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How Stanley Milgram Predicted United’s Behavior


“The essence in obedience consists in the fact that a person comes to view himself as an instrument for carrying out another person’s wishes and he therefore no longer regards himself as responsible for his actions.” ― Stanley Milgram

Social psychologist and Yale professor Dr. Stanley Milgram conducted a controversial experiment on obedience and authority in the 1960’s. Following the Nazi war crimes from WWII where the German soldiers defended themselves in court trials as “Not Guilty” because they were just following orders, Milgram’s intent was to expose how willingly people behave towards those in charge. 

EXPERIMENT: Milgram engaged volunteer students to play the role of being electrically charged, where the ultimate charge involved excruciating pain and could potentially kill someone. While they were indeed connected to equipment, there was no exposure to pain – they simply acted. The subjects, unaware of the ruse, believed that the volunteer students could be hurt as they turned a series of “electrical” switches in increasing amounts of voltage under the direction of a “scientist.” The volunteers were placed in an adjacent room, however, their screams, cries of pain, and shouting to make it stop, could easily be heard. Whenever the subjects hesitated to turn the next switch of a higher voltage, the scientist would calmly state, “the experiment must continue.” How many continued?

RESULTS: Nearly two-thirds (65%) of the subjects completed the entire experiment. Not only did they not show concern for the student’s well-being, they insisted that they were not responsible for it, despite having been the one who turned the switch! Their reasoning? “They were just doing as they were told.” Deflection and blame (transference) against the student was also common, e.g. “He was so stupid and stubborn, he deserved to be shocked.”

ABERRATION: So, what about the other 35%? The subjects who refused to continue were those who did not see the scientist as the ultimate authority. They either saw God as who they serve, and/or believed that they themselves must assume accountability for their actions in harming others. This is true leadership, not just whoever is sitting at the top of the pecking order.

SUMMARY: The 65% result demonstrates how the majority of people within a system will ignore how others are hurting if, and when, they feel that they are disrupting their place in the pecking order. They are more prone to following the “rules,” instead of exhibiting empathy and humanity.



In a recent debacle with United, a passenger was literally dragged off a plane, because he refused to give up his paid-for seat to crew which needed to be sent to the destination city for work the next day. United had offered vouchers to those four who would give up their seats, but it wasn’t monetarily sufficient for the passengers to volunteer, so the four passengers to be ejected off the aircraft were selected (through algorithms) for “forced volunteerism” – which United referred to as “re-accommodation.” When the fourth passenger refused to deplane, the crew called Security, which ended up forcefully dragging the passenger off the flight, and, in the process, bloodied the passenger. Despite protests from fellow passengers, Security dragged the passenger up the aisle and off the plane.

The United crew, commended by their CEO the following day for their judgment, elected to not incrementally increase the price of the voucher for self-select volunteerism, which could have very well led to four passengers voluntarily agreeing to deplane. Instead, United resorted to treating its customers as cargo.

As Simon Sinek wrote, “We don’t just trust people to obey the rules, we also trust that they know when to break them. If good people are asked to work in a bad culture, people will be more concerned about following the rules out of fear of getting in trouble or losing their jobs than doing what needs to be done. When fight or flight is the name of the game and no broad Circle of Safety exists, then kill or get fired is the best strategy.”

Jack Welch, former CEO of GE and author of at least five books on (so-called) leadership, is among several corporate leaders who began treating people as an expendable resource back in the 1980’s. Since then, other organizations believed they should follow suit and use layoffs to meet their numbers for Wall Street. One company in the South (which no longer exists) followed this practice for 8 consecutive years, and, according to its former head of HRIS (Human Resource Information Systems), manipulated the data to falsely represent that more formerly exited employees were wishing to return than those wishing to leave.



It is little wonder why Millennials have been dubbed as “disloyal” for leaving companies after relatively little time. Bear in mind the following, which shaped their perspective:

  • Millennials witnessed the fall of “stable organizations” such as Enron, Tyco, WorldCom, and Lehman Brothers – companies to which some of their parents had dedicated their entire careers.
  • Millennials watched their parents’ devastation over losing money to fraudulent stockbrokers, like Bernie Madoff.
  • Some Millennial families became homeless after the bust of 2000, or the housing-market crash of 2008.
  • Worst of all, many Millennials lost their parents in the ultimate sacrifice of solely showing up for work at the Twin Towers on 9.11.01.

What they observed is that company loyalty towards its talent for how hard their parents worked or how much they sacrificed or how well they contributed to the company no longer translated into job stability. In a workforce predominantly consisting of egalitarians, loyalty is not a one-way street. Therefore, it is paramount that empathy and humanity be part of the corporate equation in order for retention, productivity, and stock to stay strong. It is a balance that must be remedied in order for our economy and personal health to be robust.


Leadership displays empathy and humanity. Praise your talent for those traits; role-model them. Empower them to use their minds to overcome rules which may oppose these traits, and, like United, you could potentially save your company a $800 million public relations disaster.


Rossina Gil, MSOD, MAIS, is a Global Leadership and Organization Development Practitioner, and the founder of Corporate Looking Glass, LLC – a diverse consultancy of OD experts and strategic thinking partners. She is the author of The Corporate Looking Glass: Using Culture for Your Competitive AdvantageWe increase retention. Visit



Stanley Milgram. Obedience to Authority

Simon Sinek. Leaders Eat Last



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Smiling While You Work?


Bearing the “Duchenne smile” is the healthiest way to work.  In the mid-19th century, French neurologist Guillaume Duchenne identified two types of smiles:

1) what we today call the Botox smile – just the CORNERS of the mouth rise;

Duchenne 1

2) and what has become known as the Duchenne smile – not only do the CORNERS of the mouth rise, but also the CHEEKS; while the eyes SQUINT – and/or form crow’s feet, if you have wrinkles.

The former smile is known as a fake smile, while the latter is recognized as a more honest display of joy.



What is interesting about smiling, fake or real, is that one can physiologically trick him/herself into a better mood/disposition by simply smiling.  The facial muscles trigger the brain to react chemically and produce positive emotions, thereby creating a better outcome to your day.

Another way of looking at this concept of controlling your immediate destiny is to engage in Method Acting at work.  Method Acting is a technique which actors use to create more lifelike performances.  Instead of mimicking behaviors and merely recounting lines from a script, actors attempt to internally re-produce the feelings and thoughts of the characters they portray.  (Note: This technique has led to a lot of dual on- & off-screen romances.)

When you allow your day to be disrupted by the words and actions of others, you relinquish your power, and subsequently your pleasure.  Emotionally Intelligent people manage to stay focused on feeling good about something.  Tap into that feeling, memory, person, or thing.  Negativity exists around you daily, and your mind has the ability to shield itself from much of it.

This is not to say you can easily become impervious to how others think of you.  As human beings (a.k.a. social animals), we are all susceptible to having “down feelings” projected by toxic co-workers and bosses. You just have to remember that their words bear just as much weight, if not more, on themselves, as they do for you.  Any criticism can be delivered with grace, diplomacy, or compassion.  Real leaders know how to do this well.

Most importantly: Self-worth can only come from within.  Positive self-talk is critical, and positive emotions will keep you focused, productive, and influential.  You are the master of your own happiness.

Above all, choose work you love to do; that’ll make it a Duchenne smile.

Say, “Cheese.”

When you change the frame, you change the game.”

― William Thomas, Bridgestone executive

Rossina Gil, MSOD, MAIS, is a Leadership and Organization Development Practitioner, with a Cheshire cat smile, and the founder of Corporate Looking Glass, LLC – a diverse consultancy of OD experts and strategic thinking partners.  We increase retention.  Visit

© Rossina Gil, 2015


Seven Universal Emotions


Emotional Intelligence (EQ/EI) is awareness of your own emotions and those of other people (social awareness), and the ability to use the emotional information to manage self and others effectively.  Studies have found that the greater the EQ, the higher the organization can expect to have exemplary leadership performance.

In the 1970’s, through research on remote tribes of people in Papua, New Guinea, American psychologist Paul Ekman found there to be seven emotions which can be universally recognized.  He discovered this by showing pictures to the Guineans, who had never had exposure to any form of media and were geographically isolated; therefore, they could not have learned the meaning of expressions from other groups.  Ekman’s work was influenced by Charles Darwin’s theory, which was expressed a hundred years earlier, that emotions are biologically determined.


Seven Emotions

  1. Anger
  2. Disgust
  3. Fear
  4. Happiness
  5. Sadness
  6. Surprise
  7. Contempt

Though emotional expression is universal, emotional triggers vary by individual and culture, and “scripts” from the past can affect their intensity.  Ekman’s research proved that emotional triggers create new pathways in the brain.  In terms of controlling emotions, the objective is not to turn them off; rather, it would be effective to develop the habit of attentiveness (i.e. mindfulness), and learn ways to cool our emotional triggers in order to avoid destructive emotional episodes.

So, let’s describe and show you what each emotion looks like…

Anger: Brows down and together, Lips narrowed and pressed, Eyes glare

Di Blasio

NYC Mayor Di Blasio


Disgust: Upper lip is raised, Nose bridge is wrinkled, Cheeks raised


Sarah Palin, Tyra Banks


Fear: Brows raised and pulled together, Upper eyelids raised, Lower eyelids tensed, Mouth opened slightly and horizontally – stretched back towards ears

Agassi9-11_panic 1

Andre Agassi, 9/11 witness


Happiness: Eyelids narrowed, Crow’s feet wrinkles, Cheeks pushed up, Lip corners raised


Hillary Clinton, Marissa Mayer


Sadness: Upper eyelids drooped, Lip corners pulled down slightly


Mitt Romney, Mark Sanford

Surprise: Brows arched, Eyes widened, Jaw drops slightly


Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates


Contempt: Lip corner tightened and raised on one side of the mouth.

Joe Biden, George W. Bush, Simon Cowell, OJ Simpson


So, is she happy?


Mona Lisa

Rossina Gil, MSOD, MAIS, is a Leadership and Organization Development Practitioner, a complete Ekman fan, and the founder of Corporate Looking Glass, LLC – a diverse consultancy of OD experts and strategic thinking partners.  We increase retention.  Visit

© Rossina Gil, 2015


Charles Darwin. The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals.

Paul Ekman. Emotions Revealed.

10 Traits of a Positive Thinker: #9 CALMNESS


The 10 traits of a positive thinker, according to positive psychology author Scott Ventrella, are as follows:  1. Optimism, 2. Enthusiasm, 3. Belief, 4. Integrity, 5. Courage, 6. Confidence, 7. Determination, 8. Patience, 9. Calmness, 10. Focus.

This blog addresses Calmness in Leadership.  If you can answer “yes” to the following questions, you may be a leader who role models calmness…

  • Do I uphold a practice 1-2 times daily of re-centering myself?
  • Am I able to control my worries and resentments from impacting my work with others?
  • Do I learn from challenges and avoid getting bogged down by post-mortems?
  • Do I keep my fears away from setting and achieving my goals?
  • Am I willing to hold myself partly accountable when a team member does not meet expectations?

Poet Edwin Markham said, “At the heart of the cyclone tearing the sky is a place of central calm.” This means that power is derived from centrifugal forces, which is central calmness.  As humans, we, too, may derive an emanating power from a central calmness.

At the heart of every problem is the seed of its own solution.  Problems are life makers.  Without problems, you do not have life.  What does that mean, you may ask?  The only place that has hundreds, even thousands, of people who have no problems are those 6 feet under…meaning, in the cemetery.  I can assure you they are not worried.

The word “worry” is an antonym to calmness.  It is a derivation from an Old English word, wyrgan, which means “to choke, strangle, or torment.”  In the past, when I worried, my husband would say to me, Why do you step on your neck?”  I never liked that phrase, and it would stop me dead cold to examine what he thought I was doing.  If we are victims of worry for long periods of time (e.g. longer than it takes for a storm to pass), then we are metaphorically choking and strangling ourselves.  That very action prevents us from optimizing our creative powers to emerge from a challenging situation.  Our emotions have effectively performed a “system override” thereby disabling us to put our noodle to good work!  Positive thinkers love life and carpe diem with something wonderful to celebrate it.

Remember, attitude is more important than fact.  You “give your power away” if you show anger because anger is a secondary emotion to pain.  Anger in the workplace has most probably been triggered by someone or something and you can increase your Emotional Intelligence (EQ) by recognizing (i.e. self-awareness) what those triggers are and acting to remove the dysfunctional response to the trigger.  Positive thinkers will attack problems with positive attitudes.

Positive attitudes include creativity, energy, compassion, inquiry, and trust.  Negative attitudes include worry, anger, anxiety, envy, and insecurities.  Once any of these negative attitudes take hold of you, they work steadily to produce negative results such as loss of energy, loss of creativity, loss of enthusiasm; and, ultimately, loss of health.

Prolonged worry has the physiological effect of lowering the white blood cell count, which weakens the immune system.  Consequently, you become more susceptible to viral infections, such as colds.  Stress can manifest itself in a variety of ways, so it is imperative that we arm ourselves with positive thinking in order to repel away the negative forces and maintain a healthy body.

A healthy body begins with a healthy mind.  Keep calm and carry on.

Thank you.

Rossina Gil, MSOD, MAIS, is a Leadership and Organization Development Practitioner, author, cultural analyst, coach, speaker, and facilitator.


Norman Vincent Peale, Why Some Positive Thinkers Get Powerful Results (New York, NY: Fawcett Columbine), 1986.

Scott Ventrella, The Power of Positive Thinking in Business (New York, NY: Fireside), 2001.

©Rossina Gil, 2013

10 Traits of a Positive Thinker: #6 CONFIDENCE


Confidence is one of ten traits exhibited by positive thinkers, as listed by positive psychology author Scott Ventrella, and the 6th one in our 10-part seriesThe others are the following:  1. Optimism, 2. Enthusiasm, 3. Belief, 4. Integrity, 5. Courage, 6. Confidence, 7. Determination, 8. Patience, 9. Calmness, 10. Focus.

This blog addresses Confidence in Leadership.  If you can answer “yes” to the following questions, you may be a leader who demonstrates confidence in the workplace…

  • Do I “look inside my own memory” and retrieve evidence that will only encourage me to move forward with my action planning?
  • Am I aware of the difference between confidence and arrogance/hubris?
  • Are the goals I pursue in alignment with my values?
  • Do I ensure that fear &/or feelings of inferiority don’t drive my actions?
  • Am I comfortable with my decisions, knowing that there are those who oppose my judgment?

Confidence comes from the Latin fidere, meaning “with trust.”  Self-confident people inspire trust and influence others in the process of exuding confidence, this is the core of any business transaction and solid relationship.   Low self-confidence is self-destructive and usually manifests itself as negativity.  People with high self-confidence are usually positive thinkers.  And, those who project confidence and hold a negative perspective are most probably overcompensating for an inferiority complex that exhibits signs of superiority; or vice versa, a superiority complex that exhibits signs of inferiority from time to time.  This is where Belief (positive trait #3) overlaps with Confidence…Wikipedia: “Belief in one’s abilities to perform an activity comes through successful experience and may add to, or consolidate, a general sense of self-confidence.

Psychologist Daniel Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence, includes self-confidence as one of the three hallmarks of self-awareness – along with a realistic self-assessment, and a self-deprecating sense of humor.

Here are some other ways to recognize whether you &/or your peers have been demonstrating signs of self-confidence, or the lack thereof:


Low Self-Confidence

Adhering to your values/beliefs, despite possible criticism(s).  E.g. “This strategy requires further exploration, because it sounds more like self-promotion than a strategy.” Governing your behavior based on what other people think.  This is sheep-mentality.  E.g. “This strategy came from the CEO, so we are good to go by following it!”
Takes risks, and knows when to not be so accommodating. Stays in comfort zone, fears failure, and so avoids taking risks and taking charge of situations where s/he needs to assume control.
Admits mistakes, and learns from them.  E.g. “Yes, I have grown in my position and realize that I have to overcome personality conflicts and have learned to respond as an adult professional.” Denies mistakes, and/or attempts to fix them before anyone notices.  E.g. “I do not know what you’re talking about!  I did not say that!  I don’t know anything about that former employee asking for his job back!”
Demonstrates self-assertiveness by sharing feelings/thoughts. E.g. “I am concerned that your presentation is half an hour over the time limit, which will prevent us from discussing all topics.” Holds resentment and anger against others for days/weeks or longer while practicing victim-speak.  E.g. “You made me angry, because you were so rude to interrupt my presentation last week before I had a chance to finish!”
Accepts compliments graciously. “Thanks, I really worked hard on that program/project.  I’m pleased you recognize my efforts.” Dismisses compliments offhandedly. “Oh, that was nothing.  YOU are the one who can teach me what I need to know!”
Realizes that others are entitled to their opinions.  They appreciate the diversity of thought, and recognize that it can stand alone, even if it vastly differs from their own.  Seeks out relevance to work-related issues.  E.g. “You thought it was great; I didn’t.” Feels threatened by others’ opinions and takes them personally, even if they are not work-related, &/or criticizes behavior irrelevant to work.  E.g. “When you mentioned the chicken was not ‘authentically Mexican’ at our off-site lunch last week, I took it as a sign of arrogance that you are well-traveled.”
Good is good enough…for now.  There is a constant strive for excellence, yet recognizing we all have to start somewhere!  E.g. “You did exceedingly well, and for these reasons (x, y, z)…now here’s where we can go with it (a, b, c)!” Hyper-stresses perfectionism, as opposed to high quality, as the only option.  Even though all indicators show success, there is extreme dissatisfaction.  E.g. “You can’t just start down here (lowered hand), you need to start up here (raised hand).” (disgruntled body language)

Power Posing

While positive psychology theologian Norman Vincent Peale referred to the “as-if” psychology as one way to increase our confidence, social psychologist and Harvard professor Amy Cuddy agrees that we can “fake it ’til we make it.” She calls the ability to increase self-confidence through body language “power posing.”  She claims that if we hold the “V” posture (arms raised upwards) for as little as two minutes, we can perform better in job interviews, cope better in other stressful situations, and take more risks confidently.

This research isn’t new since we already have established as scientific fact the discovery of the Duchenne smile, named after 19th century French neurologist Guillaume-Benjamin-Amand Duchenne (de Boulogne) – who found that there are different facial muscles which can produce a genuine smile versus the muscles that offer a fake smile.  However, Duchenne found that either smile (genuine or fake) can lead to an improvement in morale.  Likewise, Cuddy found that “power posing” can adjust testosterone and cortisol levels and trick the brain into producing healthier FEELINGS and behaviors (ACTIONS).

Trust in others; start with yourself.  Strike a pose.

Thank you.

Rossina Gil, MSOD, MAIS, is a Leadership and Organization Development Practitioner, author, cultural analyst, coach, speaker, and facilitator. 


Amy Cuddy, Ph.D.

Daniel Goleman, Ph.D. Emotional Intelligence (New York, NY: Bantam), 1995.

Norman Vincent Peale, D.D. Why Some Positive Thinkers Get Powerful Results, 1986.

Scott Ventrella, The Power of Positive Thinking in Business (New York, NY: Fireside), 2001.

©Rossina Gil, 2013

Termination. Up in the Air?


There comes a time when every organization needs to make the tough decision to lay-off or terminate its employee(s).  And then there are the political assassinations.  Regardless of the cause, there are certain steps and measures an organization can take to protect itself.

Organization-Specific Protective Measures:

  • Risk of Intellectual Property (IP).  The IT department must be notified before notification is sent to the employee.  Reason: There have been cases of employee retaliation by deleting files &/or sharing the IP with the competition.
  • Property Risk.  Security must be alerted prior to notification delivered to the employee.  Reason: There have been cases of employee retaliation by stealing equipment, e.g. hardware.
  • Financial Risk.  Human Resources (HR) must close all corporate credit cards.  Reason: There have been cases of employee retaliation by making extravagant personal purchases.
  • Legal Risk.  The Supervisor must always have HR present as a 3rd party.  Reason: There have been cases of employees retaining legal counsel because of contradicting accounts of the separation.
  • Fall-Out.  Eliminating beloved colleagues dampens morale; and, observations/stories of how the organization treats those dismissed will only hasten the departure of other talent.  Human Resources must be synonymous with “Humane” and “Resourceful.”
  • Physical Endangerment.  Security must be alerted prior to notification delivered to the employee.  Reason: There have been cases of employee retaliation by striking or shooting co-workers.

Employee-Specific Protective Measures:

  • ReviewTypically, there is a 21-day window to review your Separation Agreement and sign.  Do NOT allow HR/Supervisor (or his/her boss) to place pressure on you to sign before lunch that day.
  • Note.  Separation AGREEMENT is not the same as Separation NOTICE.  Make sure you have both.
  • Seek Counsel.  While you are still an employee, you may use the Corporate Legal Counsel or you may wish to seek your own.  Private attorneys usually charge by the hour to review contracts.
  • Third-Party.  Do NOT hold private conversations with HR/Supervisor upon having received your notification.  This can get you into a one-said versus other-said situation.
  • Don’t Vent.  As well as you think you may know HR, keep your venting in until you reach non-company friends.
  • Forward.  Any personal emails you may have on your work computer (e.g. compliments, emails, etc) should be back-upped by either being forwarded to a home email or placed into DropBox.

Many of us know and have experienced first-hand how we tend to share a negative experience quickly. Bad news travels faster than good news by 75% to 42%. The large majority of the general population say they advise friends and family when they’ve had a bad experience.  Meanwhile, we tend to take positive experiences for granted.  With Social Media taking center stage in informing today’s workforce which companies actually are “Great Places to Work,” it would behoove organizations to follow these further recommendations…


  • Avoid EOY (End of Year).  Plan terminations/lay-offs away from Christmas/Chanukkah, if possible, and not prior to bonus or Annual Incentive Award announcements.  The perception is that the company does not care about the well-being of its employees, and that it is stiffing the employees from monies earned.
  • Practice EQ (Emotional Intelligence).  Relieve employees of their duties upon impact, if requested.  Some do not wish to carry on with their responsibilities, due to the awkward state that may ensue.
  • Nip anxiety and rumor in the bud.  Inform employees at the soonest notice possible.  One company allowed its employees to wait six weeks between its earnings release and the pink slips.  This resulted in much lost productivity surmising who would be let-go.
  • Value Privacy.  Hold a lock-down on each individual’s termination/lay-offs.  One employee was told good-bye by a co-worker and s/he hadn’t told a soul.  Another could read it on the face of his/her supervisor’s peers several weeks before the notification.
  • Pay Earned PTO.  Allow employees an opportunity to use their earned Paid Time Off, or receive a pay-out.

For the organization, remember- a legacy is built upon deeds (ACTIONS).   For the individual, adhere this wise dictum I learned in Washington, DC, “Remember those who you meet on the way up, because you may see them on the way down.”

Thank you.

Rossina Gil, MSOD, MAIS, is a Leadership and Organization Development Practitioner, author, cultural analyst, coach, speaker, and facilitator.


©Rossina Gil, 2013