Empower Your Team Through Servant Leadership

Servant Leadership is fast-becoming a prominent leadership style, and for good reason: It tends to increase trust and collaboration among team members, helps to build coalitions and community, and promotes ethical business practices.

While many leaders use the power of their position to direct and control employees, the servant leader listens; her focus is on understanding employees to develop and support them. Servant leaders flip the traditional relationship between the employee and the leader, fostering a strong service culture by empowering and involving workers.

As part of the eCornell Entrepreneurship webinar series, Judi Brownell from Cornell’s School of Hotel Administration joined Chris Wofford for a interactive discussion on how servant leadership can transform your organization to one that is service-centered and culturally inclusive.

An abridged version of their conversation follows.

Wofford: Judi, we previously had a great conversation about the art of listening as it relates to leadership (((link to previous transcript))). Today we’re going to be covering the concept of servant leadership. What is that? It sounds like a response to a top-down leadership style.

Brownell: Well, servant leadership is relatively recent. The term was coined at some point in the early 1970s, but it was only recently that it became a truly prominent leadership style. What happens in servant leadership is that the follower experience really changes. Instead of followers taking a backseat and looking to a leader as the one who knows everything, servant leadership really puts the power front and center.

A servant leader follows a philosophy of service. A servant leader needs to believe that his or her role is really to serve, and they get satisfaction and gratification out of that type of behavior.

Wofford: I don’t want to preempt something you plan to talk about later, but does gender figure into this?

Brownell: It’s fine to talk about it now. I’ve done a lot of work with women’s career development and I do believe that men and women have different sets of competencies that come naturally to them. There are some people who would disagree, but men tend to be more assertive and more readily authoritative. Women tend to be better listeners. Women tend to be more emphatic.

The servant leader has a lot of characteristics that have always been associated with women’s leadership style. The wonderful thing is that, where in the past these characteristics may have been associated with weakness or pointed to as reasons why women are less effective, now the pendulum has swung and these same characteristics fit perfectly with the philosophy of servant leadership.

Wofford: And what’s at the heart of that philosophy?

Brownell: Servant leadership empowers followers. Rather than telling them what to do, and giving them a little bit of training here and there, servant leadership is about really developing your employees, really sitting down with them and asking, “What is it that you need to do your job better?”

It’s about looking at each employee as individually as possible. I believe that the opportunity to do this exists in most organizations. It could be as simply as just sitting down with people and asking, “Are you happy at your job? What is it that I can do as a leader to help?”

A leader presumably has more access to more resources and can perhaps shift an employee to a better position or cross-train them or whatever it is that they need to be happier and more effective in their work.

Wofford: We’ve got a good question here from Karen. She writes: “Yes, the servant leadership style may be more like a ‘woman’s style’ but in my experience (and I think research backs this up) men’s style of leadership includes a mentoring skill, whereas it is harder to find women leaders who mentor other females up the ranks.” Judi, any thoughts on that?

Brownell: Yeah, I’ve got lot of thoughts on that. I did a lot of work on that particular problem, in fact. This is really digressing from our main topic, but it’s interesting. I did a study asking women coming out of an MBA program whether they thought they would be as effective as men in a leadership role. They all said yes.

Then I asked them if they would rather work for men or women, and almost 90 percent of the women said they would rather work for a man than work for a woman. When it comes to mentoring, women either are the very best team ever or they are in conflict with one another, particularly when they are in an organization with very few women and a lot of men.

We need women mentoring women and we need women being advocates for women. And I think there are a lot of women out there who are great mentors – we just need to expand that pool. I think if organizations can build women’s confidence, then they will do a lot more to mentor other women.

Wofford: You said that was a bit of a digression. Where were you planning to go?

Brownell: I wanted to talk about the importance of compassion in the workplace. If you’re a servant leader and you really listen well to your employees and to your colleagues, it really does start a very positive chain reaction. People will see you as a role model and then they too will begin to also listen and be more compassionate in the workplace. Satisfaction at work really escalates when people feel like they are friends. There was a time when employers didn’t want their workers to be their friends because they thought the employees wouldn’t be as productive, but actually we’re finding that almost the opposite is true. The feeling that you’re surrounded by people who care about you makes a huge difference in how we feel about the workplace.

Wofford: Still, from an employer’s standpoint it’s a lot harder to fire someone you’ve become friends with.

Brownell: Yeah, well that’s true. It is harder to fire a friend, for sure. But I’m not talking about friends in the sense that you go bowling together after work. I mean a friend more in the sense of caring about someone because you know a little about them and they know a little about you. But your point is really well taken because that leads to another really interesting area, which is how close can you be with people that work for you without creating perceptions of preferential treatment or favoritism.

Nevertheless, compassion, empathy and caring is really important for a leader. The servant leader feels that the organization is in their care, so they care about its people and everything in it in a way that’s somewhat different than a leader who feels like they own the organization and that they’re driving it in whatever direction they want.

Another thing that I think is really interesting that characterizes the servant leader is self knowledge. I think often we’re so caught up in the actual doing – do this, do that, have this meeting, manage that project – that to have someone who is able to sit back and be introspective is a real treat.

You know, people are taught to talk, talk, talk but no one ever teaches anyone to really listen. Yet, to make good decisions you really need to gather information. Listening is really important to servant leaders. Not only that they’re listening but that people are able to see that they’re listening. Empowering employees and caring about them means paying attention to them.

I think the things that the servant leader focuses on are a little bit different. It’s more people-centric. It’s not that servant leaders are weak. They’re not weak at all. They’re very courageous in how they are honest and caring in the organization.

Wofford: It’s much more about making the best decisions even when they very well might be unpopular, right? Ultimately, the idea is to serve your vocation, right?

Brownell: Right, and being forthright with the information – some good, some bad – about what was done and what decisions were made. I think the whole transparency theme in organizations is important, and I think the servant leader facilitates that.

Wofford: We’ve got another great question from Karen here: “What about when servant leadership bites you in the butt? I tried to practice servant leadership but it comes back to bite me sometimes. Too much empathy, in particular, bites me.” What do you say to that?

Brownell: Empathy should be about recognizing someone else’s position and feeling how it affects them, but the consequences still need to be there. You know, if a student comes to me and says, “Oh I was trying to print and my printer broke down and that is why I’m a day late.” That’s when I say, “I understand that this happened and I’m sorry, but I’m still not giving you credit.”

Empathy is just indicating to the individual that you have in fact heard them, you understand how it could happen and you appreciate that they came to you and explained. But you still have a goal to reach. You still have a policy to meet. So empathy does not mean allowing people to slack off.

Rather than telling people what to do, servant leaders use persuasion whenever possible. This gets people sincerely on board and fosters ethical practices. Ethics have been a real big concern of mine. Sometimes we assume that someone is unethical when actually they haven’t even recognized that there was an ethical issue or an ethical component to what they were doing. They haven’t necessarily considered how their decision affects other people. So modeling ethical practices and being vocal about them are other important aspects of servant leadership.

Wofford: This also ties in to the self-reflection you mentioned earlier, right?

Brownell: That’s right and I think that self-reflection is actually a neglected leadership behavior and yet, if you read about really powerful leaders in various types of industries, almost without exception they mention how important it is to just sit back and kind of think about yourself and your own goals and what’s important to you, what you value, your strengths and weaknesses.

One of the things that a leader needs to do is to have what we call behavioral integrity, which means behaving in a way that corresponds with what they say. If I say I value being healthy but the bowl of M&Ms on my desk is the only thing I have for lunch, that is not displaying behavioral integrity. I think leaders should reflect on whether their actions back up their words.

Another thing to explore is who you become as a leader. One of the transformative things that I’ve been taking a look at is what being a leader does to one’s sense of self. There is this view that power corrupts, and I think servant leadership really helps prevent that.

I think self-reflection, no matter what position you’re in, is really important in the end. Sometimes it may have been so long since you last gave yourself the freedom to really think in these terms that it can be hard to know where to begin. One way to begin is to take some key themes and write down your own self-perceptions and then have someone else tell you what they think about you in those areas.

Wofford: And the servant leader is not only providing this sort of self feedback, they are also providing supportive feedback to their employees, right?

Brownell: It’s really about empowerment. As you empower someone, it implies that you trust them because you’re taking the time to coach them and mentor them. You’re giving them feedback, which is a sign that you care about them and how they are doing. You’re observing and helping them perform even better.

That then increases trust because as a leader you are basically saying, “I’m sure you’re not going to do it exactly the way that I would do it, but I trust that you understand the values and the goals and I trust that you are doing the best you can on behalf of the organization.”

Employees really take off when they feel like someone’s supporting them and that they can be instrumental in the organization’s success.

Wofford: Judi, thank you so much for this introduction to servant leadership.

Brownell: Thank you, Chris. It was nice to join you again.

Want to hear more? This interview is based on Judi Brownell’s live eCornell WebSeries event, Empower Your Team Through Servant Leadership. Subscribe now to gain access to a recording of this event and other Hospitality topics.

Cornell’s New Programs Equip Managers and HR Leaders to Build an Aware Organizational Culture

Participants learn critical strategies for creating a supportive and engaging workplace

As today’s headlines prove, an inclusive work environment is not just a nice-to-have, it can make or break a company. Engaged employees, a diverse workforce, and an inclusive climate provide organizations with a competitive advantage. Recognizing the need for companies to understand the complex dynamics underlying diversity challenges and opportunities within their organizations, Cornell has now announced the launch of two new online Diversity and Inclusion certificate programs.

Available 100% online through eCornell, learners can choose from a program designed expressly for HR professionals and a track for managers in any part of the organization. The programs teach learners critical strategies to help their teams increase employee engagement, counter unconscious bias, and build a more inclusive work environment.

“An organization is only as good as its culture—and every manager and HR leader is responsible for culture,” said Cornell ILR professor Lisa H. Nishii, who authored the program. “It goes without saying that organizations today must move beyond mere compliance and focus on constructing a work culture that promotes inclusion. The problem is, despite the ubiquity of the term inclusion, its definition and implementation often remain murky. This set of courses is designed to train workplace professionals to decode unconscious bias and how it affects employees, and to design work practices and norms that more effectively leverage the potential among all employees.”

Learners enrolled in the certificate programs can help make their organization a more inclusive and engaging place to work by understanding the perceptual, institutional, and psychological processes that impact the ways people interact with each other. Courses include:

  • Improving Engagement
  • Counteracting Unconscious Bias
  • Diversity and Inclusion in Practice
  • Fostering an Inclusive Climate

Upon successful completion of all four courses, learners earn a Diversity and Inclusion Certificate from Cornell University’s ILR School.

How to Manage Risk, Uncertainty and Opportunity (The Smart Way)

Having spent many years as a business consultant, Stephanie Thomas says she has “a long history with risk.” But although many people view risk as a negative thing, Thomas says that risk is more like the flip side of opportunity.

Now an economics lecturer at Cornell University’s ILR School, Thomas joined Chris Wofford to discuss the relationship between risk, uncertainty and opportunity as part of eCornell’s WebSeries.

An abridged version of her presentation follows.

Thomas: It’s important for people to realize that, risk isn’t necessarily a negative thing. Without risk, there’s no opportunity. If we never take a risk, we can’t really ever move forward to build, grow, develop and expand. So we have to take calculated risks but not stupid risks.

Wofford: To make sure we’re all on the same page, how do you define risk?

Thomas: Risk can take a variety of forms. There are four kinds of risks within the business setting: hazard risks, financial risks, operational risks and strategic risks.

The first, hazard risks, are usually the kinds of things that we think of when we hear the word ‘risk.’ This is the risk of something bad happening – natural disasters, floods, car accidents, those kinds of things.

Wofford: The risk there is not having prepared for them, right?

Thomas: Yes, and it’s really difficult to prepare for them because oftentimes they’re unanticipated. But when they do happen, they’re going to impact the business. Hazard risks are things that happen to the organization from the outside. Insurance, contingency planning and emergency preparedness plans can really mitigate hazard risks. So even though hazard risks are unanticipated, we usually have some pretty good mechanisms in place to deal with them.

Most organizations will also have protocols and policies in place to manage financial risks. These are things like fluctuations in interest rates, debt, asset losses or shrinkage if you’re in a retail environment. We all face these kinds of financial risks, but they’re typically well controlled and well understood as a part of routine discussion.

Then we can talk about the operational risks like supply chain issues and cost overruns. These are things that you might not plan for or take insurance out to mitigate against, but they’re still risks that are pretty well understood. If you have supply chain issues and can’t finish your product because something has happened to the person that you’re relying on – their truck broke down or they’re behind in production – this can really blow everything up.

But again, these kinds of risks are usually able to be managed pretty well. As an organization, you’re going to have a sense of what could go wrong and what you’re going to do to mitigate that situation.

Wofford: So that leaves the big category.

Thomas: Yes, the fun one. Strategic risks. Here we’re talking about things like customer retention. We’re talking about R&D projects. We’re talking about industry or sectorial issues and broader macroeconomic fluctuations. You’ve forecasted demand and it turned out that your forecasts were wrong and you have all this excess inventory. What are you going to do with it? Or you manufacture a toy and all of a sudden it becomes the “it” toy for the holidays and everybody is buying them and you haven’t produced enough to satisfy demand. What now?

These are examples of strategic risks and you really need to think about how they can potentially impinge on your strategy and what you’re going to do.

Wofford: So do you get everybody in the same room and sort of talk through these different possible scenarios and your responses to them?

Thomas: Absolutely. I’d like to turn to some real-life risk examples. When Apple did their R&D to create the iPhone, they didn’t really know for sure if it was going to be a success. It was a touch screen; it looked nothing like the flip phones or the clam shells of the day. It was a huge risk. But what was the upside? Well, it was enormous. The iPhone is now on its seventh generation and everybody has one.

To give another example, do you like to cook?

Wofford: Yes, a lot.

Thomas: Okay, let’s say that you’re making a new recipe for the first time. If it doesn’t turn out the way that you hope it does, what’s the downside?

Wofford: Well, I’d certainly be disappointed myself, and I could have unhappy guests. Worst case, someone gets ill.

Thomas: Let’s not even get into the getting ill part. Let’s just say it doesn’t look the way it’s supposed to look or it doesn’t taste the way it’s supposed to taste. The downside is, well, you can’t eat it and you have to order take-out. This is relatively minor in the grand scheme of life. But the upside is you prepare something wonderful for your family, you’ve learned a new skill and you’ve added to your credentials as a chef.

Wofford: Right, it’s not a huge downside if we have to order pizza because I messed up dinner.

Thomas: It’s not catastrophic. But in some cases, the downside of strategic risk can be catastrophic. If we look at Exxon Valdez, if we look at Deepwater Horizon, those things have huge potential downsides in terms of not just money and resources but in terms of human life. So how we balance these risk-versus-reward situations depends on what’s at stake. Context is super important when we talk about managing these risks.

Wofford: When we think of risks, we sort of associate them with trying new things. But can you think of any examples in which it is better to stick to what you were doing? I ask because I’m from Rochester, New York, the home of Kodak. And that’s a company that willfully decided to neglect the burgeoning digital market to their peril.

Thomas: Again, I think it depends on the situation. In the case of Kodak, it was a strategic choice that they were the leader in what they do and wanted to focus on that core capacity. I certainly can’t speculate on the decision-making process, but if I had to guess, I would say that they felt that even with this new digital marketplace coming, there was still going to be a need for the old analog film. And there are still photographers and artists that use film even though the market has gone overwhelmingly digital.

Wofford: I know it depends on the situation, but typically, how do companies typically deal with risk, uncertainty and opportunity?

Thomas: I think that you need to take a holistic approach. There’s not necessarily one single correct answer but we can assign likelihoods to things. To go back to the cooking example: if you’re trying a new recipe, what is your level of cooking ability? Can you read a recipe? Do you know how to measure ingredients? If you’ve never cooked anything before, the downside for you is a lot more likely than if you’re an experienced cook. You need to really think about what those potential upsides and downsides are and how likely they are to happen.

The classic expression is “nothing risked, nothing gained.” If Apple had not taken the risk to move forward on their R&D project, they would have lost a lot. The iPhone really helped make Apple one of the world’s leading consumer brands.

There are a few common approaches that are used to address risk. The first one is to be like an ostrich and put your head in the sand and ignore it. Not a good idea. Ignoring everything around you is a catastrophe waiting to happen.

A second approach is to say, “Okay, so we know last quarter this happened. And the quarter before that, this happened. And two years ago this happened, so we’re going to predict what we’re going to do in the future based on historical information.” That often works, especially if you’re in a stable environment and producing a product or service that hasn’t changed in the last 10 to 15 years. In that situation, looking at history is going to help you predict the future.

But if you’re in the tech world, you certainly don’t want to look at what’s happened in the last five years to try to predict what’s going to happen in the next five. Things change too rapidly.
To tie it back to your Kodak example, they had been a leader for a number of years so they might have thought that what worked in the past was going to continue to work in the future.
It didn’t. Projecting the past into the future is like driving on the highway looking only in your rear view mirror. You’ve got some information — you know where you’ve been — but you’re still missing what’s in front of you.

Wofford: Let’s talk about the distinction between risk and uncertainty.

Thomas: The way I think about risk is that it is something that can be known. If I cross the street, there are certain inherent risks. With uncertainty, on the other hand, we have no way to quantify it. It’s the realm of unknown unknowns.

If it’s risk, we can manage it. We can manage hazard risk through insurance policies. We can manage financial risk through standard operating procedures and audit controls and generally accepted accounting principles and so on. But if it is truly uncertain, there’s really not much you can do. Uncertainty in my mind is a lot scarier than risk. If it’s true uncertainty, you’re not able to even articulate the array of possible outcomes.

Wofford: So we’ve made that distinction and we’ve talked about a couple of risk case studies. Do you have any advice for putting risk assessment into practice?

Thomas: I think that when coping with risk, particularly strategic risk, you really need to understand what it is that you do and what your customers expect. What is it about you that distinguishes you from your competitors? What is your strategy? You need to have a firm grip on these things in order to think about what is likely to happen in the future.

Do we want to go from making widgets to digital switches? Are we going to transition into that new area to cope with the new business environment or are we going to stay on track and continue to do what we’ve always done? Again, depending on the scenario and the environment that you operate in, both could be viable alternatives. But when you choose one path, you should be able to articulate a set of reasons as to why you made that decision. You need to understand the opportunities as well as the risks and make a calculated decision.

Wofford: Stephanie, thanks for that practical advice and thank you so much for joining me today.

Thomas: Thanks, Chris.

Want to hear more? This interview is based on Stephanie Thomas’ live eCornell WebSeries event,How to manage Risk, Uncertainty and OpportunitySubscribe now gain access to a recording of this event and other Entrepreneurship topics.

Can Pay Transparency Help Close the Gender Wage Gap?

Women may have more professional opportunities today than ever before in history but the unfortunate reality is that they still earn less than men on the whole, thanks to a persistent gender wage gap. The most commonly cited statistic in the gender pay gap discussion is that women earn 77 cents for every $1 earned by their male counterparts. But according to Stephanie Thomas, a lecturer at Cornell University’s ILR School who has spent 15 years researching the gender gap, there is more to that figure than meets the eye.

As part of eCornell’s webinar series, Thomas joined Chris Wofford to discuss the complexities of the gender wage gap and how employers can use transparent pay practices to help close it. Below is an abridged version of their conversation.

Wofford: I think everyone is probably familiar with the common figure that we all kick around, that women earn 77 cents to the dollar that men earn. Is there more to the story?

Thomas: That figure is part of the story, but it’s not the whole story. When we look at various explanatory factors and make appropriate comparisons, we see that the 23 cent gap really narrows. Yes, it’s a real number but it’s not necessarily reflective of the true gender pay gap when we measure things correctly.

Part of the reason that we have this 23 cent differential is due to the way we’re measuring the gap. If we look at all men versus all women, we see a large gap but that’s not necessarily the right comparison to make. We know that there are a lot of non-discriminatory factors that influence pay, like occupational choice, industry, labor market experience, and education — all those kinds of things. So when we lump everybody together and look at all men versus all women, and the only thing we account for is gender, we see that 23 cent gap. When we control for things like occupation, industry, labor market experience and union status, we see that the 23 cent gap really closes. When these factors are included, we get that gap down to about nine cents per dollar.

Wofford: If everything else has been accounted for, does that suggest that the nine cent difference is down to pure discrimination?

Thomas: It’s difficult to make an inference of discrimination. We first need to make sure that we’re comparing people properly, so we want to look at people who are in the same occupation, in the same industry, with the same labor market experience. Women tend to have less labor market experience than men, simply because of biology. Women are the ones that give birth and most women don’t want to give birth under their desk and go right back to work. So we take time off and that makes a difference in the labor force experience of men and women of the same age. When we account for all of those things, there’s about a nine cent gap left.

But there are some other factors that are a little more difficult to measure, that could explain that remaining nine cents. For example, women will, generally speaking, take a lower salary and a richer benefits package while men are more likely to take a higher salary and less benefits. Men also tend to prefer more risky compensation elements like stock options and bonuses. Women, on the other hand, tend to be a little more risk averse than their male counterparts.

We can also look at the role of caregiving responsibilities, whether that’s for children, disabled family members or elderly parents. In our society today, women still bear the brunt of those caregiving responsibilities. Whether that is right or wrong is a different conversation, but it’s still seen as a female thing to do. So if women are taking time off from work, or scaling back their hours, that can influence what we see in terms of the overall earnings numbers.

Wofford: Doesn’t negotiation also play an important role in this?

Thomas: Absolutely. Negotiation and compensation expectations are really important. There have been a variety of studies done on this. One of the most interesting asked people who had just finished their MBA what they thought a reasonable starting salary would be. Depending on how you look at the data, compensation expectations for women were anywhere from 25 to 50 percent lower than their male counterparts.

Wofford: Wow, that’s substantial.

Thomas: It is, and if women have lower expectations about what a reasonable pay package would look like, that can contribute to the disparity. We also know that women are only one-third as likely as men to engage in compensation negotiations. When they do negotiate, they’re just as successful but they’re only one-third as likely to start that conversation.

The last thing I want to bring up here that helps explain that nine cent differential is the difference in work hours. We know that men tend to work more hours per week than women. A lot of times those extra hours are paid as time-and-a-half overtime earnings, so if men are working more overtime, that alone can be enough to explain the difference in the amount on the paycheck. Even though you and I might be paid the same hourly rate, if you’re getting time and a half for overtime and I’m not, you’re going to have higher earnings than me.

Now, even if we account for caregiving, hours, the cash benefits tradeoff, and all those other things, there still may be some gap left over. I think it’s important to note that just because we can explain the gap in the aggregate doesn’t mean that there aren’t real cases of gender discrimination happening. We could have a zero differential in the aggregate but that doesn’t mean that everyone’s being paid fairly. If there are cases of gender discrimination, and unfortunately there are, it’s really more than just the impact on the woman herself. It’s really a family issue. It’s a societal issue. More than 7.3 million families are headed by single mothers. If they’re not earning as much as they should be, then that’s going to affect where they can live, access to education, and opportunities for their kids. It’s really much more than just paying the woman fairly. If women have less income, that’s going to affect the economy as a whole because they’re not going to be spending as much, which in turn has a dampening effect on GDP growth and macroeconomic issues.

Wofford: So actually, everyone would benefit if the gender gap was brought down to zero, not just women.

Thomas: Yes. People are starting to realize that the gender pay gap is more than just about the woman. It’s a family issue, a societal issue and a big macroeconomic issue.

Wofford: So how do we work on closing the gap?

Thomas: One thing that can help is pay transparency, which is something we are hearing a lot about these days. Why do we care so much about pay transparency right now? From my perspective, I think that there are two different sets of forces playing a role here. On the one hand, it’s sort of a logical extension of what we’re seeing in society as a whole. With the rise of social media, people are sharing more things about themselves. I’m a little bit older and I was raised with the idea that nice people don’t talk about politics, religion or money. But my 16-year-old niece just tells everybody everything about herself on social media. It’s very open, it’s not a big deal. I think that millennials don’t have the same kind of privacy concerns that Gen-Xers like me do.

I think this push toward pay transparency is also an extension of business trends and the rise of big data. Today, we’re collecting more information and we have better technology to process that information and generate insights. Organizations are shifting somewhat to more person-based jobs, rather than job title-based jobs. It used to be that job descriptions would include “other duties as assigned.” A lot of times now, the “other duties as assigned” is the job. It’s a combination of business and societal trends that are sort of causing this issue of transparency to rise to the surface.

Wofford: How do you go about showing pay transparency? I’ve never been in an environment where that was the case.

Thomas: Pay transparency means different things to different people. What I recommend for businesses is what I refer to as pay process transparency. What that means is really setting out a very well-defined, organized, clear set of expectations. If this is your job and this is how many years of experience you have, and these are your skills, abilities, talents, and qualifications, this is what the pay range is going to be.

Cornell has what I would call pay process transparency. Depending on the job family that you’re in, there are different grades – B, C, D and E – and a starting salary range. If you are in this particular job family at this particular grade, then your salary is going to be between here and here. In order to get to the next step or to earn the next pay increase, the criteria are laid out very clearly. Each employee knows what they have to do to get that next merit increase or bonus. Being transparent about your pay process is really providing employees with enough information to really understand how those pay decisions are made.

Wofford: This also tells an employee how much negotiation wiggle room they have, right?

Thomas: Yes, there’s a minimum and maximum. Sometimes you’ll see it presented in terms of a midpoint. Some organizations, particularly in the high tech sector, have decided to opt for non-negotiation policies. They know that men and women have different tendencies to engage in those conversations, so one of the ways that they’re addressing the gender pay gap is to say, “This is what we’re offering you. Take it or leave it, we’re not going to discuss it.”

Another element of pay transparency is what I refer to as pay disclosure. Whole Foods is a great example of this. At Whole
Foods, anybody can go in and say, “I want to see how much so-and-so is earning” or “I want to see what the CEO’s compensation package is.” Whole Foods has taken somewhat of a radical approach to this in that they’re making their payroll books open. Any employee can go in and look at any other employee’s pay. For the culture that Whole Foods has, this is a good strategy for them but for other organizations this may not be optimal. I think you have to figure out what’s appropriate for your organization and what fits with your culture.

The third example that I want to talk about is something that happened at Google, and this is what I call radical transparency. This was not something that Google put into place but rather something that Google employees did on their own. It started with a former Google employee who was concerned about some pay equity issues at Google. She created a Google spreadsheet and circulated it among some of her co-workers and said, “Put in your name and your salary and we’re going to see what the pay practices are.” It was voluntary disclosure on the part of the employees.

Wofford: What happened? How did the higher-ups respond?

Thomas: Well, they weren’t happy, but technically, there was nothing that could be done. It’s not illegal for employees to talk amongst themselves about their pay. Whether you’re unionized or not, the National Labor Relations Act gives employees the right to talk about compensation.

There was a lot of buy-in from the fellow Google employees and the spreadsheet revealed what the workers thought were some discrepancies that needed to be looked at. Now, just looking at a sheet of people’s names and pay rates is not going to tell you everything that you need to know. Just because you and I have the same job title doesn’t mean that we should have the exact same pay rate.

Wofford: What happened at Google as a result?

Thomas: Well, the employee departed the organization and the whole thing blew up in the news. It was ultimately resolved internally so I don’t know the details but I know Google did take a look at this issue. I hope that if there were real disparities that needed to be corrected, they were.

Wofford: Great, so we’ve seen several examples of pay transparency, radical and otherwise. What’s next? Are more companies thinking of transitioning to a transparent process?

Thomas: A lot of organizations are thinking about it. Before I came to Cornell, I spent 15 years in private consulting and one of the things that I specialized in was the statistical analysis of pay disparities. So we would be retained to go in and look at an organization’s data, understand how they paid people, and actually do a statistical analysis to identify those disparities. If we found disparities, we would report that information back to the organization and help them figure out what steps they needed to put into place, not only to correct the situation, but to prevent it from happening again.

Wofford: Would you advocate generally for this kind of transparency?

Thomas: I completely support pay process transparency. I think that it’s the right thing to do. I think it’s information that your employees are entitled to and should be provided. For some organizations, it’s probably not time yet, but it might be in the future. You have to understand your workforce, their needs and their wants. There really isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution to this.

I think the bottom line is your employees are going to talk about pay. They’re going to have those conversations, whether you want them to or not. You can’t legally prevent them from doing it but what you can do is help manage them. By being open and providing this information up front, you can inform and direct those conversations. If you’re providing accurate information and people have an understanding of how those decisions are made, it can shut down the rumor mill.

Wofford: Stephanie, thank you for the conversation on these very important issues.

Thomas: Thank you, Chris.

Want to hear more? This interview is based on Stephanie Thomas’ live eCornell WebSeries event, The Gender Wage Gap: Causes, Consequences and the Way Forward. Subscribe now gain access to a recording of this event and other Human Resources topics.

Are Most Managers Bad Listeners?

The Art of Listening for Impactful Leadership

When you think of the traits that define a good leader, does your list include listening? If it doesn’t, it should. If you learn to develop and improve your ability to listen, you’ll likely be better prepared to lead and manage individuals, teams and organizations.

In this edition of the Women in Leadership WebSeries, Professor Judi Brownell from Cornell University’s Hotel School joined eCornell’s Chris Wofford to discuss how listening can improve your effectiveness as a manager and to share practical tools for improving your leadership ability through listening.

What follows is an abridged version of their conversation.

Wofford: Is it true that most managers are bad listeners?

Brownell: Well, most managers certainly believe they listen more effectively than they do. I think that speaks to our lack of awareness of listening.

Listening is like any other communication skill in that you really can keep improving. Regardless of how well you actually do listen, there is always more you can do.

In a professional context, there is a really interesting curve where listening is critical as you come into an organization but then speaking is often more important in the middle of a career because you’re influencing through your ideas. And then as you go into senior management, listening once again becomes really important.

For new employees, listening is particularly important because it’s through listening that you begin to understand how things are done in an organization and whose voices are really heard. But it’s also important in senior positions. One of the problems is that sometimes senior executives think they have all the answers but they often don’t. They really need to rely on other people’s perspectives.

Wofford: Listening is easily taken for granted, right?

Brownell: Absolutely. A lot of us don’t think actively about how we listen.

Listening is what we call a receiver-defined activity, which means that things mean what the listener thinks they mean. We’ve seen that in many cases in the political arena recently. No matter where you stand, things can mean different things to different people. That’s because as a listener, you have a lot of personal characteristics that contribute to how you interpret things.

Wofford: Speaking of personal characteristics, let’s check in with the audience. As Judi mentioned, most people think they’re better listeners than they actually turn out to be based on feedback. So I’m going to ask the audience: How would you rate yourself as a listener? Do you perceive yourself as an excellent listener, a pretty good listener, an okay listener or a pretty poor listener?

Looks like almost 75 percent say they are either excellent or pretty good, although we do have two admitting to being poor listeners. This probably jibes perfectly with your data, right?

Brownell: Yes, generally people think that they’re pretty good listeners.

Wofford: I’d now like to ask the audience to think of someone you work with who is a great listener. What is it that they do? Give us the one particular characteristic or a bit of feedback they display that demonstrates to you that this person really listens.

Brownell: The responses coming in are what I would expect. People list “eye contact,” “nodding,” “asking follow-up questions,” “focusing,” and “reciprocating.” These are all great and I think asking follow-up questions is probably one of my favorite things about having a conversation with somebody. That’s an indicator that they’re listening. I’m not satisfied when I’m talking to someone and they’ve got nothing but answers.

Wofford: Okay Judi, so what else can people do to develop their listening skills?

Brownell: I want to talk about the LAW of listening, which is Listening = Ability + Willingness. Although listening is a skill that you can develop, nothing really matters if you don’t have a willingness to listen or if you don’t have an interest in focusing on your listening and making it a priority.

I think it’s important that everybody see themselves as someone who can improve their listening, no matter how great or dismal you think you are at listening.

We certainly learn by listening and we facilitate by listening. As a leader you’re not the one who has all the ideas or all the opinions, you’re the one who brings out the best in the team. So a good listener makes sure that all of the people in the group feel like they’re heard.

Listening also builds trust. If you are someone who listens and encourages others to listen, trust increases. When trust increases, so does job satisfaction.

Wofford: And the flip side is that poor listening then leads to lower job satisfaction, right?

Brownell: Yes. Let’s talk about what it means for you as a leader when you are not listening.

I was asked to do a listening training session at a large healthcare organization where the employees were unhappy with the way their managers listened. When I went in to try to find out a little more about the problem I discovered that different employees meant different things by not listening. In some cases they would mean that a manager would say, “Sure, don’t worry, I’ll take care of it” but then didn’t follow through. To them, it was like not listening. In other cases a manager would have an open door policy but when someone would come in to speak to him, he’d be multitasking and doing a lot of other things. So the employees were frustrated with their managers but for quite different reasons.

Over the course of five to ten years of doing a lot of needs analysis and a lot of interviewing and a lot of follow up, we came up with a model that has six interrelated components that represent the different types of skills that contribute to what people think of as effective listening.

I’ll go through each of those from the standpoint of a leader. The first of these is focusing attention. Are you paying attention to the right things? Next is understanding, which is getting more complicated as we have a more diverse workforce and customer base. Then we have memory. If you don’t remember, it affects the way that your listening is perceived. Fourth, interpreting. This has to do with the nonverbal aspects of listening, while the fifth component, evaluating, has to do with making a judgment about something. Finally, the last component we’ll discuss is responding.

So you can see with all of these components that listening is a process. It involves a multitude of different skills and you may be really good in one skill area but not so good in another area.

Wofford: How do you improve in the areas that need it?

Brownell: We have what is called listening strategy, which is a way to focus your attention. There are two components of listening strategy. One is the context. Usually in leadership situations, you’re in a team context. But even if you’re not the leader of the team, you can still have a lot of real influence as a team member by changing your listening behavior. Many times what a team needs is someone who’s really listening and paying attention.

Wofford: What are some of the different contexts that listening can play out in?

Brownell: It could be whether or not you’re listening one on one if you’re in the context of two people. Or listening within the context of the team or within the context of a presentation, where you’re just sitting there listening to somebody speak. Or the context of a mediated communication, which is the type of ‘listening’ that takes place while communicating through texting, email or the telephone. I expanded listening to include texting and all of the ways in which people today, particularly younger people, are communicating because there’s always a listening component to those interactions.

Part of context is how many people are involved. A team situation is the most dynamic because you’ve got all these players. The other element of context is the purpose. You may not always think about it, but whenever you go to talk with someone, there’s almost always some purpose. It can be to learn, to make a decision, to solve a problem or just to get to know someone better. So looking at the context, both in terms of the number of people and the purpose, helps you focus your attention on the things that are important.

We all know about selective attention, which means that you tend to seek out things that confirm your beliefs. But being open minded is so important in listening. You need to at least attempt to understand what the other person is saying, even if you don’t agree with it. It’s fine not to agree, but you need to listen until you understand.

Wofford: When your disagree with someone, do your own beliefs interfere with your ability to really listen?

Brownell: Well, there are a lot of personal factors that influence what you hear. As I mentioned earlier, individual differences and diversity are major factors in our ability to really understand all messages. When I’m listening, I try not to make assumptions. I try to really ask probing questions, questions that show that I’m interested.

Everyone is so different now, with different understandings of things and different amounts of information about things, so you should never just assume what someone may or may not know. Along with that, you should never take for granted that someone is listening to you. You need to look for the visual cues and ask questions. Sometimes when you are listening to someone, asking them if they feel that they’ve been heard is really powerful. To ask, “Do you feel I’ve understood you, and if you don’t, then please tell me more so that I do understand” is pretty effective.

Wofford: That’s a great tip. Do you have any others to help people focus and understand?

Brownell: Well, as you know, a lot of people have trouble with remembering names when they are introduced to someone. It’s typically because they’re not really focusing on listening to the name — instead, they’re focusing on what they plan to say next. So some of that difficulty in remembering is just due to where you’re focusing your attention.

Wofford: I think using people’s names in conversation is a great way to indicate that you’re paying attention.

Brownell: Absolutely, that’s a great tool. When meeting someone, you need to give a firm handshake, have really direct eye contact and then repeat their name: “It’s good to meet you, So-and-So.” That definitely helps you remember their name, and remembering is part of the perception of listening. If you don’t remember, you are perceived as having not listened.

Also, and I think most people are already aware of this, it is very important to be sensitive to the non-verbal elements that either contradict or support what someone says verbally. The non-verbal carries something like 70 percent of the message so you need to try to understand not just the content in the language but also the emotional aspects that are communicated through body language, expressions and vocal characteristics.

Wofford: We had an observation come in from the audience that I find really interesting. This person writes: “When you are known as active listener, especially when you listen with emotional intelligence and show that you actually relate to the speaker, they always try to burden you with personal issues.” Judi, what do you think of that?

Brownell: I think it’s true that sometimes when you’re perceived as someone who will listen, people may take advantage of you. If you are a good listener, you may attract people who are needy and that is a really difficult balance. You need to find a way to get yourself out of those situations. As soon as you realize what is going on, you need to continue to have empathy and project empathy but then you need to say, “I really wish I had more time for this, but I don’t.” If it’s somebody you really care about then you can set up another, more appropriate time to discuss it.

Being a good listener doesn’t mean that you can’t be assertive. Assertive skills can go in combination with listening skills. You need to protect your time because your time is really valuable.

Wofford: I think most of us can relate to being in a situation where someone really wants you to listen to them but for whatever reason you just can’t do it right then. It can be very awkward, so I think that was a great comment from the audience.

There’s another question that I’d like you to weigh in on because I think it’s another situation a lot of people can relate to. Katherine asks: “What if a senior executive you work with does not exhibit healthy listening behaviors? That is, he or she interrupts, doesn’t give feedback, doesn’t probe. How do you handle that?” I suppose there’s no short answer to that one, but do you want to respond?

Brownell: Can you help a leader become a better listener? Well, changing someone else’s behavior is really hard. One of the things I’ve always found is helpful in trying to get someone to really listen to you is to connect with them. Treat them as a real person and not just the person in their role. Learn about their interests. I find that helps them get into listening mode a little bit. Timing is also important. If you approach some people at a bad time, they’re not going to listen regardless. So you can try to strategically select what might be a good time.

Also, maybe the reason they’re not listening is that they have something they want to say. People don’t listen if they also want to speak. If you go to your supervisor and there were things your supervisor wanted to tell you, he or she won’t listen to you until they’ve had the opportunity to tell you what they had in mind for the meeting. After they get something off their chest, they’re much better positioned to listen.

Wofford: Judi, I want to thank you for joining us today.

Brownell: Thank you, Chris. We really had some great feedback from an active audience so I think we’ve got a pretty healthy bunch of listeners out there.


Want to hear more? This interview is based on Judi Brownell’s live eCornell WebSeries event, The Art of Listening for Impactful Leadership. Subscribe now to gain access to a recording of this event and other Women in Leadership topics. 

Why It’s So Hard to Say ‘No’

Exploring social perceptions in the workplace

Imagine that your phone has just died but you have a very important call to make. Would you be comfortable approaching a stranger and asking to use their phone? How many people do you think you’d have to ask before someone agrees?

These are the kinds of questions that fascinate Vanessa Bohns, an associate professor of organizational behavior at Cornell University’s ILR School. Bohns does research on social influence and our perceptions of the influence that we have over other people.

She’s interested in the underlying psychological mechanisms like how feelings of self-consciousness, awkwardness, and embarrassment affect our willingness to ask others to do something for us and how these dynamics play out in the workplace.

As part of eCornell’s Women in Leadership WebCast Series, Bohns joined Chris Wofford for a discussion on how to get others to say yes and why it can be so hard to say no.

Wofford: Vanessa, thanks for joining us today. What can asking a stranger to borrow their phone teach us about interactions in the workplace?

Bohns: The real question is, why is it so hard to ask people for things? Likewise, why is it so hard to say no? A lot of it has to do with the underlying psychological mechanisms like emotions that prevent us from recognizing our own influence over others and potentially prevent us from seeing when other people feel like they can’t ask us for help.

In many cases, it comes down to awkwardness. Something as simple as asking someone for their phone can be a very distressing interaction. The self-consciousness, the awkwardness, this idea that you’re imposing on someone, it can create anxiety.

There is also a gender aspect to the discomfort of asking. Studies have shown that women experience about two and a half times more anxiety when asking for things than men. We all probably think of the stereotype about men not wanting to ask for directions, but that comes from a different place than when you have to ask for something for yourself, like a raise or promotion at work, for example.

We all tend to mistake our own feelings of discomfort for other people’s feelings of discomfort. We all deal with egocentric biases, because we know what’s happening in our own head—it’s very rich with information about our own experiences, and because of that, we don’t necessarily recognize other people’s experiences.

Wofford: Can you give us an example of these biases in action?

Bohns: I’ll start with something called the spotlight effect, which is basically the idea that people are paying more attention to us than they actually are. There’s a classic study from the 1990s in which college-aged participants were given this Barry Manilow t-shirt, which was considered a pretty embarrassing thing to wear. The participants were asked to go interact with others and then come back and rate how likely it was that these other people recognized what they were wearing. Of course, they all thought everyone noticed their Manilow shirts and judged them harshly for it, when, in fact, most people didn’t even notice what they were wearing and if they did, they certainly didn’t judge them because of it. So we tend to think that everyone’s looking at us, noticing our bad hair days, noticing our bad outfits, noticing when we trip. But most of the time, people are much more interested in themselves than anything you are doing.

Wofford: So I shouldn’t worry about wearing this outfit again tomorrow?

Bohns: Exactly, no one is going to notice.

The spotlight effect is very related to another egocentric bias that’s called the illusion of transparency, which is this idea that our emotions sort of leak out of our skin and everyone can see how anxious we are when we’re giving a talk, for example. The truth is that people in the audience usually say they had no idea that the speaker was anxious. Our emotions don’t leak out to the extent that we think they do.

Another egocentric bias is the illusion of courage and this is one of my particular favorites. The illusion of courage is this idea that other people are less affected by self-consciousness, embarrassment, and awkwardness than we are ourselves. A classic study on this entailed playing the song ‘Super Freak’ by Rick James really loudly in a big auditorium full of students. The students were told that a number of them would be brought up to dance in front of the entire audience, so naturally a lot of people get nervous and worried that they’d be the ones picked. As part of the experiment, the students were asked to write down how much money they’d need to be paid in order to get up on stage and dance. They were also asked how much they thought other people would need to be paid to do the same.

On average, the students said that they would need more than $50 before they would actually consider dancing up on stage but when they judged other people, they thought that they would take less than $20 to do it. They thought that other people just wouldn’t be as embarrassed or feel as concerned about doing this as they themselves would. This is the illusion of courage.

Wofford: So when when you take all these egocentric biases together, they sort of suggest that we think that other people would judge us more harshly than they actually do?

Bohns: Exactly. We think that they’re paying attention to our mistakes, that they’re remembering them and that they’re making all sorts of judgments based on them.

So that’s why if we ask for something, we think people are going to judge us. If we say no to something, people are going to judge us. We simply don’t realize the extent to which other people also have feelings of anxiety and self-consciousness. We’re so worried about how people view us that we’re not paying attention to how other people feel in a lot of situations.

This goes beyond our personal interactions. Just recognizing the extent to which self-conscious concerns affect us and the decisions we make on a daily basis as managers, as employees, as bosses—and the extent to which our employees are making similar decisions based on self-conscious concerns—is a really important thing when it comes to organizational behavior.

Wofford: Let’s turn to another big question: why is it so hard for people to say no?

Bohns: In part, people are just mindlessly following a social norm that we say yes to people. So when someone comes up to you and asks for something, you just go along with it without really thinking. That’s part of it. Another big factor is that we don’t want to impolite. If you say no, there’s something that you could be insinuating about the other person that there’s something wrong with what they’re asking.

At the end of the day, it’s just really awkward to say no. And so it’s often just easier and more comfortable to say yes, and just go along with whatever somebody is asking you.

Wofford: Am I wrong to feel encouraged by this? I feel like people are generally good.

Bohns: I think there’s something to be said for the fact that our mindless default is to agree, to just go along with helping other people. The takeaway is that people are often much more willing to help us than we think—and that we have a certain degree of influence.

But there can be a dark side to this. There’s the phenomenon of social engineering that can be used to get people to do things that they should say no to. That can be used by nefarious people who understand this and who want, for example, to gain access to sensitive information by exploiting psychological vulnerabilities. So instead of technically hacking into someone’s computer, you call them up and say, “Hey, I know so-and-so and he said that maybe you’d be willing to give me this, and I just need your password to log on.” One of the reasons this is so effective is that people feel so awkward challenging what someone is saying to them.

The last thing I want to talk about is how this idea that we don’t recognize other people’s feelings of discomfort can affect the ways in which we can encourage them to ask us for things. When we are the ones who can actually help others, do we recognize the barriers that prevent people from seeking our help? Do we realize how awkward they might feel and can we better encourage people to actually come ask for help when they need it?

You can imagine a situation where you have an employee who’s struggling with a project but just too nervous or self-conscious to ask you, the boss, for help. You might not realize that the reason he’s not asking is because he feels awkward, not necessarily because he doesn’t have any questions related to the project.

Wofford: And that might directly affect the outcome of the project.

Bohns: Yes. On the other hand, you can imagine a more nefarious situation in which a supervisor asks a subordinate to do something that she’s uncomfortable with. She feels awkward saying no and the supervisor, because he’s not aware of this discomfort, assumes that she was fine with it. He assumes that if she didn’t want to do what he was asking, she would just say no. A lot of us make this assumption because we’re in our own egocentric world.

Wofford: You’ve shared some really interesting examples. What are some of the conclusions and takeaways you want our audience to leave with?

Bohns: One major conclusion that should be completely evident from all these studies is that self-consciousness drives much of human behavior. We usually think that embarrassment is this trivial emotion but it actually drives so much of behavior that we should take it seriously. We should be aware of the extent to which we are likely to overlook embarrassment in others and the extent to which it drives our own behavior.

So part of the takeaway is to manage the control that self-consciousness has over you. You might think that you’re the only one who is affected by embarrassment, but actually everybody is. Also, be aware of how it might affect others’ behaviors and prevent them from doing things like asking for help.

When it comes to asking for things that you actually need, the first thing is to just ask. People are much more likely to say yes than you think.

Finally, don’t worry about the way people will interpret a request. Be direct. People tend to think that they should be indirect and sort of beat around the bush, when in fact people are much less likely to respond positively to these kinds of subtle hints. They are much more likely to respond positively to a direct request.

You might think that if people are saying yes out of awkwardness or because they feel they can’t say no, that means they’re going to interpret this as being pressured into it. But actually we have actually found that, afterwards, people re-interpret why they did something in a way that makes them feel good.


Want to hear more? This interview is based on Vanessa Bohns’ live eCornell WebSeries event, Your Power of Persuasion: Getting Others To Say “Yes,” and Why It Is So Hard To Say “No.” Subscribe now to gain access to a recording of this event and other Human Resources topics. 

Want to Build High-Performing Relationships at Work? Try This.

Building collaborative work relationships with colleagues and avoiding threats to project collaboration are issues that every employee today must deal with.

To address the real-life challenges that people face in today’s diverse and often global – or even virtual – workplaces, eCornell’s Chris Wofford was joined by Dr. Michele Williams, a scholar at Cornell University’s Scheinman Institute on Conflict Resolution as well as a Faculty Fellow at the Technology, Innovation and Entrepreneurship Research Network. Their wide-ranging discussion is part of our ongoing Women in Leadership WebCast series.

Wofford: Michelle, thanks for joining us. I’d like to start with the results of some poll questions we posed to our audience. Here’s the first one: “Do fear, stress, or anger play a part in the erosion of trust at your organization?” The overwhelming response was ‘yes’, which is probably not much of a surprise.

Williams: No, it’s not. But what I think is really important in today’s society is that there’s so much economic pressure, a lot of mergers and acquisitions, restructuring and so on, so fear, stress, and anger have become almost a daily part of work. Figuring out how we build and maintain trust when emotions are starting to be just a common part of our work experience is a real challenge.

Wofford: I’ve got another one here I think will be interesting to look at, which is, “Do you believe that lack of trust in your organization is an issue that needs to be addressed?” Again, probably no surprise that 100 percent of the responses say “yes”.

Williams: This is a widespread issue. If we look more broadly, the erosion of trust in our institutions and politicians and government parallels what’s going on within organizations.

I would argue that trust is really the key to collaborative relationships because it really increases things that are essential to collaboration, like information sharing, helping behavior, responsiveness,and flexibility.

If something goes wrong every time you work with a contractor, for instance, you have to renegotiate the contract. That’s extremely costly. If you trust them, you can respond in a more responsible way that allows you to work around whatever problems arise.

Trust also decreases the need to monitor everyone. If you have to watch everything your team member does, it’s going to really slow down the project.

Wofford: Ok, trust is important. I think that’s something we would all agree on. But what is trust, really?

Williams: Everyone has almost their own definition, including academics, economists and
organizational people, and all of them tend to vary a little bit. But what we’re going to talk about here is psychological trust.

Whenever you collaborate with someone, if they don’t do their part, it can really harm you. When you rely on someone there really is a risk of opportunism or revenge. But you take this risk, not as a huge leap of faith but based on the expectation that others will be helpful or at least not harmful.

This belief that others have benevolent integrity and confidence is really the basis of trust; the trustworthiness you perceive in your colleagues. Do they have the ability to carry out the tasks or write the report or analyze the numbers? Do they follow through on what they say? That’s really what we’re talking about when we’re talking about building trust.

Wofford: Going back to our opening question, how does trust deteriorate?

Williams: Fear and stress can undermine rational cooperation. Time and time again, research studies show that people will punish others even at a cost to themselves if they believe they’ve been treated unfairly.

Tough economic times and layoffs make people fear that others are not going to be able to cooperate and are just trying to protect themselves. Fear can also cause employees to avoid one another and it’s very hard to get work done when people are avoiding you.

When it comes to anger, it can really cause vengeful behavior and override understanding and forgiveness. Everybody makes mistakes, but if people aren’t given a second chance, it often ends up undermining your project without giving them the chance to either explain what happened or to rebuild the trust.

Wofford: How do our different personalities and personal assumptions play into issues of workplace trust? I mean, we’re all individuals right?

Williams: I teach a course in intergroup dialogue and part of the foundation of that course is trust and how you give people the benefit of the doubt when talking about issues that are controversial. Can we have a discussion with people who have different assumptions and can we do it in a way that moves things forward rather than placing blame?

Wofford: Isn’t a lot of that just making people feel comfortable?

Williams: Exactly, and honesty is what brings about those high-quality connections that really facilitate work.

I want to talk a little bit about emotional work. Everyone’s probably had a colleague who’s had a bad day and you’ve tried to cheer them up. That’s what emotional work is. It’s when you try to change your own emotion or someone else’s emotion. Emotional work is really key to building trust in settings where there may be high emotions.

If you are all working really hard to get something done, there’s a lot of stress and tension. If team members are able to help each other manage that, they’re able to maintain that trust at a higher level.

Wofford: So we have to manage emotions in addition to doing our work? How does this play out in a real-world setting?

Williams: Emotional work has two fundamental foundations. One is emotional influence. Can you make the other person feel differently than they’re feeling now in a way that will help them work and continue their relationship with you and with a project? Can you see the situation from the other person’s point of view so that you can figure out the best strategy for interacting?

So how do you do that? There are several different things you can do. One is to alter the situation. Managers often do this if they have a negative feedback report to give to an employee. Instead of calling them into the conference room or the manager’s office, they might instead take them out to lunch and make it a more informal situation.

Another way is to alter the other person’s interpretation of events. You know, projects often fail and that can be crushing. But being able to reframe that into a message of “failures only lead to success” is very effective. Get them to think about it in a different way. Those types of interpretations help people go forward and build and maintain trust.

You can also change the environment. Go play racquetball, go out for a drink – that’s probably not a long-term solution but it works in the short term.

Another approach is that sometimes people say, “Suck it up, just keep going and move on.”

Wofford: Is this emotional work the responsibility of HR, of leadership, or of all of us?

Williams: This is definitely something that leaders do and something that people expect of their leaders. But it’s also something that people do within a team. You need to support each other.

If you don’t notice how other people are feeling, there’s not as much the manager can do about it. Team members have a huge impact because they’re with that person every day, so they’re in the position of being able to reframe a failure or a challenge in a way that makes people go forward.

I think that this is important at all levels of the organization. HR certainly has a critical role to play, including in what type of training they can provide so that people start to understand these behaviors.

Wofford: I want to turn back to our audience for a moment and ask them to weigh in on this poll question: When you feel anxious, stressed or angry, what would you like your team members and managers to do? We have some options: one, use humor to distract you; two, listen to your story; three, help you think more positively; and four, give you advice.

The answers are now in and I don’t know if you’ll be surprised by this, Michele, but the most popular answer was two, to simply listen.

Williams: Listening is critical. I think that a lot of times people jump in with advice when they haven’t understood the situation because they haven’t taken the time to really listen to the person. They’re only half listening and then they start offering solutions. So listening is extremely powerful and it shows that you care and are trustworthy.

Wofford: Not everyone is willing to share their feelings though. How do you find out that your team members are angry or stressed if they don’t come out and say it? How do you anticipate it?

Williams: You’re right that people won’t always tell you, so you might have to look for clues. It may be that you have a team member who used to always go to lunch. If they stop going out to lunch with you, that’s a clue that something’s probably up.

A lot of this is about the proactive process of imagining other people’s thoughts or feelings from their point of view. This is important not only in terms of emotional influence but also just in terms of communication. Communication scholars have looked at perspective-taking and it turns out that when you take someone else’s perspective, you adjust what you say to their knowledge level and to their experience. You frame things in a way so that they actually understand what you’re saying better. It also helps you feel closer to people once you’ve taken their perspective and this in turn makes you care more about their outcomes. It’s a very powerful process if people engage in it.

You know, there is this myth that people are simply trustworthy or not and all you have to do is watch your colleagues and see how they behave and you can figure out if they’re trustworthy or not. But in reality, trustworthiness is something that’s negotiated. Both sides have expectations for trustworthiness and you have to talk about them to figure out where to meet in the middle.

Wofford: So we know that perspective-taking and managing other people’s emotions and emotional influence are important, but how do we get there? How do we get to a place where we’re doing that regularly?

Williams: I would just say practice, practice, practice. Perspective-taking is critical because perspective-taking decreases when people are under stress, under time pressures or when they’re trying to multitask. And of course, this is exactly when it’s most needed.

On a personal level, get feedback. Solicit feedback from individuals about how well they think you understand their perspective. Ask people, what are the situations in which I’m at my best?
Think about those types of situations so that you can build on those strengths.

And finally, practice generative listening. Generative listening goes beyond active listening. So you are listening – you’re not texting while they’re talking to you – but more than that, you’re also affirming their perspective.

You don’t have to agree with someone to affirm that you’ve heard, what they’re saying, and what assumptions they are moving forward from.

Wofford: What are the takeaways you hope people get from our talk here today?

Williams: Building high-performing, collaborative work relationships requires effort, perspective-taking, emotional work, and threat reduction. It’s an interpersonal process that’s ongoing. You don’t do it once and stop.

In today’s global workplace, effective work relationships are key to promotions, project success, and a company’s profitability. Some of the concepts we’ve talked about today can help you build and maintain the trust you’ll need within your team or organization.

Wofford: Michelle, this has been fantastic. Thank you for joining me.


Want to hear more? This interview is based on Michele Williams’ live eCornell WebSeries event, Building High-Performing Relationships at Work: What Leaders, Followers and Team Members Need to KnowSubscribe now to gain access to a recording of this event and other Human Resources topics. 

eCornell offers Psychology of Leadership certificate

eCornell is offering a new, all-online certificate in the Psychology of Leadership, a program that distills complex leadership behaviors and more than 50 years of empirical research into a concrete set of tools professionals can use to cultivate their ability to influence and lead in all settings.

“Professionals have limited time for development, and it’s not practical for them to try everything to find what works. This new program is the result of a lifetime of work, rendering a broad range of behavioral theories and research down to a set of 15 to 20 core ideas that reap results quickly, across multiple contexts,” said program author Allan Filipowicz, clinical professor of management and organizations at the Cornell SC Johnson College of Business.

The Psychology of Leadership certificate consists of six interactive online courses that can be completed over three months with three to five hours of study per week in an engaging, small-class setting. Each course unpacks key behaviors like goal setting, managing personal and team performance, emotional intelligence and influencing others. Filipowicz uses worksheets, physical activities and simulations to provide students with a visceral understanding of the concepts.

Students also benefit from Filipowicz’s diverse academic and professional background; he teaches MBA students and global executives, has worked in finance and consulting, and holds advanced degrees in engineering, international affairs, social psychology, business and organizational behavior.

One of 12 Leadership and Strategic Management certificates offered by eCornell, Psychology of Leadership is relevant for professionals regardless of level, industry or sector, and ideal for current leaders seeking to improve personal and team performance. It’s also for organizations to use in developing new leaders and managers, and for anyone who needs to get things done through others. Students who complete this program receive a professional certificate from the Cornell SC Johnson College of Business.

Sarah Thompson is a freelance writer for eCornell.

Cornell University Brings Strategic Perspective to Pay, Rewards with New Compensation Studies Certificate

— New ILR program at eCornell goes beyond tactics to design unique plans that drive results —

A surprising number of today’s organizations still struggle to get compensation plans right. Pay-based performance incentives are used in 90 percent of U.S. companies, yet recent reports find that most plans don’t deliver, or deliver the wrong results. Now, through eCornell, Cornell University’s globally renowned ILR School is offering an online Compensation Studies certificate that provides professionals and organizations with the strategic framework needed to rethink total compensation plans, motivate employees, and drive performance.

The Compensation Studies certificate builds on the ILR School’s more than 70 years of leadership in delivering research-based professional education. Since 2010, ILR has worked with eCornell to rapidly expand into online learning, offering five online Human Resources certificates, and launching Cornell University’s first blended master’s degree program—an Executive Master of Human Resources Management that combines innovative online coursework with rigorous on-campus sessions.

“Our new Compensation Studies certificate program is a strong addition to ILR’s growing portfolio of online education offerings. It expands access to the school’s deep expertise in human resources management,” said Linda Barrington, Executive Director of the Institute for Compensation Studies at Cornell’s ILR School and co-author of the new certificate program, along with instructing faculty member Stephanie Thomas, Ph.D. and Kevin Hallock, Ph.D., the Kenneth F. Kahn ’69 Dean and Joseph R. Rich ’80 Professor of Economics and Human Resource Studies.

The Compensation Studies certificate is comprised of four courses that can be completed over two months. Students undertake a comprehensive, performance-based approach to compensation—aligning compensation to organizational goals, creating fair and profitable employee incentives, and probing the impact of plans on performance, profits, and people. Courses draw upon authoritative research shaping global pay-for-performance strategies, and include interactive tools and guidance on using a research-based compensation model, addressing cultural considerations, and defining employee populations by talent and role to optimize return on performance pay.

Cornell’s new certificate program is especially relevant for entry- to intermediate-level HR or compensation professionals, and for small business leaders seeking to structure and realign compensation with business strategy.


About Cornell University’s ILR School

Cornell University’s ILR School is the leading college of applied social sciences focusing on work, employment, and labor policy issues and practices of national and international significance. Offering undergraduate and graduate education as well as career-long learning for professionals, the ILR School advances the world of work through teaching, research and outreach, disseminating leading-edge knowledge to solve human problems, manage and resolve conflict, establish best practices in the workplace, and inform government policy.

About eCornell
As Cornell University’s online learning platform, eCornell delivers online professional certificate courses to individuals and organizations around the world. Courses are personally developed by Cornell faculty with expertise in a wide range of topics, including hospitality, management, marketing, human resources and leadership. Students learn in an interactive, small cohort format to gain skills they can immediately apply in their organizations, ultimately earning a professional certificate from Cornell University. eCornell has offered online learning courses and certificate programs for 15 years to over 130,000 students at more than 2,000 companies.

Want to Win Your Next Negotiation? Ask a Simple Question

“Like going to the dentist.” That is the metaphor some women used to describe negotiating in a survey conducted by Linda Babcock, co-author of Women Don’t Ask. By contrast, men used metaphors like “winning a ballgame” to describe negotiation. If you fail to negotiate, studies show that over time you can leave as much as half a million dollars on the table.

There are a lot of great resources for learning how to negotiate – books, blogs, courses, workshops – so why aren’t women, as a group, negotiating effectively? Why are women are less comfortable than men in negotiating settings? Finally, is there a style that might fit women better?

Why women don’t ask

Gender stereotypes – one of those cognitive shortcuts we all use to navigate the world — create a dilemma for women who are in a negotiation situation. Women and men applying gender stereotypes expect females to be kind, collaborative and to serve as “connectors.” In other words: “Be nice and play nice.” But negotiation requires a woman to advocate and show strength, putting her in violation of her gender’s stereotype and risking being seen as “pushy” or “too aggressive.”

This leads to the dilemma: what style of negotiation can both feel right and avoid pushback from this double bind?

Just ask a question

Jacie Stivers is an ace negotiator — she started Commercial Investment Real Estate in 1983 with less than $500 of her own funding, eventually expanding it to one of the premier commercial real estate brokerage firms in the Space Coast of Florida, handling over $100M in closings. Jacie has developed a simple technique: ask a question.

Here’s how it works. In a negotiation situation, instead of making a demand, ask a series of questions. You will shift the pace of the conversation by putting the other side in the position of providing information. And, their answers will reveal important information about the precedents and boundaries guiding their offer.  The qualitative and quantitative things you learn will help you feel more confidence in presenting an offer of your own.

The “asking technique” has other advantages too. It is less pushy or self-serving because the approach is simply one of a polite, inquisitive, interested party who wants to fully understand the situation. How can you pull it off? Suppose you have are being offered a raise. Start by composing yourself to offer a demeanor of frank and well-intentioned curiosity. Then:

Step 1: Begin with a question that will provide the most important information you need from the other side for a counter offer.

  • Example:  “Where does this offer fall in the range of previous or current promotions given to similar individuals in this position?”

Step 2: In response to their answer, come up with another question to go a layer deeper.

  • Example: “I see, in the top 25%. What are the qualities or performance standards for those who received offers in the top 1%?

Step 3: Keep asking until you feel you can make a counter offer that fits.  Keep the tone in information-gathering mode.

  • Example: “I see, candidates in top 1% have 10 years of experience. Do you count just years of experience or does diversity of experience or level of responsibility factor into the calculation?”
  • Example: “To get to that top 1%, what have other candidates done to show their worthiness?”

Step 4: Summarize and counter offer, using the information you have gleaned.

  • Example: Thank you for answering my questions. It was really helpful to understand how the decision was made.  Here is how I understand the situation. This offer is near the high end of offers made. Those who got the highest end have about ten years of experience. I have been here 8 years, but in that process have much deeper experience than others because I have been dealing with assignments across the various functions of the firm. So I’d ask for that to be taken into consideration. You also mentioned that to be at the top requires that the candidate show exceptional promise – here is how I fit that… (from your preparation documenting your accomplishments). Using this logic takes me to a higher number than in your initial offer – such as $$$.

The counter offer is not based on aggressive behavior or self-promotion. Instead, it is built on logic and a series of answers from the other side. It takes practice, but whether you’re female or male, mastering the art of negotiation by asking questions is well worth the pay off.


Babcock, Linda, and Sara Laschever. Women Don’t Ask: Negotiation and the Gender Divide. Princeton, N.J: Princeton University Press, 2003.

Bowles, Hannah Riley, Linda Babcock, and Lei Lai. “Social Incentives for Gender Differences in the Propensity to Initiate Negotiations: Sometimes It Does Hurt to Ask.” Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes 103, no. 1 (May 2007): 84–103.