Monthly Archives: September 2021

Look Past the "Self-Presentation"

One of the many consequences of the pandemic is that people are more anxious. The sudden appearance of Covid-19 and its impact on our lifestyles -, health and life itself, has created anxiety for almost everyone. For some it’s quite severe; for others not.  However, it’s important that we recognize its impact and help people address it.

Adrian Gostick, Chester Elton and Anthony Gostick, recently released a book, Anxiety at Work.  Even before the pandemic started, the authors were hearing that anxiety at work was increasing. Harvard Medical School research reports that “on-the-job-anxiety” imperils workers; careers and company  productivity.. Anxiety leads to increased employee, errors, growing burnout, workplace rage, more sick days, and poor employee health. Workplace anxiety is estimated to cost some $40 Billion annually in lost productivity, errors and health-care costs; stress is estimated t cost more than $300 Billion.

A 2018 survey found that 34% of workers of all ages felt anxious at least once in the previous month; 18% had a diagnosed anxiety disorder.  Some of it is related to fitting into the workplace; another comfort is discomfort with doing the work. Yet very little about it was reported in their companies.


At Stanford University, they came up with a term to describe the masquerading of students at the high-pressure school. The “duck syndrome” describes students who appear as if they doing fine, but are manically pushing themselves, just like a duck calmly glides on a pond, while below the surface the ducks are paddling like mad.

During the pandemic, the stresses became more severe, as people, especially parents had to juggle health issues, living arrangements, computer resources, and significant others having all kinds of problems, while handling the work for their employers.  Since the common interface was Zoom, people could try to a present a calm self-presentation. Like the “ducks”, they make it seem that they were gliding along, when in fact they were under pressure and used extra hours in the day to meet the deadlines. How hard they paddled wasn’t obvious.

We’re now in the “fluid” stage of the pandemic – trying to figure out when, where and how we will work at home, in the office, etc. Adding to everyone’s anxiety is that like water in a bucket on a ship at sea being tossed by the waves, the water keeps shifting and just adding more stress to it for all.

We all need to look past our self-presentations of relative “calm” and attend to the indicators of additional stress and anxiety that might below the surface. We need to have open discussions with our staff of what their current situation is like and how they expect it to changes, while the waves of this pandemic keep slamming everyone.  Only in that way can we help people take control of their anxiety and make decisions as to what will work for them in the next stage and eventually the new normal.

Share with us what you’re doing to help your staff. We can all learn from experiences.

Make Better Decisions

The ultimate purpose of making presentations to an audience is to guide their decisions on an issue. Whether the presentation is designed to inform, educate, inspire, motivate or activate the audience, the speaker’s job is to provide the logical and emotional foundation to enable the audience to make the desired decision.

Social scientists have identified countless many variables that affect the degree to which the message communicated will be compelling and persuasive. Robert Cialdini, a social psychologist is a recognized expert in this area (e.g., Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion and Pre-Suasion: Channeling Attention for Change). As a social psychologist who created businesses (Brilliant Image and Presentation Excellence) to help over 5000 leaders make more effective presentations), we came up with an easy-to-remember foundational formula to guide our clients: ADAP: Audience-Driven, Authentic Presentations.

As a Vistage Chair, Executive Coach, and CEO of Age Brilliantly, my mind has been focused on the other side of the room: how to help people making decisions make the best ones possible. In the former roles, the goal is on leadership and personal decision-making; in the latter, the goal is to map out our and mange one’s life so adults can lead fulfilling lives which may well last till 100+.  For instance, we know that there are many conscious and unconscious variables that affect decision-making such as blind-spots, cognitive dissonance, etc. Even the type of decision matters, as Daniel Kahneman, et al. have shown with System I and System 2 thinking (e.g., Thinking Fast and Slow).

As a result, I reread an excellent book discussing ways in which we can increase the odds of making  better decisions: Decisive by Chip and Dan Heath. As I start using more discipline to my own decision-making, and influence the others that I have the privilege of serving, I thought I’d share some key points.

The Heath Brothers identify “four villains of decision making”, discuss the many forms in which they take place and share real world stories so we can identify with the problem and value of a better solution. Here are the solutions to the four challenges:

  • Widen Your Options:  Many times the choices we’re offered are narrow: Should we do X or not? Should we do X or Y? The tyranny of OR is that we’ve eliminated our ability to think through other options that exist – and which may be superior. So when given a narrow option, think AND – what else might be possible. Often there is a third alternative, and often a fourth, fifth, etc.
  • Reality-Test Your Assumptions. Rather than accept the limited facts that you have, be curious and find a way to test or experiment with the assumptions. Years ago, I started supervising students who had little exposure to the real-world of working, and barely knew what their skills, passions and purpose were. The goal is to provide these interns (650+) with the opportunity to explore options and challenge assumptions in the real world.
  • Attain Distance Before Deciding.  Emotions often rule when quick decisions have to be made. High-pressure sales people (sometimes including yourself!) build on the emotions to get a fast decision. The better strategy is to give yourself time; get more input from other people who’ve been in analogous situations and can attest to the impact; distance yourself from the decision, by imaging what your old-wiser self (or other respected person) might tell you to do!
  • Prepare to be Wrong.  We want to be right and we become overconfident quite quickly on how we think the future will play out. Think through what might go wrong before it happens; for instance, a pre-mortem imagines what could go wrong and forces you to play devil’s advocate and uncover contrary facts and opinions that might go wrong. Is there “groupthink pressure taking place? Better to discover problems you’re ignoring before a poor decision takes place.

At this time in all our lives, as we make post-pandemic decisions for ourselves, our loved ones, our companies, our country, etc., think about the decisions you need to make and try to make the best decisions possible.   Then share with us which strategies helped you produce better decisions!

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