The Intersection of Ambition, Anger and Fear

In my book Two Cheers for Democracy, the correlation between anger and disgust (versus happiness) and being a totalitarian leader was clear-cut. China’s Xi Jinping fits the mold, leaving Betsy DeVos a wanna-be dictator.
Don’t let Xi Jinping’s smile or Betsy DeVos’s fear fool you; they’re both determined as can be.

Lately, I’ve been obsessing over how anger and fear are often two sides of the very same coin: fight-or-flight responses to danger. I got there, first, due to the three-headed monster of Covid-19, the resulting economic tailspin, and the justified civil unrest ignited by the murder of George Floyd. In every case people feel uncertainty, a sense of circumstances beyond their control. Where things get emotionally complex is that fear can turn into anger. That’s because the anxiety that comes with uncertainty can—in an emotional sleight-of-hand maneuver—be “resolved” by anger that offers relief from danger by compelling us forward to take charge of our destiny. (See my earlier blog, Anger Management: Emojis Cloud the Picture)

So I started my obsession by seeing how fear and anger intertwine around the issue of control. Then I started looking more broadly at another intersection: between ambition and a desire for control. That step brings me today to China’s leader Xi Jinping and to the U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. 

I can’t think of anybody more ambitious on the world stage right now than Xi. From the crackdown in Hong Kong, to almost daily military incursions into the waterways and air space of Taiwan, to suppressing the birthrate in the Muslim province of Xinjiang, China is on the march. And that’s just a part of Xi’s goal of overturning the previous century of Western domination. Look at Xi’s facial expressions and the one constant is low-grade smiles tightened by the presence of anger. And yet underlying that anger is concern about whether China’s Communist Party can maintain its control over its vast population. 

Turning to America’s home front, DeVos’s facial expressions on national TV this past weekend were a study in fear. How to justify sending students and teachers back into the classroom this fall with a pandemic raging and no meaningful federal government response? From Fox News to CNN, DeVos dutifully made the media rounds: angerly supporting Donald Trump’s threat to cut off funds to school districts that don’t comply by opening up again soon. At the same time, however, that DeVos’s words ran hot her face betrayed anxiety whenever she was challenged by a news anchor to explain how this will all work. Open-eyed looks and rising eyebrows did nothing to convey assurance that this will all work out as not-planned. What didn’t waver was DeVos’s long-cherished goal of challenging the validity of public schools, given her faith- and class-based preference for “saving America” with more private, parochial schools.

This week’s new podcast is also to no small degree about fear, anger and ambition. My interview of novelist Siri Hustvedt concerns the character of S.H., who moves to New York City to become a writer and must cope with isolation, self-doubt and slights, large and small, from various men –culminating in a guy attempting to rape her. That scene falls at literally the midpoint of the novel, with half its pages still to follow. And there at the heart of the book occurs a change of heart, as S.H.’s greater assertiveness is manifested most clearly in the pocketknife that she begins to carry around with her for self-protection.

Now, not everyone carries a knife (or a gun). But in every case, anger can become a virtual weapon—perpetuating harm—or a benign source of self-empowerment. The choice of how we utilize anger lies at least somewhat within our conscious powers of control. Stay tuned: anger and fear aren’t going anywhere. Those two emotions will undergird almost every major news story you read for the rest of 2020. Of that much, I can assure you.  

Coping with Danger: How to Build Up Your Resiliency

Mysteries of Time & Memory

Released today: episode 10 of Dan Hill’s EQ Spotlight podcast, featuring Siri Hustvedt, the author of the novel Memories of the Future. Listen to the clip below and click on the image to get to the new episode.

Esteemed novelist Siri Hustvedt foreshadowed the #metoo movement with her novel about a young women who fights against male condescension.
The novelist investigates the vagaries of memory as recollection changes every narrative.

How Do We Write Our Personal History at the Same Time That It’s Written for Us?

The Literary Review (UK) has called Hustvedt “a twenty-first-century Virginia Woolf.” She’s the author of seven novels, four collections of essays, and two works of nonfiction. Hustvedt has a PhD in English literature from Columbia University and lectures in psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medical College. She is also the recipient of numerous awards, including the European Essay Prize.

Topics covered in this episode include:

  • What it can mean to be a heroine instead of a hero, including in regards to which emotions might conventionally be considered “off-limits.”
  • The role that the author’s over-a-dozen drawings play in this novel.
  • Musings on what the roots of ambition might be, and how ambition and shame, as well as memory and imagination are often intertwined.

Dan Hill, PhD, is the president of Sensory Logic, Inc.

Teamwork Versus a Noose

NASCAR buddies: a joyful Bubba Wallace and Richard Petty share a laugh.
Joy - the muscle around the eye tightens, creating a twinkle in the eye
happiness - broad smiles, cheeks raised
NASCAR buddies: a joyful Bubba Wallace and Richard Petty share a laugh.

Yes, there are people who consider happiness a “trivial” emotion in the business world. “Back to your desk and get to work.” Those might be the words of a domineering, old-fashioned boss. But truth be told, happiness is essentially about embracing others, yourself and new ideas. It’s an emotion that grows the pie. I’ve been thinking about the power of happiness this week because the country’s boss-man, Donald Trump, decided it would profit his campaign or simply his id to attack NASCAR driver Bubba Wallace in a tweet. Wallace’s response: “Even when it’s HATE from the POTUS. Love wins.”

The noose found in Wallace’s stall at the Talladega Superspeedway in Alabama by his race team led to NASCAR in general and racing legend Richard Petty in particular embracing the sport’s only full-time black driver. Due to Wallace’s cap and Petty’s sunglasses, I can’t say for sure. But given their expansive, inviting smiles, I would bet big-time that both guys are actually exhibiting joyous, true smiles, whereby the muscle around the eye tightens and creates a twinkle in the eye.

Happiness is also on my mind this week because, for my podcast, I interviewed a cheerful Caroline Stokes. One of her book’s best ideas is that a new hire would benefit from a small support team meeting at the end of that person’s first week on the job, and again at the 50- and 100-day mark, to help the new hire navigate without “crashing”. Such assistance made me think of Wallace and his 43 team yet again because doesn’t a support team function in effect like a NASCAR pit crew? Change the tires, refuel the tank, and you’re quickly on your way. If only the Trump administration’s response to covid-19 could function half as well.

Getting Up to Speed in a New Job

Released today: episode 9 of “Dan Hill’s EQ Spotlight” podcast, featuring Caroline Stokes, author of Elephants Before Unicorns. Listen to the clip below and click on the image to get to the new episode. And if you like what you hear, please subscribe, and give a rating and review on iTunes.

Photo of guest author Caroline Stokes and her book Elephants Before Unicorns, on Episode 9 of Dan Hill's EQ Spotlight podcast "Do You Want To Be an Ostrich?"
This episode covers on-boarding, diversity and more.

How does avoidance of conflict ultimately create more conflict in the workplace?

Stokes is the CEO of FORWARD, and the podcast host of The Emotionally Intelligent Recruiter. She is an award-winning leadership coach and thinker, partnering with global leaders throughout their career and leadership cycle.

Topics covered in this episode include:

  • The emotions that inadvertently inspire the behavior of both push-over and bully bosses, and the likely emotional responses of their direct reports.
  • How the risk of employee disengagement can get short-circuited before it happens.
  • What are steps that can ensure a better on-boarding experience for the new employee, including CEO’s (whose turn-over rate is 50% within the first 18 months on the job).

Dan Hill, PhD, is the president of Sensory Logic, Inc.

When Change “Gets to You”

Real change is never easy. Witness the couple made famous this week for brandishing guns in front of their five-story mansion in west St. Louis. A stream of Black Lives Matter protesters are walking to the mayor’s house nearby. It’s anger meets anger, and fortunately nobody got hurt.

Now, I admit that when I first saw the media coverage, I half-wanted to laugh. The guy reminds me more of Ned Beatty’s hapless suburbanite character in Deliverance than he does a stalwart Burt Reynolds. So I expected to find fear on the guy’s face. But make no mistake about it, the man and his wife are both mad. Eyebrows lowered, mouths tight, they’re determined but not equally irate. Her eyes are glaringly wide and her mouth is tighter, more defiant than her husband’s. It’s probably good that the wife was carrying the lesser weapon of the two. When I watched the guy on Chris Cuomo’s CNN show, I was surprised to hear that he’s apparently a Black Lives Matter supporter.

All of this just goes to show that when change comes – no matter how warranted – human beings are unlikely to take it well. This is true for work and home life, too. Truly embracing change is the topic and expertise of this week’s guest on my podcast. For her book, she conducted research that found that when companies re-organize to address a changing marketplace (think “needed” change), one-fifth of all managers qualify as worried skeptics. Could that number be higher? The St Louis couple’s reaction suggests that change can “get to us” in alarming ways, even when needed change comes to our own neighborhood.

Amid Change, What Type of Employee Are You?

Released today: episode 8 of Dan Hill’s EQ Spotlight podcast, featuring Charlene Li, the author of The Disruption Mindset:Why Some Organizations Transform While Others Fail

IdeaPress Publishing 2019

What does it take for a company’s culture to enable ongoing growth?

Li is the author of six books, including the New York Times bestseller, Open Leadership, and is also the co-author of Groundswell. She is the Founder and Senior Fellow at Altimeter, a research and consulting firm, as well as a graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Business School.

Topics covered in this episode include:

  • Five kinds of employees, and how that that model feeds into the four archetypes of disruptive leaders: steadfast managers, realist optimists, worried skeptics, and agent provocateurs.
  • How mid-size companies can avoid the “permafrost” layer that limits the flexibility of larger companies. 
  • How is the challenge of being a disruptive leader different if you’re female or a minority member versus being a white male?

Dan Hill, PhD, is the President of Sensory Logic, Inc.

Help Dan Hill’s EQ Spotlight Reach New & Noteworthy on iTunes

Horse Racing photo by Softeis, 05/28/2005 at Galopp Riem, Munich, Germany.

The usual Kentucky Derby race lasts all of 2 minutes. It’s slightly better trying to win a spot on iTunes’ list of New & Noteworthy podcasts – but not by much!

Your podcast qualifies based on the first 8 weeks on performance. So how you break from the gate is EVERYTHING.

Here’s to hoping you might check out the first few episodes, and subscribe, give a 5-star rating and/or a review. Every little bit helps.

There are two currencies in life: dollars and emotions. For the past 20 years in running my EQ-oriented market research firm Sensory Logic, Inc. I’ve tried to help clients achieve more “bang for their buck” by ensuring they create the greatest degree of emotional connection possible with prospects and existing loyal customers.

Every Thursday we will be dropping new episodes highlighting my conversations with prominent authors across a wealth of topics that include all aspects of business – from the marketplace to the workplace – as well as conversations about world events, culture, sports, psychology, and more.

Anger Management: Emojis Cloud the Picture

Want to send a mad-as-hell email, but you’re not sure which anger emoji to use? Welcome to chaos. My quick study of over a dozen anger emoji options reveals ambiguity and errors. The two most common depictions of anger show widened eyes combined with downward, inward pinched eyebrows. But that pair of facial muscle activities conveys fear as much as it does anger. Also commonly shown: an open mouth that suggests the presence of surprise and fear rather than anger.

Probably the worst anger emoji belongs to emojidex. After all, a distorted mouth depicts feeling sadness and disgust, not anger. What’s the most accurate anger emoji? The one from OpenMoji. Besides the usual eyes wide and eyebrows down combination, it alone shows a mouth with the lips pressed tight together. The second best anger emoji comes from Facebook. The company has added vertical wrinkles between the eyes with lowered eyebrows. That visual detail emphasizes a specific version of anger, focused concern.

Oddly, none of the anger emojis I reviewed had all of the most reliable tell-tale signs of anger. There are three of them: narrowed eyes, a jutting chin, lips pressed hard together (the opposite of an open, gaping mouth). Time to head back to the drawing board for graphic artists seeking to depict anger.

Anger’s Anatomy – A Deeper Look

Harnessing the Power of Perceptions

Released today: episode 7 of Dan Hill’s EQ Spotlight podcast series, featuring Emily Balcetis, the author of Clearer, Closer, Better:How Successful People See the World. Listen to the clip below and click on the image to get to the new episode.

Ballantine Books 2020

How can we improve our productivity by literally seeing the world differently than before?

Balcetis is an associate professor psychology at New York University. She received her PhD from Cornell University and has authored over 70 scientific publications in addition to being a TED speaker.

Topics covered in this episode include:

  • What are the four general perceptual shifts that research suggest make a huge difference in improving our odds of success in tackling projects and other initiatives. 
  • Which emotion or emotions may best fit or spur on each of those four strategies.
  • Of all the research studies that went into this book, which one is Balcetis’s favorite. Why did this optical “trick” lead to double-digit growth in the likelihood of making progress.

Dan Hill, PhD, is the president of Sensory Logic, Inc.

History Simultaneously Made & Un-Made

Things started in my home community of Minneapolis-St. Paul with imagery too disturbing to show here. Odds are that you’ve seen the video of police officer Derek Chauvin with his knee clamped down on George Floyd’s neck. During that agonizing 8:46 sequence, one moment, one image, gives us our clearest look at Chauvin’s face. You may be surprised to hear that fear and surprise are part of Chauvin’s emoting then. His right eyebrow is cocked upwards, deep wrinkles across his forehead. But the narrowed left eye, the glaring right eye, and the mouth showing a taut hint of a smile suggest anger and happiness–even pleasure–in defying the calls of witnesses to let Floyd catch his breath.

Elsewhere since Floyd’s death, the Black Lives Matter movement has become the catalyst for a wider social-economic critique of what has transpired historically and, therefore, what needs to change. Slavery isn’t just an American sin, of course. The left image shows the statute of English slave trader, Edward Colston, after getting retrieved from the harbor in Bristol, England. His claw like hand reinforces the menace of a mouth pulled tight in controlling anger. Washington Post photo

The right image shows both reform-minded protesters (like those in Bristol) and members of the so-called “New Mexico Civic Guard.” The guys with the angry, lips-pressed look are part of a right-wing militia group objecting to the removal of a statue in Albuquerque, New Mexico celebrating Juan de Onate: a cruel 16th century colonial governor whose reign feeds into a history of Anglo dominance across the state. New York Times article It’s a truism that history is written by the victors. Maybe just maybe we’re witnessing the miracle of history being unwritten so it can be rewritten, or at least co-written, by those who have been subjugated instead. 

Boom, Slump, Crash, Bail: Our Fragile Economy

Released today: episode 6 of Dan Hill’s EQ Spotlight podcast series, featuring Eric Lonergan and Mark Blyth, authors of Angrynomics. Listen to the clip below and click on the image to get to the new episode.

Agenda Publishing / Columbia University Press (2020)

How are we going to address inequality and put the economy on a sounder footing? 

Lonergan is an economist and macro fund manager in London whose writings often appear in The Financial Times. Blyth is a political economist at Brown University who received his PhD in political science from Columbia University.

Topics covered in this episode include:

  • An exploration of how the emotions of anger, fear and disgust animate both the long-term economic stresses in society and those brought on by the Covid-19 crisis.
  • What the differences are between moral outrage versus tribal outrage. 
  • Descriptions of three, potentially viable and game-changing solutions, including among them a “data dividend” and the creation of national wealthy funds like those in Norway and beyond.

Dan Hill is the President of Sensory Logic, Inc.,

Dan Hill’s EQ Spotlight: How Trump Happened

There are two currencies in life: dollars and emotions. For the past 20 years in running my EQ-oriented market research firm Sensory Logic, Inc, I’ve tried to help clients achieve more “bang for their buck” by ensuring they create the greatest degree of emotional connection possible with prospects and existing loyal customers.

Every Thursday we will be dropping new episodes (including the first four, released last week), highlighting my conversations with prominent authors across a wealth of topics that include all aspects of business – from the marketplace to the workplace – as well as conversations about world events, culture, sports, psychology, and more. I’m hoping you’ll listen in, and if you like what you hear consider subscribing to my series as well as giving it positive ratings and reviews. Every little bit helps in launching an enterprise or project, as I’m sure all of you know well!

Here is a short excerpt featuring Steven Schier, co-author of How Trump Happened: A System Shock Decades in the Making

And You Thought Your Office Was Crazy

In the TV show “The Office,” Michael Scott and crew at the Scranton, Pennsylvania branch of the mythical Dunder Mifflin Paper Company exaggerate – only somewhat – the petty, irrational craziness of office life. Who needs a logical plot? Steve Carell’s character, Michael the boss, provides much of the rising and falling action himself through his eyebrows. They rise in alarm at a problem (often of his own making) and knit together as he arrives at yet another, bogus solution.

Other key players include: Michael’s frequent henchman, Dwight, who when not stunned by misfortune is mostly angry and all action; Pam, alternatively alarmed, annoyed and resolute; and her softer-shoe husband, Jim, who can be shy (eyes down) or fearful (mouth pulled wide) when he’s not displaying one of trademark his lopsided grins.

Office life as we’ve known it may never return to what it once was pre-coronavirus. A place of camaraderie and courtship, the workplace is also a setting where we see office politics play out before our eyes. Can we discern where the power really lies quite as easily via Zoom? I doubt it. What won’t ever change, however, is that people can be both fascinating and frustrating: each of us our own “house of mirrors.” That reality informs the videoclip that follows, as well as my podcast episode for this week.

Released today: episode 5 of Dan Hill’s EQ Spotlight featuring David Robert Grimes, author of The Irrational Ape: Why flawed logic puts us all at Risk, and How Critical Thinking can save the World. Listen to the clip below and click on the image to get the new episode.

Episode 4 of Dan Hill’s EQ Spotlight

There are two currencies in life: dollars and emotions. For the past 20 years in running my EQ-oriented market research firm Sensory Logic, Inc, I’ve tried to help clients achieve more “bang for their buck” by ensuring they create the greatest degree of emotional connection possible with prospects and existing loyal customers.

Every Thursday we will be dropping new episodes (including the first four, released last week), highlighting my conversations with prominent authors across a wealth of topics that include all aspects of business – from the marketplace to the workplace – as well as conversations about world events, culture, sports, psychology, and more. I’m hoping you’ll listen in, and if you like what you hear consider subscribing to my series as well as giving it positive ratings and reviews. Every little bit helps in launching an enterprise or project, as I’m sure all of you know well!

Here is a short excerpt featuring Susie Hodge, author of The Short Story of Architecture: A Pocket Guide to Key Styles, Buildings, Elements & Materials

Episode 3 of Dan Hill’s EQ Spotlight

There are two currencies in life: dollars and emotions. For the past 20 years in running my EQ-oriented market research firm Sensory Logic, Inc, I’ve tried to help clients achieve more “bang for their buck” by ensuring they create the greatest degree of emotional connection possible with prospects and existing loyal customers.

Every Thursday we will be dropping new episodes (including the first four, released last week), highlighting my conversations with prominent authors across a wealth of topics that include all aspects of business – from the marketplace to the workplace – as well as conversations about world events, culture, sports, psychology, and more. I’m hoping you’ll listen in, and if you like what you hear consider subscribing to my series as well as giving it positive ratings and reviews. Every little bit helps in launching an enterprise or project, as I’m sure all of you know well!

Here is a short excerpt featuring Kenneth Womack, author of Solid State: The Story of “Abbey Road” and the End of the Beatles.