How To Prevent Collaboration Overload With Rob Cross And Understanding Perception With Dr. Diane Hamilton

People have certain triggers that add to their stress in the workplace. People want to collaborate, it’s in their nature. When a friend asks for help or when you’re looking to get promoted. You take on extra work for your friend, for your promotion despite the added stress. Rob Cross is a Professor of Global Leadership at Babson College and he joins Dr. Diane Hamilton in his book, Beyond Collaboration Overload. Understand work collaboration for a less stressful environment.

It is perfectly natural for people to have different perceptions on things and we have to respect that. Just how important is it in today’s society? Join in and have a discussion with your host, Dr. Diane Hamilton on the study of perception reality. Learn how people should be open about how they perceive things, in or out of the workplace. Understand the difference of cultures and respect what needs to be respected. Join in and learn how to strengthen your perception today.

TTL 880 Rob Cross | Collaboration Overload


I’m so glad you joined us because we have Rob Cross here. He is the Professor of Global Leadership at Babson College, and he’s a renowned thinker, writer and speaker. I am going to talk to him about his book, Beyond Collaboration Overload. I’m excited to have him here.

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How To Prevent Collaboration Overload With Rob Cross

I am here with Rob Cross, the Edward A. Madden Professor of Global Leadership at Babson College. He’s a renowned thinker, writer and speaker. He’s got a book that I’m so excited to talk to him about. He is the author of Beyond Collaboration Overload: How to Work Smarter, Get Ahead, and Restore Your Well-Being. He’s authored six HBR articles. He’s amazing at his work with collaboration. I’m excited to talk to him about this. Welcome, Rob.

It’s great to be here, Diane. Thank you so much for having me.

I was looking forward to this and you’re welcome. I am very interested in anything that ties into the research I do with curiosity, perception and some of the stuff I write about. I’ve had a lot of guests who have touched on different aspects of some of the things we’re going to talk about but you’re going way in-depth into this collaboration and how to work smarter. I’m very excited to get into that. I want to get your back story because it’s impressive to have your professor role and the things you do. How did you get to that level of success?

I don’t know if it’s a success. That’s interesting. It’s been a wonderful journey. I’m a professor with a portion of my time but a significant amount of what I do is directing this group called the Connected Commons. It’s a consortium that’s grown to about 110 organizations that got interested along with me in different ways. Being able to assess, track and analyze how collaboration is having an effect at different levels in organizations could lead us to different ways of thinking about, in particular, for purposes, more individual or team performance. It’s been an amazing process. I’ve discovered tremendous numbers of insights and ideas from the chance to work with all these organizations as the consortium has evolved and morphed over time. To me, it’s a treat and a privilege to have this opportunity.

I imagined that would be fascinating. I’m always trying to get great at assessing information. It’s hard for me sometimes to find the data I’m looking for, especially with how curiosity ties into collaboration or innovation and productivity. With those productivity numbers, you can find things like engagement. We know how much money we’re spending from Gallup and different things. If you could tie it to engagement or whatever we’re looking at, it’s hard when you talk to organizations because they go, “How much money can you save me if we collaborate more?” How are you showing that?

We do it in different ways. I was in a discussion where there was an organization that had hundreds of teams that were revenue-producing teams. We were able to go in and profile what their top 20% producing teams were doing from a network standpoint. Not thinking about teams as vision, mission, purpose and more traditional ways of looking at these groups because people have so many different efforts.

We’re starting to look at it more as to how do these networks cohere in certain ways inside and outside the efforts. You can analytically tie that to outcomes those places care about. In this case, it was revenue-production. In other cases, its patent counts. The goal ultimately is to say, “How do we take what the top 20% are doing and help the next 40% do that or raise the bar for others that haven’t been working in this way?”

We do the exact same thing at the individual level. I go out, map these networks and look at who’s interacting with whom in big groups, sometimes a couple of thousands, sometimes 80,000 to 90,000 if we’re looking at a large-scale change. We’ll take whatever performance data the organizations have. Sometimes it can be HR ratings or revenue-production, patent counts or rapid promotion.

That’s been the heart of this book. It’s been very much focused on what are those people doing from a collaborative standpoint that when they get into the high-performance category, they stay there over time. It’s not just assuming that a big network is a good one but rather seeing specifically how they manage connectivity in ways that enable them to become and stay high performance.

[bctt tweet=”People always want one single seductive solution to everything. That is not how the game works.” username=””]

When you hear the word collaboration, usually in my mind, maybe it’s just me but I think of it positively. You’re collaborating and doing it the right way. When you wrote about the impact of dysfunctional collaboration, I’m like, “It’s not always good.” You talk about dysfunctional collaboration and how it impacts corporate performance, innovation, productivity and overall well-being. I know we hear a lot about silos and different things. What direction are you going in terms of dysfunctional collaboration?

What we see are two ideas. I’ll take that at two levels. One is the individual and the second is the group. At the team or the group level, we have focused a tremendous amount of work doing large analytics in big groups, pulling teams out and seeing what that pattern of connectivity that’s predicting success is. For example, in any group I look at, 3% to 5% of the people tend to absorb 20% to 35% of the collaborative demands.

A small set of people, a lot of times, get overwhelmed and that can be a bad thing. If you’re overwhelmed to such a degree that they leave or get less creative and innovative, then everybody else who’s relying on are going to fall into that as well. We can look at those contours of the network that promote performance like decreasing reliance on pinch points in the network integrating newcomers more effectively. You’re getting new ideas or perspectives into the network more rapidly. Bridging select silos are targeted things that we’re seeing in these groups.

We also took the reverse approach and said, “What do these groups look like when they fail and when they falter?” We use these networks as a way to see that. That’s introduced six archetypes that we can start to see and help understand how these units or teams fall into underperformance. For example, one is misaligned. It’s a common idea and new product development or other kinds of cross-functional teams where people come into a room, they agree then they go off and pull in their direction.

Another one is what I call priority overload, where we have too many external demands that are uncoordinated coming into the teams. It’s overwhelming teams in big ways. It’s become the biggest dysfunction from an archetype standpoint. In those cases, what you’re trying to do ultimately and what we have done with hundreds of interviews is say, “What’s driving this unproductive tendency?” Sometimes the tendency in every case is to blame the leader. Everybody has a team leader. You can get all sorts of facts. It can be misaligned incentives, cultural tendencies or poor role design. What you’re trying to do in each case is to say, “What 5 or 6 things could potentially be driving this dysfunction? How do we make sure we’re solving the right problem underneath it?”

That’s one thing when we talk about dysfunctional collaboration from the individual sense. The heart of the book is what I had continued to see in the consortia of the collaborative demands rise on people individually until pre-pandemic. The amount of time we spent on the phone, email meetings and instant messaging was about 85% of most people’s work week. That’s gone up about 5 to 8 hours through the pandemic. Interactions are tracking earlier into the morning, deeper into the night. It’s created a real frenzy for people that have a significant impact on their curiosity, innovation and engagement. You can go down a list of things.

The interesting thing is it’s not so much the work. It’s the coordination and the collaboration around the work that we do not understand well and don’t have good ways of tracking and seeing in places. The big focus there is helping to understand what those people are doing that is about 18% to 24% more efficient than their peers. How are they spending that time that helps them to be a little bit more innovative and able to scale their work a little bit better?

I was working as an MBA program chair. I had a short stint as dean and different things that I’ve done. I saw a lot of expectations of people working all day long on Zoom or whatever meetings where they were in-person meetings at the time and then will do the work after hours. We want you to work 70 hours or plus a week. How do we get back that time? What are they doing collaboratively that we need to be doing so we’re not working 70 or 80-hour a week?

It’s an interesting issue. As we went into the pandemic, a lot of people’s responses going forward is to say, “If we’re going to take hour-meetings, we make them 30 minutes. We’re going to make them shorter so we can cram more meetings in.” What you’re describing is even worse because the intensity in the meetings is greater. You have switching costs going across the meetings as you’re quickly trying to reorient and focus on the next topic. You end up with twice as long to-do list at the end of the day. Not just eight meetings but sixteen or how many works out to be.

TTL 880 Rob Cross | Collaboration Overload
Collaboration Overload: In any group, 3 to 5% of the people tend to absorb 20 to 35% of the collaborative demands. So small sets of people, a lot of times get overwhelmed. This can lead to people leaving or less creativity.


I would use the network analytics that we apply, go into organizations and say, “Who are those people that are giving the greatest impact and taking the least amount of time?” I went out and studied them like crazy. I started interviews with 100 women and 100 men. I was focused on what are the things you’re doing that are enabling you to be about a day a week more efficient than the average peer in these groups?

What I learned is there’s a set of ultimately 25 practices that we’ve pulled from these people and built into diagnostics. One of which we’ve had over 100,000 people come through and take. It’s amazing the degree to which people feel this. What I learned in this is this is more of a game that’s like a brawl than a ballet. Everybody from Wall Street Journal, Harvard Business Review, you name it, always want the one single seductive solution, the one thing that’s not that game.

What I can see are the people that do better tend to be dogmatically persistent on a couple of things in three categories. Those categories, number one, have to do with how we put structure into our work. The more efficient collaborators are, the more likely to strategically calendar Friday night, Sunday night. They block reflective time. They manage role letter dependencies ahead. There’s a set of things that structure and shield them from unproductive collaborations coming their ways.

There’s a second set of things that have to do with behaviors. We found the more efficient collaborators that use email and run meetings differently. They create pull-in interactions versus having to oversell themselves. There’s a set of tactics that way. The biggest thing that surprised me in doing all these interviews is about 50% of the problem turns out to be us and how we choose to think we need to show up and jump into situations. It surprised me. I went into the work thinking that the enemy was out of our control.

It’s no longer the leader but the enemy.

You could hear over and over again stories that I won’t drag you through. All of us have these triggers. For some, it’s a desire to help. For some, it’s a need for accomplishment or status. For many people, it’s fear of either what colleagues think or fear of missing out that lead us in small moments to jump in to help in situations and take on work.

Even when we think we shouldn’t do it, we’ll justify why we should do this and then we end up overwhelmed. About 6, 12, 18 weeks later, we often forget that we started in that small moment when we jumped in. Perhaps one of the most interesting things in the work is seeing the degree to which successful people become more aware of those triggers, make sure that they’re not falling into them and getting into a defensive posture in this game.

That ties in well to the research I did with curiosity because I was trying to figure out what kept people from being curious. I found that fear, assumptions, technology and environment were the four things that had the acronym of FATE. Fear can be holding people back from so many things. That ties into the assumptions, which that voice in your head will start telling you, “I better volunteer for this. This will happen.”

I could remember at one of my previous jobs, there was a saying, “No good deed goes unpunished.” The more you did, the more they gave you and then you’re telling yourself, “I want to do this but if I volunteer, I’m going to get more and more.” They would start to overwhelm people. A certain number of people are doing a lot of the work and that gets to be a burnout factor. You also mentioned the behavioral aspect of how we use email in meetings.

I remember I worked in a company for twenty years. I went to so many meetings that were death by PowerPoint, the typical meetings. I started a brand new industry from scratch in a totally different field. I remember going to the first meeting and walked out with something I could use, information that I had never had in twenty years. I remember going to my boss like, “What do I do with this? This is helpful. I know how to do my job because of what you told me.” What I see is a lot of people have to justify their jobs so they have meetings to make it look like they’re doing something. Do you see that?

[bctt tweet=”It is your fault, 50% of the time when you get stressed from work.” username=””]

There’s that from a cultural standpoint because this norm of collaboration has become such a positive thing. I want to emphasize that when I wrote the title, Beyond Collaboration Overload, it leads sometimes people to believe that these people are successful people. They’re getting in the high-performance category and scoring higher-end measures of thriving, resilience well-being. We’re looking at success as two components, so you’re doing well and sustainable over time.

They weren’t not collaborating but they weren’t just jumping in because of everybody’s expectations. They have a much greater tendency to be putting structure into their world. They did these things that enabled them to buy back about 18% to 24% of their time but then they invested in connections differently. Rather than fall into a reactive posture and holding meetings because it’s the norm or everybody invited you to a meeting and you’re the 25th person in that room. You go even though nobody says anything and half the time, you’re doing text anyway in it.

What I found is this infinity loop idea. On the one side, they find ways to claw back time but then the way they’re investing allows them to be more proactive in a couple of different ways that relate to what you’re saying. One is I could see that the more successful people spend about 20% more time exploring complementary expertise with colleagues. The people in adjacent areas of expertise are saying, “How could we be working together? What’s the possibility?”

What that did is from my standpoint, I always see the world as not curiosity between the six inches between our ears but curiosity in the network. That allowed people to be curious. When opportunities pass them by, either consulting opportunities, banking transactions or ways of writing a piece of code, they weren’t reacting based on their narrow expertise so the 2 or 3 people they spent time with. They’d be thinking about, “I know 4 or 5 people here that if I engage in a certain way, we’d do something much more substantive.”

It changes how they’re seeing the possibilities and their ability to reach back to those people that they’ve seeded their relationships. It then allows them to produce something more significant. To me, the relationship is if you allow yourself to get collaboratively overwhelmed, if you don’t do things to claw that time back, the first thing you stop doing is exploring. The second thing you stop doing is thinking expansively in those micro-moments when the project starts or the scope happens.

If you do it well, then you start producing results. You also are creating networks where people are coming to you with opportunities and that gives you a greater platform to push back on things you don’t want to be a part of. There’s a real synergy between what I’m seeing that people do. First, buying time back but then investing it in ways that’s not just what we were talking about with the meetings. It’s not jamming more of the same stuff. It’s collaborating in ways that are generating scale and impact differently.

I know that we’re trying to become more efficient. I was thinking about when I was a loan officer. We’d at least have these contests of who can stay on the phone the longest and have the most sales calls. I remember four hours was what they wanted. I always beat the four hours and they would give us a price whoever had the highest. I won every week because nobody could get more than two hours.

Finally, they asked me what I was doing and I realized that I was typing my notes while I was talking. Everybody else would talk and then type their notes. You’re using twice as much time. Do we need to become more efficient or is it bad to multitask like I do? I saw that you had a comment about interruptions and what they do to your brain. Half the people tell me, “You’re not multitasking. You’re attention switching.” Is it bad to multitask? Is it good to make us more efficient?

There are two things out of that comment that’s amazing in that story. Part of what you’re describing has been the absolute heart of my research, not just through this book but other things we’re doing. Finding those exemplars that are outperforming and uncovering what they’re doing from a network or collaboration standpoint. We’re just not taught that well. We were taught to think about skills, traits or maybe how we’re using technology as a way to extend our abilities but there’s not a lot that’s saying, “Specifically, here are the subtle things that more successful people are doing.”

TTL 880 Rob Cross | Collaboration Overload
Collaboration Overload: Everyone has these triggers, for some, it’s a desire to help or a need for accomplishment. These triggers lead to moments where you have taken on work even when you think you shouldn’t.


I love that example. You’re getting a greater impact out of the time. I could point to other things where we look at how people come into organizations. We could see that in most strong culture companies, those people that come in takes them about 3 to 5 years to replicate the connectivity of a high performer. It doesn’t mean that they’re not talking to people. It means they haven’t built the same constellation of bridging relationships, trusted ties and reputation that allow them to scale their work to accomplish things with a greater impact.

It’s 3 to 5 years but then we’d see about 10% of the people did it nine months. We went out and looked at them. We learned all sorts of subtle things like that. For example, one of the things we see is most times you come into organizations and they say, “Go do meet and greets. Go tell your story. Tell other people what you’ve done. Maybe put points on the board and start building a reputation.” It’s more of a push strategy. “Here’s how I can push my way in this group.”

What we found is the fast movers didn’t do that. They came in and would still do the meetings. Instead of sitting down with somebody, that person says, “Tell me about yourself.” Doing it, they would turn that conversation around and say, “I can but can you tell me a little bit about your core objectives, your 3 or 4 pain points?” By virtue of understanding their needs first and then morphing their expertise to the incumbent’s needs, giving status, generating energy and creating a mutual win, what they were doing was not telling their story but co-creating a narrative.

They would get pulled in 1/3 the time that it took others. They would be able to have that person’s reputation that they were riding on. That’s been the heart of what we’ve been doing in this to say, “Where are the exemplars? What are the subtle things they do?” I find with the collaborative overload ideas that it’s all fairly small things but it’s being persistent and consistent. That matters.

On the distractions, it depends. There are times I can see in many ways where people get what I call multiplexity, many impacts that have the same amount of time or the same relationship. It’s one of the strategies for being more efficient. Where people get in trouble is when they don’t create space for reflective time.

One of the things we see is if people block two hours of reflective time, stick it and keep it. They don’t just block it and give it away. That’s associated with greater productivity and for a series of reasons from a cognitive standpoint. What I’m seeing in this all is it’s more about being intentional about managing to the rhythm of work that’s optimal for you and that people have different rhythms. Those that establish that tend to do much better.

I tend to calendar everything. I see myself as very efficient in it. Sometimes you learn some of these things through trial and error that makes you efficient. I remember writing a brand publishing course for Forbes where I was helping create a course based on Bruce Rogers’ work at Forbes, where he looked at all the different technology tools that everybody is using for marketing. I was thinking about that as you’re talking about these personal aspects but you also wrote some things in the notes you gave me about technology and its impact on collaboration.

I was thinking when I wrote that course, the published or perish report he came up with was all about showing how 80 million different options are out there. He went to all these companies to see what tools are they using and came up with the Best Things That Work For Us list. Do you find that technology is keeping people from collaborating well or is it helping them? Are there any efficiency tools that you think are helpful? I wanted to see what you had to say about that aspect.

What I’m finding having a more immediate impact for most places is thinking about the norms of use of the technologies. As an example, oftentimes, it’s not so much email that kills us. It’s the way that we allow it to get used for ineffective purposes that causes a problem to brainstorm. You find people writing ten-paragraph emails where they highlight what they want.

I do a simple thing that has come out of this. There are very specific tools we built for the consortia that talk about all these best practices around email. For example, if you have to write it at 10:00 PM, that’s fine but don’t send it. Send it on a delay, so you’re not creating a culture of somebody responding at 10:02 or 10:05 and reinforcing this always on mentality. There are specific things we can see that matter.

[bctt tweet=”A lot of people have to justify their jobs so they have meetings to make it look like they’re doing something.” username=””]

An easy thing to do with teams is have people pull out a piece of paper, draw 3 lines or 3 columns. In the first column, list all the different ways they’re collaborating. For many places, I’m finding it’s up to nine different tools because companies are over-indexed on various times of collaborative packages. Spend an hour with the team and say, “The second column in each of those modalities, what are the five things we want to keep ourselves accountable for?” Maybe it’s not sending paragraph emails. It’s bullets. The second you sense disagreement, you move to a richer medium, you get a phone, a video, face-to-face, you don’t send them after 10:00 PM or whatever it is people agree on. “Here are the five things that would help us out the most.”

The last column is, “What are the five things we’re not going to do, the ways we’re not going to misuse this?” It’s amazing how an hour discussion where everybody gets on the same page has an impact. People are not taught that. They don’t get an agreement on it. You ask the leaders and they say, “My team will figure it out.” You start wondering, “How? When?” You don’t listen. The incremental time games are significant when people focus on the culture of views.

The one thing I’ll say that I don’t think it’s there yet is there are technologies like Workplace Analytics or others that are looking at email patterns, meeting data or things like that, looking at people’s networks using passive sources like that. That’s going to help us see better and better the collaborative footprint of work, which is one of the things that’s killing us. In most organizations, we’re able to somehow track expenses down to two decimal places but we have no idea where 85% or more of people’s time is going in these collaborations and what’s effective or what isn’t.

The more that those tools come into place start to help us see how is poor role design, decision right allocation or a culture of fear. How’s that driving excess collaboration through the roof? That will be an important thing as we move forward from a productivity standpoint. Not so much to speed the interactions but to understand how our ways of structuring work and assuming that more collaboration is universally better and fewer layers are always better, how much that creates overload points and how we’re doing things.

That reminds me of when I used to teach a team activity for a technology-based school in Arizona here. They used a wiki to teach the class and you can see on the backside in the code who’s doing what and when. It was very interesting to me because having gone through all the education I’ve had and being on so many teams in education where I ended up pretty much writing the paper for everybody because nobody wanted to do anything. You see what people are doing. Do you think people are going to feel like they’re too micro-managed to analyze if you start looking at where their time is going?

We do this all the time when we run the analytics in organizations. It’s a matter of how you use the information ultimately. When we do the network analytics, one of the cool things we can do is give each member of that team, unit, layer, entire organization or however we looked at it a report on their own connectivity. The way we do it is not saying, “Rob, you’re turning to Diane but she’s not coming back to you. Why is that?” It’s not about disclosing the relationships. What we’re doing is pulling out the analytics and saying, “Your network is more insular than your peer group.” It’s not who you’re connected to but these sideways bar charts. You’re seen as a little bit more of an energizer than the people around you. We know that matters hugely for performance and networks.

I’m finding that when we can go at it at that level and people start to see, “I have bias building into my network. I have gaps that I need to fill. I’m turning to the same people too much,” can be a helpful tool in ways that a lot of analytics like a traditional culture survey or things that don’t have intrinsic value for the individual. A huge amount of it depends on how it’s used. You can imagine that in the wrong hands, there could be a big brother focus coming in and doing things in an ineffective way, for sure.

The bias would be fun to chat about maybe another time because that ties so much into my work in perception. You and I have plenty to talk about because we have a lot of overlap in a lot of the things we’re interested in. This has been fun. A lot of people are going to get a lot out of your book, Beyond Collaboration Overload. If they wanted to find out more about your book or more about you, how would they do that?

I would suggest two places. One is my website, That’s a place that I end up putting a tremendous amount of the resources in the emerging cases, white papers and things like that from the consortium. The second place would be the consortium itself and that’s called The Connected Commons. That’s a vibrant and awesome community of organizations that are building out different ways of thinking about how to manage in these hyper-connected times. Cool examples of things that people are doing can be found there.

TTL 880 Rob Cross | Collaboration Overload
Collaboration Overload: Technology can help people see the collaborative footprint of work. If you are able to track where 85% of people’s time is going in these collaborations. That would help people see the problems.


This was such a great conversation, Rob. You’re doing things that are so helpful, especially with COVID and everything that’s going on. Anything that could improve our working day is going to be such an important read. Thank you so much for sharing.

Thank you for having me. I appreciate it.

You’re welcome.

Understanding Perception With Dr. Diane Hamilton

I get many great guests on the show. Sometimes I want to take a little bit of time to talk about some of the research I do. I’m going to talk to you about perception and some of the work I did with Dr. Maja Zelihic, who is also one of the people I’ve worked with at the Forbes School of Business. She’s been great in this process of researching how perception process in our mind, opinions, version of the truth, biases and how we live. What’s in a rose? Would it smell as sweet by any other name? All that that we read about.

We looked at what we can do with the perception in the workplace to discuss it. We looked at it as a combination of IQ, EQ, CQ for Cultural Quotient and for Curiosity Quotient. We thought, “This is something that they’re not talking about enough in the workplace.” We talked about this perception reality and to what extent our perception is true. They’re our just perceptions. What a reality to us may not be the reality to them.

There is a truth to some extent but what’s real and all that? We start to get into this analysis paralysis thinking about it. We thought, “If we’re thinking like this, we need to showcase what others have done to try and look at this because the world is changing.” We’ve seen The World is Flat by Thomas Friedman, which is a great book. We know that what we used to think is the reality of everything that we thought we could do but it’s different. We’re becoming more connected and we know that there are a lot more issues with global tragedies.

As companies are trying to do work in a global dot-com industry, it’s a lot different from how we look at things than when I originally got into the workplace or when Maja got into it. We’re looking at some of our belief systems of what shaped us both consciously and unconsciously. If we know that, we can be more responsive and respond to this multicultural and multi-language world in which we’re living.

If we can monitor our perceptions and guide them towards where we want to go or where we don’t want to go and understand what other people believe and maybe not necessarily agree with everything that they believe in, we can understand that and see where they’re coming from. That way, we manage our perceptions and we’re able to build empathy, which is a big part of emotional intelligence.

Maybe you can’t walk a mile in my shoes but we can have a better appreciation for what it would be like to do that. We looked at what was available in terms of assessments out there of how we can test, validate and do all these things with that. We came up with a Perception Power Index, which goes along with the book, The Power of Perception. Those are the things that we’re going to talk about.

[bctt tweet=”Incremental time gains are really significant when people focus on cultural views.” username=””]

We come into this world with this predisposition of how we view and interpret things. Imagine if you’re born where you are compared to if you were born somewhere else. We know that twins are different if they were separated at birth. There’s a different upbringing. We have this cultural impact on how our behaviors, our beliefs and everything that we relate to are impacted by our social, ethnic, age group and everything. We’re seeing that there’s a lot more conflict in the world. A lot of it is because we don’t understand each other that well.

Something that we don’t even think about is acceptable or not questionable here in the United States might be something very questionable in another culture. If you’re wearing a miniskirt in Brazil, it’s a lot different than if you’re worrying that in Saudi Arabia, for example. We have to appreciate where other people are coming from. Maybe we’re allowing our culture and our society to dictate what we’re thinking and perceiving.

I’ve had Joe Lurie on the show. He’s got a great book, A Mind Opening Journey Across Culture, where he writes about all the different perceptions of things that he’s found in different cultures. Eye contact in Western cultures is maybe candor and confident but if you go to Africa, they don’t want to do that. Eye contact with a person of authority, you’ve got to worry about respect. There are lots of different issues when you’re talking about the Western culture versus other cultures. In Asian cultures, they might use a calculator to negotiate the price of things but you might not want to do that in some other areas because it may seem disrespectful.

Looking at different areas is fascinating, even how certain hand gestures mean one thing. It might mean A-okay in one language and maybe insulting in another culture. A lot of studies look at Western culture versus other cultures and that is worth reviewing. We know that there’s a lot of stereotyping going on. We’re trying to get away from that and from biases. We have biases.

Beau Lotto talked about that on my show. I hope you’ve read that episode. He talks about how you need it and how you can’t live without some bias to give you some decision-making ability. We have to pay attention to unconscious bias. We’ve got to be careful that we don’t come across as arrogant or condescending. Saying something like, “Keep it simple, stupid,” might mean one thing in one language. We have that as a saying and it’s not meant to be insulting but if you tell it to somebody else, it could be very insulting.

These are the things that we were looking at when we decided that we needed to look at cultural quotients, IQ, CQ, our drive, motivation, knowledge, cognition, metacognition and all those things to look at how we come up with these actions or behaviors. Do we have to adapt to customs or should they adapt to ours? Should we be more tolerant of differences? Change is a big thing that we teach in business classes and being proactive to it is also important. We know that we have these teams where there are in-groupers and out-groupers. We want to try and get people to get along.

I’ve had Amy Edmondson talking about teams, teaming and how people get along. A lot of collaboration is about having the curiosity to ask questions and learn from each other. We want to look at the path that we’re on that’s similar but also understand the path that we’re on that’s not so similar. Some of the things that impact that are things like spirituality. Whether you’re religious or not, it can be different. Some people have this impact of how important their spirituality or their religion is to them where other people might be agnostic or atheist and that could completely shape your whole perception of the situation at hand. You might accidentally insult someone without even realizing how important something is to them.

I don’t think a lot of people give a lot of thought to the differences of how much strength that can have in their ideas and things that they question or don’t question. It can have a big impact because we inherit a lot of beliefs from our family. We personalize our beliefs. We take things that work for us or maybe don’t work for us. We make something around what works in our situation. That can make us think we’re right and they’re wrong and vice versa. That is a problem in the business world if we don’t examine what is shaping what these people are coming up with or not coming up with.

Having personalized beliefs are fine but even though Stephen Covey says, “Spiritual renewal is one of the habits that are essential to effective leadership,” we have to look at what’s your greater purpose? What do they think is their greater purpose? What are our values or our ethical principles? What are theirs? What will our legacy be? What is theirs? Those are the things that we researched in terms of how people use their religion and spirituality. It was also fun to look at gender to see the differences of how people look at paintings.

TTL 880 Rob Cross | Collaboration Overload
Beyond Collaboration Overload: How to Work Smarter, Get Ahead, and Restore Your Well-Being

There was a comment that we put in the book. Two strangers, a man or woman, were visiting an art gallery and found themselves standing next to one another staring at a painting of an old country estate. It’s replete with an elderly man sitting in a rocking chair on a front porch of a mansion with various barns, outbuildings and serving his background. The woman without prompting commented, “What a beautiful painting, so serene and peaceful. A beautiful blend of man and nature.” The man commented in response, “That barn looks like it’s in dire need of a paint job.”

We both look at the same thing but we see different aspects. There’s not that one’s right and one’s wrong. It could be the opposite way round. It could be the man seeing the great thing, the woman saying the opposite. We don’t want to stereotype necessarily but it’s interesting to see that men and women do see things a little bit differently. There are psychological differences. These have been documented, including differences in their brains.

We hear gender bias and we know studies show women are viewed, treated and paid differently. We know there’s predominance in the number of men compared to women in executive positions. Those are the things that are important for leaders to recognize. We have to know the origins of all this and why we see things through these different lenses. We know that men’s brains are structurally different than the female brain and that’s a fascinating thing to look at in itself. We’re not going to exactly see things in the same way.

There is a New York Times bestseller book called The Female Brain by Louann Brizendine, a neuropsychiatrist. She also later wrote The Male Brain. She guides you through how the brains of each gender differ and how they shape our behaviors from the time we’re infants all the way into adulthood. The women’s perceptions and behaviors are different from men’s mostly due to hormones. We do have different hormones. We know that women have more estrogen, progesterone. We even have testosterone not as much as the men. It goes all the way back to some of these hormones. It’s how we are influenced by them.

I talked to Tom Peters on the show. That’s a great episode if you get a chance to look at it. He talked about The Female Brain. He recalled an article from Duke University Basketball, Coach Mike Krzyzewski. In the Sunday Times magazine section, he described how that coach, often referred to as Coach K, would bring his wife to all the team meetings. He said the reason was so she would see what was going on in player’s lives that he didn’t notice. She would smell of a problem of a girlfriend 100 miles away or some kind of distraction. He didn’t think men psychologically saw those things. He found it fascinating as an observation.

There are differences. If we pretend like we’re not different, that doesn’t work and we get uncomfortable. If we look at that as one thing being better than another, that’s also uncomfortable. It’s important to recognize that these things are part of us and that we’re intended to be different. We’re not intended to be exactly the same. Wouldn’t life be super boring if it was that way?

I thought that that would be something that you talk about in the workplace of what we can get. We know that the percentage of women in the workplace is increasing, that the rate of women occupying key roles in the workplace is on the rise and that women are being hired into leadership roles more often than they were CEOs at an increasing rate. We’d like to see it higher. We know that women are bringing different perceptions into the workplace. Those are different aspirations.

It is an interesting thing to look at how we’re genetically wired differently from birth. These differences are spawning this ground for this history of beliefs and stereotypes of how we’re taught to view each other. We’re carving a different road for ourselves, the women versus the men. That’s important to know that we’re evolving. When we’re doing that, we’re impacted by our intelligence in this process.

We talk about IQ and EQ. If we’re thinking of intelligence as what we know and how we apply what we know, we know that we need to be able to use our intelligence to understand how to relate with one another. We know that our intelligence and our perceptions evolve in different ways. Fluid versus crystallized intelligence comes about.

[bctt tweet=”People come into this world with this predisposition to how they view and interpret things.” username=””]

There’s some great work by Raymond Cattell, who talked about that. If you ever get a chance to read some of his work, there are all these different types of what we learn and how it changes over time. It’s an important thing to look at. Also Howard Gardner is very heavily cited in the area of types of intelligence. We thought we had one kind but he studied all these different types of abilities that we have. You could have naturalistic, music, logical, mathematical, existential, body, kinesthetic, verbal, linguistic, intrapersonal, visual-spatial and interpersonal intelligence. The list goes on and on.

To say somebody is smart is a hard thing to do because there are these different types of ways of being smart. How do you value that intelligence? What’s important in your culture for that type of intelligence? That was interesting to us as we went through all the different ways that we grow, learn and apply what we know.

We also looked at emotions as in emotional intelligence in that aspect as well. I had written my doctoral dissertation on emotional intelligence and that’s such a huge area. It was great to have Daniel Goleman on the show to talk about emotional intelligence. If you haven’t read that episode, I highly recommend it.

Emotions play a big part in how we make decisions. Empathy is a big part of emotional intelligence. Sometimes that ties into curiosity that we’re asking questions to learn more about each other. Our emotions can be different across cultures. There are different studies between Japanese and American subjects. They found facial expressions and non-verbal behaviors vary significantly between them.

I had Paul Ekman on the show. The TV show, Lie To Me, was based on his work. There are certain expressions that we all make that are the same, whether you’re blind or not. I thought that was fascinating. My father was born blind. It’s interesting what things we have similar and then other things that are completely different. It’s conceptually different based on the way you grow up and the influences around you of how you respond to your emotions.

Your emotions can make you perceive failure differently either. Some of us have the fight or flight response. Some of us will run from it or run to it but most of us have that sense that failure is not our favorite thing. Our perception of failure can influence how much we explore things and ask questions. It gets back into curiosity again.

I tell a story in my talks and I write one in the book about different experiences where sometimes you’re in a sales presentation where you get your rear end handed to you. You might be on a call with your partner and your partner thinks it’s the worst thing in the world, where you might think it’s the best thing because you’ve learned everything you need to know to fix your next presentation.

If you don’t learn these things, sometimes your perception will get you down and you’ll quit. You have to learn from failure and if you don’t, you’re going to end up being the glass-half-empty person and won’t move forward. You’ll stay where you are and move backward. That’s what we’re trying to avoid by understanding perception.

The other thing that we looked at when we were looking at perception was if it’s your reality or not. Looking at some of the perception experts, especially Beau Lotto, I love his TED Talks. He talked about a lot of great things on the show. If you want to know perception versus reality, I would look at some of that because it’s fascinating.

TTL 880 Rob Cross | Collaboration Overload
Collaboration Overload: You need to be able to use your intelligence to understand how to relate with one another. Your intelligence and perception evolve in different ways.


Talking about perception, you need to talk about collaboration because collaboration is a required skillset in the workplace. If you’re being hindered by your perceptions, there are so many variables. Think of the questions we ask ourselves. “Does this project intrigue us? Does it motivate us? Do we like our teammates? Do we like our leader? Do we like the role that we’ve been given?” You look at all this and if you’re getting mixed reasons for why you like something or don’t like something, a lot of it could be your perception of it.

When we talk about collaboration, I always think about Amy Edmondson‘s TED Talk because that ties into how they got the Chilean miners out in that disaster. These people were able to work together and collaborate because they maybe had different perceptions but they knew that it was life or death, in this case, to help people get out from under that rock.

Understanding that perception is critical to collaboration and getting people to work together. Being innovative and creative is interesting. Gallup says we’re losing $500 billion a year on engagement. We know that people want to be collaborative. If we don’t have this ability to get along, that’s going to be huge. We want people to be creative and see things differently.

In the Dead Poets Society movie, Robin Williams had the students get on top of their desks to look at life in a different way. He said, “To make a difference, you must see things differently.” That’s a key point that a lot of people always are looking at things from their vantage point. They don’t get on top of their desk and look at things from another way.

I’ve done a lot of training classes where we’ve given Legos and we’ve had people build things as teams in collaborative ways. It’s fun to see them get ideas from each other and go, “I would have never looked at it that way.” If you aren’t a big fan of teams, sometimes it’s helpful to get on a team with people who are completely different than you are because if everybody thinks the same way, life’s boring.

It helps to look at things from a critical thinking standpoint and to do research. How did these people do this? How have they made it successful? What facts support their argument? What’s the source of their information? How did they come to that conclusion? We’re back to curiosity again. Those are the questions we need to ask ourselves. I don’t think we get enough of that. There are lots of people who want to take things at face value based on what they’ve always known and what supports the values that they’ve always had. That’s common for people.

You watch the same either CNN, Fox or whatever that supports your values because it makes you comfortable. It is important to get curious and get outside. Our perception suggests we know something but our curiosity proves that we don’t. We need to know what we don’t know. A lot of people aren’t asking enough questions. That’s the thing that in the book Cracking the Curiosity Code is a huge part of changing the culture in organizations.

I often talk a lot about that to groups because if we can ask more questions, we can get better at decision-making. Decision-making can be challenging. I love a quote by Deepak Chopra where he says, “If you obsess over whether you’re making the right decision, you’re assuming that the universe will reward you for one thing and punish you for another.” If you think about that, you always think you have the right or the wrong thing but it’s not necessarily the case. There are shades of gray. Not everything is black and white. That’s what I find particularly fascinating in the research that we did.

If we’re trying to fix all the things in work and fix engagement in which you’re losing $500 billion a year according to Gallup, when people are financially invested, they want to return but when people are emotionally invested, they want to contribute. That’s what we need to do, get people emotionally invested at work and contributing. Part of that is to ask questions and to understand each other better. We’re back to empathy, which is a big part of emotional intelligence and then we’re getting that perception of the other person’s ideas. We’re seeing it not just from our standpoint but from theirs.

Some of the questions that we need to ask to improve engagement are, “Do my employees feel they’re growing in their work? Are they being recognized for their work? Do they trust that the company’s on the right track?” Those are some of the things that lead to great communication. I had Kevin Kruse on the show and he has a great book on information about engagement and that’s helpful. All this is so that we can be better leaders and better employees. We have to sometimes suspend our beliefs and be agile. Look in some of the words that we hear a lot about vulnerability.

[bctt tweet=”You can’t live without some kind of bias to give you some decision-making ability.” username=””]

Brené Brown made a lifelong career out of that. A lot of people don’t feel comfortable doing that. That’s what led to our interest in looking at what the perception process is and how we can manage our perceptions. Creating an assessment would be important and an epic decision of how we can help people understand what they go through. What does the process look like? We found it’s about evaluating, predicting, interpreting and reshaping or correlating one’s perceptions.

The EPIC acronym we came up with is Evaluation, Prediction, Interpretation and Correlation. Those are the things that if you take the Perception Power Index, you will find out how you’re doing in those areas? What could you do to improve your EPIC process? It’s similar if you’ve taken The Curiosity Code Index. It’s simple. You get your results right away and you can find out a lot more about how well you go through this process and what things are holding you back. If you get a baseline of, “This is how I am at this,” then you know how to move forward.

Let’s look at some of these because, in an evaluation, you’re going to examine and assess. You’re going to do a lot of these different things that you can recognize if you’re open to thoughts or ideas that you look at from your own perspective of your self-awareness. I think of this one in that respect. If you applied this element of emotional intelligence and self-awareness, then you’re going to get along better and you’re going to be able to be more aware of how you come across to other people. That’s a lot of a problem. I see a lot of people who don’t recognize body language, issues, tone or if they’re typing in all caps. There are all these different things they can do of how they come across and they don’t realize it.

They can predict how the other person’s going to act. In a way, that’s another part of emotional intelligence. It’s their interpersonal awareness of, “Are they able to understand where the other person is coming from, what their perception is, their capabilities, their abilities and how they make decisions?” It’s very challenging to predict what other people are going to do if you don’t look into what they’re doing, have empathy, ask questions and have that sense of emotional intelligence. It’s only then that you can make your interpretation.

In your interpretation, you have to consider how all of this impacts your decision. The curiosity comes into this. You’re making assumptions and you’re looking at how their fear is impacting them. A lot of this ties back into their culture of how they were raised. We know that behavior and different things are not rewarded in certain systems. We need to look at that. How did their culture and the company culture shape them?

It’s about assessing and understanding your own emotions for the EPIC part but the I part is more about putting it collectively together to interpret what you know. You end with your conclusions. Your correlation is your final C of the EPIC process because now that you have all this, you can come up with your solutions and conclusions after researching your facts. This is the critical thinking aspect of it all.

We know that there are so many great ideas that come out but if you don’t go to the part where you end coming up with the idea taking what you’ve learned in this group setting and changing a little bit of your behavior so you can have a win-win situation, you haven’t come to any kind of conclusion that’s going to be good for everybody. Those are some of the main points that we make in what we’re talking about in this EPIC process and this power of perception. This would be something critical to share.

You can take the Perception Power Index at All the assessments are there. You can take the Curiosity Code Index, the Perception Power Index, even DISC and emotional intelligence tests. A lot of that is all there. If you don’t see it in the drop-down menus at the top, there are more menus at the bottom. I hope you contact me if you have any questions and I hope that this helps you understand perception a little better.

I’d like to thank Rob for being my guest. We get so many great guests. If you’ve missed any past episodes, please go to I hope you join us for the next episode of the show.

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About Rob Cross

TTL 880 Rob Cross | Collaboration Overload

Rob Cross, the Edward A. Madden Professor of Global Leadership at Babson College, is a renowned thinker, writer, and speaker whose category-defying ideas have influenced fields as diverse as organizational design, change, collaboration, teams, agility, innovation, and talent optimization.

He is the author of Beyond Collaboration Overload: How to Work Smarter, Get Ahead, and Restore Your Well-Being. He is the co-founder and Research Director of the Connected Commons business consortium. Cross has authored six Harvard Business Review articles on practical approaches to enhancing collaboration.

He is the co-author of five books, including The Hidden Power of Social Networks, and author of Beyond Collaboration Overload: How to Work Smarter, Get Ahead, and Restore Your Well-Being.

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