Have you ever Skip to the Details:
How To Orderfound yourself sitting in a meeting,
listening for the third time to drivel you just couldn't believe people would actually say out
loud, and wondering how much longer this would go on until they finally agreed to what anyone
with half a brain knew they'd have to do anyway? And then groaned to yourself when you realized
that your next meeting would be more of the same?
Or have you ever had the kind of
"forehead-slapping moment" when you suddenly realized why the group didn't go for your last
suggestion, and then wondered how you could possibly have been so naïve as to have
proposed it in the first place?
Dogs is a collection of articles from the 2003 and 2004 issues of
Point Lookout, my weekly email newsletter of tips, insights and perspectives that help
people in dynamic problem-solving organizations find better ways to work with each other. It
gives concrete, nuts-and-bolts methods for dealing with real-life situations. You can also get
collection from 2001 and 2002, the
collection from 2005 and 2006, or the
collection from 2001 through 2010.
Some sample essays
- Saying No
- When we have to say "no" to customers or to people in power, we're often tempted to
placate with a "yes." There's a better way: learn how to say "no" in a way that moves the
group toward joint problem solving.
- Toxic Projects
- A toxic project is one that harms its organization, its people or its customers. We
often think of toxic projects as projects that fail, but even a "successful" project can
hurt people or damage the organization — sometimes irreparably.
- Please Remove My Appendix
- When an organization is experiencing problems with conflict, "pushback," or "blowback,"
managers often hire trainers to present programs on helpful topics. But self-diagnosis can
be risky. Often, there are more direct and focused options that can help more and cost less.
Table of contents
Here's a chapter-by-chapter summary of what you'll find in this book.
Click the folder icons to reveal (or hide) individual chapter content summaries, or:
This book is about changing your experience of work. By broadening the choices you have when you respond to what happens around you — and within you — you can make your job a source of your happiness, rather than a threat to it.
When we have to say "no" to customers or to people in power, we're often tempted to placate with a "yes." There's a better way: learn how to say "no" in a way that moves the group toward joint problem solving.
A toxic project is one that harms its organization, its people or its customers. We often think of toxic projects as projects that fail, but even a "successful" project can hurt people or damage the organization — sometimes irreparably.
When an organization is experiencing problems with conflict, "pushback," or "blowback," managers often hire trainers to present programs on helpful topics. But self-diagnosis can be risky. Often, there are more direct and focused options that can help more and cost less.
We use meetings to exchange information and to explore complex issues. In open discussion, we tend to interrupt each other. Interruptions can be disruptive, distracting, funny, essential, and frustratingly common. What can we do to limit interruptions without depriving ourselves of their benefits?
You're chairing a meeting, and to your dismay, things get out of hand. People interrupt each other so often that nobody can complete a thought, and some people dominate the meeting. What can you do?
In tense discussions, the language we use often contributes to the tension. If we can transform the statements we make about each other into statements about ourselves, we can eliminate an important source of tension and stress.
We spend a lot of time and emotional energy in meetings, much of it engaged in any of dozens of ritualized games. Here's a little catalog of some of our favorites, and what we can do about them.
In the workplace, some things can't be discussed — they are taboo. When we're aware of taboos, we can choose when to obey them, and when to be more flexible. When we're unaware of them, they can limit our ability to change.
Sometimes companies or projects get into trouble, and "fires" erupt one after another. When this happens, we say we're in "firefighting" mode. But it's more than a metaphor — we have a lot to learn from wildland firefighters.
As a way of managing risk, we sometimes steer our organizations towards commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) components, methodologies, designs, and processes. But to gain a competitive edge, we need creative differentiation.
Rumors about organizational intentions or expectations can depress productivity. Even when they're factually false, rumors can be so powerful that they sometimes produce the results they predict. How can we manage organizational rumors?
"Would you like some feedback on that?" Uh-oh, you think, absolutely not. But if you're like many of us, your response is something like, "Sure, I'd be very interested in your thoughts." Why is giving and receiving feedback so difficult?
When tempers flare, or tension fills the air, many of us contribute to the stew, often without realizing that we do. Here are some haiku that describe some of the many stances we choose that can lead groups into tangles, or let those tangles persist once they form.
When we notice patterns or coincidences, we draw conclusions about things we can't or didn't directly observe. Sometimes the conclusions are right, and sometimes not. When they're not, organizations, careers, and people can suffer. To be right more often, we must master critical thinking.
When we receive messages of disapproval, we sometimes feel bad. And when we do, it can help to remember that we have the freedom to decide whether or not to accept the messages we receive.
When projects near completion, we sometimes have difficulty letting go. We want what we've made to be perfect, sometimes beyond the real needs of customers. Comfort with imperfection can help us meet budget and schedule targets.
When projects run over budget, managers face a temptation to use creative accounting to address the problem. The budget swap is one technique for making ends meet. It distorts organizational data, and it's just plain unethical.
In tough negotiations, when attempts to resolve differences have failed, we sometimes conclude that "they've made up their minds," but other explanations abound. Keeping an open mind about why other people seem to have closed theirs can help us find a resolution.
Age discrimination runs deep, well beyond the hiring decision. When we value each other on the basis of age, we can deprive ourselves and our companies of the treasures we all have to offer.
Whether we belong to a small project team or to an executive team, we have limited resources and seemingly unlimited problems to deal with. How do we decide which problems are important? How do we decide where to focus our attention first?
Every specialization has a set of beliefs, often called "conventional wisdom." When these beliefs are so obvious that they're unquestioned and even unnoticed, there's an opportunity to leap ahead of the pack — by questioning the conventional wisdom.
Working together under stress, we do sometimes hurt each other. Delivering apologies is a skill critical to repairing those hurts and maintaining our relationships.
Many of us travel as a part of our jobs, and some of us spend a fair amount of that time traveling solo. Here are some tips for enlivening that time alone while you're traveling for work.
When organizations go astray ethically, and their misdeeds come to light, people feel shocked, as if they've been swept up by a tornado. But ethical storms do have warning signs. Can you recognize them?
When we discuss what we care deeply about, and when we differ, the word "but" can lead us into destructive conflict. Such a little word, yet so corrosive. Why? What can we do instead?
Most of us get too much email. Some is spam, but even if we figured out how to eliminate spam, most would still agree that we get too much email. What's happening? And what can we do about it?
Sometimes our own desire not to have choices prevents us from finding creative solutions. Life can be simpler (if less rich) when we have no choices to make. Why do we accept the same tired solutions, and how can we tell when we're doing it?
Choosing is easy when you don't have much to choose from. That's one reason why groups sometimes don't recognize all the possibilities — they're happiest when choosing is easy. When we notice this happening, what can we do about it?
Working on complex projects, we often face a choice between "just do it" and "wait, let's think this through first." Choosing to just do it can seem to be the shortest path to the goal, but it rarely is. It's an example of a Finger Puzzle.
Probably the most widely used tactic of persuasion, "What's In It For Me," or WIIFM, can be toxic to an organization. There's a much healthier approach that provides a competitive advantage to organizations that use it.
When a cell phone goes off in a movie theater, some of us get irritated or even angry. Why has the cell phone become so prominent in public? And why do we have such strong reactions to its use?
You may have heard the phrase "plenty of blame to go around," or maybe you've even used it yourself. Although using it sometimes does bring an end to immediate finger pointing, using it also validates blame as a general approach. Here's how to end the blaming by looking ahead.
When geography divides a team, conflicts can erupt along the borders. "Us" and "them" becomes a way of seeing the world, and feelings about people at other sites can become hostile. Why does this happen and what can we do about it?
When you give a demo to a small audience, there's a danger of overwhelming them in a behavior I call swarming. Here are some tips for terrific demos to small audiences.
When we notice similarities between events, or possible patterns of events, we often attribute meaning to them beyond what we can prove. Sometimes we guess right, and sometimes not. How can we improve our guesses?
Managers and supervisors who take credit for the work of subordinates or others who feel powerless are using a tactic I call Credit Appropriation. It's the mark of the unsophisticated political operator.
The false opportunity appears to be a chance to perform, to contribute, or to make a real difference. It's often something else.
Wishing — for ourselves, for others, or for all — helps us focus on what we really want. When we know what we really want, we're ready to make the little moves that make it happen. Here's a little user's guide for your wishing wand.
The Three-Legged Race is a tactic that some managers use to avoid giving one person new authority. Some of the more cynical among us use it to sabotage projects or even careers. How can you survive a three-legged race?
When we offer a contribution to a discussion, and everyone ignores it and moves on, we sometimes feel that our contribution has "plopped." We feel devalued. Rarely is this interpretation correct. What is going on?
What happens when you learn that your new boss is younger than you are? Or when the first two applicants you interview for a position reporting to you are ten years older than you are? Do you have a noticeable reaction to org chart age inversions?
If you've ever known a particular dog at all well, you've probably been amazed at how easy it is to guess a dog's mood, even though dogs can't speak. Perhaps what's more amazing is that it's so difficult to guess a person's mood, even though humans can speak.
Many of us own books on time management. Here are five tips on time management for those of us who don't have time to read the time management books we've already bought.
Getting to the truth can be a difficult task for managers. People sometimes withhold, spin, or slant reports, especially when the implications are uncomfortable or threatening. A culture that supports truth telling can be an organization's most valuable asset.
When the boss or supervisor of the chair of a regular meeting "sits in," disruption almost inevitably results, and it's usually invisible to the visitor. Here are some of the risks of sitting in on the meetings of your subordinates.
Sometimes we get in over our heads — too much work, work we don't understand, or even complex politics. We can ask for help, but we often forget that we can. Even when we remember, we sometimes hold back. Why is asking for help, or remembering that we can ask, so difficult? How can we make it easier?
When we ask for help, from peers or from those with organizational power, we have some choices. How we go about it can determine whether we get the help we need, in time for the help to help.
Nearly everyone I know complains that email is a time waster. Yet much of the problem results from our own actions. If you're looking around for some New Year's resolutions to make, here are some ideas.
Often, we focus our awareness where we aren't or when we aren't. Whether we're in a heated meeting, or blowing out the candles of a birthday cake, being fully present can make our experiences more positive and memorable. Why are we so often someplace else? When we are, how can we come back? Or better, how can we stay fully present when we want to?
If you're a manager who micromanages, you're probably trying as best you can to help your organization meet its responsibilities. Still, you might feel that people are unhappy — that whatever you're doing isn't working. There is another way.
How we cope with problems is a choice. When we choose our coping style, we help determine our ability to address the problems we face. Of eight styles we can identify, only one is universally constructive, and we rarely use it.
Sometimes we adopt inappropriate technologies, or we deploy unworkable processes, largely because of the political power of their advocates, and despite widespread doubts about the wisdom of the moves. Strangely, though, the decisions often stick long after the advocates move on. Why? And what can we do about it?
If you tell people "I want no surprises," prepare for disappointment. For the kind of work that most of us do, surprises are inevitable. Still, there's some core of useful meaning in "I want no surprises," and if we think about it carefully, we can get what we really need.
In project work, we often make decisions with incomplete information. Sometimes we narrow the options to a few, examine their strengths and risks, and make a choice. In our deliberations, some advocates use a technique called the Straw Man fallacy. It threatens the soundness of the decision, and its use is very common.
Sometimes we cancel a project because of budgetary constraints. We reallocate its resources and scatter its people, and we tell ourselves that the project is on hold. But resuming is often riskier, more difficult and more expensive than we hoped. Here are some reasons why.
When we depend on praise, positive support, or consumption to feel good, we're giving other people or things power over us. Finding within ourselves whatever we need to feel good about ourselves is one path to autonomy and freedom.
Most of us feel recognized, respected, and acknowledged when others use our names. And many of us have difficulty remembering the names of others, especially those we don't know well. How can we get better at connecting names and faces?
Outsourcing is now so widespread that it has achieved status as a full-fledged management fad. But many outsourcing decisions lack the justification that a full financial model provides. Here are some of the factors that such a model should include.
Workplace bullies are probably the organization's most expensive employees. They reduce the effectiveness not only of their targets, but also of bystanders and of the organization as a whole. What can you do if you become a target?
Workplace touching can be friendly, or it can be dangerous and intimidating. When touching is used to intimidate, it often works, because intimidators know how to select their targets. If you're targeted, what can you do?
Politicians know that answering hypothetical questions is dangerous, but it's equally dangerous for managers and project managers to answer them in the project context. What's the problem? Why should you be careful of the "What If?"
What makes a great team? What traits do you value in teammates? Project teams can learn a lot from the latest thinking about designing teams for extended space exploration.
When we steer the discussion away from issues to attack the credibility, motives, or character of our debate partners, we often resort to a technique known as the ad hominem attack. It's unfair, it's unethical, and it leads to bad, expensive decisions that we'll probably regret.
When we schedule a complex project, we balance logical order, resource constraints, and even politics. Here are some techniques for using scheduling to manage risk and reduce costs.
When we bring national or local political issues into the workplace — especially the divisive issues — we risk disrupting our relationships, our projects, and the company itself.
When we try to understand the behavior of others, we often make a particularly human mistake. We tend to attribute too much to character and disposition and too little to situation and context. When we seek a better balance, we can adopt a more accepting view of events around us.
Do you consider yourself a body linguist? Can you tell what people are thinking just by looking at gestures and postures? Think again. Body language is much more complex and ambiguous than many would have us believe.
If you have the time and resources to read this, you probably have a pretty good situation, or you have what it takes to be looking for one. In many ways, you're one of the fortunate few. Are you making the most of the wonderful things you have? Are you giving it your all?
When you attend a meeting, how do you choose your seat? Whether you chair or not, where you sit helps to determine your effectiveness and your stature during the meeting. Here are some tips for choosing your seat strategically.
Team-building is one of the most common forms of team "training." If only it were the most effective, we'd be in a lot better shape than we are. How can we get more out of the effort we spend building teams?
Occasionally we have the experience of belonging to a great team. Thrilling as it is, the experience is rare. How can we make it happen more often?
Whether you're a CEO appealing to your Board of Directors, your stockholders or regulators, or a project champion appealing to a senior manager, you have to "sell uphill" from time to time. Persuading decision-makers who have some kind of power over us is a challenging task. How can we prepare the way for success now and in the future?
Whether you're a CEO or a project champion, you occasionally have to persuade decision-makers who have some kind of power over you. What do they look for? What are the key elements of an effective pitch? What does it take to Persuade Power?
When we use threats and intimidation to win debates or agreement, we lay a flimsy foundation for future action. Using fear may win the point, but little more.
One widespread feature of organizational life is the announcement of across-the-board cuts. Although they're announced, they're rarely "across-the-board." What's behind this pattern? How can we change it to a more effective, truthful pattern?
Changing anything in an organization reveals how it's connected to its people, to its processes, to its facilities, and to the overall context. Usually, these connections reach out much further into the organization than we imagine.
Here's a little catalog of films and videos about project teams that weren't necessarily meant to be about project teams. Most are available to borrow from the public library, and all are great fun.
However ethical you might be, you can't control the ethics of others. Can you tell when someone knowingly tries to mislead you? Here's a catalog of techniques misleaders use.
Many of us spend seemingly endless hours in meetings that seem dull, ineffective, or even counterproductive. Here are some insights to keep in mind that might help make meetings more worthwhile — and maybe even fun.
Presuppositions are powerful tools for manipulating others. To defend yourself, know how they're used, know how to detect them, and know how to respond.
Historically, military logistics practice has provided a steady stream of innovations to many fields, including project management. But project managers can learn even more if we investigate battlefield tactics.
Begging the question is a common, usually undetected, rhetorical fallacy. It leads to unsupported conclusions and painful places we just can't live with. What can we do when it happens?
Do you work for a boss who doesn't appreciate you? Do you feel ignored or excessively criticized? If you do, life can be a misery, if you make it so. Or you can work around it. It's up to you to choose.
Cutouts are people or procedures that enables political operators to communicate in safety. Using cutouts, operators can manipulate their environments while limiting their personal risk. How can you detect cutouts? And what can you do about them?
Many conversations follow identifiable patterns. Recognizing those patterns, and preparing yourself to deal with them, can keep you out of trouble and make you more effective and influential.
Do you have some little secret tricks you use that make you and your team more effective? Do you wish you could know what secret tricks others have? Here's a way to share your secrets without risk.
Organizations often pretend that feuds between leaders do not exist. But when the two most powerful people in your organization go head-to-head, everyone in the organization suffers. How can you survive a feud between people above you in the org chart?
When your current approach isn't working, you can scrap whatever you're doing and start again — if you have enough time and money. There's a less radical solution, and if it works, it's usually both cheaper and faster.
One often-neglected project risk is the risk of inaccurately reported status. That shouldn't be surprising, because we often fail to report the status of the project's risks, as well. What can we do to better manage status risk and risk status?
We usually think of quibbling as an innocent swan dive into unnecessary detail, like calculating shares of a lunch check to the nearest cent. In debate about substantive issues, a detour into quibbling can be far more threatening — it can indicate much deeper problems.
Most of us have participated in group decision-making. The process can be frustrating and painful, but it can also be thrilling. What processes do groups use to make decisions? How do we choose the right process for the job?
Feeling distrusted and undervalued, we often attribute the problem to the behavior of others — to the micromanager who might be mistreating us. We tend not to examine our own contributions to the difficulty. Are you micromanaging yourself?
Humor can lift our spirits and defuse tense situations. If you're already skilled in humor, and you want advice from an expert, I can't help you. But if you're humor-impaired and you just want to know the basics, I probably can't help you either. Or maybe I can...
Getting home from work is far more than a question of transportation. What can we do to come home totally — to move not only our bodies, but our minds and our spirits from work to home?
Some problems are so difficult or scary that we can't even think about how to face them. Until we can think, action is not a good idea. How can we engage our brains for the really scary problems?
When we take time to express to others our appreciation for what they do for us, a magical thing happens.
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style and the lessons that you have shared with us are invaluable.
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