Role of Positivity in Risk Management Communication

locking horns

Can something as simple as appreciation make business teams more willing to accept a risk manager’s viewpoint?

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The Conflict

Proverbially risk managers are locking horns with business managers. Of course business managers out number risk managers, hence more often than not risk managers are licking wounds and complaining that business managers don’t listen to them. Business managers claim that they are running the show, so an interfering risk manager who is perpetually criticizing their hard work  should be shown the door.

Then risk manages lament that it is their job to high light risks which means negatives, so why go after them for being messengers of bad news. The conflict brews and sometimes reaches boiling point. No one wishes to see eye to eye because they wish to get eye for an eye. End result, the business suffers in this battle.

What is the cause of the stormy relationship? Criticism and negative feedback! No one likes it, so why blame the business managers.

What if risk managers change the approach? With the criticism they give a lot of positive reinforcement? Will the behavior of business managers change?

Research on Role of Positivity in Performance

Marcial Losada and Emily Heaphy conducted a research titled – “The Role of Positivity and Connectivity in the Performance of Business Teams – A Nonlinear Dynamics Model”. They studied the dynamics of team interaction in relation to approving and disapproving verbal feedback statements. Researchers coded the verbal communication among team members along three bipolar dimensions, positivity/negativity, inquiry/advocacy, and other/self. Sixty teams developing annual business strategy were analysed.

The results of the study have extremely important implications  from business performance aspect and for risk managers. The table below defines the ratios of various dimensions.

team ratio1

The positivity/ negativity ratios indicate that high performing teams give 5.6 positive comments to 1 negative comment. In contrast the low performing team give three negative comments to one positive comment. The medium performing teams give approximately two positive comments to one negative comment.

Similarly, under inquiry/advocacy ratios, the high performance teams are more balanced in their approach towards inquiry and advocacy. The team members question in an exploratory way. On the other hand, low performance teams are highly unbalanced and members advocate their own viewpoint. The medium performance teams are little bit tilted in favor of advocacy.

Again, high performance maintained a balance in discussing internal and external aspects. Whereas, low performance teams focus on internal inquiry. The medium performance are slightly more focused on internal than external aspects.

Thus, the high performance team have higher levels of connectivity, which results in better performance.

Overall, high performing teams show buoyancy throughout the meeting. They appreciate, compliment and encourage their team members. This expands the emotional space for team to function. In contrast, in low performance teams sarcasm and cynicism rules which restricts the emotional space. There is lack of mutual support, enthusiasm and a high degree of distrust.  The medium performance team don’t show distrust or cynicism but neither are they openly supportive and enthusiastic about their team members.

team dynamics

Implications for Risk Managers

The results are very important from a risk manager’s perspective. As the author states – “to do powerful inquiry, we need to put ourselves sympathetically in the place of the person to whom we are asking the question. There has to be as much interest in the question we are asking as in the answer we are receiving. If not, inquiry can be motivated by a desire to show off or to embarrass the other person, in which case it will not create a nexus with that team member.”

Hence, from the time we approach the business team, we need to ensure that we are inquiring about the business. We should not be advocating any quick recommendations based on high-level interactions.

Another point to note is that the questions should cover both the internal and external environment of the business. This would motivate the business team into a more open discussion.

The most important point is about positive feedback. In our verbal communication and written reports we focus on highlighting the negatives.

The research showed that positive comments (that is a terrific idea) create emotional space within the listener, hence the listener is more willing to take the feedback. The emotional space created by positive comments in high performing teams is twice the size of medium performing teams and three times that of low performing teams.

Negative reporting restricts the emotional space of the business team. To build a positive environment for acceptance of our views, recommendations and report, we need to give 6 positive comments for each negative comment.

The researchers have given equations to assess the emotional space based on various dimensions. It might be a good idea to calculate the same before issuing a report.

Closing thoughts

One of the incorrect assumptions that risk managers make is that there is a linear relationship between the observations and recommendations in the report. However, the study showed the impact of non-linear relationships on functioning of teams. Hence, the fault may lie in the straight forward cause and effect attitude taken by risk managers to get buy-in from business managers.

We generally discuss that in reports we should highlight the positives first to balance out the negatives. This research clearly points out the importance of doing so and the reasons why we are failing. We have to change our approach to be effective. We need to be part of the business team, develop a positive feedback system before giving any negative observations

References:

The Role of Positivity and Connectivity in the Performance of Business Teams: A Nonlinear Dynamics Model – Marcial Losada and Emily Heaphy

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2 comments on “Role of Positivity in Risk Management Communication

  1. Dear Madam, I liked the views expressed in your article and I agree totally that there is a urgent need for a subtle change in the way a bad news is expressed and recommendations dished out. Thanks for the insights shared by you via your blogs; you are doing a great service to the IA / Risk Mgmt community professionals. I have also read with keen interest ,your articles on issues not directly linked with the aforesaid subject on Risk Management or Audit etc but none the less were very pertinent in the environment and context in which we all operate and live.in.

  2. Pingback: M-A-O-L » Role of Positivity in Risk Managerment Communication

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