How to Escape the Zeigarnik Effect

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Have you ever found yourself unable to fall asleep during a trying time at work? Or distracted in the middle of a conversation or meeting by thoughts about other stuff you still need to do?

If so, you may be a victim of the Zeigarnik Effect. Its exotic name comes from the Russian researcher who discovered it in the 1920’s while observing the behavior of waiters in a restaurant. Their ability to recall pending orders, but not the ones they had just delivered, caught her attention.

The disparity relates to the effect which bears her last name. It’s the nagging feeling you get once you mentally create a “time demand”: an internal, individual commitment to complete an action in the future. Your subconscious, which stores each one for later retrieval, does more than sit back and wait for you to act. Instead, it begins to ping your conscious mind with a stream of reminders.

If this were to take place on rare occasions, it would be a cute phenomenon. However, if you are someone who is ambitious, you may find the reminders increasing until you start to experience a sense of overwhelm. After all, her research states that the way to get rid of the Zeigarnik Effect is to complete the task. For busy people, it’s impossible – they create hundreds. Like everyone else, they can only finish one at a time.

So, is there an escape? Fortunately, there is, according to recent research conducted at Baylor University.

Dr. Michael Scullin and his team compared two bedtime behaviors in laboratory experiments. Before falling asleep, one group of subjects wrote their to-do list for the next few days. The other recorded the tasks they accomplished during that

day. The result? This small change in technique helped the first group fall asleep faster by over 9 minutes. Why did this happen?

To understand the underlying reason, we must visit the University of Florida. Drs. Roy Baumeister and Ed Masicapmo added to Zeigarnik’s research, showing that the effect disappears when a person has a trusted system in place to manage time demands. This makes intuitive sense. There’s no need for your subconscious mind to interfere if it believes that all your tasks are being properly managed.

How does this apply to falling asleep faster? Well, offloading your tasks to a written to-do list is one way to assure your subconscious that you are on top of all your commitments. In other words, it trusts a piece of paper more than your ability to remember. Satisfied, it leaves you alone, allowing you to doze off.

But what if you possess a high IQ, genius-level memory? Can’t that be used? The answer is short but elegant – “Sure… if you happen to be a kid.” While I doubt that any readers of this column are under 12 years old, we should understand why they are an exception. The fact is, they only have a few time demands to recall. Plus, they have teachers, parents, friends, and siblings reminding them what to do.

It’s only later, when they get older, that problems occur. But they aren’t caused by age which is not a factor until their retirement years. Instead, long before then, the challenge is to find a method to cope with the relentless swell in time demands our generation faces.

What else can be used beside paper? Digital devices also work. In addition, some people offload their tasks to other folks, like their children. “Remind me to pick up your cake tomorrow, Junior.”

But the only approach which succeeds in the long term isn’t a single technique or tool but a mindset of continuous improvement, plus specific knowledge of how humans use such tools. Start by getting committed to implementing ongoing upgrades. Then, understand that your choices need to follow a pattern.

While researching the latest edition of my book I found that improvements happen in serial fashion, but they all start with an attempt to use mental reminders. When that technique fails, we graduate to better skills one step at a time, following this sequence.

Level 1 – Memory

Level 2 – Paper Lists of Tasks

Level 3 – Simple Digital Apps

Level 4 – Complex Task Management Apps

Level 5 – Digital Calendars of all Tasks

Level 6 – Administrative Assistants / Autoscheduling Programs

As you look over this list, identify your current level. With this knowledge, you can prepare yourself for the next upgrade – the one that will help you stay abreast of your dreams and aspirations.

However, be aware: the Zeigarnik Effect shows up at any level. It’s a fantastic warning mechanism which lets you know when a change is overdue. Unlike your friends, colleagues and even your conscious mind, it can’t be fooled. It will do its job, preventing you from falling asleep quickly until you wake up to its incessant, nagging call for greater personal productivity.

Francis Wade is the author of Perfect Time-Based Productivity, a keynote speaker and a management consultant. Missed a column? To receive a free download with articles from 2010-2016, send email to columns@fwconsulting.com

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/article/business/20180128/francis-wade-how-escape-zeigarnik-effect

Is your company gaslighting its customers to accept poor service?

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There are companies in which staff members are rightly embarrassed by the poor service offered to the public. But there are also badly-run organizations who operate without any sense of remorse: no apology ever offered, no-one willing to be responsible. Consider them to be gaslighting their customers.

The term isn’t normally applied to corporations, but to individuals. Perpetrators are often narcissists, abusers, dictators and religious leaders who say things which cause people to question their sanity. The victim’s norms are discarded or disputed. Universally accepted standards become individual proclivities to be ignored.

I have met personalities who fit the bill nicely but recently, my bank showed some disturbing signs. Unknown to me, it froze my account because I failed to respond to a posted letter from its Compliance Department…they say. I have no evidence such a correspondence was ever sent.

Their comeback? My mail system had to be faulty. Therefore, I was guilty and deserved the disruptive sentence I was handed.

Unlike the human gaslighters I have met who are easy to spot, I found this situation confounding. After all, the Customer Service Representatives (CSR’s) I spoke with were friendly, polite and helpful. They used my first name repeatedly as if we were old chums.

However, in retrospect, they all parrotted the company line: the multiple phone numbers and email addresses they have on file for me are “with another department” and “could not be used”. All that was needed to update their files were two pieces of updated information. With robotic efficiency, they assured me full restoration in five working days, in addition to the holiday weekend.

Incidentally, they didn’t mention the fact that they go overboard to “incentivize” customers to be paperless. Or that I was severely and stressfully inconvenienced because of their actions. Or that their explanations were ridiculous. None of them seemed to think these were real issues.

Instead, I was left wondering: “Is this just me? Am I the only one in this conversation who thinks this is crazy?”

Now, a week later, I can name the experience: corporate gaslighting. My definition? “When a company persistently disrupts the wellbeing of its customers in novel ways, then uses its staff to indirectly but politely attack complainants’ common sense.” It forces customers to question their sanity, while CSRs must shed their humanity in order to do the job.

If you work for an organization, let’s assume that gaslighting is a fact: the only question is how much of it is taking place each day. Ask the following questions to find out more.

  1. Are customers leaving without telling you why?

Don’t answer this looking at the loud complainers or those who write letters to the editor of newspapers. Instead, find those who quietly quit your brand and shift their behavior without warning.

Gaslighters convince themselves that customers leave because they have been enticed by the competition. In other words, it’s something they can’t control. Don’t believe your own story – find out the reasons why you are silently repelling people, forcing them to seek service elsewhere.

  1. Can customers find relief?

In a separate institution, I am forced to deal with someone who is incompetent. As my “point person”, she routinely ignores my emails and voicemails. Direct calls are useless. Desperate pleas to individuals in the organization, including her manager, produce no change in behavior or even positive acknowledgment.

As far as I can see, I have exhausted my appeals, so I’m actively searching for a new provider.

If you offer an essential service and your customers are at a dead-end with no further recourse, your company is gaslighting them. Fortunately, the answer could be simple: set up an easy to find, independent ombudsperson with enough resources to track any problem to its root cause. Have him/her report to an executive to avoid entanglement in your bureaucracy.

  1. Are you eager to uncover problems?

The best CEO’s I have ever worked with are quite demanding, especially in one way. They insist I tell them the stuff their colleagues won’t, focusing on areas I consider to be their blind spots.

Here’s a real-time test: if you bristled at the suggestion that your company is gaslighting its customers, you probably share some characteristics of the weakest leaders. They defend themselves lustily, even in the face of obvious evidence. To keep criticism at bay, they suppress people with outside opinions, while actively promoting bootlickers. As a result, it’s just a matter of time before an issue arises which blindsides their cabal, sometimes resulting in disaster.

Gaslighting in companies is hard to detect: it requires hyper-vigilance and a willingness to empathize with the abuse customers experience. Therefore, it takes supreme but uncommon courage and discipline for leaders to root out this organized form of corrupt service delivery.

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/article/business/20180114/francis-wade-gaslighting-customers-accept-poor-service