How Psychological Distance Can Make You a Better LeaderWith all the talk lately of remote work and virtual employees, it’s easy to forget that many people still have to work in a brick and mortar environment, elbow to elbow with colleagues and supervisors. The reality is that, in these situations, there is often a need for us to create a “distance” between ourselves and those around us. It could be because your colleague suddenly get a promotion, and is now your direct manager, or vice versa. Or perhaps that last group project was a rough one, and resulted in some office tension and lingering hard feelings. Distance may be needed because a co-worker has left the office and responsibilities are being divided up, or someone new has joined the company. Any of the above scenarios are likely to put some strain on your work relationships that distance may help defuse.

Often, though, especially in open space work environments or smaller offices, achieving physical distance might not be possible. But you can still achieve some distance — psychological distance. Psychological distance simply means taking a step back from those around you, your colleagues, even your clients, and rearranging your priorities. It is often defined as a “gap” or “social distance” that needs to be created between you and your co-workers in order to keep working conditions positive and healthy. Psychological distance allows us to take a break from constant mental connection and focus on ourselves, which is something that is good for us and our relationships, business and otherwise.

There is also something called experiential distance, which involves imagining something before you experience it. This is something leaders should understand and get comfortable with, because it will allow them to recognize the positive effects of psychological distance, and then combine them with the strategies of experiential distance in order to improve workplace situations. Before we get into how to do this, let’s consider these examples borrowed from Harvard Business Review, explaining each situation.

Social Distance: For skillful negotiation, you need to consider both your interests and the interests of others involved. In order to achieve this, which is essential thinking neutrally, you will often need to create some distance between you and others. It is extremely beneficial to try to understand the thoughts, emotions, and motives of all those involved in the negotiation in order to include something for everyone.

  • Temporal Distance: We see examples of temporal distance in effective time management. It allows leaders to predict when an event will take place in the future and how serious it may be.
  • A Combination of Social and Temporal Distance: We are able to see the benefits of combining social and temporal distance when we delve into examples of inspired leadership. In these situations, leaders not only incorporate other people’s goals but also foresee how these goals are likely to change over time, and make adjustments accordingly.
  • Combining Social, Temporal, Spatial, and Experiential Distance: Let’s consider profitable product management and look at how creating the proper amount of distance in different areas can assist in keeping the profits pouring in. Combining several types of distance can help you to discover a wealth of information about clients and customers, allowing you to best serve t hem, and predict their changing needs.

For managers and employees, manipulating psychological distance can be extremely challenging. It requires leaders to be attentive and empathetic enough to understand others’ perspectives. Employees are more satisfied when leaders provide more abstract and broader visions instead of micro-managing.

Creating psychological distance is important because it allows leaders to better focus on what is important and make bigger, bolder but well researched decisions.

Creating psychological distance can also help you develop deadlines for bigger projects to make them feel more immediate and allows you to think more ambitiously, which again will help you make bolder moves.

So when everyone is so obsessed with connectedness and hyper-connectedness, a little detachment can be good, especially if you are in a leadership role.

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