PSYCHOLOGY IN THE WORKPLACE | 12 JUN 2019
Turning on our “fake news” filters
In this era of fake news, it’s become very easy to be misled by people who don’t have our best interests at heart. The truth is the human psyche can easily be overwhelmed by the sheer volume of deceptive tactics that are currently circulating at large, and perhaps even closer to our work and home than we’d like…
From what I’m seeing, collectively our base level of anxiety is running high. Everyone is tuning into the media to determine what’s happening in our country and are greeted if not overwhelmed with various levels of deception. Each week I have conversations with people who are switching off from news or their social media feeds. I’m concerned our critical faculties are being blunted.
I’m seeing the need to improve and sharpen observational skills to determine what is the truth from our boss, peers and the media.
Is workplace deception wearing you down?
In the professional realm, deception can damage your psyche, your career, and is just plain bad for business.
Despite this, workplace deception is only on the increase. According to research from Coventry University in the United Kingdom last year, we are in an age of the ‘normalisation of corruption’ and the ‘normalisation of lying’. Their research examined the way lying becomes woven into the fabric of specific workplace and occupational cultures.
Wow – talk about being assaulted on all sides by deceptive behaviour!
Being able to discern when an employee, colleague or client is not telling the truth is essential.
We know that high levels of ambiguity lead to high levels of anxiety and stress. One of my Deception Detection Seminar attendees confided in me after the event that she wished she had learned lie detection skills earlier. She had left a high-level corporate role after 6 months reporting to a manager who appeared to be supportive of her, but in reality, had been working against her behind her back. She said this behaviour, over time, created deep resentment at her peer level, and seeped into disruptive behaviour of her direct reports and how they interacted with other teams. Her manager’s behaviour went undetected for 3 months before she even worked out the reason for poor team performance.
Eventually, her manager was found out, and fired, but not before he caused so much chaos that the very profitable business had turned into a loss, and caused her to leave due to a near nervous breakdown.
This story illustrates how the actual hard costs of deception within the workplace and its effect on business pales in comparison to the monumental cost of the erosion of trust that occurs when workplace deception is condoned, tolerated or ignored.
This loss of trust is expensive and damaging for any organisation, but it is especially devastating for teams trying to foster a collaborative environment.
Work on trusting your gut instincts
As work becomes more impersonal through the pervasiveness of technology, the human need for sociability and positive relationships becomes even more important.
Collegiality is good for the soul, but also has business benefits. To have a fair society, and indeed fair working environments, we need to be better judges of each other.
Ecologist and author Jared Diamond says that society’s need for cohesiveness has only developed in the last 7,500 years, which meant “people had to learn, for the first time in history, how to encounter strangers regularly without attempting to kill them”.
Hence, it is wise to try to understand the role that others play and use it to your advantage.
Understanding deception is a learned skill
We know that about 15-20% of the population has a ‘benign outlook’, in that their first inclination is to believe what people say even when there is contrary evidence. In other words, they don’t pick up on lies and liars very easily (as in the case of my seminar attendee).
At the other end of the spectrum, a similar percentage will be immediately cynical or disbelieving even when faced with the truth or can also misinterpret signs and see deception where it isn’t there.
What I try to do with my workshops and seminars is to get people to develop a healthy ‘professional yet balanced’ level of scepticism.
This means, not taking things at face value, and verifying or getting corroboration of what you believe might be happening.
It’s about getting people to ask the right follow up questions to statements of fact, and then observing and assessing the respondent’s demeanour and tone of voice, rather than their words.
Reading people can also improve team bonding
I recently had a CFO of a large government agency engage me to facilitate a Team Optimisation workshop with his team.
He had completely rebuilt his Finance team over the previous six months, with 12 staff including 3 contractors. He wanted to help them navigate and manage internal client relationships better, and to do it as a team-building exercise.
Another strong motivator for the CFO was to open up a little to his team and show appropriate vulnerability so that they got a sense of how to work with him as their new boss.
He was spot on in his thinking. A certain amount of ‘managed disclosure’ is a good way to build closer relationships in a workplace setting, where you disclose appropriately and show your vulnerabilities.
I gave them a profiling exercise that helped them get a better understanding of each other and how they would gel as a team. I found it refreshing, as functional teams (such as Finance, HR, Marketing, IT and legal departments) are often overlooked when organisations offer interpersonal training courses that aren’t directly related to developing technical skill sets.
The response was very favourable. The CFO found the team has increased understanding of comparative styles and strengths of their colleagues, and improved understanding and internal team relationships.
It makes sense that if you understand someone’s real strengths and blind spots you can work more effectively and make allowances.
The science tells us that understanding and being understood increases quality of cooperation, and is good for business.
Bringing it back to reality
So taking a moment to check back where we started – what’s going on, on a global scale, can provoke anxiety. So take a moment to breathe, check in, and determine whether you are exercising your own filters, or whether it’s easier these days to believe false information, be misled and sometimes follow conspiracy theories.
Cutting through the mixed messages that we get from almost every quarter of our lives is difficult. I’m certainly sensing there is a greater need to have well-developed interpersonal antennae to assess and determine what is the truth.
What do you think?
Alan runs premium high-end seminars:
- EQ and its application in today’s workplace. The psychological science behind EQ, skills and tips to develop or build our EQ, practical application. One day workshop
- Deception Detection Skills or Truth-Telling skills and their application to our roles. The Science, the Model for Truth and Lies, reading the four channels, practical skills application, use of training videos. One day and two-day workshops.
- Optimism and Resilience in the workplace and how to survive and thrive in today’s workplace. The psychology behind these; how to develop our Optimism and Resilience, how do we rate? One day workshop