Chain of Thought

More Connected Yet More Isolated

I like to think this blog brings me closer to you, the MH&L audience. However, sometimes it seems that the more cyber-connected we become, the less human connection we experience. We let emoticons replace emotions.

There's an even darker side to this. There have been many articles written about the prevalence of online bullying on Facebook and other social media. Anonymity tends to lower our sense of others as being people like us. So, as logistics technology employs more online connections, let's remember our supply chain connections are people first.

Of course human insensitivity is nothing new. Jerks have been around since Adam whined to God that “Eve made me do it!” But when a jerk has a lot of people who work for him or her, or equally problematic, do business with him or her, the resulting consequences can be deadly to a business's reputation.

Srini Pillay, MD, Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, says that when a leader, or a company, exhibits insensitivity, unfairness, lack of empathy or respect, they often spur a “gut reaction” in people that subconsciously erodes trust. The results may not show up overnight, but they can completely destroy a company over time, with the people in charge “never knowing what iceberg they hit.”

Pillay, author of a new book, “Your Brain and Business: The Neuroscience of Great Leaders,” says that emotional responses to workplace issues have gone from being a soft skill to becoming “Brain Science.” He writes that emotions are a vital part of intelligence and that they do and should play a role in a company's culture, even in how a company deals with customers, its own staff, partners and vendors.

That sounds like a supply chain issue to me, so I e-mailed Dr. Pillay and told him about you, MH&L's audience—how you have to deal with a wide variety of business contacts to keep products flowing through your supply chains. I noted that a lot of this is handled online or over the phone and asked if he had any insights into how emotions affect supply chain management.

Full disclosure: Pillay is also the founder and CEO of NeuroBusiness Group, an executive coaching company that “helps businesses improve their emotional intelligence in a variety of settings by using the lessons of brain science in practical ways to enhance leadership development and accelerate business strategy.” So going into this I wasn't sure whether to expect him to sound like an author hawking a book or a consultant selling his service—neither of whom would know much about how logistics works.

It was nice to find out he actually had a pretty good grasp of supply chain challenges. He told me that in keeping product moving around the world, from suppliers through to customers, the following communications challenges can arise.

1. Cultural and linguistic barriers. These can arise due to differences in culture and language, even within a supply chain manager's own company. “Ingroups” and “outgroups” can form, thereby making the smooth execution of strategy difficult as people see themselves as separate. “What needs to be done,” he writes, “is reframing and then practicing this reframe. Brain imaging studies have shown that when we reframe issues, the brain's anxiety center may experience some relief. In this instance, members from different cultures who are all making money from a joined process may need this to be explicitly highlighted and emphasized. We teach people that it is not their culture and language that defines their team, but their shared process and financial goals.”

2. No access to visual feedback: As I noted at the top of this blog, we get much of our feedback from co-workers and business partners by telephone, e-mail or online. This takes out the visual feedback you can get in an office environment. However, according to Pillay, the brain's fear center is as sensitive to voice as it is to viewing fearful or threatening expressions. It matters how one speaks and even writes to others.

With these things in mind, he recommends the following:

1. Use skype for introductions when personal meetings aren't possible;

2. Use a centralized communications platform (e.g. on google);

3. Rotate annual meetings among different locations.

Bottom line, whatever form of communication you use in business or personal life, pick up on the power and lasting effects of emotions. And drop the emoticons.

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