This is another article I thought was very interesting even with it not being about anesthesia so I wanted to share it with our readers.
By Jane E. Dutton and Julia Lee for Harvard Business Review
Whether we realize it or not, we are constantly given small opportunities to build up or put down our coworkers in the ways we talk about them. When we introduce two colleagues, tell a story about how a meeting went, or share a colleague’s work, how we “narrate others” can make a big difference in how they feel about themselves and their work.
Research shows that the stories we hear from others that highlight our unique contributions can help us find purpose in our relationships with our colleagues and our work. When someone mentions your work in an email and calls you “supertalented,” or talks about your unique strength of connecting with customers, you’re more likely to feel that your work has meaning. (And you can probably recall a few times that a colleague put you down as well, and used a narrative about you to undermine, stereotype, or devalue you.)
So how can we take advantage of the opportunities to narrate our colleagues in ways that cultivate positive self-meaning? Here are four opportunities to consider, along with examples from our research.
Create positive first impressions. We know first impressions matter, so use introductions as a way to positively narrate your colleagues. Be imaginative and share details that highlight the ways in which the person is interesting, and describe them as someone others would want to get to know. This is especially important when you’re introducing a new hire to your team.
Consider “Midori,” a newly appointed marketing manager for a midsize family-owned firm. She went through an intensive interview process with several layers of management during the hiring process. Before she arrived for her first day, her new boss sent out an email to introduce her, highlighting the knowledge and strengths she was bringing to the firm. When she arrived at the office, she noticed that her picture was already hanging as part of the gallery in the lobby, along with personal information like her hometown, favorite food, and an inspiring quote. She now understood why they had asked her unusual questions about some of her likes and dislikes during the interview process. On her very first day (when she had been in the building for just a few hours), Midori had been narrated by others, through email and picture displays, in ways that were welcoming and psychologically strengthening. She was described in high regard, which jumpstarted her transition into the organization’s social fabric.
Communicate the value that each team member brings to the table. Teams function better when they share information effectively. One of us (Julia) found that sharing personal stories that affirm a person’s unique strengths and contributions before they join the team improved the group’s ability to exchange information. So when you bring together a new team, tell stories about each person’s potential contributions to the group.
This is what “Rashad” did. He was assembling a project team to develop a new innovation center. The first time the team met, he went around the room introducing each member and describing the strengths each brought to the group. He also explained why each person was uniquely qualified to help the team meet its objectives, peppering in fun facts about people’s backgrounds and interests. This piqued other members’ curiosity, fostering a desire to connect. Then everyone took turns sharing what excited them most about being on this team. The way Rashad narrated each person communicated respect and the value of their worth, which created a collective sense of purpose that motivated the team to perform well.
Describe your colleagues positively if they are socially undermined. Sometimes we observe a colleague being socially undermined. Perhaps they are being interrupted or silenced, either intentionally or not. When someone is put down by others, or is fighting to be heard, we have the opportunity to build them up by talking about them positively.
Take “Sasha” and “Svetlana” They were both recently hired as senior managers to join the new task force at a construction company that was predominantly male. As two of the only women, their ideas and perspectives in strategy meetings were rarely acknowledged. They decided to publicly support each other and others whose voices were often not heard. For example, when Svetlana proposed a new plan to reduce costs, Sasha followed up by repeating and elaborating on Svetlana’s idea, giving full credit to Svetlana. When Sasha seemed hesitant to voice her concerns, Svetlana pointed out Sasha’s expertise in engineering and publicly recognized how much her expertise was needed by the group. These actions shifted the way each manager saw themselves, while also acknowledging and valuing Sasha and Svetlana’s input.
Use endings and exits to craft a positive portrait of colleagues. Coworkers retire or leave for other jobs. People are laid off. Whether it was their choice or not, use a colleague’s exit to create meaning for someone.
When the funding ran out at the nonprofit health care organization where “Sipho” had worked as a grant manager for the past five years, he found out that his current position would be terminated in a month. Sipho felt hurt and disconnected from his colleagues. Understanding the tough situation he was in, his colleagues put together a box filled with pictures and notes reflecting on their positive memories of working with him. They talked about how special and valuable Sipho had been. Not only did this ritual express appreciation, but it was also a potent form of positive narration at a time when Sipho really needed it. They also reached out to their contacts outside of the nonprofit who were looking to hire a new grant manager and explained Sipho’s contributions to the mission of their organization. This incident changed the way that the organization viewed exits and layoffs, as employees saw endings as a positive opportunity to do good for others.
Every day we have opportunities to help others create positive meaning in how we communicate about our colleagues. It’s worth it to stay aware of these moments and take advantage them. Not only do we uplift others but we also lift up our own potential for meaning by positively contributing to others.
Jane E. Dutton is the Robert L. Kahn Distinguished University Professor of Business Administration and Psychology at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business. She is co-founder of the Center for Positive Organizations at Ross.
Julia Lee is an assistant professor of Management & Organizations at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business.