Consider a workplace scenario. You have a coworker, Robert, who raises his voice and bangs his hand on the table every time he is upset about something during a team meeting. His behavior consistently causes you to startle and feel uncomfortable. How would you characterize Robert’s behavior? How would you characterize your own? You imagine what you might do or say to confront him, and how he might respond. He might say, “Oh, I didn’t even realize I was coming across that way. Sorry.” Or, he might roll his eyes and say, “Come on now. Calm down. You‘re getting yourself all worked up over nothing.” You would feel much better in the first case, and much worse in the second. Why is that, exactly?
For 25 years Jim Coan and his research colleagues have studied behaviors like these as precisely as possible, using a method called behavior coding. Coding behavior requires us to use the same words to label the same sets of behaviors every time. Now, Joanna Chango and Movius Consulting have developed a workshop focused on applying behavior coding to business settings, using the proprietary Standardized Affective Recognition and Response (StARR) System.
How can behavior coding be useful to leaders and teams in business settings?
Accumulating evidence from behavioral science studies suggests that leaders, teams, and negotiators who learn to code emotional behaviors can expect three kinds of benefits.
Benefit 1: Greater reliability in identifying the emotional behaviors that are communicated during joint problem solving. Coding helps leaders, teams, and negotiators to standardize their perception and language around communication. Reliability simply means consistent dependability: it gives you the same answer every time you use it in the same or similar situations. When training people to code emotional behavior, our first concern is that they learn to use the same words each time they observe the same behaviors.
For example, you might conclude that your co-worker Robert, who slams his hand on the table during team meetings, is angry. But here’s the thing: you may be wrong. Research suggests that there are many reasons that Robert might raise his voice and slam his hand on the table. He might be trying to control the situation. He might be frightened or threatened by something that another coworker said. Most of us would be able to tell the difference most of the time. But sometimes behaviors are subtler or more ambiguous than that. A coding system can help leaders, teams, and negotiators to use the same precise language in describing emotional behavior.
Greater reliability can help decrease misunderstandings in workplace communication. People may have a similar intuitive feel for emotional behavior they observe, but if they use different words to describe it to colleagues who didn’t witness the behavior, it can cause real trouble and a lot of confusion. Using the same terms to describe emotional behavior makes joint problem solving much more efficient. It eliminates needless conversation and confusion about what actually happened. Reliability in identifying and labeling emotional behaviors might seem like a mundane goal, but it’s the cornerstone of developing better and more effective problem solving in the workplace.
Stay tuned for part 2 of this blog where we will discuss the second benefit to learning a coding system.