The Dorsal View

05 Nov 2018 | 0 Comment(s)

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A round-up of research news and oddities from left field

A sideways look at the way ‘crabs’ operate  

As you read this, I can almost see a light-bulb appear over your head when I describe this hypothetical person. Perhaps you have worked with them. Maybe it’s one of your friends and family. Or maybe it’s you.

First, a little background. If you haven’t heard about it before, the ‘crab mentality’ is a term to describe a certain way of thinking and being, particularly in the workplace.

The premise is based on the mildly remarkable behaviour of a bunch of crabs in a bucket. The fact is, any of the crabs in the bucket could escape their predicament and pull themselves out. But they are prevented from doing so by the other crabs — the other crabs work as a group to pull any would-be successful crab escapee back down into the bucket. And it’s not personal; any other crab that makes it towards the rim of the bucket is dragged back down. So in effect, the group would all end up on a starter plate rather than let one of their group pull himself up.

Dr Tara Swart, neuroscientist and member of the faculty of MIT Sloan School of Management in the US, describes it as the attitude of “if I can’t have it, neither can you”. This manifests itself in efforts to burn-down the self-confidence of any employee who is seen to be climbing the ladder quicker than someone else. Whether doing so will threaten their own professional survival is irrelevant.

“The deepest wiring that relates to this crab mentality is called ‘loss aversion’. It’s the fact that in our brains, we are wired to avoid loss, twice as much as we are to get a reward,” says Dr Swart, who is author of the book Neuroscience for Leadership.

“So if we see a crab escaping, I guess which is like someone getting a promotion, that makes us think that we’re not favoured or we’re not successful and it stimulates this fear of change... as the other crab that makes us feel fear, shame, disgust, sadness and even anger.”

Do you have that person in mind now? I believe in life, at one time or other, we’ve all had that crab in our lives.


Following the leader

Staying with the topic of the workplace, a piece of research from Michigan State University in the US caught my eye as it confirmed what I already suspected — we all just spend too much damn time dealing with emails. This, of course, has implications for our time, but there is an even greater knock-on effect when our managers get dragged into the daily email morass.

All confirmation bias aside, the research, which was published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, found that employees typically spend an average of seven-and-a-half hours every week “recovering from email interruptions”. Managers probably spend even more such time, but they “recover” by limiting their positive leadership behaviours and instead focus more on “tactical duties”, which serves to make them feel more productive, according to management professor Prof Russel Johnson of Michigan State University.

“The moral of the story is that managers need to set aside specific times to check email. This puts the manager in control, rather than reacting whenever a new message appears in the inbox, which wrestles control away from the manager,” he adds. “As we cite in the paper, findings from prior research suggest that it takes time and effort for employees to transition between email and work tasks, so minimising the number of times they have to make that transition is to their benefit.”

Amen, sir. We need to let this guy loose in the HSE.


Charity begins at home

As usual, a moment of levity to round-off this issue’s offering. Any contributions, thoughts, observations or criticism are most welcome at the email address below. And don’t worry — your reputation is safe as contributions are anonymised if requested. 

A very wealthy barrister is approached by a well-known medical charity. The man from the charity is concerned that the lawyer made over €1 million during 2018, but has not donated a single cent to a charity.

“First of all”, says the barrister, “my mother is sick and dying in the hospital and it’s not covered by private health insurance. Secondly, I have five children from three different divorces. Finally, my sister’s husband suddenly died quite recently and she has no one to support her four children.”

“I’m terribly sorry about your circumstances”, says the charity representative, “I really feel bad about asking for money.”

The barrister responds: “I’m glad you understand. If I’m not giving them any money, why should I give any to you?”

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