October 13, 2017: Creating or Nurturing a Positive Culture: Demonstrating Compassion and Practicing Forgiveness

Scott E. Friedman, Andrea H. HusVar, and Eliza P. Friedman

Welcome back to the blog, where we’re looking at the many methods that can help cultivate a positive work culture.

Over the past few weeks, we’ve identified (1) fostering social connections, (2) “promoting psychological safety,” (3) practicing gratitude, (4) being helpful and (5) showing empathy as scientifically proven strategies. Today, we’re taking a look at two additional approaches.

Demonstrating compassion:

Media outlets and academic journals are sharing information on the scientific reasons compassion is so important to our lives (and businesses).[1] What we’ve learned from these studies is families in business together can practice compassion by encouraging one other, providing emotional support, and giving time off from work.

Researchers at the University of Michigan’s CompassionLab have found that leaders who demonstrate compassion toward employees nurture individual and organizational resilience that helps in managing challenges.[2]

Practicing forgiveness

While the scientific study of forgiveness is nascent, the work so far demonstrates the power of forgiveness, including in helping to heal emotional wounds and, by reducing stress, accompanying physical ailments.[3]

These studies show that families and businesses who don’t practice forgiveness stay mired in negativity, causing continuing pain, suffering, and damage to the business by time spent focusing on the hurt rather than pursuing opportunities that could be important to the business. Practicing forgiveness in a family business can sometimes mean the difference between passing the business down to another generation or having to sell or close it. Successful families know the importance of forgiveness and have learned how to forgive each other.

Check back here next week for the final installment of “Creating or Nurturing a Positive Culture,” when we’ll be discussing why humility and transparency are key components of a positive workplace.

[1] See, e.g., Shimul Melwani et al., Looking Down: The Influence of Contempt and Compassion on Emergent Leadership Categorizations, 97 J. Applied Psychol. 1171 (2012); Aneil K. Mishra et al., Downsizing the Company Without Downsizing Morale, MIT Sloan Mgmt. R. (Apr. 1, 2009), http://sloanreview.mit.edu/article/downsizing-the-company-without-downsizing-morale (noting the importance of compassion during corporate downsizing); Emma Seppala, 10 (Science-Based) Reasons Why Compassion is Hot, Huffington Post: The Blog, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/project-compassion-stanford/compassion_b_1676485.html (last updated Sept. 17, 2012).

[2] See CompassionLab, Leadership And Compassion, Univ. Michigan, http://www.bus.umich.edu/facultyresearch/research/TryingTimes/compassion.htm (last visited Mar. 20, 2017). Stanford University also has a Center for Compassion. See The Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education, Stan. Univ., http://ccare.stanford.edu/about/mission-vision (last visited Mar. 20, 2017).

[3] Stanford University has established a center to focus on the power of forgiveness. Frederic Luskin, The Art and Science of Forgiveness, Stan. Medicine (1999), http://sm.stanford.edu/archive/stanmed/1999summer/forgiveness.html. For more information on the emerging study of forgiveness, see generally Alex H. S. Harris et al., Effects of a Group Forgiveness Intervention on Forgiveness, Perceived Stress, and Trait Anger, 62 J. Clinical Psychol.  715 (2006).

October 5, 2017: Creating or Nurturing a Positive Culture: Being Helpful and Showing Empathy

By Scott E. Friedman, Andrea H. HusVar, and Eliza P. Friedman

This week, as we continue our discussion of “Stage 4 Planning” and the benefits of positive psychology on family business dynamics, we’re examining two more ways in which to create a positive culture in the workplace.

So far we’ve identified three proven strategies, including (1) fostering social connections, (2) “promoting psychological safety,” and (3) practicing gratitude. Today, we’re adding (4) being helpful and (5) showing empathy.

Being Helpful

“Studies show that individuals who share with others in a group—for example, by contributing new ideas or directly assisting on projects not their own—are deemed more worthy of respect and influence and more suitable for leadership,” says Dacher Keltner, a professor of psychology at University of California, Berkeley, and the faculty director of the Greater Good Science Center. “Mike Norton at Harvard Business School has found that when organizations provide an opportunity to donate to charities at work, employees feel more satisfied and productive.”[1]

Showing Empathy

New studies in neuroscience have demonstrated the importance of empathy in the workplace. For example, researchers found through brain-imaging studies that “when employees recalled a boss that had been unkind or un-empathic, they showed increased activation in areas of the brain associated with avoidance and negative emotion,” while, by contrast, empathetic bosses fostered a sense of collegiality and good will.[2]

Such findings have great relevance to anyone and any organization, including family businesses where insensitivity to family members and others, perhaps particularly by family members in positions of power, can generate ill will by rude and selfish behavior, such as by interrupting coworkers, multitasking during meetings, raising their voices, and insulting colleagues. There are, of course, countless ways to incorporate empathy in a family business, such as simply listening with focused interest and engagement, signaling concern with phrases such as “I’m sorry,” or, before meetings, taking a moment to ask the person you’ll be with what’s new.[3]

Next week on the blog we’ll be focusing on “demonstrating compassion” and “showing forgiveness”—two more proven strategies that can help lead to a positive work culture.

[1] Dacher Keltner, Don’t Let Power Corrupt You, Harv. Bus. Rev. (Oct. 2016), https://hbr.org/2016/10/dont-let-power-corrupt-you.

[2] Emma Seppala & Kim Cameron, Proof That Positive Work Cultures Are More Productive, Harv. Bus. Rev. (Dec. 1, 2015), https://hbr.org/2015/12/proof-that-positive-work-cultures-are-more-productive.

[3] Dacher Keltner, Don’t Let Power Corrupt You, Harv. Bus. Rev. (Oct. 2016), https://hbr.org/2016/10/dont-let-power-corrupt-you.

September 26, 2017: Creating or Nurturing a Positive Culture: Practicing Gratitude

By Scott E. Friedman, Andrea H. HusVar, and Eliza P. Friedman

Last week we discussed how fostering social connections and promoting “psychological safety” can create benefits for both individuals and organizations.

Today we turn our attention to another key, scientifically proven strategy that not only promotes a positive workplace culture, but can also lead to personal health benefits.

This is the art of expressing gratitude.

Within any relationship, although perhaps particularly so with family members in business together, it can be easy to take others for granted and fail to offer thanks for a job well done. The practice of expressing appreciation encourages others to think more positively, which strengthens family relationships and enhances the company’s bottom line by helping employees feel calm, re-energized, and think more clearly. This allows employees to function more productively. For example, “when managers take the time to thank their employees, those workers are more engaged and productive.”[1]

Similarly, Appirio, an IT consulting company, found that sixty percent of job seekers said they cared the most about whether their potential co-workers seemed to be appreciated by their prospective employer. In comparison, only five percent said it was most important to know how fast they could get promoted, and just “4% were most concerned with knowing how often employees were evaluated for raises.”[2]

Professional advisors might consider offering the following suggestions to their clients:

  • Encourage people to express thanks in person and on a timely basis
  • Be specific when acknowledging effort, particularly if it involved an extraordinary contribution, such as working at night or on weekends
  • When appropriate, acknowledge teams—and teamwork
  • Keeping a gratitude journal; and
  • Simply making oneself available to listen to a family member or co-worker.[3]

It might also be noted that saying thank you to staff or coworkers is also beneficial to your health. In a meta-analysis of several studies, Harvard Health found that “[g]ratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships.”[4] Further, “[r]esearch conducted at the University of California, Davis, found that people who worked daily to cultivate an attitude of gratitude experienced improved mood, energy and substantially less anxiety due to lower cortisol levels.”[5]

Next week we’ll discuss two more ways in which companies can create even more positivity in the workplace.

[1]Dacher Keltner, Don’t Let Power Corrupt You, Harv. Bus. Rev. (Oct. 2016), https://hbr.org/2016/10/dont-let-power-corrupt-you.

[2] Dom Nicastro, Appirio Says a Simple ‘Thanks’ Can Help You Keep Your Best Workers, CMS Wire (Aug. 10, 2016), http://www.cmswire.com/digital-workplace/appirio-says-a-simple-thanks-can-help-you-keep-your-best-workers.

[3] See Kennon M. Sheldon & Sonja Lyubomirsky, How to Increase and Sustain Positive Emotions: The Effects of Expressing Gratitude and Visualizing Best Possible Selves, 1 J. Positive Psychol. 73, 75  (2006) (commenting on the positive psychological impact of expressing gratitude); Stephanie Vozza, The Science of Gratitude And Why It’s Important in Your Workplace, Fast Company (Nov. 24, 2016) https://www.fastcompany.com/3065948/the-future-of-work/the-science-of-gratitude-and-why-its-important-in-your-workplace.

[4] Giving Thanks Can Make You Happier, Harv. Health Publications: Healthbeat (Nov. 2011), http://www.health.harvard.edu/healthbeat/giving-thanks-can-make-you-happier.

[5]Travis Bradberry, 3 Powerful Ways to Stay Positive, Forbes (Aug. 23, 2016), http://www.forbes.com/sites/travisbradberry/2016/08/23/3-powerful-ways-to-stay-positive/2/#1a7332ca6c6d.

September 20, 2017: Creating or Nurturing a Positive Culture: Fostering Social Connections and Promoting Psychological Safety

Scott E. Friedman, Andrea H. HusVar, and Eliza P. Friedman

On last week’s installment of the blog we began discussing why creating a positive work culture is so important.

While the only limits to how positive cultures can be created or nurtured may be our imaginations, there are a number of recognized strategies that have been scientifically proven to provide benefits to individuals and organizations.

Over the coming weeks we’ll outline these strategies—beginning this week with 1) fostering social connections and 2) promoting “psychological safety.”

Fostering Social Connections

Positive social connections not only improve productivity, but may be essential to physical health as well. Family businesses can benefit by developing strategies to ensure positive social connections, such as organizing family picnics, holiday parties, and similar social events.[1]

Promoting “psychological safety”

An increasingly recognized business strategy is based on the concept of “psychological safety,” an environment in which co-workers feel comfortable taking risks, sharing ideas, and asking questions without fear of being embarrassed or punished for speaking up.  Particularly effective are practices such as promoting “turn-taking” in conversations and not expecting employees to put on a ‘‘work face’’ when they get to the office. An easy way for family businesses to establish “psychological safety” is to agree upon and implement a formal code of conduct and communication ground rules.[2]

Check back here next week, when we’ll be discussing another pillar of positive work culture: gratitude.

[1] See Seppala & Cameron, supra note 127 (“Stress filled workplaces have been shown to increase unhealthy behaviors, such as excessive drinking and smoking. A large number of empirical studies confirm that positive social connections at work produce highly desirable results. For example, people get sick less often, recover twice as fast from surgery, experience less depression, learn faster and remember longer, tolerate pain and discomfort better, display more mental acuity, and perform better on the job.”); see also C. Nathan DeWall et al., When the Love Hormone Leads to Violence: Oxytocin Increases Intimate Partner Violence Inclinations Among High Trait Aggressive People, 5 Soc. Psychol. & Personality Sci. 691 (2014); Sarah D. Pressman et al., It’s Good to Do Good and Receive Good: The Influence of a “Pay it Forward” Style Kindness Intervention on Giver and Receiver Well-Being,  10 J. Positive Psychol. 293 (2015).

[2] See Tom Austin, Collective Intelligence Depends on Social Sensitivity and Balanced Conversational Turn-Taking, Gartner (Oct. 1, 2010), http://blogs.gartner.com/tom_austin/2010/10/01/collective-intelligence-depends-on-social-sensitivity-and-balanced-conversational-turn-taking; Charles Duhigg, What Google Learned from Its Quest to Build the Perfect Team, N.Y. Times (Feb. 25, 2016), https://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/28/magazine/what-google-learned-from-its-quest-to-build-the-perfect-team.html?_r=0; Aamna Mohdin, After Years of Intensive Analysis, Google Discovers the Key to Good Teamwork is Being Nice, Quartz (Feb. 26, 2016), http://qz.com/625870/after-years-of-intensive-analysis-google-discovers-the-key-to-good-teamwork-is-being-nice; see also Amy Edmondson, Psychological Safety and Learning Behavior in Work Teams, 44 Admin. Sci. Q. 350, 377 (1999) (finding that employees who have confidence that their employers or supervisors have their best interests at heart tend to perform better than employees who are afraid of their employers or supervisors).