Economic theory applied to the problem of harassment

I was recently in New Delhi for a Happy Workplace Conclave #HyWe2018 – organized by my new friend Mukund Trivedy.  One of the speakers, Adam Cox, a strategist who sits on several executive boards, said that corporate culture is set by the last person promoted. He’s right and that has a direct impact on why harassment is still a problem despite everyone for years knowing that it’s a problem.
So how do we fix it?  By applying science. While I focus on teaching how to use behavioral science to fix the problem, economic theories can also help. 

Here is an article that does just that – it claims that the next Harvey Weinstein can be stopped using the theories of Nobel Prize Winning Economist Richard Thaler.

 The article is worth reading, but it comes down to how we encourage behavior we want and discourage behavior we don’t want. Which brings us back to my specialty – behavioral science.  Basically – you reward the behavior you want. Provide nudges and reminders of the behavior you want. Reminders about the expected behaviors you want etc etc etc.

The article rightly points out that since 75% of women report being harassed, instead of thinking it doesn’t happen and designing your processes for one off complaints. Expect it to happen and build stopping it from happening and reporting it when it does – into your processes.
But even that won’t be enough.  From the article.

“Ultimately, no reporting mechanism works unless the organization takes action when incidents are reported. One of the dispiriting lessons of Fox News—where O’Reilly and Ailes allegedly harassed women for years—is that the patterns of abuse were widely known by employees who had no faith the company would act. Organizations send messages about the behavior they value by who they choose to promote, and who they let go, says Amy Wrzesniewski, an organizational-behavior professor at the Yale School of Management.”

Which brings me back to Adam Cox – the culture is set by the last person promoted.
If there is a behavior happening in the workplace – it’s there because it’s being rewarded. If you don’t like the behavior – you need to understand that – it’s being rewarded somehow and if you want to fix it – you need to change your rewards and incentives so that you reward the behavior you want – like reporting. And create disincentives to the behavior you don’t want - like harassment. 

Don’t assume your incentives are working the way you want them to.  Perverse incentives come from well-intention-ed people.  If you aren’t getting the results you want – there is a problem with your incentives. Period.

To learn more – take my comprehensive program – Workplace Bullying for HR professionals (or for lawyers).

How do humanists explain evil?

This may seem odd, but I’m not sure that Humanists have a concept of evil. Instead, we view behavior as self-motivated and either adaptive or maladaptive. That doesn’t mean we are moral relativists, it’s more that we view bad behavior through a more compassionate or understanding lens. Let me explain.

I don’t think of people as being evil. But I do judge behavior as good or bad.  I don’t think people wake up and think – today I’m going to do evil, though they may indeed act in a way that harms others.

So let’s start with morality. Good vs bad is a moral judgement. As a Humanist, I judge something as good if it helps people and bad if it hurts people. If it hurts a LOT of people, it’s REALLY bad.  The impact can be so bad that it is easy to view the behavior or action as evil.

But does that mean the person who took that action is evil?  That’s harder for me to accept. Most people don’t chose to do bad. They do bad things because they are trying to do good things. That isn’t an excuse obviously, but it is a way to understand human behavior.

I also think it isn’t helpful to view people as “evil.”  Labeling people as evil is a way to dehumanize them. This may help us in the moment emotionally distance ourselves from behavior we find abhorrent, but I think dehumanizing people does way more harm than good.

When we understand people’s choices as being rational to whatever ideas they hold, we then admit that we could be them.  That’s scary for a lot of people. But for me, recognizing that I too could have gone down that path – there but for fortune – helps me to recommit to not going down that path, whatever that path was/is.

The point is – as a Humanist, I don’t have a conception of evil even though I can look at certain actions as being evil.  How do people do things that are horrendously bad? Because they convinced themselves it was the right thing to do.  Even Hitler thought he was doing something good.
The onus is on us as individuals to make sure we don’t fall prey to bad thinking which results in bad actions which cause harm.  It is our responsibility to make sure we actually do good things and don’t accidently do bad things while thinking we are doing good.

Is this easy to do? No. But it’s our responsibility and we have no one else to blame. And that’s – a good thing.

To learn more - get a free copy of my book: Jen Hancock's Handy Humanism Handbook

Great Leaders May Need Translators

Scientific American published an article on the science of why people dislike really smart leaders. It turns out - they may need translators.

Here is a link to the article:

It turns out that people with IQs higher than 120 are often rated as ineffective leaders by their teams. The problem is high IQ people - are REALLY valuable because they are often really good at problem solving and organizing and juggling lots of things simultaneously. Their brains are simply - really agile.

As with all leadership, if people don't like or don't understand the leader, then they won't follow and there will be problems.   Part of the problem may be that staff and teams may not understand what the solution is that the leader is proposing because - they can't follow the thinking of the leader - because they think so differently than people with IQs in the normal range.

Another problem may be that someone with a high IQ is so busy thinking, they aren't really concerned with the social aspects of leading. But it's the social aspects that help people trust the leader.

So what is the solution?  It may be that high IQ leaders need a translator. Someone who can explain the thinking of the high IQ person in a way that normal people understand so that they can follow it and understand why it will work.

Another reason for the translator is to help fill in the gaps in the social skills. My niece was recently hired to work at a hospital where she is - essentially - the social skills translator for her boss. Her boss can focus on the stuff she's good at. And my niece's job is to get to know people on staff, and support them so  that the staff feel valued and like they matter.

Great thinkers may not be great at the social aspects of a leadership job - but we still need their problem solving abilities to be recognized. Understanding our limitations as leaders can help us hire support people to manage the interpersonal relationships critical to creating successful teams.


Coping with feelings of frustration and hopelessness in modern society. 

Lately I find that I am furious. Like REALLY REALLY REALLY angry.  It's not that good things aren't happening in my life. They are. For instance, I just got back from doing some talks in India. How cool is that?

The problem is politics. Polarized politics. Fake news. The fact we can't seem to have rational conversations about anything because our knowledge bases aren't the same. I feel gas-lighted when stuff I saw with my own eyes I'm being told didn't happen at all. I'm sure others feel the same way when they are told - what you think happened - didn't happen at all.

And I say this to people all the time!!! Because it's true!!!! And I'm aware at how infuriating that is for people to hear! And yet - I do it anyway - because what is true really matters. AND - more importantly - what is true is knowable.  If you and I have a disagreement on what is true - we can actually resolve that. You know - with facts! No facts to back up your claim - then sorry - you are mistaken. Deal with it. 

1 in 3 people in America believe things that aren't anywhere close to being true. This is not fringe anymore. It's not. And it's maddening. 

What else am I mad at? I am mad that sexism is still a problem. I am furious that women around the world have their futures stolen from them by the men in their lives. That they don't have the opportunity to fully participate in society because the men in their lives can't handle it. In fact, this makes me furious! I am made that sexual assault is still a problem. I am furious that kids are being shot with guns because politicians wont' do anything to stop it - except pray!!!!! AAAAGGHHHH!!!  

I'm sick of being told that I can't express my anger and frustration because apparently my anger over the death and the destruction I see happening around me is not just upsetting, it's infuriating. The flat out refusal to use reason and compassion to create good solutions is infuriating.

I am furious that white nationalists are still holding our country hostage - on a huge number of issues. Why can't we get universal health care - it has to do with racism. Why can't we get an agreement on immigration - for the past 2 decades - racism. And no - despite the nice lady at my republican congressman's office telling me - eventually they will die and then we can fix this - no - it's not working and in the meantime, we as a society have spent decades killing black people, allowing them to die from neglect, imprisoning them, destroying their communities and preventing them from participating fully in our society. That makes me furious!  And me saying I'm furious about that isn't going to cause good people to suddenly become white nationalists. It won't!  Someone declaring themselves a white nationalist - is someone who is just making their bigotry public. Their bigotry was always there just as the societal injustice has ALWAYS BEEN THERE. The denial-ism on this is deadly. And it's infuriating. 

I am frustrated at stupid friggin arguments against doing something about gun violence. The arguments make no sense. They are just put out to stop us from talking about actual solutions. And this happens ON everything.  Name the topic. We can't have rational discussions on how to protect ourselves from terrorists, or whether women should actually have access to health care when they are most in need of professional health care. AAAGGHHH!!!!

I'm really sick of being told to shut up and not express my frustration at this because - it makes other people uncomfortable. I have every right to be furious. And so does every single person who is sick of kids being killed and who is sick of white nationalists continuing to have the power to exclude black and brown people from society. 

So - how do I as a Humanist cope with all this raging anger I have building inside of me. By channeling it into productive things.  By reminding myself to feel compassion even for the people who are blind to the truth. And to wield my compassion as a sword. 

I cope by trying to make sure that I am not part of the fake news problem. By researching everything to make sure I know what the actual facts are and not just sharing a narrative that makes me feel good.  I cope by working actively to help elect people who understand what is wrong and are willing to work to fix it - with science and reason and compassion and to vote out the people who are preying on people's fears with demagoguery. 

And - I take the time to enjoy the world I live in. Because even though there is a LOT of really bad things happening, there are good things happening too. I have friends. I am alive right now.  I have my work. I am making a positive difference in people's lives - even though that impact might be small. I try to notice the little things. In other words, I remind myself what it is I am fighting to protect and defend.

And yes- I recognize that as a white middle class woman - I have the privilege to do that. A privilege others don't. And that infuriates me too. Everyone should have the ability to claim space and peace. But I claim that space anyway because I know if I don't I will burn out and won't be able to join the fight at all. I view this as a tag team relay. We have to work together. And that means making space for people to drop out temporarily while they regroup and tend to their personal needs.

And having won that small slice of peace - I can return to fight for what I believe is right. Why? Because I can't do it when I'm gone.

If you want advice on how to cope more effectively and make better for reality based decisions - I have two options.
2) My online course Living Made Simpler. 
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