Leveraging the Tetris Effect for Better Relationships

By Guest-Blogger Sarah Osteen of  SparkStrategyLLC

As a teenager in the early 90s I wasted many evenings playing Tetris – the electronic game where you build and destroy shapes using tiny building blocks. Like other nerdy Tetris players I found that I experienced the “Tetris Effect”; I would see images of the blocks falling when I closed my eyes to go to sleep.

“The Tetris Effect” is a real phenomenon that occurs when a person spends so much time and energy on an activity that he or she creates new thought patterns and mental images. The brain starts to develop in ways that enable the gamer to play more effectively. When applying this concept to the way we communicate with others there are a few lessons we can learn from Tetris. Here are a few ideas to re-pattern behavior and navigate common communication roadblocks with less angst.

  1. Fake It: Consider, for example, your interactions with a colleague who frequently lets project timelines slip. Pose the question, “Have I made assumptions around his or her behavior and assigned negative attributes?” Most likely the answer is yes and your communication may be contributing to the situation through subtle accusations. Your existing strategy isn’t working and it is time to make a change, even if you are uncertain about how the change will play out. An alternative approach is to play the devil’s advocate and to “pretend” that the other person has legitimate reasons for his or her behavior. This change in attitude will be reflected in your interactions and ultimately lead to better communication where you are more informed about the process and existing challenges. 
  2. See the Big Picture:  When faced with tight timeframes and high-stress meetings it can become difficult to make good decisions. With every important decision ask, “Will this action help my team/unit/client carry out our strategy? Or am I ultimately setting up roadblocks to make it more difficult to achieve goals?” This concept is reflected in people with high levels of emotional intelligence – they are able to balance a range of perspectives at one time. Rather than getting overwhelmed in day-to-day logistics, take time each day to improve your understanding of the larger business ecosystem. The more knowledge you have of the current issues facing your customers, employees, industry, and competitors, the better able you will be to communicate with each of those entities. You will also be better positioned to inspire and persuade those who work with you by clearly articulating the overarching strategy. 
  3. Get Curious: Humans tend to assume we have complete information about a situation, interaction, or challenge when in reality we are limited by our own experience. As an executive coach I have seen numerous situations where leaders have made rash decisions around a perceived crisis when in fact other members of their team had critical information that would have helped to provide a solution. The only way to determine if you have a solid understanding of a situation is to ask others. During tense conversations in can be helpful to say something like, “I’m realizing I don’t totally understand your perspective, can you explain how you see this situation?” Inviting the other person to share his or her thoughts can be a powerful way to encourage the sharing of critical information and open the conversation in a new way. 
  4. Avoid Irrelevant Information: Strategy plans that have proven bad for business do not need to be analyzed in moments of crisis – you know they are bad. Focus on the impact your possible solutions may have on others. Rather than getting caught in the cycle of turmoil and frustration often associated with budgeting periods or times of change, channel your energy towards data and critical information that will help you move towards resolution. 
  5. Consider What You Already Know: Before having a difficult conversation it can be helpful to take a step back and consider the relevant information you have to help you craft a response. How has the other person responded to this type of situation in the past? What is his or her decision making style? Rather than continuing to bang your shoulder on the door, consider the data you have at your disposal. No background information? Ask someone else who can share an objective perspective or who has unique insight into the other person and can help you to plan an approach.

A balance of trial and error and strategic planning is key for any successful gamer. The same rings true in our corporate lives. Be willing to change paths or try a new approach while at the same time apply the learnings you have gathered over time.

Have any of these techniques worked for you? What strategies have you used to teach yourself to communicate in new and more effective ways?

sarahosteen-259x300Ideas for Action is pleased to host Sarah as our first “guest” blogger – Sarah Osteen worked as a Senior Learning 
Solutions Manager in the Corporate Learning group at Harvard Business Publishing from 2006-2014. She now runs her own consulting practice Spark Strategy LLC; working end to end with clients to develop and deliver high impact management and leadership development solutions. She continues to maintain a close relationship with Harvard Business Publishing as a facilitator and designer.