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Your Employee Matters


By March 1, 2011No Comments

One of the ways we can get great ideas in HR is to read outside the field and ask how that learning applies to managing people. Here are a few articles from a recent Scientific American Mind that provide insight:

  1. “Any Excuse for Busyness.” According to this article, people who find reasons to occupy their time with activity rate themselves as happier. I’m always amazed at how people waste time when they’re waiting in the airport, flying, sitting on a bus, or driving. I find that this time provides a wonderful opportunity to learn, making the hours fly by while I become that much smarter.
  2. “Beware Your Beverage.” This study concludes that people judge alcohol drinkers as less intelligent, even if they themselves are drinking at the time! A word to the wise: If you’re trying to get a job, advance up the corporate ladder, or close a deal, a sparkling water with lime will do fine.
  3. “When Mom Has Favorites.” This article argues that children who receive unfair treatment versus their siblings are more likely to grow into depressed adults. Now those adults are working for you and have become highly sensitive to unequal treatment. Because they’re adults, they can actually do something about it, such as filing a discrimination claim. In addition, the favored children (insert employee) can experience guilt about their preferred status, extra demands from parents (insert boss), and resentment from siblings (other employees). Bottom line: Watch out for the unintended consequences of playing favorites.
  4. “The ‘Me’ Effect.” One of my Top 10 favorite business books, Leadership and Self-Deception, reminds us how we can deceive ourselves into believing that we make more positive deposits than we do negative ones. According to recent research, most people do not know what their own “trait-affected” presence is. “It’s not very easy to detect, because you don’t actually get to see what the world is like when you’re not around,” says Noah Eisenkraft. The article reminds us that each person gives out a vibe – what the researchers call a trait-affected presence – that affects everyone they come in to contact with in the same way. So much so that “certain emotions (such as discouragement, frustration, and stress) — are affected as much by who you are interacting with as by who you are.” So not only can we deceive ourselves about being discouraging, our very essence can have this affect on people.
  5. The article, “Their Pain, Our Gain,” points out that we actually enjoy each other’s misery. The Germans use the word schadenfreude to describe that small, private rush of glee in response to somebody else’s misfortune (i.e., it’s blasting snow where I grew up – and I’m so glad to be in the sunshine). When measured in the brain, this feeling is similar to the satisfaction from eating a good meal. The researchers posit that humans probably developed the instinct to notice, and profit from, the weakness of their competitors. When groups feel schadenfreude it can become more potent and invidious, driving deep-seated prejudices that can lead to harmful, even violent behavior. That’s why Alfred Cohen reminded us to beware of schadenfreude in his book, The Case Against Competition. Competition, whether focused on an external or internal adversary, can have negative effects if not managed properly.
  6. “What Makes a Good Parent?” As with the previous article on parenting, this one also applies to management. Here’s the Top 10 list, beginning with the most important:
    1. Love and affection
    2. Stress management
    3. Relationship skills
    4. Autonomy and independence
    5. Education and learning
    6. Life skills
    7. Behavior management
    8. Health
    9. Religion
    10. Safety
      For example, although we might not use the word “love” nor be openly affectionate at work, we certainly can have a deep, healthy respect for the other person. We can realize too that they have their weaknesses, as we have ours. As another example, owners have the right to share their religious conviction, but not in a way that’s disruptive or discriminatory. Each of these other factors relates directly to managing performance, motivation, and teamwork.
  7. “Dunbar’s Number.” Revolutionary biologist Robert Dunbar argues that our brain has limits on how many people we can truly keep within our social group. The maximum is about 150 people. Of course, this takes different types of relationships into account. At one end of the spectrum, we have a core group of people we talk to once a week. At the other end, we have acquaintances with whom we speak about once a year. This makes me question someone who brags that they have 5,000 people on their Facebook page.
  8. Perhaps the most interesting article in the magazine had to do with a meeting of the minds between top-end psychologists and magicians – including some from Las Vegas that we all know. Here’s a summary of the conclusions:
    • Humans have a hard-wired process of attention and awareness that’s “hackable.”
    • When people focus on one thing, their brains automatically suppress everything that happens around them. Magicians have devised a number of techniques that exploit this “tunnel vision.”
    • People can pay attention in various ways. Magicians exploit “top down” or deliberate attention by, say, asking a person to scan a book. They capture “bottom up” attention with distracting displays, such as doves fluttering out of a hat. Magicians will have you focus on one big thing while they go about doing a number of smaller things underneath your radar.
    • Interestingly, if an action seems to have an obvious purpose, such as adjusting your hat, an audience generally won’t notice that the magician has moved to put something under that hat. The best con of course, is the most natural one.
    • When magicians do their verbal patterning, they aim to generate an internal dialogue in your mind – a conversation with yourself about what’s taking place. This results in a great deal of confusion. It slows your reaction time and leads you to second-guess yourself.
    • Many magicians introduce delays in the method behind a trick and its effect to prevent you from linking the two. They call this “time misdirection.” The bottom line: Beware of tricksters using these techniques!

If there were ever a magazine that will stretch your thinking, this one is well worth a subscription. Go to