Stop Thwarting the Superpowers of Your Female Integrators

Article 2 of 3

This article is the second in a 3-part series. The first article contended that the one person in your organization who is most vulnerable to Zoom Burnout is your superstar integrator – that rare and essential contributor who can spot the interdependencies between opposing points of view then innovatively re-assemble the parts to create an innovative, value-creating whole.

But it’s not just any integrator who is at risk - it’s your female superstar integrator. All virtual and no office thwarts her unique skills – muting the potency of some and denying her access to others.

All virtual no office thwarts a woman’s integrative skills. Watch the behaviors of female integrators and you’ll notice that they:

  • Step into the tension that others avoid
  • Demonstrate intelligent empathy
  • Draw out a broader range of variables than others do
  • Identify what’s essential to key stakeholders
  • Synthesize competing priorities

All virtual no office triggers tension-avoidance

There’s a treasure in tension. Wherever there’s tension, potential energy is accessible. But the most common leadership response to tension is to avoid it. “Maybe if we give this some time it’ll sort itself out.” And this reaction was prevalent before we went virtual. To many, stepping into relational tension on Zoom feels like venturing across Loch Ness in a small rubber dinghy: the vehicle doesn’t feel safe enough for the depth or stable enough to protect you from what might be lurking beneath the surface. That’s why so many of the important conversations (like performance appraisals) are being left until “we’re back to normal”.

When our female integrator tries to broach the tension of opposing points of view or competing priorities, others feel skittish and she is barred access to the very place she shines. Her exquisite tool is at the ready – but rendered useless. This is depleting.

Solution: make virtual behavior real

Introduce team norms that give everyone permission to engage in tension. We worked with a team of high performers who weren’t living up to their potential. They believed if they spoke their truth it would blow the place up. We took them through a process of co-creating team norms – agreed-upon behaviors that shape how a team operates. The three they created ended up transforming both their conduct and their results.

  1. We hear each other out.
  2. We speak our truth - face to face.
  3. We drive for the third option. (not my way or your way but the innovative 3rd way)

If your team knows they will be heard, are expected to speak their truth and are clear it’s all about getting to the best possible option, it’s easier to venture out into the waters of tension. This allows your superstar integrator to get back to work, offering the big contribution that matters so much to her.

Empathy is harder on Zoom

Are women more empathetic than men? Research says “Yes”. In contrast to men, who witness an emotion then think about it rationally, women actually feel what the other person is feeling.

They are also more accurate than men at identifying emotions.

But the empathic superpower of the integrator is muted in virtual meetings. Maybe you think empathy is easier on videochat than on a phone conversation, “Because we can see their facial expressions”. Science disagrees. Researchers tell us “the human voice is an embodiment of self in the social context” and from an evolutionary stance, “familiar voice recognition has contributed to survival in the earliest vocalizing species.”

In the Beginning Was the Familiar Voice: Personally Familiar Voices in the Evolutionary and Contemporary Biology of Communication Diana Sidtis1,2 & Jody Kreiman3

Our voices, not our faces, provide the most accurate intel. Michael Kraus, Yale University School of Management posits that, “voice-only communication allows perceivers to focus their attention on the channel of communication most active and accurate in conveying emotions to others.” Integrative Psychological and Behavioral Science volume 46, pages146–159(2012)

Our voices can’t lie, but our faces can. Kraus again, “facial expressions can sometimes be inconsistent with internal states or used to actively dissemble.” (read conceal one’s true feelings) Integrative Psychological and Behavioral Science volume 46, pages146–159(2012)

So why don’t peoples’ faces mislead us when we’re face to face? They can, but not as easily, and it’s because of our social superpowers. Our open loop limbic systems and mirror neurons imprint (or entrain) us with the very hormones our coworker is experiencing. Add this gut-level intuition to the ability to attune to another’s voice and the female integrator is equipped with empathic superpowers.

Take this proximal connection away from her and she’s hobbled - none of the open loop benefits of face-to-face interaction and all the drawbacks of facial miscues writ large and vocal signals compromised by dead-time, static, feedback and exorcist-like growling.

Solution: go back to vinyl

Conduct an experiment: make one meeting a week, a 20th century, voice-only, audio-conference call. Have every team member pay attention to the levels of empathy they are giving and receiving. At the end of the meeting, take 5-7 minutes and have people weigh in on what they experienced. Caveat: ask for a moratorium on multi-tasking. (or little empathy will happen)

Packed virtual calendars allow no time for insight mining

Drawing out a broader range of variables is vital to integrators, but that kind of insight mining is time intensive. Going virtual has triggered back-to-back meeting behavior, making it virtually impossible for integrators to access the calendars of key stakeholders. The systemic problems integration is meant to fix go unaddressed, perpetuating firefighting and progressively jammed schedules.

Solution: elevate integration

Teach your team the value of integrative thinking so it becomes a way of being – whether you’re virtual or returning to the office. Pick an issue that is high priority and high urgency and use it to practice integrative planning. For example, some of our clients are using the “Return to the Office” thrust to:

  • Step into the tension
  • Demonstrate intelligent empathy
  • Draw out a broad range of variables
  • Identify what’s essential to key stakeholders
  • Synthesize competing priorities

What’s essential gets shoved to the back of the line

Greg MacKeown, author of Essentialism, says great leaders excel at one particular skill: they identify what’s essential then eliminate everything else. Identifying what’s essential is challenging at the best of times, even for integrators, but it’s almost impossible when what’s urgent muscles in and shoves what’s essential to the back of the line. Welcome to the business reality of COVID - the urgent brush-fires your people are fighting don’t allow for the highly-leveraged, value-creating, future-based conversations of the superstar integrator. Her talents are poised but postponed.

Solution: carve out the trivial many

Steve Jobs is famous for returning to Apple and carving down the product line to four essential items. Many believe this was one of Apple’s most pivotal moments. The learning, in Churchill’s words is “never waste a crisis”. COVID presents a unique opportunity – even gives you permission to carve out the trivial many.

Remember, your most important job is not to say yes to things – it’s to say no to things. Good things. Popular things. Partner with each of your team members individually and ask, “What is essential and how might you and I partner to carve out the trivial many?”

There’s no brain capacity for synthesizing competing priorities

Synthesizing competing priorities demands full access to the executive function (EF), the seat of integrative thinking. The EF enables you to focus your attention in the midst of distractions, regulate your emotions in high-stakes situations, process reams of data and connect the dots in valuable ways, foresee the downstream implications of your decisions and co-create innovative ways to execute your strategies.

And that’s what COVID has short-circuited in many people. The constant drip-feed of alarming news and fear of contamination has triggered the survival response in peoples’ brains, producing a binary reaction to competing priorities. (either/or, now or never, all or nothing, you’re with me or against me) As the integrator seeks to synthesize opposing points of view and conflicting goals, she is faced with colleagues who have no capacity to engage in integrative thinking.

Manager – shift the narrative

For years at Juice we have started every team meeting with appreciation. Each team member takes a minute or so to acknowledge what they have appreciation for. Often it’s the support or the achievement of a coworker, but it doesn’t have to be, it could just as easily be the fact that their family got a new puppy and she’s filling the home with joyful mayhem.

This shifts the narrative from alarming, disturbing, threatening news to good news, and that makes the good juices flow– restoring your team’s brain capacity to synthesize competing priorities. And that leads us to the next article in this series: Making the right juices flow.

Read the next article in this series, "Why All Virtual No Office Gets All The Wrong Juices Flowing (And How You Can Change That)"