Officials Who Break the Rules

Why do they think they can get away with it?

taking risks

Officials Who Break the Rules

December 14, 2016

A Common Phenomenon

Nearly every day we read about some official — the head of a college, a business, a religious organization or a government agency — caught breaking the rules.  Why do such smart people (and the people I am referring to have to be smart to get into their positions of power), take such risks? And, why don’t they spend more effort trying to cover their tracks? I think I may have some of the answers.

When someone rises to the top in any endeavor they typically are exceptionally talented, for in most fields the top spot is not a plateau but a peak, which the majority of people don’t even try to reach. Those who do seek the peak usually don’t succeed. How do those who do make it explain their success?

Luck or Talent

They have two possibilities: they can think that they really are much better than everyone else or that they are luckier. If they attribute it to luck, even in part, they have to live with the uncertainty of whether, in the words of the song, “Luck [will] be a lady tonight”. They can avoid worrying about luck’s capriciousness by over-emphasizing the importance of their unique talents and under-emphasizing the role of luck.

Such thinking is vulnerable to another related but mistaken self-evaluation. A string of successes, whether it be throwing the dice or breaking the rules, may create the belief that you are charmed, you can and always will get away with it. Gamblers know that luck runs out, you may be ‘hot’ and then suddenly without notice turn ‘cold’. If you think it was only your talent that made you hot, you won’t recognize your vulnerability of turning cold.

Taking Risks

You may think that rules don’t apply to you and even if they do that your talents will allow you to evade them and go scot-free. Such thinking encourages taking risks that inevitably results in being caught, as increasingly dangerous risks are undertaken. Why? Because you need to feel the thrill of being at risk. It is exciting; and risk-takers can become addicted to that excitement. But as with addictions to drugs, the excitement decreases unless the dosage –- the risk in this case — keeps being increased.  The problem is that may lead to an overdose!

I suspect that those who become addicted to the thrills of risk-taking inevitably crash. They join the bandwagon of embarrassed, humiliated celebrities, whose news value is brief, but whose self-destruction may endure. They suffer a sorry end to what was often an outstanding and even sometimes socially useful career. It takes wise judgment to avoid the pitfall of risk-addiction; to be satisfied with the celebrity due to real accomplishment not needing the extra kick from risk-taking. But if achieving celebrity is the primary motivation, its pursuit is dangerous, for the risk-taking it often requires will at some point result in failure. Safer to be motivated by wanting to make a difference, by altruism and empathy, than by risk-taking and the excitement it generates.

Paul Ekman is a well-known psychologist and co-discoverer of micro expressions. He was named one of the 100 most influential people in the world by TIME magazine in 2009. He has worked with many government agencies, domestic and abroad. Dr. Ekman has compiled over 50 years of his research to create comprehensive training tools to read the hidden emotions of those around you.

Respectful Disagreements

How to Deal with Disagreement

Respectful Disagreements

November 29, 2016

What We Care About

I suspect that some of us encountered disagreements about the president-elect, the state of the country, the world, and what to do about any or all of it during our holiday gatherings. How can we best deal with disagreements when they are about matters we care about?

When such a disagreement becomes apparent it may not be obvious whether we are both wrong or both right, (if each of us is attending to a different facet of the same phenomenon) or one of us is right and the other wrong. Time will tell, but when it does what should we do about it? Nothing is to be gained and a lot can be lost by trying to force the one that was wrong to acknowledge a mistaken judgment. That won’t bring the two of you closer. Our goal when we disagree should be to act now in a way that will not interfere with collaboration in the future on what we can reach agreement about.

Respectful disagreement acknowledges the benefits for each of us to advocate what we believe to be right even if it turns out we were wrong. We usually learn less from those who agree with us than from those who disagree. Exploring our disagreement won’t get anywhere if it is regarded as a zero-sum game. But, if it is pursued without rancor, disagreement can be enlightening to both parties.

The Nature of Emotion

The nature of emotion, as I understand it, makes that difficult. A number of our emotions are aroused when we are pursuing a goal. If the goal is important but is blocked we are likely to become frustrated. Frustration is the breeding ground for anger, anger directed at whatever or whoever is seen as blocking us. We won’t be able to resolve a disagreement or remove the block to our pursuit of a goal if we act out of frustration, angry at the person blocking us.

What are we to do? The old adage of counting to ten has its use. We need to calm down and refrain from taking action motivated by the anger arising from our frustration. We need to focus on the actions that are blocking us not the actor. Sometimes this means recognizing the need to postpone pursuit of the disagreement until the emotion it has evoked has calmed down. Impatience for quick resolution usually should be resisted, not indulged. Instead, we should attempt to learn from the disagreement.

Perspective

If neither person clings to a position, much can be learned. Remember the other person is just as convinced as you are that he or she is right and you are wrong. Try seeing the situation as the other person sees it. Think of it as role-playing in which you take the other person’s perspective and arguments, articulating them as if they are your own. Could you switch sides, as debaters do? If you do, you will each learn from the experience, knowing better what you disagree about, and perhaps softening the force of the disagreement.

Give it a try.

 

Paul Ekman is a well-known psychologist and co-discoverer of micro expressions. He was named one of the 100 most influential people in the world by TIME magazine in 2009. He has worked with many government agencies, domestic and abroad. Dr. Ekman has compiled over 50 years of his research to create comprehensive training tools to read the hidden emotions of those around you.

Despair and Exaltation: Our Country Divided

2016 US Presidential Election

country divided

Country Divided

November 9, 2016

We all know the election was very close. Hillary Clinton had slightly more of the popular vote, but Donald Trump had the edge in the electoral vote, thereby winning the election for the Presidency. In a sense, then, both candidates’ supporters have something to celebrate. The losers in the electoral vote, those who supported Hillary Clinton, were the winners in the popular vote; my advice to them is focus on that victory. But we don’t elect presidents by the popular vote, hence President Donald J. Trump, and his supporters can rightfully focus on that victory.

When the voting is so close it focuses our attention on how divided our country is. The task for Donald Trump is to unify by his words and deeds, not to act in a way which will enthuse his supporters and cause despair among those who voted against him. We are divided as a nation; his task, and it is not an easy one, is to cross the boundaries and bring unity through words and deeds. We will soon find out if he can (or wants) to do it. Let us hope so together.

Paul Ekman is a well-known psychologist and co-discoverer of micro expressions. He was named one of the 100 most influential people in the world by TIME magazine in 2009. He has worked with many government agencies, domestic and abroad. Dr. Ekman has compiled over 50 years of his research to create comprehensive training tools to read the hidden emotions of those around you.

“Nonverbal Messages: Cracking the Code”

screen-shot-2016-11-01-at-10-45-15-am

Nonverbal Messages: Cracking the Code

Excerpt taken from Introduction (pp. ix – xiv)

November 1, 2016

“What motivated me to spend fifty years investigating facial expressions, gestures, emotion and lies? Why these topics, which had been abandoned as fruitless by the academic establishment?… In much of my life I have been a bit oppositional, some would say rebellious, so I am not surprised that I gravitated towards topics scorned by academia as the stamping grounds of charlatans and fools. My eyes told me they were wrong. I delighted in the opportunity to prove that. But from where did my oppositional nature come, and the motivation that drove me unmercifully? … After a year of moving from one army base to another, changing schools three times that first year, [my family and I] settled for the next three years in Pasadena, California, where a radical change in my approach to life was forced upon me. After a happy first two months attending John Marshall Junior High School, everything abruptly exploded. The band teacher (I played the clarinet, badly) asked each student to name the church he or she attended. When I said I was Jewish the teacher asked me to come to the front of the class and bend over so my fellow students could see my horns. I didn’t know if I had them, but the looks of disappointment in my classmates’ faces let me know that if I did, the horns must have been too small to be visible. The boy I regarded as my closest friend complained after class that I had ruined his reputation for having befriended a Christ killer. Those were the last words he spoke to me. They were the last words any child spoke to me for the next two and a half years… Between the ages of nine and twelve, I had no opportunity for friendship. Slowly I became resentful towards my fellow students, resentful towards my teachers. Resentful! This is where I trace the origin of my oppositional, somewhat rebellious nature as an adolescent and as an adult. I was forced to become self-sufficient. I became my only friend. I began to talk to myself, encouraging myself in whatever I did, a habit I continue to this day, although now I do have friends.”

Get your copy of Nonverbal Messages: Cracking the Code here.

 

Paul Ekman is a well-known psychologist and co-discoverer of micro expressions. He was named one of the 100 most influential people in the world by TIME magazine in 2009. He has worked with many government agencies, domestic and abroad. Dr. Ekman has compiled over 50 years of his research to create comprehensive training tools to read the hidden emotions of those around you.