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Archive for 2015

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The U.S. Capitol Building, seat of both houses of the legislatureComing October 14: Contextual Causes of Conflict: Part II
Too often we assume that the causes of destructive conflict lie in the behavior or personalities of the people directly participating in the conflict. Here's Part II of an exploration of causes that lie elsewhere. Available here and by RSS on October 14.
The Satir Interaction Model as simplified by WeinbergAnd on October 21: Managing Wishful Thinking Risk
When things go wrong, and we look back at how we got there, we must sometimes admit to wishful thinking. Here's a framework for managing the risk of wishful thinking. Available here and by RSS on October 21.

This page has links to articles from 2015. For other years:

October 7, 2015

Bull moose sparring in Grand Teton National ParkContextual Causes of Conflict: Part I
When destructive conflict erupts, we usually hold responsible only the people directly involved. But the choices of others, and general circumstances, can be the real causes of destructive conflict.

September 30, 2015

A workplace clockThe Artful Shirker
Most people who shirk work are fairly obvious about it, but some are so artful that the people around them don't realize what's happening. Here are a few of the more sophisticated shirking techniques.

September 23, 2015

Orient quad, photo by George H. Van NormanHow to Deal with Holding Back
When group members voluntarily restrict their contributions to group efforts, group success is threatened and high performance becomes impossible. How can we reduce the incidence of holding back?

September 16, 2015

American Eclipse, an American racehorse who lived from 1814 to 1847Holding Back: Part II
Members of high-performing teams rarely hold back effort. But truly high performance is rare in teams. Here is Part II of our exploration of mechanisms that account for team members' holding back effort they could contribute.

September 9, 2015

Navy vs. Marine Corps tug of war in Vera Cruz, Mexico ca. 1910-1915Holding Back: Part I
When members of teams or groups hold back their efforts toward achieving group goals, schedule and budget problems can arise, along with frustration and destructive intra-group conflict. What causes this behavior?

September 2, 2015

Langston Hughes, poet and leader of the Harlem RenaissanceThat Was a Yes-or-No Question: Part II
When, in the presence of others, someone asks you "a simple yes or no" question, beware. Chances are that you're confronting a trap. Here's Part II of a set of suggestions for dealing with the yes-or-no trap.

August 26, 2015

Senator Jeff Sessions grills Budget Director Sylvia Burwell on President Obama's 2015 Budget March 5, 2014That Was a Yes-or-No Question: Part I
In tense situations, one person might question another. As the respondent replies, the questioner interjects, "That was a yes-or-no question." The intent is to trap the respondent. How does this work, and how can the respondent escape the trap?

August 19, 2015

A 155 mm artillery shell is visible as it exits the barrel of an M-198 howitzer during trainingWhen the Answer Isn't the Point: Part II
Sometimes, when we ask questions, we're more interested in eliciting behavior from the person questioned, rather than answers. Here's Part II of a set of techniques questioners use when the answer to the question wasn't the point of asking.

August 12, 2015

An investigator from the U.S. Air Force Office of Special Investigations interviews a witnessWhen the Answer Isn't the Point: Part I
When we ask each other questions, the answers aren't always what we seek. Sometimes the behavior of the respondent is what matters. Here are some techniques questioners use when the answer to the question wasn't the point of asking.

August 5, 2015

Benjamin Franklin portrait by Joseph Siffred DuplessisWacky Words of Wisdom: Part IV
Words of wisdom are pithy sayings that can be valuable so often that we believe them absolutely. Although these sayings are often valuable, they aren't universally valid. Here's Part IV of a growing collection.

July 29, 2015

Ammi Visnaga, a nile weed that has medicinal valueDown in the Weeds: Part II
To be "down in the weeds," in one of its senses, is to be lost in discussion at a level of detail inappropriate to the current situation. Here's Part II of our exploration of methods for dealing with this frustrating pattern so common in group discussions.

July 22, 2015

An A-10 Thunderbolt II over Afghanistan in 2011Down in the Weeds: Part I
When someone says, "I think we're down in the weeds," a common meaning is that we're focusing on inappropriate — and possibly irrelevant — details. How does this happen and what can we do about it?

July 15, 2015

President Obama meets with Congressional leadersEthical Debate at Work: Part II
Outcomes of debates at work sometimes favor one party, not only at the expense of the other or others, but also at the expense of the organization. Here's Part II of a set of guidelines for steering debates toward wise outcomes.

July 8, 2015

A Celebes Crested MacaqueEthical Debate at Work: Part I
When we decide issues at work on any basis other than the merits, we elevate the chances of making bad decisions. Here are some guidelines for ethical debate.

July 1, 2015

Rep. John Boehner displays the Speaker's gavelEnding Sidebars
We say that a sidebar is underway in a meeting when two or more meeting participants converse without having been recognized by the Chair. Sidebars can be helpful, but they can also be disruptive. How can we end sidebars quickly and politely?

June 24, 2015

An informal meeting geometryPreventing Sidebars
Sidebar conversations between meeting participants waste time and reduce meeting effectiveness. How can we prevent them?

June 17, 2015

Braided streams in Grewingk Glacier RiverWhy Sidebars Happen
Sidebar conversations between meeting participants, conducted while someone else has the floor, are a distracting form of disorder that can waste time and reduce meeting effectiveness. Why do sidebars happen?

June 10, 2015

Two hermit crabs in their snail shellsThe Perils of Limited Agreement
When a group member agrees to a proposal, even with conditions, the group can move forward. Such agreement is constructive, but there are risks. What are those risks and what can we do about them?

June 3, 2015

Mohandas K. Ghandi, in the 1930sJust Make It Happen
Many idolize the no-nonsense manager who says, "I don't want to hear excuses, just make it happen." We associate that stance with strong leadership. Sometimes, though, it's little more than abuse motivated by ambition or ignorance — or both.

May 27, 2015

An iphone 4sCompulsive Talkers at Work: Peers II
Our exploration of approaches for dealing with compulsive talkers now concludes, with Part II of a set of suggestions for what to do when peers who talk compulsively interfere with your work.

May 20, 2015

Bored on the phoneCompulsive Talkers at Work: Peers I
Our exploration of approaches for dealing with compulsive talkers now continues, with Part I of a set of suggestions for what to do when a peer interferes with your work by talking compulsively.

May 13, 2015

A portion of The Art of War, written in Tangut scriptCompulsive Talkers at Work: Power
Compulsive talkers are unlikely to change their behavior in response to your polite (or even impolite) requests. In this second part of our exploration, we consider the role of power — both personal and organizational.

May 6, 2015

A diagram of effects for compulsive talkingCompulsive Talkers at Work: Addiction
Incessant, unending talking about things that the listener doesn't care about, already knows about, or can do nothing about is an irritating behavior that harms both talker and listener. What can we do about this?

April 29, 2015

"Will" Rogers, humorist and cowboy philosopherQuips That Work at Work: Part II
Humor, used effectively, can defuse tense situations. Here's Part II of a set of guidelines for using humor to defuse tension and bring confrontations, meetings, and conversations back to a place where thinking can resume.

April 22, 2015

Henny Youngman in 1957Quips That Work at Work: Part I
Perhaps you've heard that humor can defuse tense situations. Often, a clever quip, deftly delivered, does help. And sometimes, it's a total disaster. What accounts for the difference?

April 15, 2015

Deputy Secretary of Defense Wolfowitz, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, and President Bush in a press conference on September 17, 2001Overconfidence at Work
Confidence in our judgments and ourselves is essential to success. Confidence misplaced — overconfidence — leads to trouble and failure. Understanding the causes and consequences of overconfidence can be most useful.

April 8, 2015

A laptop with password stickiesWhy We Don't Care Anymore
As a consultant and coach I hear about what people hate about their jobs. Here's some of it. It might help you appreciate your job.

April 1, 2015

The business end of a spark plugCreating Toxic Conflict: Part II
Some supervisors seem to behave as if part of their job description is creating toxic conflict among their subordinates. It isn't really, of course, but here's a collection of methods bad managers use that make trouble.

March 25, 2015

The flagship store of the Market Basket supermarket chainCreating Toxic Conflict: Part I
Many managers seem to operate as if their primary goal is to create toxic conflict among their subordinates. Here's a collection of methods for sowing toxic conflict that can help bad managers become worse managers.

March 18, 2015

A studio publicity photo of Alfred HitchcockSuspense Is Not Your Friend
Most of us have to talk to other people at work. Whether to peers, subordinates, or superiors, sometimes we must convey information that can be complicated when delivered in full detail. To convey complicated ideas effectively, avoid suspense.

March 11, 2015

Brendan Nyhan and Jason ReiflerHistorical Debates at Work
One obstacle to high performance in teams is the historical debate — arguing about who said what and when, or who agreed to what and when. Here are suggestions for ending and preventing historical debates.

March 4, 2015

A highway sign on the way to AbileneVirtual Trips to Abilene
One dysfunction of face-to-face meetings is the Trip to Abilene, which leads groups to make decisions no members actually support. It can afflict virtual meetings, too, even more easily.

February 25, 2015

U.S. President Barack Obama and Arizona Governor Jan Brewer conferring in the Oval Office in 2010Grace Under Fire: Part II
When we debate at work, things sometimes turn unpleasant. Out of control, one party might maneuver the other into losing control. If we have better tools for recognizing these tactics, we're better able to maintain self-control. Here's Part II of such a toolkit.

February 18, 2015

Rep. Elijah Cummings and Rep. Darryl IssaGrace Under Fire: Part I
If you're ever in a tight spot in a meeting, one in which you must defend your actions or past decisions, the soundness of your arguments can matter less than your demeanor. What can you do when someone intends to make you "lose it?"

February 11, 2015

A schematic representation of a MOSFETBottlenecks: Part II
When some people take on so much work that they become "bottlenecks," they expose the organization to risks. Managing those risks is a first step to ending the bottlenecking pattern.

February 4, 2015

The Niagara River and cantilever bridgeBottlenecks: Part I
Some people take on so much work that they become "bottlenecks." The people around them repeatedly find themselves stuck, awaiting responses or decisions. Why does this happen and what are the costs?

January 28, 2015

The cockpit of an A340 Airbus airlinerThe Limits of Status Reports: Part II
We aren't completely free to specify the content or frequency of status reports from the people who write them. There are limits on both. Here's Part II of an exploration of those limits.

January 21, 2015

The REI parking garage in Denver, ColoradoThe Limits of Status Reports: Part I
Some people erroneously believe that they can request status reports as often as they like, and including any level of detail they deem necessary. Not so.

January 14, 2015

Panama Canal constructionAvoid Having to Reframe Failure
Yet again, we missed our goal — we were late, we were over budget, or we lost to the competition. But how can we get something good out of it?

January 7, 2015

Melrose Diner, Philadelphia, PennsylvaniaThe Power and Hazards of Anecdotes: Part II
Anecdotes are powerful tools of persuasion, but with that power comes a risk that we might become persuaded of false positions. Here is Part II of a set of examples illustrating some hazards of anecdotes.

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