant to love everyone. I brought this discussion of love together with a discussion of hope and faith in my post Faith, Hope, and Love.

While it’s possible to enumerate romantic love (eros) separately from our familial or brotherly love (philos) and compassion or global love (agape), this doesn’t explain what love is. It doesn’t help us to love one another. Love isn’t, in fact, a feeling. It’s action. It’s a commitment that we make one person at a time to the other people in our lives and to the people of this fragile planet. Love is more powerful and amazing than anything that we as humans can experience.

Weakness

In western cultures, we rarely speak of weakness. We don’t speak of hardships as opportunities to build character. Brené Brown says that we “gold-plate grit”, and thereby diminish its importance and its relevance. Certainly, there have been times in my life when I’ve been beaten down, when I’ve been worn, and when I’ve been weak. These times can be times of celebration if I allow them to be the ways that God reassures me of his presence. These can be times when I am reminded of how I can’t do this alone. I need God’s strength and power to carry me.

I won’t say that this is easy. I won’t say that I relish my walks through the wilderness. I won’t say that I feel like I always turn to God as much as I should. However, I do know that God leads EVERYONE he loves through the wilderness.

Identity

Somewhere along the way, I learned to be myself. I learned to be the authentic self that I am. I don’t try to project an image that I’m someone else. I don’t attempt to appear better than I am. Nor do I try to think more highly of myself than I should. I realized that if I wanted to be intimate with others – to truly connect – that I’d have to be vulnerable, and that meant that I’d have to be my real self. (See Trust => Vulnerability => Intimacy for more on this progression.)

It seems like this should be easiest with God – but it isn’t always. If you know that you have an omniscient and omnipresent God, then it should follow that he already knows the complete truth about you since the moment of your birth. Yet, sometimes we think that we should somehow appear better for God than we are. We dress in our “Sunday best” to go to church. While this can be done out of respect and reverence, it isn’t always. It’s sometimes just a way of demonstrating what we’ve done and accomplished to others, including God.

However, the funny thing is that we’ve accomplished nothing without God. Even when you don’t feel his presence in your life and in your actions, the raw materials we’ve used to accomplish whatever we’ve done are the raw materials that he provided. We couldn’t possibly have accomplished anything without him.

The problem is that when we fail to be ourselves – our true selves – it’s impossible to be in an authentic relationship with God.

Feelings

I’m a believer in Johnathan Haidt’s model of the Rider-Elephant-Path and the implications of the relationship between our emotions and our rational selves. The model is, in short, that we have a rational rider sitting on an emotional elephant walking down the default path. (See The Happiness Hypothesis and Switch for more on this model.) One of the components of being authentically you is the acceptance that we all have emotions.

Feelings are friends. Feelings are the expression of our emotional elephant into our consciousness. It’s our elephant getting the rider’s attention, so that the rider can know what the elephant knows. I know that some of the mentally healthiest people I know have developed a relationship between their elephant and their rider so that there’s no tension between rationality and feelings.

When you can safely acknowledge your feelings, and accept them as legitimate while not necessarily accepting their accuracy, you build that relationship between the rider and the elephant that transcends anything that makes sense to the rider.

The Mission of the Heart

In church, you often hear of the “mission field”. We hear about the places that missionaries are working to ensure that everyone has been able to hear the great news about Jesus. The challenge is that these places seem so far away and unreachable. We often forget that the mission field is all around us. We forget that our neighbors are struggling to find their way. Our family is lost in how to develop better relationships with one another. Our co-workers wonder if they’re loved by their families.

The truth is that the mission field is truly all around us. The mission field is more than just bringing folks to Christ. The mission is to help lift the hearts of those whom we touch every day. We can be God’s hands and feet as we touch others’ hearts.

God is more concerned with the matters of the heart – where our heart is – than our physical conditions. Jesus spoke to the Pharisees about their hearts. He looks much deeper than our outward appearance into where our hearts are. Often, the Bible speaks of how God loves a “cheerful giver”, or how Jesus implored us to check how we felt in our hearts and whether we’ve violated God’s commands in our hearts.

The mission of our lives may be to heal our hearts from the wounds inflicted by this sin-filled world. The Bible says that “perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18). We have the opportunity to heal our hearts and the hearts of others by focusing on love. The Buddhists would speak of cultivating compassion and that this is the path to Nirvana. We need to simply seek love and to be loved to heal our hearts – the hearts that Jesus came to reach.

Be Still

One of the most difficult things today is to learn how to be still. For most of us, life has become an overstimulated, continuous stream of distractions as we go from one distraction to the next. Rarely do we get the opportunity to pause and reflect on our lives or just be. We’re bombarded by advertisements and notifications from emails and social media. We’re constantly worried that we’re not going to make it, that we’re not enough, and that we need to do something. (See Daring Greatly for more about being enough.)

Learning to connect with God necessarily means prayer – and that means finding a way to be still and create space for the conversation with Him. God speaks in a whisper. He speaks in the softness of a gentle wind. If we allow ourselves to be constantly distracted and constantly bombarded by distractions, we don’t create the space to hear His still, soft voice. Of course, God is capable of communicating more loudly – but I generally find that I’m not happy when He must speak with such a loud voice.

Writing Your Story

One of the hardest things for me to understand and accept when I initially read A Praying Life was that there is a story to my life. It felt like my life was ending, or at the very least pausing. It was hard to see around the bend to where I’d be four years later. It was hard to see that this was the center of the story, the climax of the conflict. When you can frame your situation in terms of not an endpoint but a milestone on the journey of life, your entire attitude changes. Bitterness becomes waiting to see what God has in store. Aimlessness becomes wondering what amazing things are to come. Attempts to control are replaced with submission to His will.

The most amazing thing about my life today isn’t what has happened in the past, but the opportunity to see what God has planned next. If I can maintain A Praying Life and in that remain connected to God, I truly can’t imagine what great things He has planned.

The Largest Gap in the World – Between Saying and Doing

The largest gap on the planet Earth isn’t the Mariana Trench or the Grand Canyon. The largest gap is between saying and doing. The largest gap exists between what people say they do and what they actually do. They say that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. We intend to do what we say, but sometimes we don’t. Some of us more than others tolerate the gap between doing what we say we will do – and actually doing it. If you want to close the gap, or at least understand it better, you have to understand why saying is easy and doing is hard.

Saying is Easy

Despite the substantial effort that goes into the art of speaking with others, it’s relatively easy. Within our first few years of life, most of us have a reasonable command of the language that our parents speak. (For me, this was English.) While English classes continued through high school, these were really not English classes as much as they were teaching me the appreciation of literature and improving my ability to express myself.

School and life prepare us for verbally communicating our beliefs and desires. We learn how to speak, and eventually we find the process relatively easy. With work, we can even have Crucial Conversations with relative ease.

Doing is Hard

There’s a saying that people might “talk the talk, but can they walk the walk?” Why is that? The answer is that it’s easy to say that you’re going to skip dessert but harder to do it. After all, we are driven by the glucose imperative. (See Habits – Goals and Limits for more on the glucose imperative.) What can be said in a few words may be very difficult to do. Consider President Kennedy’s address to Congress, where he outlined the objective of transporting man to the moon and returning him safely home. He literally said, “I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to earth.” The cost was $25.4 billion in the dozen years that followed his speech. The words took Kennedy approximately 11 seconds to say.

It’s nothing to say that one will get a college degree but, as many students will attest while studying and trudging through the cold weather, it’s easier said than done. It’s not the big things that are harder to do than they are to say. Everything, from the simple “I’ll make dinner” to “I’ll take out the trash,” is easier to say than to do.

Should Say, Can’t Do

Many times our prognostications about what we will do in the future aren’t based on what we want or believe but instead on what we believe we “should” do. Whether this is based on societal expectations or expectations of our friends and family, these “shoulds” separate us from what we genuinely want to do. Instead, they cause us to make commitments that aren’t aligned with our true desires.

The problem is that when the time comes to actually do the “should” instead of just say it, our inner conflict kicks in and there are always other more pressing things that need to happen instead of the “should.”

Being Someone Else

Many of us have a need to portray ourselves as someone other than who we really are. Somewhere along the line, right or wrong, we’ve discovered that we should be someone else, because people don’t like the person that we are. We’ve heard that we’re not good enough. (See Daring Greatly for more on being enough.) We’ve heard criticism about one of the characteristics of our personality that defines us and gives us strength but is also at the heart of our weakness – and we decided to change.

This attempt to be someone else – someone more likable or prettier or more sensitive or whatever – causes us to deny our true selves and hold ourselves out to be someone else. We are the shiny, stained glass people that show no blemishes; but in doing this, we’ve made it harder to connect what we say and what we do. (See How to Be Yourself for more about being someone else.)

Cognitive Dissonance

You know those times when you know you really need to do something. Maybe it’s your taxes. There’s no escaping the task needing to be done, and yet you take the day that you were going to work on taxes and suddenly decide to reorganize your collection of belly button lint? Out of the blue, the tasks that you least like – besides taxes – seem to be the ones that you want to get done.

You’re experiencing the inner conflict of cognitive dissonance. You know what you need to do, but dislike it enough that you’re electing to do other painful – but still less painful – tasks in order to avoid the thing you don’t want to do. That’s cognitive dissonance. That’s you trying to avoid doing what you know needs to be done. I once organized my collection of CDs – a somewhat extensive collection – to avoid doing another task – one that I don’t even remember at this point.

Settle Down Elle

With cognitive dissonance, we recognize that we’re not of one mind but of two. Whether you like the System 1/System 2 perspective of Thinking, Fast and Slow, or you’re partial to Johnathan Haidt’s model of the rider, elephant, and path, we are not of a single mind. (See The Happiness Hypothesis for more on the rider, elephant, path model.) The difference between the rational rider’s (System 2) perspective on the “should” and the elephant’s (System 1) experience creates some of the gap between saying and doing.

The elephant, with trumpets blaring, may declare what you’re going to do – what you’re going to make happen. Later, when the elephant is calm and the rider is trying to save face, the weight of the statement that was made emotionally may come to full awareness. The internal voice asks, “Why did I say I would do that?”

This is the opposite side of the coin of the elephant making a commitment that the rider tries to carry out: instead, the rider makes a commitment that the elephant bristles at, leading to the kind of cognitive dissonance described above.

Whether the elephant is excited in the making of the commitment or the execution of the commitment, people who aren’t able to meet their commitments often suffer from a gap between their elephant and their rider.

Commitment Cancer

On a few occasions I’ve written about the curse of “commitment cancer”. This is the downward spiral where people make but fail to meet their commitments to one another (see Running Users Groups and The Heretic’s Guide to Best Practices). The problem with missing a
commitment isn’t the single commitment that’s missed, it’s the chain reaction of missed commitments that creates the challenge.

While I’m not a fan of the game “worst case scenario,” it explains the problem. The first missed commitment leads to the next, and then the next, and eventually the fabric of the organization falls away because the commitments, which are the fabric of the organization, are too frail to continue to hold it together.

The end game of the kind of commitment cancer that spreads and infects the organization is no organization at all.

Causes and Cures

I’ve listed just some of the many reasons why people make commitments that they don’t keep and have highlighted the end result of too many missed commitments. But I’ve not really directly addressed what to do to change the importance of meeting commitments and the ease at which that is done.

A good start is accepting Pacta sunt servanda (Latin for “agreements must be kept”) as a fundamental truth. If you don’t believe that it’s important for agreements to be kept – for commitments to be kept – then there’s little hope in change. If, in the back of your head, there’s the nagging voice, or there’s the devil on your shoulder saying, “but there are exceptions”, you may not fully appreciate the need to keep your agreements/commitments. I’m not saying there aren’t exceptions and barriers and difficulties. I’m saying that your first position should be that part of making the commitment is recognizing that the exceptions exist, and it’s up to you to figure out how to deal with them.

Next, remember the words of Shakespeare “to thine own self be true.” If you’re struggling to be your true authentic person, you’ll never have the willpower (see Willpower) to keep your commitments. Likewise, if you’re failing to accept others for who they are, you make it difficult for them to be themselves and therefore keep their commitments. (See How to Be an Adult in Relationships for more on accepting and allowing others to be who they need to be.)

Finally, practice building trust – because building trust is making, renegotiating, and meeting commitments. (See my post Building Trust: Make, Renegotiate, Meet.) To build trust and strengthen the fabric of whatever organization you’re in, all you need to do is make and meet commitments – and in the process, strengthen the trust that you and your colleagues have.

Book Review-Nonverbal Messages: Cracking the Code: My Life’s Pursuit

Most of the time, my reviews are roughly linear to my reading. However, this review of Nonverbal Messages: Cracking the Code: My Life’s Pursuit is different. It’s different because it’s an autobiography written by Dr. Paul Ekman, and in it he refers to his other works, including Telling Lies. I reordered them so that this could stand as the summary of Dr. Ekman’s work.

I’ve followed Dr. Ekman’s work for a while due to my fascination with the ability to discover emotions that others were trying to hide. Sometimes, they’re trying to hide the emotions from others, but perhaps more interesting are those emotions that they are attempting to hide from themselves, sometimes with success. As a biography, the book is less focused on concepts and more focused on chronology, so I’ll keep that general flow in this review.

Childhood Trauma

Every child has some trauma in their lives. For Dr. Ekman, it was an unpredictable father and his mother’s mental health, and his inability to prevent her from succumbing to death at the hands of her disease. Today, it might be called bipolar disorder, but when she asked her son, aged 14, to save her the night she took her own life, she created a very powerful marker on the young man. It could be this defining moment that guided his path as he wandered (as we all do) through his adulthood. (See Extreme Productivity for more about how we wander through adulthood.)

The Importance of Non-Verbal Communication

We take it for granted today that non-verbal communication is a large part of how people communicate, and that it’s consistent across cultures so it must be a part of our biology. Coming out of World War II and the Nazi party, anything that even hinted at of legitimacy of the Nazi claim of a “master” or “better” race was resisted. Implying that there was anything to the idea that there was a genetically superior race or that our behaviors were related to biology was taboo. There were numerous barriers inserted into Dr. Ekman’s path as he sought to prove that there are some non-verbal communications that are truly universal.

Young Adult

As a young researcher, Dr. Ekman traveled the world into the remotest of places to verify his belief that some non-verbal communication was truly universal. Strangely, he was led at times by a pedophile (Carleton) who was convicted much later – and after publishing some interesting reports through the National Institutes of Health. A chief of a tribe which practiced cannibalism proclaimed that he would eat Dr. Ekman if he died, which strangely elevated him to the status of an important man.

While all of this is happening, Dr. Ekman is also, apparently, going through the same struggles that many people go through. A few marriages, a few relationships and generally a quest to find himself and the person who fits with him. (See Divorce: Causes and Consequences for more on divorce and its prevalence in society.)

Rules to Live By

Like most of us, Dr. Ekman developed a set of rules to live by – or at least guide posts on his journey. First, he recognized the significance of luck in his life. The stories he tells are reminders that luck is necessary for success. (See The Halo Effect and The Excellence Habit for more on luck.) Luck, however, isn’t the sole actor in this play. Luck, as it turns out, just has the leading role. It’s also necessary to develop skills and talents. (See Peak for more about developing skills.) The final actor in this play is perseverance. For me, this is the most curious of characters. If you’re focused on innovating (see The Innovator’s DNA for more on innovation), then you’ll necessarily make a decision about how long you’re willing to incubate an idea before deciding that it has to have succeeded – or it needs to be killed.

The standard argument is that everyone gives up too quickly on their ideas, that they don’t persevere long enough, but as I mentioned in my review of Grit, it’s a hard line to walk. Certainly, if Dr. Ekman had given up too soon, we wouldn’t have the awareness of how our non-verbal messages betray our true emotions in a reliable way.

Micro Expressions and Duchene

In Telling Lies, I explained the mechanisms by which Dr. Ekman indirectly observes emotion. This includes microexpressions as well as changes in emblems and illustrators. This is at the heart of Dr. Ekman’s work, and to me is more interested in exposing the emotions that people are feeling than detecting lies.

In Motivational Interviewing, it’s important to understand the inner state of the person that you’re speaking with. Having the knowledge of Dr. Ekman’s work and an ability to read the multitude of visual cues that are provided can help you be more in tune with the subject, and therefore more able to get better outcomes. (See The Heart and Soul of Change for more about impacts of therapeutic alliance – which the ability to stay connected to one’s emotions assists with.)

I mentioned in my review of Inside Jokes the difference between social and Duchenne (genuine) laughter. It appears through the reference citations in this book that they found their way back to Duchenne through Ekman’s work. So even our understanding of comedy has benefited from the study of microexpressions.

The Door Swings Both Ways

There’s a particular part of the ending sequence in Ghost Busters, where Egon Spengler recognizes that “the door swings both ways.” This is the revelation that the Ghost Busters use to send the ghosts away. I think of this any time people become aware that our biology and our psychology are not a one-way street. The way we feel impacts our thinking, and the way we think impacts our feelings. We often tend to draw a causal line in one direction or the other for things that are correlated. One doesn’t cause the other, as in cause and effect. They co-influence each other such that they tend to happen in parallel.

Dr. Ekman proved that, by making certain muscles contract in ways that mimic the natural muscles for an emotion, the emotion becomes more present in the person. In other words, if you want to change how you feel, you can consciously manage your muscles.

Just the FACS Ma’am

Out of his research, Dr. Ekman developed the Facial Action Coding System (FACS) – a system of identifying the underlying emotion based on the facial expression. He’s taught this system directly and through programs to many organizations and people. His Micro Expressions Intensive Training Tool (METT) is available for anyone to sign up, pay for, and take. It can, with practice, help anyone improve their ability to detect emotions in other people. Other tools, like the Responding Effectively Training Tool (RETT), is designed to teach you strategies for responding once you’ve properly identified an emotion.

I’ve not yet had the ability to do either of these courses but look forward to them as a way to improve my efficacy of understanding others’ emotions.

The Dalai Lama

Nearing the end of his career, Dr. Ekman’s daughter developed an interest in the plight of the Tibetan people and the Dalai Lama. So Dr. Ekman applied to be a scientist at a set of meetings that the Dalai Lama was having – which were being facilitated by Daniel Goleman. (This led to the book Destructive Emotions.) This changed Dr. Ekman and led to further conversations chronicled in Emotional Awareness. In these exchanges, Dr. Ekman found different paths to the same results and someone with whom he could share an intellectual curiosity from a different perspective. This put a different spin on his recent career and retirement.

It led to the Atlas of Emotions project, as well as a renewed vigor for protecting the FACS when Dr. Ekman is no longer with us on this planet.

In Sum

For me, Nonverbal Messages was an intimate peek into the history that shaped a researcher and scholar that I respect. It reminded me that everyone struggles. That it’s too easy from the outside to see “gold plating grit” (to use Brené Brown’s words from Rising Strong (Part 1 and Part 2)).