Active Listening – how to do it (practise)

There are five key elements of active listening. They all help you ensure that you hear the other person, and that the other person knows you are hearing what they say.

  1. Pay attention.
    Give the speaker your undivided attention, and acknowledge the message. Recognize that non-verbal communication also “speaks” loudly. 
    • Look at the speaker directly. 
    • Put aside distracting thoughts. Don’t mentally prepare a rebuttal! 
    • Avoid being distracted by environmental factors. 
    • “Listen” to the speaker’s body language. 
    • Refrain from side conversations when listening in a group setting.

  2. Show that you are listening.
    Use your own body language and gestures to convey your attention. 
    • Nod occasionally.
    • Smile and use other facial expressions. 
    • Note your posture and make sure it is open and inviting. 
    • Encourage the speaker to continue with small verbal comments like yes, and uh huh.

  3. Provide feedback. 
    Our personal filters, assumptions, judgments, and beliefs can distort what we hear. As a listener, your role is to understand what is being said. This may require you to reflect what is being said and ask questions. 
    • Reflect what has been said by paraphrasing. “What I’m hearing is…” and “Sounds like you are saying…” are great ways to reflect back. 
    • Ask questions to clarify certain points. “What do you mean when you say…” “Is this what you mean?” 
    • Summarize the speaker’s comments periodically.

If you find yourself responding emotionally to what someone said, say so, and ask for more information: “I may not be understanding you correctly, and I find myself taking what you said personally. What I thought you just said is XXX; is that what you meant?”

  1. Defer judgment. 
    Interrupting is a waste of time. It frustrates the speaker and limits full understanding of the message. 
    • Allow the speaker to finish. 
    • Don’t interrupt with counter arguments.

  2. Respond Appropriately. 
    Active listening is a model for respect and understanding. You are gaining information and perspective. You add nothing by attacking the speaker or otherwise putting him or her down. 
    • Be candid, open, and honest in your response. 
    • Assert your opinions respectfully. 
    • Treat the other person as he or she would want to be treated.

Key Points:

It takes a lot of concentration and determination to be an active listener. Old habits are hard to break, and if your listening habits are as bad as many people’s are, then there’s a lot of habit-breaking to do!


Be deliberate with your listening and remind yourself frequently that your goal is to truly hear what the other person is saying. Set aside all other thoughts and behaviors and concentrate on the message. Ask questions, reflect, and paraphrase to ensure you understand the message. If you don’t, then you’ll find that what someone says to you and what you hear can be amazingly different!


Start using active listening today to become a better communicator, improve your workplace productivity, and and develop better relationships.

Interesting – anyone know what the affirmation process was?

A fifteen-minute exercise may help overcome a lifetime of racial stereotyping

Category: Research • Social
Posted on: December 29, 2008 10:14 AM, by Dave Munger

[This article was originally posted in February, 2007]

ResearchBlogging.orgThe setting was an integrated suburban middle school: nearly evenly divided between black and white students. As is the case in many schools, white students outperformed black students both in grades and test scores. But how much of this difference is attributable to real differences in ability? After all, black kids grow up “knowing” that white kids do better in school. Perhaps this was just an example of kids living down to expectations.


At every performance level, this chart (adjusted for covariates) shows that black students who completed the 15-minute affirmation exercise got better grades than students who did not (control). Interestingly, there was no similar effect for white students, suggesting that the effect of the exercise may have been to remove the handicapping of those students due to racial stereotyping. Even this short intervention asking students to reflect on their personal values appears to cause a significant effect.

How significant? 70 percent of African American students benefited from the intervention. The chances of this effect occurring due solely to chance are less than 1 in 5,000. But why would the effect of such a short exercise be so dramatic? The authors speculate that the benefits are cumulative: when students faced challenges shortly after they participated in the exercise, those who had reflected on their values performed slightly better. This gave them the confidence they needed to do better the next time a challenge was faced. Each successive success prepared students to face future challenges; in the end, this all added up to better performance.

In the second year of the study, the researchers kept more frequent tabs on students, checking grades ten times over the course of the year. They found that students who had affirmed their values did indeed rebound more quickly from setbacks and avoided the downward spiral that students in the control condition often fell into.

Does this study demonstrate that only small interventions are necessary to solve the racial disparity in educational achievement? No. Many black students are in districts that receive less funding than white students, or have parents with less education than white students. For these kids, much more is required than a quick exercise. And these results don’t appear to be as effective for the lowest-performing students in this group. But when other factors are equal, it may not take much to eliminate entirely the effects of racial stereotyping for many children.

For more on stereotype threat, see herehere, and here.

G. L. Cohen (2006). Reducing the Racial Achievement Gap: A Social-Psychological Intervention Science, 313 (5791), 1307-1310 DOI: 10.1126/science.1128317

Sirota Three-Factor Theory – Keeping Employees Enthusiastic

Pride in a job well done.

High enthusiasm at work usually means eagerness, and a willingness to work hard. So have you seen people begin new jobs with lots of enthusiasm, ready to start contributing… but then watched as they’ve steadily lost that motivation?


Unfortunately, this is common. And it can lead to serious problems for managers, as they struggle to motivate frustrated, indifferent, uncooperative, and unproductive team members. Close supervision, motivational speeches, reward programs, progressive discipline, and department transfers – these are all part of the manager’s toolbox for dealing with this. However, these strategies are often not effective.


Dr David Sirota, an organizational researcher and consultant, conducted research into ways of motivating employees. His work was based on surveys from over four million workers around the world – as well as focus groups, interviews, case studies, and informal observations. Most prominently laid out in his 2005 book,The Enthusiastic Employee, co-written with Louis A. Mischkind and Michael Irwin Meltzer, he concluded that the way to enthuse workers is to give them what they want.


Sirota’s Three-Factor Theory of Human Motivation in the Workplace is based on three fundamental principles:

  1. The organization’s goals are not in conflict with the workers’ goals. 
  2. Workers have basic needs that organizations should try to meet. 
  3. Staff enthusiasm is a source of competitive advantage.

To understand and appreciate Sirota’s theory, it’s important to recognize the starting point: that many, maybe most, people start a new job with high levels of motivation and enthusiasm, and that they generally want to enjoy what they do. He argues that this natural state of motivation is then reduced, over time, by bad practices and poor conditions within the company.


According to Sirota’s research, the three factors that, together, build enthusiasm, are as follows:

  1. Equity/Fairness – People want to be treated fairly at work. 
  2. Achievement – People want to do important, useful work, and be recognized for this. 
  3. Camaraderie – People want to enjoy good relationships with their co-workers.

Factor One: Equity/Fairness

People are motivated by fair treatment, and they want their company to provide basic conditions that respect their physiological, economic, and psychological needs.


Sirota’s surveys included questions about physical working conditions, job security, the amount of work expected, compensation, communication, favoritism, and the consistency of management’s actions and words.


The equity factor is very similar to the hygiene factors described by Frederick Herzberg in his Motivation-Hygiene Theory.


According to Sirota, to ensure that your organization demonstrates equity, you need to address all three fairness elements:

  • Physiological Safety

    Ensure the physical safety of workers. 

    • Create safe working conditions.
    • Establish expectations that give your staff a reasonable work/life balance.
    • Make sure you meet all workplace safety requirements.
    • Provide safety training on a regular basis.

  • Economic Security

    Provide a reasonable level of job security.

    • Consider all possible alternatives before laying off workers.
    • Ask for voluntary layoffs when a layoff is inevitable.
    • Communicate openly and honestly about the layoff.
    • Provide outplacement and financial support for staff who have lost their jobs. 
    • Maintain the fairness needs of the workers who remain.

  • Provide fair compensation.
    • Pay competitive wages, and keep up with inflation.
    • Include some variable pay (bonuses) for performance. 
    • Allow workers to share in company success through stock ownership or other profit-sharing programs

Sirota’s theory is strong on compensation. He doesn’t believe (as some others do) that money is low on the list of motivating factors. His theory says that pay represents respect and achievement, not just the ability to purchase life’s necessities.

  • Psychological Health

    Create an environment of respect.

    • Treat all staff similarly, regardless of how much power they have. 
    • Use power fairly.
    • Minimize status distinctions in the workplace – for example, by avoiding separate parking lots or eating areas.
    • Provide sufficient and appropriate autonomy and independent work.
    • Pay attention to what staff say they want and need. (Management By Wandering Around is an effective way to stay in touch with workers’ needs.) 
    • Provide positive feedback and recognition.
    • Show interest in workers, and insist on common courtesy.

Factor Two: Achievement

People want to be proud of their work, and they want their achievements to be acknowledged. They also want to feel proud of what the organization as a whole achieves.


Sirota asked workers questions about the amount and type of feedback they received, how participative their work environment was, whether adequate resources were provided, and how proud they were of their company.


To help people feel this sense of achievement, an organization needs to do four things:

  • Provide an enabling work environment.

    Give people what they need to do the job well.

  • Provide challenging work.

    Allow people to do interesting work that uses their skills and abilities.

    • Hire people based on fit.
    • Design jobs for enrichment and satisfaction. 
    • Communicate how each job contributes to the company as a whole.
    • Provide training, and opportunities for people to learn new skills.

  • Use feedback, recognition, and reward.

    Let people know how they’re doing.

    • Communicate clear expectations. 
    • Establish and agree on priorities.
    • Use tangible rewards to acknowledge achievement. 
    • Balance criticism with plenty of praise.
    • Promote from within where possible.

    Read more about giving feedback

  • Be an organization of purpose and principles.

    People want to work for trustworthy companies that they can be proud of.

    • Create a vision that can make workers proud. 
    • Communicate the principles of the company. 
    • “Walk the talk.”
    • Adopt and apply ethical leadership
    • Provide a quality product or service, and use quality management practices.

Factor Three: Camaraderie

When people go to work, they want to enjoy themselves. That makes interpersonal relationships very important. A culture that supports and encourages cooperation, communication, friendliness, acceptance, and teamwork is critical for maintaining enthusiasm. A such, partnership needs to be an important part of company culture.


  • Partnership Culture

    Workers want to feel a sense of community and teamwork. 

    • Make “people skills” a priority. Demonstrate empathy, consideration, and respect – and expect the same from every worker. 
    • Encourage interactions, and provide social opportunities.
    • Reward positive team behaviors. 
    • Encourage cross-functional interaction and teamwork. 
    • Review department mandates and practices regularly to ensure consistency in the approach and message. 
    • Use team charters to develop ground rules. 
    • Use collaborative conflict resolution and win-win negotiationtechniques to resolve differences.

By creating an environment that addresses all three factors for enthusiasm, you can better ensure high worker satisfaction, motivation, and productivity. However, these factors are not independent of one another: You can’t ignore compensation needs and expect to make up for it with increased camaraderie. Likewise, you can’t allow a manager to treat her staff poorly, even though you provide high achievement elements.


One of Sirota’s findings is that the equity elements are most fundamental, and you must address these before adding other enthusiasm factors.

Key Points

Enthusiasm, as a measure of worker motivation and productivity, is central to Sirota’s Three-Factor Theory.


Rather than believing that you somehow have to motivate people to do work, this theory assumes that most people start out motivated – but then other things happen, or don’t happen, that reduce this natural motivation.


To rebuild worker enthusiasm, leaders and managers must create an environment, and supporting practices, that deliver high levels of equity, achievement, and camaraderie. When people are treated fairly, are proud of the work they do, and do it with people they like, then enthusiasm grows – along with morale and productivity.

Six Thinking Hats – Looking at a Decision From All Points of View

‘Six Thinking Hats’ is an important and powerful technique. It is used to look at decisions from a number of important perspectives. This forces you to move outside your habitual thinking style, and helps you to get a more rounded view of a situation.

This tool was created by Edward de Bono in his book ‘6 Thinking Hats‘.

Many successful people think from a very rational, positive viewpoint. This is part of the reason that they are successful. Often, though, they may fail to look at a problem from an emotional, intuitive, creative or negative viewpoint. This can mean that they underestimate resistance to plans, fail to make creative leaps and do not make essential contingency plans.

Similarly, pessimists may be excessively defensive, and more emotional people may fail to look at decisions calmly and rationally.

If you look at a problem with the ‘Six Thinking Hats’ technique, then you will solve it using all approaches. Your decisions and plans will mix ambition, skill in execution, public sensitivity, creativity and good contingency planning.

How to Use the Tool:

You can use Six Thinking Hats in meetings or on your own. In meetings it has the benefit of blocking the confrontations that happen when people with different thinking styles discuss the same problem.

Each ‘Thinking Hat’ is a different style of thinking. These are explained below:

  • White Hat:
    With this thinking hat you focus on the data available. Look at the information you have, and see what you can learn from it. Look for gaps in your knowledge, and either try to fill them or take account of them.

    This is where you analyze past trends, and try to extrapolate from historical data.

  • Red Hat:
    ‘Wearing’ the red hat, you look at problems using intuition, gut reaction, and emotion. Also try to think how other people will react emotionally. Try to understand the responses of people who do not fully know your reasoning.
  • Black Hat:
    Using black hat thinking, look at all the bad points of the decision. Look at it cautiously and defensively. Try to see why it might not work. This is important because it highlights the weak points in a plan. It allows you to eliminate them, alter them, or prepare contingency plans to counter them.

    Black Hat thinking helps to make your plans ‘tougher’ and more resilient. It can also help you to spot fatal flaws and risks before you embark on a course of action. Black Hat thinking is one of the real benefits of this technique, as many successful people get so used to thinking positively that often they cannot see problems in advance. This leaves them under-prepared for difficulties.

  • Yellow Hat:
    The yellow hat helps you to think positively. It is the optimistic viewpoint that helps you to see all the benefits of the decision and the value in it. Yellow Hat thinking helps you to keep going when everything looks gloomy and difficult.
  • Green Hat:
    The Green Hat stands for creativity. This is where you can develop creative solutions to a problem. It is a freewheeling way of thinking, in which there is little criticism of ideas. A whole range of creativity tools can help you here.
  • Blue Hat:
    The Blue Hat stands for process control. This is the hat worn by people chairing meetings. When running into difficulties because ideas are running dry, they may direct activity into Green Hat thinking. When contingency plans are needed, they will ask for Black Hat thinking, etc.

A variant of this technique is to look at problems from the point of view of different professionals (e.g. doctors, architects, sales directors, etc.) or different customers.


The directors of a property company are looking at whether they should construct a new office building. The economy is doing well, and the amount of vacant office space is reducing sharply. As part of their decision they decide to use the 6 Thinking Hats technique during a planning meeting.

Looking at the problem with the White Hat, they analyze the data they have. They examine the trend in vacant office space, which shows a sharp reduction. They anticipate that by the time the office block would be completed, that there will be a severe shortage of office space. Current government projections show steady economic growth for at least the construction period.

With Red Hat thinking, some of the directors think the proposed building looks quite ugly. While it would be highly cost-effective, they worry that people would not like to work in it.

When they think with the Black Hat, they worry that government projections may be wrong. The economy may be about to enter a ‘cyclical downturn’, in which case the office building may be empty for a long time. If the building is not attractive, then companies will choose to work in another better-looking building at the same rent.

With the Yellow Hat, however, if the economy holds up and their projections are correct, the company stands to make a great deal of money. If they are lucky, maybe they could sell the building before the next downturn, or rent to tenants on long-term leases that will last through any recession.

With Green Hat thinking they consider whether they should change the design to make the building more pleasant. Perhaps they could build prestige offices that people would want to rent in any economic climate. Alternatively, maybe they should invest the money in the short term to buy up property at a low cost when a recession comes.

The Blue Hat has been used by the meeting’s Chair to move between the different thinking styles. He or she may have needed to keep other members of the team from switching styles, or from criticizing other peoples’ points.

It is well worth reading Edward de Bono’s book 6 Thinking Hats for more information on this technique.

Key points:

Six Thinking Hats is a good technique for looking at the effects of a decision from a number of different points of view.

It allows necessary emotion and skepticism to be brought into what would otherwise be purely rational decisions. It opens up the opportunity for creativity within Decision Making. The technique also helps, for example, persistently pessimistic people to be positive and creative.

Plans developed using the ‘6 Thinking Hats’ technique will be sounder and more resilient than would otherwise be the case. It may also help you to avoid public relations mistakes, and spot good reasons not to follow a course of action before you have committed to it.

My boss micromanages me…

There’s a certain amount that you can do to improve the situation:

Help your boss to delegate to you more effectively by prompting her to give you all the information you will need up front, and to set interim review points along the way.

Volunteer to take on work or projects that you’re confident you’ll be good at. This will start to increase his confidence in you – and his delegation skills.

Make sure that you communicate progress to your boss regularly, to discourage her from seeking information just because she hasn’t had any for a while.

Concentrate on helping your boss to change one micromanagement habit at a time. Remember that she’s only human too, and is allowed to make mistakes!

An alternative to Belbin – if we need one.

Benne and Sheats’ Group Roles

Identifying Both Positive and Negative Group Behavior Roles
A group is made up of all sorts of people. How these people interact and relate to one another is a key factor in determining how successful the group will be at achieving its mission. How do people behave in groups that you work with?

The way that people behave in groups varies. Some people are helpful and supportive, others are more concerned about getting the work done, and still others can cause friction, disharmony or discord within the team.

You’ve probably worked in groups that are effective and groups that aren’t. While there is no magic elixir, knowing what moves groups forward and what limits their progress can be helpful whenever you are working in a group or team.

Two theorists on group behavior were Kenneth Benne and Paul Sheats, who wrote an influential article titled “Functional Roles of Group Members” back in the 1940s. In it, they defined 26 different group roles that can be played by one or more people within a group. Their work influenced other early research and thinking on group functions. And whilst more recent research has refined many of these ideas, Benne and Sheats’ Group Roles remains and interesting way of looking at group behavior.

Benne and Sheats defined three categories of group roles: task roles, personal/social roles, and dysfunctional or individualistic roles.

Task Roles

These are the roles that relate to getting the work done. They represent the different roles needed to take a project step-by-step from initial conception through to action.

Initiator/Contributor – Proposes original ideas or different ways of approaching group problems or goals. This role initiates discussions and move groups into new areas of exploration.
Information Seeker – Requests clarification of comments in terms of their factual adequacy. Seeks expert information or facts relevant to the problem. Determines what information is missing and needs to be found before moving forward.
Information Giver – Provides factual information to the group. Is seen as an authority on the subject and relates own experience when relevant.
Opinion Seeker – Asks for clarification of the values, attitudes, and opinions of group members. Checks to make sure different perspectives are spoken.
Opinion Giver – Expresses his or her own opinions and beliefs about the subject being discussed. Often states opinions in terms of what the group “should” do.
Elaborator – Takes other people’s initial ideas and builds on them with examples, relevant facts and data. Also looks at the consequences of proposed ideas and actions.
Co-ordinator – Identifies and explains the relationships between ideas. May pull together a few different ideas and make them cohesive.
Orienter – Reviews and clarifies the group’s position. Provides a summary of what has been accomplished, notes where the group has veered off course, and suggests how to get back on target.
Evaluator/Critic – Evaluates the proposals against a predetermined or objective standard. Assesses the reasonableness of a proposal and looks at whether it is fact-based and manageable as a solution.
Energizer – Concentrates the group’s energy on forward movement. Challenges and stimulates the group to further action.
Procedural Technician – Facilitates group discussion by taking care of logistical concerns like where meetings are to take place and what supplies are needed for each meeting.
Recorder – Acts as the Secretary or Minute-Keeper. Records ideas and keeps track of what goes on at each meeting.
Personal and/or Social Roles

These roles contribute to the positive functioning of the group.

Encourager – Affirms, supports and praises the efforts of fellow group members. Demonstrates warmth and provides a positive attitude in meetings.
Harmonizer – Conciliates differences between individuals. Seeks ways to reduce tension and diffuse a situation by providing further explanations or using humor.
Compromiser – Offers to change his or her position for the good of the group. Willing to yield position or meet others half way.
Gatekeeper/Expediter – Regulates flow of communication. Makes sure all members have a chance to express themselves by encouraging the shy and quiet members to contribute their ideas. Limits those who dominate the conversation and may suggest group rules or standards that ensure everyone gets a chance to speak up.
Observer/Commentator – Provides feedback to the group about how it is functioning. Often seen when a group wants to set, evaluate, or change its standards and processes.
Follower – Accepts what others say and decide even though he or she has not contributed to the decision or expressed own thoughts. Seen as a listener not a contributor.
Dysfunctional and/or Individualistic Roles

These roles disrupt group progress and weaken its cohesion.

Aggressor – Makes personal attacks using belittling and insulting comments, for example, “That’s the most ridiculous idea I’ve ever heard.” Actions are usually an attempt to decrease another member’s status.
Blocker – Opposes every idea or opinion that is put forward and yet refuses to make own suggestions, for example, “That’s not a good idea.” The result is that the group stalls because it can’t get past the resistance.
Recognition Seeker – Uses group meetings to draw personal attention to him or herself. May brag about past accomplishments or relay irrelevant stories that paint him or her in a positive light. Sometimes pulls crazy stunts to attract attention like acting silly, making excess noise, or otherwise directing members away from the task at hand.
Self-confessor – Uses the group meetings as an avenue to disclose personal feelings and issues. Tries to slip these comments in under the guise of relevance, such as “That reminds me of a time when.” May relate group actions to his or her personal life. For example, if two others are disagreeing about something, the Self-confessor may say, “You guys fight just like me and my wife .”
Disrupter/Playboy or Playgirl – Uses group meetings as fun time and a way to get out of real work. Distracts other people by telling jokes, playing pranks, or even reading unrelated material.
Dominator – Tries to control the conversation and dictate what people should be doing. Often exaggerates his or her knowledge and will monopolize any conversation claiming to know more about the situation and have better solutions than anybody else.
Help Seeker – Actively looks for sympathy by expressing feelings of inadequacy. Acts helpless, self deprecating and unable to contribute, e.g. “I can’t help you, I’m too confused and useless with this stuff.”
Special Interest Pleader – Makes suggestions based on what others would think or feel. Avoids revealing his or her own biases or opinions by using a stereotypical position instead, for example, “The people over in Admin sure wouldn’t like that idea.” or “You know how cheap our suppliers are, they won’t go for that.”
Using Benne and Sheats’ Theory

Benne and Sheats’ work did not actually prescribe any application of their theory; they simply identified the roles. However, it is possible to use the theory to look at and improve group effectiveness and harmony, by asking what roles are being filled, which additional ones might be required, and which may need to be eliminated.

Benne and Sheats noted that the roles required in a group can vary depending on the stage of group development and the tasks in hand. And it’s useful to consider how your group is developing and how the task may vary when reviewing your group’s roles.

The following steps will help you use Benne and Sheats’ theory to consider the roles in your group:

Step 1: Determine what stage or function your group is at, based on what you are working on or discussing. Here are some common group stages/functions:

Discussing tasks and roles
Setting out expectations
Goal setting
Brainstorming ideas
Discussing alternatives
Completing tasks and duties
Making a decision
Implementing the solution
Evaluating performance
Step 2: Determine which roles are most suitable and helpful for the current stage/function. Here are some examples:

When first forming your group, you will not necessarily need anyone in the Evaluator/Critic or Orienter roles. You will, however, need Energizers, Procedural Technicians, and a Reporter.

When discussing alternatives, it is important to have representation in as many Social/Personal roles as possible. Benne and Sheats suggested that the more group members playing Task and Social roles, the more successful the group would be.
Step 3: Recruit and/or develop the missing roles within your group.

Help the group understand where there are gaps in the functions being represented and discuss how filling these roles would help the group’s success. Benne and Sheats also said that the more flexible the group members are, the better; meaning that group members should be able to adapt their roles depending on the group’s need. With a flexible group structure like this, members each use a wide range of talents, and provide maximum contribution to the team.

Step 4: Identify any dysfunctional roles being played within the group.

Make a plan to eliminate this behavior either through increased awareness, coaching, or feedback. These self-serving roles really must be minimized or eliminated for effective group work to emerge. By making the whole group aware of these maladaptive behaviors, individuals can monitor the behavior and put a name to it when it occurs. This alone should decrease much of the disruptive behavior.

This is an important and particularly useful part of this theory: These behaviors are disruptive and damaging. By spotting these behaviors and coaching people out of them, you can significantly improve your group process.

Step 5: Re-evaluate regularly.

Groups are constantly changing their function and purpose. Make sure you continuously evaluate what is going on within the group and take action to maximize effectiveness.

Benne and Sheats’ work is based on their observations, but there is no clear evidence to support the notion that you need to have all of these roles represented or to suggest what combination is the most effective. As such, don’t depend too heavily on this theory when structuring your team.

That said, just knowing about Benne and Sheats’ Team Roles can bring more harmony to your team, as it helps members appreciate the breadth of roles that can contribute to the work of a team and its social harmony, as well as the behaviors which will obstruct it’s path.

Key points

There are many different explanations of group roles and functions. Each takes a slightly different perspective. However, the consensus seems to be that an effective group has a wide representation of positive roles. Groups need to be able to adapt to the changes from outside and within the group itself. People change, opinions change, conflicts occur; all of these require group flexibility and social understanding.

Benne and Sheats’ role definitions are useful for looking at specific behaviors that occur within a group. By using the definitions given and evaluating the current function and needs of the group, you can plan to encourage the sorts of behaviors you need and discourage those that you don’t. These definitions also provide a guide for group member development, as the more positive behaviors each person can display, the better able the whole group will be to respond to its changing needs.

Characteristics of Emotional Intelligence

Daniel Goleman, an American psychologist, developed a framework of five elements that define emotional intelligence:

  1. Self-Awareness: People with high emotional intelligence are usually very self-aware. They understand their emotions, and because of this, they don’t let their feelings rule them. They’re confident – because they trust their intuition and don’t let their emotions get out of control. 

    They’re also willing to take an honest look at themselves. They know their strengths and weaknesses, and they work on these areas so they can perform better. Many people believe that this self-awareness is the most important part of emotional intelligence.

  2. Self-Regulation: This is the ability to control emotions and impulses. People who self-regulate typically don’t allow themselves to become too angry or jealous, and they don’t make impulsive, careless decisions. They think before they act. Characteristics of self-regulation are thoughtfulness, comfort with change, integrity, and the ability to say no. 
  3. Motivation: People with a high degree of emotional intelligence are usually motivated. They’re willing to defer immediate results for long-term success. They’re highly productive, love a challenge, and are very effective in whatever they do.
  4. Empathy: This is perhaps the second-most important element of emotional intelligence. Empathy is the ability to identify with and understand the wants, needs, and viewpoints of those around you. People with empathy are good at recognizing the feelings of others, even when those feelings may not be obvious. As a result, empathetic people are usually excellent at managing relationships, listening, and relating to others. They avoid stereotyping and judging too quickly, and they live their lives in a very open, honest way.
  5. Social Skills: It’s usually easy to talk to and like people with good social skills, another sign of high emotional intelligence. Those with strong social skills are typically team players. Rather than focus on their own success first, they help others develop and shine. They can manage disputes, are excellent communicators, and are masters at building and maintaining relationships.

People or tasks? Both to get results, which is what we need.

Blake Mouton Managerial Grid

Balancing Task- and People-Oriented Leadership

When your boss puts you in charge of organizing the company Christmas party, what do you do first? Do you develop a time line and start assigning tasks or do you think about who would prefer to do what and try to schedule around their needs? When the planning starts to fall behind schedule, what is your first reaction? Do you chase everyone to get back on track, or do you ease off a bit recognizing that everyone is busy just doing his/her job, let alone the extra tasks you’ve assigned?

Your answers to these types of questions can reveal a great deal about your personal leadership style.

Some leaders are very task-oriented; they simply want to get things done. Others are very people-oriented; they want people to be happy. And others are a combination of the two. If you prefer to lead by setting and enforcing tight schedules, you tend to be more production-oriented (or task-oriented). If you make people your priority and try to accommodate employee needs, then you’re more people-oriented.

Neither preference is right or wrong, just as no one type of leadership style is best for all situations. However, it’s useful to understand what your natural leadership tendencies are, so that you can then working on developing skills that you may be missing.

A popular framework for thinking about a leader’s ‘task versus person’ orientation was developed by Robert Blake and Jane Mouton in the early 1960s. Called the Managerial Grid, or Leadership Grid, it plots the degree of task-centeredness versus person-centeredness and identifies five combinations as distinct leadership styles.

Understanding the Model

The Managerial Grid is based on two behavioral dimensions:

  • Concern for People – This is the degree to which a leader considers the needs of team members, their interests, and areas of personal development when deciding how best to accomplish a task
  • Concern for Production – This is the degree to which a leader emphasizes concrete objectives, organizational efficiency and high productivity when deciding how best to accomplish a task.

Using the axis to plot leadership ‘concerns for production’ versus ‘concerns for people’, Blake and Mouton defined the following five leadership styles:

Country Club Leadership – High People/Low Production
This style of leader is most concerned about the needs and feelings of members of his/her team. These people operate under the assumption that as long as team members are happy and secure then they will work hard. What tends to result is a work environment that is very relaxed and fun but where production suffers due to lack of direction and control.

Produce or Perish Leadership – High Production/Low People
Also known as Authoritarian or Compliance Leaders, people in this category believe that employees are simply a means to an end. Employee needs are always secondary to the need for efficient and productive workplaces. This type of leader is very autocratic, has strict work rules, policies, and procedures, and views punishment as the most effective means to motivate employees. (See also our article on Theory X/Theory Y.)

Impoverished Leadership – Low Production/ Low People
This leader is mostly ineffective. He/she has neither a high regard for creating systems for getting the job done, nor for creating a work environment that is satisfying and motivating. The result is a place of disorganization, dissatisfaction and disharmony.

Middle-of-the-Road Leadership – Medium Production/Medium People
This style seems to be a balance of the two competing concerns. It may at first appear to be an ideal compromise. Therein lies the problem, though: When you compromise, you necessarily give away a bit of each concern so that neither production nor people needs are fully met. Leaders who use this style settle for average performance and often believe that this is the most anyone can expect.

Team Leadership – High Production/High People
According to the Blake Mouton model, this is the pinnacle of managerial style. These leaders stress production needs and the needs of the people equally highly. The premise here is that employees are involved in understanding organizational purpose and determining production needs. When employees are committed to, and have a stake in the organization’s success, their needs and production needs coincide. This creates a team environment based on trust and respect, which leads to high satisfaction and motivation and, as a result, high production. (See also our article on Theory Y.)

Applying the Blake Mouton Managerial Grid

Being aware of the various approaches is the first step in understanding and improving how well you perform as a manager. It is important to understand how you currently operate, so that you can then identify ways of becoming competent in both realms.

Step One: Identify your leadership style.

  • Think of some recent situations where you were the leader. 
  • For each of these situations, place yourself in the grid according to where you believe you fit. 

Step Two: Identify areas of improvement and develop your leadership skills

  • Look at your current leadership method and critically analyze its effectiveness. 
  • Look at ways you can improve. Are you settling for ‘middle of the road’ because it is easier than reaching for more? 
  • Identify ways to get the skills you need to reach the Team Leadership position. These may include involving others in problem solving or improving how you communicate with them, if you feel you are too task-oriented. Or it may mean becoming clearer about scheduling ormonitoring project progress if you tend to focus too much on people.
  • Continually monitor your performance and watch for situations when you slip back into bad old habits.

Step Three: Put the Grid in Context

It is important to recognize that the Team Leadership style isn’t always the most effective approach in every situation. While the benefits of democratic and participative management are universally accepted, there are times that call for more attention in one area than another. If your company is in the midst of a merger or some other significant change, it is often acceptable to place a higher emphasis on people than on production. Likewise, when faced with an economic hardship or physical risk, people concerns may be placed on the back burner, for the short-term at least, to achieve high productivity and efficiency.

Theories of leadership have moved on a certain amount since the Blake Mouton Grid was originally proposed. In particular, the context in which leadership occurs is now seen as an important driver of the leadership style used.

And in many situations, the “Team Leader” as an ideal has moved to the ideal of the “Transformational Leader”: Someone who, according to leadership researcher Bernard Bass:

  • Is a model of integrity and fairness;
  • Sets clear goals;
  • Has high expectations;
  • Encourages;
  • Provides support and recognition;
  • Stirs people’s emotions;
  • Gets people to look beyond their self-interest; and
  • Inspires people to reach for the improbable.

So use Blake Mouton as a helpful model, but don’t treat it as an “eternal truth”.

Key Points

The Blake Mouton Managerial Grid is a practical and useful framework that helps you think about your leadership style. By plotting ‘concern for production’ against ‘concern for people’, the grid highlights how placing too much emphasis in one area at the expense of the other leads to low overall productivity.

The model proposes that when both people and production concerns are high, employee engagement and productivity increases accordingly. This is often true, and it follows the ideas of Theories X and Y, and other participative management theories.

While the grid does not entirely address the complexity of “Which leadership style is best?”, it certainly provides an excellent starting place to critically analyze your own performance and improve your general leadership skills.

Procrastination buster – just a moment, where do I start?

Beating Procrastination

Manage Your Time. Get It All Done.


If you’ve found yourself putting off important tasks over and over again, you’re not alone. In fact, many people procrastinate to some degree – but some are so chronically affected by procrastination that it stops them achieving things they’re capable of and disrupts their careers.

The key to controlling and ultimately combating this destructive habit is to recognize when you start procrastinating,  understand why it happens (even to the best of us), and take active steps to better manage your time and outcomes.

Why do we Procrastinate?

In a nutshell, you procrastinate when you put off things that you should be focusing on right now, usually in favor of doing something that is more enjoyable or that you’re more comfortable doing.

Procrastinators work as many hours in the day as other people (and often work longer hours) but they invest their time in the wrong tasks. Sometimes this is simply because they don’t understand the difference between urgent tasks and important tasks, and jump straight into getting on with urgent tasks that aren’t actually important.

They may feel that they’re doing the right thing by reacting fast. Or they may not even think about their approach and simply be driven by the person whose demands are loudest. Either way, by doing this, they have little or no time left for the important tasks, despite the unpleasant outcomes this may bring about.

Another common cause of procrastination is feeling overwhelmed by the task. You may not know where to begin. Or you may doubt that you have the skills or resources you think you need. So you seek comfort in doing tasks you know you’re capable of completing. Unfortunately, the big task isn’t going to go away – truly important tasks rarely do. 

Other causes of procrastination include:

  • Waiting for the “right” mood or the “right” time to tackle the important task at hand
  • A fear of failure or success
  • Underdeveloped decision making skills
  • Poor organizational skills
  • Perfectionism (“I don’t have the right skills or resources to do this perfectly now, so I won’t do it at all.”)

How to Overcome Procrastination:

Whatever the reason behind procrastination, it must be recognized, dealt with and controlled before you miss opportunities or your career is derailed.

Step 1: Recognize that you’re Procrastinating

If you’re honest with yourself, you probably know when you’re procrastinating.

But to be sure, you first need to make sure you know your priorities. Putting off an unimportant task isn’t procrastination, it’s probably good prioritization. Use the Action Priority Matrix to identify your priorities, and then work from aPrioritized To Do List on a daily basis.

Some useful indicators which will help you pull yourself up as soon as you start procrastinating include:

  • Filling your day with low priority tasks from your To Do List;
  • Reading an e-mail or request that you’ve noted in your notebook or on your To Do List more than once, without starting work on it or deciding when you’re going to start work on it;
  • Sitting down to start a high-priority task, and almost immediately going off to make a cup of coffee or check your e-mails;
  • Leaving an item on your To Do list for a long time, even though you know it’s important;
  • Regularly saying “Yes” to unimportant tasks that others ask you to do, and filling your time with these instead of getting on with the important tasks already on your list.

Step 2: Work out WHY You’re Procrastinating

Why you procrastinate can depend on both you and the task. But it’s important to understand what the reasons for procrastination are for each situation, so that you can select the best approach for overcoming your reluctance to get going.

Common causes of procrastination were discussed in detail above, but they can often be reduced to two main reasons:

  • You find the task unpleasant; or
  • You find the task overwhelming

Step 3: Get over it!

If you are putting something off because you just don’t want to do it, and you really can’t delegate the work to someone else, you need to find ways of motivating yourself to get moving. The following approaches can be helpful here:

  • Make up your own rewards. For example, promise yourself a piece of tasty flapjack at lunchtime if you’ve completed a certain task.

  • Ask someone else to check up on you. Peer pressure works! This is the principle behind slimming and other self-help groups, and it is widely recognized as a highly effective approach.

  • Identify the unpleasant consequences of NOT doing the task.

  • Work out the cost of your time to your employer. As your employers are paying you to do the things that they think are important, you’re not delivering value for money if you’re not doing those things. Shame yourself into getting going!

If you’re putting off starting a project because you find it overwhelming, you need to take a different approach. Here are some tips:

  • Break the project into a set of smaller, more manageable tasks. You may find it helpful to create an action plan.

  • Start with some quick, small tasks if you can, even if these aren’t the logical first actions. You’ll feel that you’re achieving things, and so perhaps the whole project won’t be so overwhelming after all.

Key points:

To have a good chance of conquering procrastination, you need to spot straight away that you’re doing it. Then, you need to identify why you’re procrastinating and taken appropriate steps to overcome the block.

Part of the solution is to develop good time management, organizational and personal effectiveness habits, such as those described in Make Time for Success! This helps you establish the right priorities, and manage your time in such a way that you make the most of the opportunities open to you.

Too many possible actions cloud our thinking. Sort them out wih …

The Action Priority Matrix
Making the very most of your opportunities

The Action Priority Matrix is a simple diagramming technique that helps you choose which activities to prioritize (and which ones you should drop) if you want to make the most of your time and opportunities.

It’s useful because most of us have many more activities on our “wish lists” – whether these are bright ideas to pursue, exciting opportunities or interesting possibilities – than we have time available. By choosing activities intelligently, you can make the very most of your time and opportunities.

However by choosing badly, you can quickly bog yourself down in low-yield, time-consuming projects that close down opportunities and stop you moving forwards.

How to Use the Tool:

Figure 1 below shows the basic form of the Action Priority Matrix:



The principle behind using the tool is that you score each activity you want to complete on two scales – firstly on the impact the activity will have, and secondly on the effort involved.

By plotting each activity on the Action Priority Matrix using these scores, you can quickly see the projects that give you the greatest returns on your efforts; and adopt the most appropriate approach for that type of activity:

  • Quick Wins (High Impact, Low Effort): These are the most attractive projects, giving you a good return for relatively little effort. Focus on these as much as you can;

  • Major Projects (High Impact, High Effort): While these give good returns, they take a long time to complete – meaning that one “Major Project” can crowd out many “Quick Wins”. If you’re engaging in these, make sure that you complete them quickly and efficiently and that you disengage your effort as soon as you can;
  • Fill Ins (Low Impact, Low Effort): Don’t worry too much about doing these – if you’ve got spare time, do them, but drop them if something better comes along; and
  • Hard Slogs (Low Impact, High Effort): Avoid these. Not only do they give low returns, they crowd out time which would be better used elsewhere.

Tip 1:
Much of the “magic” of this technique comes from understanding and avoiding this crowding out effect.

A variant of this tool is the “Impact-Feasibility Matrix”, which substitutes ‘Feasibility’ for ‘Effort’ on the horizontal axis. This gives a different perspective, looking at the organization’s ability to deliver important changes.


To use the Action Priority Matrix, print off our free worksheet and then follow these steps:

  1. List the activities that you’d like to complete;

  2. Score them on impact (from, say, 0 for no impact to 10 for maximum impact) and on effort involved (from 0, say, for no real effort to 10 for a very major effort);
  3. Plot the activities on the Action Priority Matrix; and
  4. Select or drop activities appropriately.

Tip 3:
Use common sense in interpreting the lines separating the four quadrants – after all, there’s only a small difference between a 4.9 impact activity defined as a “hard slog”, and a 5.1 impact task defined as a “major project”.

Tip 4:
Above we’re suggesting a scale from 0 to 10 for both impact and effort. However there’s nothing stopping you using other scales – for example if you were ranking major projects, you might use $ financial return as the scale on the impact axis, and “man days activity” on the effort axis.



The next tour article offers a Leadership Motivation Assessment – a great tool for helping you understand if you’re truly motivated enough to go through the hard work involved in becoming an effective leader. To read this, click ‘Next article’ below.