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Emotions at Work

Here are links to the previous issues of Point Lookout that touch on Emotions at Work. Bookmark this page. Or browse this archive by date. Subscribe now.

Gen. Douglas MacArthur (left) and Willie Keeler (right)Coming November 26: Ten Approaches to Managing Project Risks: Part II
Managing risk entails coping with unwanted events that might or might not happen, and which can be costly if they do happen. Here's Part II of our exploration of coping strategies for unwanted events. Available here and by RSS on November 26.
Phoenix caissons being towed to form a Mulberry harbor off Normandy, June 1944And on December 3: Ten Approaches to Managing Project Risks: Part III
Project risk management strategies are numerous, but these ten strategies are among the most common. Here are the last three of the ten strategies in this little catalog. Available here and by RSS on December 3.

Other topics:

November 12, 2014

The U.S. and Russian delegations meet to negotiate the New Start TreatyFace-Off Negotiations
In difficult face-to-face negotiations — or any face-to-face negotiations — seating arrangements do matter. Here's an exploration of one common seating pattern.

October 15, 2014

Tennis players shake hands after their matchPreventing Toxic Conflict: Part II
Establishing norms for respectful behavior is perhaps the most effective way to reduce the incidence of toxic conflict at work. When we all understand and subscribe to a particular way of treating each other, we can all help prevent trouble.

October 8, 2014

Six atoms in a Schrödinger "cat" statePreventing Toxic Conflict: Part I
Conflict resolution skills are certainly useful. Even more advantageous are toxic conflict prevention skills, and skills that keep constructive conflict from turning toxic.

October 1, 2014

A wrecked automobileToxic Conflict at Work
Preventing toxic conflict is a whole lot better than trying to untangle it once it starts. But to prevent toxic conflict, we must understand some basics of conflict, and why untangling toxic conflict can be so difficult.

March 26, 2014

An artist's conception of a planetary accretion diskWhy Scope Expands: Part II
The scope of an effort underway tends to expand over time. Why do scopes not contract just as often? One cause might be cognitive biases that make us more receptive to expansion than contraction.

March 19, 2014

The Bloomingdale's store in Stamford, Connecticut in January 1955Why Scope Expands: Part I
Scope creep is depressingly familiar. Its anti-partner, spontaneous and stealthy scope contraction, has no accepted name, and is rarely seen. Why?

March 12, 2014

The Great Wall of China near MutianyuScope Creep and Confirmation Bias
As we've seen, some cognitive biases can contribute to the incidence of scope creep in projects and other efforts. Confirmation bias, which causes us to prefer evidence that bolsters our preconceptions, is one of these.

March 5, 2014

A Carrick MatChanging Blaming Cultures
Culture change in organizations is always challenging, but changing a blaming culture presents special difficulties. Here are three reasons why.

February 26, 2014

Gachi Fernandez and Sergio Cortazzo, professional tango coupleScope Creep, Hot Hands, and the Illusion of Control
Despite our awareness of scope creep's dangerous effects on projects and other efforts, we seem unable to prevent it. Two cognitive biases — the "hot hand fallacy" and "the illusion of control" — might provide explanations.

February 19, 2014

A visual illusionScope Creep and the Planning Fallacy
Much is known about scope creep, but it nevertheless occurs with such alarming frequency that in some organizations, it's a certainty. Perhaps what keeps us from controlling it better is that its causes can't be addressed with management methodology. Its causes might be, in part, psychological.

January 22, 2014

RaspberriesHuman Limitations and Meeting Agendas
Recent research has discovered a class of human limitations that constrain our ability to exert self-control and to make wise decisions. Accounting for these effects when we construct agendas can make meetings more productive and save us from ourselves.

January 15, 2014

A Canada Goose nestingBig Egos and Other Misconceptions
We often describe someone who arrogantly breezes through life with swagger and evident disregard for others as having a "big ego." Maybe so. And maybe not. Let's have a closer look.

January 8, 2014

A ray of light passing through and reflected from a prismWhen Somebody Throws a Nutty
To "throw a nutty" — at work, that is — can include anything from extreme verbal over-reaction to violent physical abuse of others. When someone exhibits behavior at the milder end of this spectrum, what responses are appropriate?

December 11, 2013

A dog wagging her tailMore Things I've Learned Along the Way
Some entries from my personal collection of useful and not-so-useful insights.

November 20, 2013

Strawberries, raspberries, and blueberriesEgo Depletion: An Introduction
Ego depletion is a recently discovered phenomenon that limits our ability to regulate our own behavior. It explains such seemingly unrelated phenomena as marketing campaign effectiveness, toxic conflict contagion, and difficulty losing weight.

October 9, 2013

A10 Thunderbolt II "Warthog"Not Really Part of the Team: Part II
When some team members hang back, declining to show initiative, we tend to overlook the possibility that their behavior is a response to something happening within or around the team. Too often we hold responsible the person who's hanging back. What other explanations are possible?

October 2, 2013

Two redwoods in the Stout Memorial Grove of the Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park in CaliforniaNot Really Part of the Team: Part I
Some team members hang back. They show little initiative and have little social contact with other team members. How does this come about?

September 11, 2013

Gen. Robert E. Lee's traveling chess setSo You Want the Bullying to End: Part II
If you're the target of a workplace bully, ending the bullying can be an elusive goal. Here are some guidelines for tactics to bring it to a close.

August 28, 2013

The Headquarters of the Public Employees Retirement Association of New MexicoSo You Want the Bullying to End: Part I
If you're the target of a workplace bully, you probably want the bullying to end. If you've ever been the target of a workplace bully, you probably remember wanting it to end. But how it ends can be more important than whether or when it ends.

August 21, 2013

The Town Hall of Brighton, England, in 2010Social Isolation and Workplace Bullying
Social isolation is a tactic widely used by workplace bullies. What is it? How do bullies use it? Why do bullies use it? What can targets do about it?

August 14, 2013

Brian Urquhart of the Office of the UN Under-Secretaries Without Porfolios. (1 January 1956)Staying in Abilene
A "Trip to Abilene," identified by Jerry Harvey, is a group decision to undertake an effort that no group members believe in. Extending the concept slightly, "Staying in Abilene" happens when groups fail even to consider changing something that everyone would agree needs changing.

May 29, 2013

A tire reef off the coast of Fort Lauderdale, FloridaManaging Hindsight Bias Risk
Performance appraisal practices and project retrospectives both rely on evaluating performance after outcomes are known. Unfortunately, a well-known bias — hindsight bias — can limit the effectiveness of many organizational processes, including both performance appraisal and project retrospectives.

April 24, 2013

The John Hollis Bankhead Lock and Dam on the Black Warrior River in Tuscaloosa County, AlabamaFirst Aid for Wounded Conversations
Groups that meet regularly sometimes develop patterns of tense conversations that become obstacles to forward progress. Here are some ideas for releasing the tension.

April 17, 2013

A field of corn severely stunted by droughtToxic Conflict in Virtual Teams: Virtuality
In virtual teams, toxic conflict sometimes seems to erupt spontaneously. People who function effectively in co-located teams can find themselves repeatedly embroiled in conflicts that seem to lack specific causes. What triggers toxic conflict in virtual teams?

April 10, 2013

A schematic representation of the Milgram ExperimentToxic Conflict in Virtual Teams: Minimizing Authority
Toxic conflict in virtual teams is especially difficult to address, because we bring to it assumptions about causes and remedies that we've acquired in our experience in co-located teams. In this Part II of our exploration we examine how minimizing authority tends to convert ordinary creative conflict into a toxic form.

April 3, 2013

Young chickensToxic Conflict in Virtual Teams: Dissociative Anonymity
Toxic conflict in teams disrupts relationships and interferes with (or prevents) accomplishment of the team's goals. It's difficult enough to manage toxic conflict in co-located teams, but in virtual teams, dissociative anonymity causes toxic conflict to be both more easily triggered and more difficult to resolve.

March 27, 2013

A diagram of effects illustrating two more loops in the Restructuring-Fear CycleThe Restructuring-Fear Cycle: Part II
When enterprises restructure, reorganize, downsize, outsource, lay off, or make other organizational adjustments, they usually focus on financial health. Here's Part II of an exploration of how the fear induced by these changes can lead to the need for further restructuring.

March 20, 2013

A diagram of effects illustrating these two loops in the Restructuring-Fear CycleThe Restructuring-Fear Cycle: Part I
When enterprises restructure, reorganize, downsize, outsource, spin off, relocate, lay off, or make other adjustments, they usually focus on financial health. Often ignored is the fear these changes create in the minds of employees. Sadly, that fear can lead to the need for further restructuring.

January 16, 2013

A tensile failure of a bottom chord in a covered bridgeThe Problem of Work Life Balance
When we consider the problem of work life balance, we're at a disadvantage from the start. The term itself is part of the problem.

January 2, 2013

Timber blowdown in the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National ForestCoercion by Presupposition
Coercion, physical or psychological, has no place in the workplace. Yet we see it and experience it frequently. We can end the use of presupposition as a tool of coercion, but only if we take personal responsibility for ending it.

November 14, 2012

Richard Posner, a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit in ChicagoSome Subtleties of Ad Hominem Attacks
Groups sometimes make mistakes based on faulty reasoning used in their debates. One source of faulty reasoning is the ad hominem attack. Here are some insights that help groups recognize and avoid this class of errors.

October 24, 2012

Three Card Monte, Jaffa, IsraelFooling Ourselves
Humans have impressive abilities to convince themselves of things that are false. One explanation for this behavior is the theory of cognitive dissonance.

October 3, 2012

A vervet monkey (Chlorocebus pygerythrus) in TanzaniaSee No Bully, Hear No Bully
Supervisors of bullies sometimes are unaware of bullying activity in their organizations. Here's a collection of indicators for supervisors who suspect bullying but who haven't witnessed it directly.

August 15, 2012

The Challenge vs. Skill diagram, showing the "Flow" regionTop 30 Indicators That You Might Be Bored at Work
Most of the time, when we're bored at work, we know we are. But sometimes, we're bored and we just don't realize it. Here are some indicators of boredom that might escape some people's notice.

May 23, 2012

Deepwater Horizon oil spill imagined in true color on May 17, 2010, by the MODIS instrument aboard NASA's TERRA satelliteHandling Heat: Part II
Heated exchanges in meetings can compromise both the organizational mission and the careers of the meeting's participants. Here are some tactics for people who aren't chairing the meeting.

May 16, 2012

Amundsen's team working on personal kit during the winter before the trip South to the PoleHandling Heat: Part I
Heated exchanges in meetings are expensive to both the organizational mission and to the careers of the meeting's participants. Preventing them — or dealing with them when they happen — is everyone's job. But what can you do when they persist?

January 25, 2012

The field of vision of a horseA Review of Performance Reviews: Blindsiding
Ever learn of a complaint about you for the first time at your performance review? If so, you were blindsided. Reviews can be painful. Here are some guidelines for making them a little fairer.

January 11, 2012

The ruins of the Temple of Apollo at DelphiOn Advice and Responsibility
Being asked for advice can be an affirming experience, but actually giving advice can sometimes entail risk. How can this happen, and what choices do we have?

December 7, 2011

U.S. Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond OdiernoWhen Change Is Hard: Part I
Sometimes changing organizations goes smoothly. More often, it doesn't. Whatever methodology we use — and there are many methodologies available — difficulties can arise. When change is hard, what's happening? What makes change hard?

November 30, 2011

Computer-generated image of the third stage ignition for Mars Climate OrbiterConfirmation Bias: Workplace Consequences Part II
We continue our exploration of confirmation bias. In this Part II, we explore its effects in management processes.

November 23, 2011

World global temperature departuresConfirmation Bias: Workplace Consequences Part I
We continue our exploration of confirmation bias, paying special attention to the consequences it causes in the workplace. In this part, we explore its effects on our thinking.

November 16, 2011

A glass of red wineI've Been Right All Along
As people, we're very good at forming and holding beliefs and opinions despite nagging doubts. These doubts lead us to search for confirmation of our beliefs, and to reject information that might conflict with our beliefs. Often, this process causes us to persist in believing nonsense. How can we tell when this is happening?

November 9, 2011

Philipse Manor Hall State Historic Site in Yonkers, New YorkGood Change, Bad Change: Part II
When we distinguish good change from bad, we often get it wrong: we favor things that would harm us, and shun things that would help. When we do get it wrong, we're sometimes misled by social factors.

November 2, 2011

Baron Joseph Lister (1827-1912)Good Change, Bad Change: Part I
Change is all around. Some changes are welcome and some not, but when we distinguish good change from bad, we often get it wrong. Why?

September 7, 2011

Red Ball Express troops stack "jerry cans" used to transport gasoline to front-line units during World War II.Inappropriate Levels of Regard
The regard we have for others as people is sometimes influenced by the regard we have for the work they do. Confusing the two is a dangerous error.

July 20, 2011

Daffodils of the variety Narcissus 'Barrett Browning'Self-Serving Bias in Organizations
We all want to believe that we can rely on the good judgment of decision makers when they make decisions that affect organizational performance. But they're human, and they are therefore subject to a cognitive bias known as self-serving bias. Here's a look at what can happen.

January 19, 2011

The Japanese battleship <i>Yamato</i> during machinery trials 20 October 1941The Focusing Illusion in Organizations
The judgments we make at work, like the judgments we make elsewhere in life, are subject to human fallibility in the form of cognitive biases. One of these is the Focusing Illusion. Here are some examples to watch for.

December 22, 2010

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Christa Quam holds her puppyBe With the Real
When the stream of unimportant events and concerns reaches a high enough tempo, we can become so transfixed that we lose awareness of the real and the important. Here are some suggestions for being with the Real.

December 15, 2010

A spider plant, <i>chlorophytum comosum</i>.What Enough to Do Is Like
Most of us have had way too much to do for so long that "too much to do" has become the new normal. We've forgotten what "enough to do" feels like. Here are some reminders.

October 27, 2010

A centrifugal governorSixteen Overload Haiku
Most of us have some experience of being overloaded and overworked. Many of us have forgotten what it is not to be overloaded. Here's a contemplation of the state of overload.

November 18, 2009

Winslow Homer's painting, BlackboardFill in the Blanks
When we conceal information about ourselves and our areas of responsibility, we make room for others to speculate. Speculation is rarely helpful. It's wise to fill in the blanks.

September 2, 2009

A Protestant church in Tuttlingen, GermanyBlind Agendas
Effective meetings have agendas. But even if a meeting has an agenda, the hidden agendas of participants can cause trouble. Another source of trouble, less frequently recognized, is the blind agenda.

August 5, 2009

The wreckage of the Silver Bridge across the Ohio RiverHyper-Super-Overwork
The prevalence of overwork has increased with the depth of the global recession, in part because employers are demanding more, and in part because many must now work longer hours to make ends a little closer to meeting. Overwork is dangerous. Here are some suggestions for dealing with it.

July 1, 2009

The Hall of Mosses Trail in the Hoh Rain ForestTeamwork Myths: I vs. We
In high performance teams, cooperative behavior is a given. But in the experience of many, truly cooperative behavior is so rare that they believe that something fundamental is at work — that cooperative behavior requires surrendering the self, which most people are unwilling to do. It's another teamwork myth.

June 3, 2009

Roald Amundsen, Helmer Hanssen, Sverre Hassel, and Oscar Wisting at the South PoleOne Cost of Split Assignments
Sometimes management practices have unintended consequences. To reduce costs, we keep staff ranks thin, but that leads to split assignments for those with rare skills. Here's one way split assignments can lead to higher costs.

March 25, 2009

The USS Indianapolis on July 10, 1945, off Mare IslandCoping with Layoff Survival
Your company has just done another round of layoffs, and you survived yet again. This time was the most difficult, because your best pal was laid off, and you're even more fearful for your own job security. How can you cope with survival?

February 4, 2009

A pipe tomahawk dating to 1740-1780How to Avoid a Layoff: Your Relationships
In troubled economic times, layoffs loom almost everywhere. Here are some tips for reconfiguring your relationships with others at work and at home to reduce the chances that you will be laid off.

January 28, 2009

The Purchasing Managers IndexHow to Avoid a Layoff: The Inside Stuff
These are troubled economic times. Layoffs are becoming increasingly common. Here are some tips for changing your frame of mind to help reduce the chances that you will be laid off.

January 21, 2009

Lake Chaubunagungamaug signCreating Trust
What can you do when you discover that the environment at work is permeated with distrust? Your position in the organization does affect your choices, but here are some suggestions that might be helpful to anyone.

December 24, 2008

Roasted chestnuts. Can you smell their aroma?Making Memories to Cherish
We all have cherished memories — lovely moments we can replay whenever we want to feel happy. How would you like to have a lot more of them?

December 10, 2008

Shackleton, Scott and Wilson, of the British Antarctic Expedition 1902The Injured Teammate: Part II
You're a team lead, and one of the team members is suddenly very ill or has been severely injured. How do you handle it? Here are some suggestions for breaking the news to the team.

December 3, 2008

Rough-toothed dolphinThe Injured Teammate: Part I
You're a team lead, and one of the team members is very ill or has been severely injured. How do you handle it? How do you break the news? What does the team need? What do you need?

November 26, 2008

A wild turkeyIt's a Wonderful Day!
Most knowledge workers are problem solvers. We work towards goals. We anticipate problems as best we can, and when problems appear, we solve them. But our focus on anticipating problems can become a problem in itself — at work and in Life.

November 19, 2008

Three adult male chimpanzees during a grooming sessionFavors, Payback, and Thoughtlessness
Someone at work who isn't particularly a friend or foe has asked you for a favor. What happens if you say no? Do you grant the favor? How do you decide what to do?

November 5, 2008

Dr. Jerri Nielsen at Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station in 1999On Virtual Relationships
Whether or not you work as part of a virtual team, you probably work with some people you rarely meet face-to-face. And there are some people you've never met, and probably never will. What does it take to maintain good working relationships with people you rarely meet?

July 16, 2008

Aerial view of the Charley River at its confluence with the YukonHow to Prepare for Difficult Conversations
Difficult conversations can be so scary to contemplate that many of us delay them until difficult conversations become impossible conversations. Here are some tips for preparing for difficult conversations.

July 2, 2008

Archbishop Desmond Tutu, chairman of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of the Union of South AfricaPeace's Pieces
Just as important as keeping the peace with your colleagues is making peace again when it has been broken by strife. Nations have peace treaties. People make up. Here are some tips for making up.

June 25, 2008

Ice on Challenger's launch pad hours before the launchUnintended Consequences
Sometimes, when we solve problems, the solutions create new problems that can be worse than the problems we solve. Why does this happen? How can we limit this effect?

June 18, 2008

Oscar Wisting, a member of Roald Amundsen's party, and his dog team at the South Pole in 1911Coping and Hard Lessons
Ever have the feeling of "Uh-oh, I've made this mistake before"? Some of these oft-repeated mistakes happen not because of obstinacy, or stupidity, or foolishness, but because the learning required to avoid them is just plain difficult. Here are some examples of hard lessons.

May 14, 2008

A gray wolf. Animosity between wolves helps ensure balance.Animosity Patterns
Animosity between two people at work is often attributed to "personality clashes." While sometimes people can't get along, animosity can also be a tool for accomplishing strictly political ends. Here's a short catalog of some of its uses.

March 12, 2008

A polar bear, feeding, on landResponding to Threats: Part III
Workplace threats come in a variety of flavors. One class of threats is indirect. Threateners who use the indirect threats aim to evoke fear of consequences brought about not by the threatener, but by other parties. Indirect threats are indeed warnings, but not in the way you might think.

February 27, 2008

Tornado in a mature stage of development (Photo #3 of a series of classic photographs)Responding to Threats: Part II
When an exchange between individuals, or between an individual and a group, goes wrong, threats often are either the cause or part of the results. If we know how to deal with threats — and how to avoid and prevent them — we can help keep communications creative and constructive.

February 20, 2008

A straw-bale houseResponding to Threats: Part I
Threats are one form of communication common to many organizational cultures, especially as pressure mounts. Understanding the varieties of threats can be helpful in determining a response that fits for you.

December 12, 2007

The musical energy behind "Shall We Dance" (1937)What We Don't Know About Each Other
We know a lot about our co-workers, but we don't know everything. And since we don't know what we don't know, we sometimes forget that we don't know it. And then the trouble begins.

November 28, 2007

Smiling couples. Smiling at work is one of the more important social graces.Social Safety Margins
As our personal workloads increase, we endure more stress and more time pressure. Inevitably, we have less time for the social niceties that protect us from accidentally hurting each other's feelings. When are we most at risk of incidental harm, and what can we do about it?

July 18, 2007

The USS Doyle as DMS-34, when she played The CaineReverse Micromanagement
Micromanagement is too familiar to too many of us. Less familiar is inappropriate interference in the reverse direction — in the work of our supervisors or even higher in the chain. Disciplinary action isn't always helpful, especially when some of the causes of reverse micromanagement are organizational.

July 11, 2007

A horseEthical Influence: Part II
When we influence others as they're making tough decisions, it's easy to enter a gray area. How can we be certain that our influence isn't manipulation? How can we influence others ethically?

July 4, 2007

The Bill of RightsEthical Influence: Part I
Influencing others can be difficult. Even more difficult is defining a set of approaches to influencing that almost all of us consider ethical. Here's a framework that makes a good starting point.

August 30, 2006

A happy babyPeek-a-Boo and Leadership
Great leaders know what to say, what not to say, and when to say or not say it, sometimes with stunning effect. Consistently effective leadership requires superior empathy skills. Here are some things to do to improve your empathy skills.

January 18, 2006

The sun wearing sunglassesFiltered Perceptions
How we see things influences how we see things, almost like a filter or sunglasses. What are your filters?

January 4, 2006

An iceberg in Antarctica's Gerlache Strait, March 1962The Uses of Empathy
Even though empathy skills are somewhat undervalued in the workplace context, we do use them, for good and for ill. What is empathy? How is it relevant at work?

July 27, 2005

Too much time on his handsHurtful Clichés: Part II
Much of our day-to-day conversation consists of harmless clichés: "How goes it?" or "Nice to meet you." Some other clichés aren't harmless, but they're so common that we use them without thinking. Here's Part II of a series exploring some of these clichés.

July 13, 2005

You worthless piece of trash!Hurtful Clichés: Part I
Much of our day-to-day conversation consists of harmless clichés: "How goes it?" or "Nice to meet you." Some other clichés aren't harmless, but they're so common that we use them without thinking. Maybe it's time for some thought.

June 29, 2005

A multi-function phoneDeniable Intimidation
Some people achieve or maintain power by intimidating others in deniable ways. Too often, when intimidators succeed, their success rests in part on our unwillingness to resist, or on our lack of skill. By understanding their tactics, and by preparing responses, we can deter intimidators.

June 22, 2005

Locate your dry cleaning wherever it is in one of the Standard Time Zones of the WorldThe Loopy Things We Do at Work
At the end of the day, your skill at finding humor inside the dull and ordinary can make the difference between going home exhausted and going home in a strait jacket. Adopting a twisted view of the goings-on might just help keep you untwisted.

May 18, 2005

Carrot and stickIrrational Self-Interest
When we try to influence others, especially large groups or entire companies, we sometimes create packages of incentives and disincentives that are intended to affect behavior. These strategies usually assume that people make choices on rational grounds. Is this assumption valid?

March 23, 2005

A shouting matchCan You Hear Me Now?
Not feeling heard can feel like an attack, even when there was no attack, and then conversation can quickly turn to war. Here are some tips for hearing your conversation partner and for conveying the message that you actually did hear.

March 9, 2005

An island vacation getawayPlanning Your Getaway
For many of us, taking a vacation can be a burden. We ask ourselves, "How can I get away now?" And sometimes we have the answer: "I can't." How can we feel relaxed about taking time off?

December 29, 2004

People expressing their appreciationAppreciations
When we take time to express to others our appreciation for what they do for us, a magical thing happens.

December 22, 2004

A brainWhen You Can't Even Think About It
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?

December 15, 2004

A kayaker commutingTotally at Home
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?

December 8, 2004

The elevatorA Guide for the Humor-Impaired
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...

November 24, 2004

A sleeping dogAre You Micromanaging Yourself?
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?

September 22, 2004

The unappreciative bossThe Unappreciative Boss
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.

September 15, 2004

Circular reasoningBegging the Question
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?

July 14, 2004

ScissorsThose Across-the-Board Cuts That Aren't
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?

July 7, 2004

Two dinosaurs fightingBelieve It or Else
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.

May 12, 2004

Hot and cold faucetsHot and Cold Running People
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.

May 5, 2004

A moccasinThe Fundamental Attribution Error
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.

March 24, 2004

Two fingers pointing at each otherIntimidation Tactics: Touching
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?

March 17, 2004

A targetWhen You're the Target of a Bully
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?

February 25, 2004

Two coffeesWhen You Need a Lift
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.

February 11, 2004

A straw manDecision-Making and the Straw Man
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.

January 21, 2004

CongruenceCoping with Problems
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.

November 5, 2003

A dog wagging her tailWhy Dogs Wag Their Tails
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.

October 8, 2003

A wishing wandYour Wishing Wand
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.

August 20, 2003

Cell phone driverCellf Esteem
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?

June 25, 2003

A jet aircraftWhen You Travel Alone
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.

June 18, 2003

An elevatorDemanding Forgiveness
Working together under stress, we do sometimes hurt each other. Delivering apologies is a skill critical to repairing those hurts and maintaining our relationships.

April 9, 2003

Conflict Haiku
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.

April 2, 2003

FeedbackFeedback Fumbles
"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?

December 25, 2002

The Grand CanyonWhat's So Good About Being Laid Off?
Layoffs during the holiday period of November 15 through January 15 are far more common than you might think. Losing your job, or fearing that you might, is always difficult, but at this time of year it's especially helpful to keep in mind that the experience does have a bright side.

October 30, 2002

Commitment by FearManipulated Commitments
Manipulated or coerced commitment looks pretty good on paper, but it might not lead to dedicated action. When the truth is finally revealed, trouble can be unavoidable.

October 9, 2002

Get a bite at half pastWhen Naming Hurts
One of our great strengths as Humans is our ability to name things. Naming empowers us by helping us think about and communicate complex ideas. But naming has a dark side, too. We use naming to oversimplify, to denigrate, to disempower, and even to dehumanize. When we abuse this tool, we hurt our companies, our colleagues, and ourselves.

September 11, 2002

The former New York skylineMarking Grief
Grief is usually a private matter, but for many, September Eleventh is different because our grief can be centered in the workplace. On September Eleventh, give yourself permission to do what you need for yourself, and give others permission to do what they need for themselves. Here are some choices.

August 28, 2002

Tragedy  — not comedyDown So Low the Only Place to Go Is Up
The past few years have been hard. Some of us have lost hope. What do you do when you're down so low the only place to go is up?

July 24, 2002

Something to worry aboutWorking Out on Your Dreadmill
Many of us are experts in risk analysis and risk management. Even the non-specialists among us have developed considerable skill in anticipating troubles and preparing plans for dealing with them. When these habits of thought leak into our personal lives, we pay a high price.

June 26, 2002

A sunsetThink in Living Color
Feeling trapped, with no clear way out, often leads to anger. One way to defuse your anger is to notice false traps, particularly the false dichotomy. When you notice that you're the target of a false dichotomy, you can control your anger more easily — and then the trap often disappears.

June 12, 2002

A lobster dinnerGetting Home in Time for Dinner
Some of us are fortunate — we work for companies that make sure they have enough people to do all the work. Yet, we still work too many hours. We overwork ourselves by taking on too much, and then we work long hours to get it done. If you're an over-worker, what can you do about it?

May 15, 2002

Moose mugI Think, Therefore I Laugh
Humor is fun — that's why they call it "funny." If you add humor to your own work environment, you'll reduce your level of stress, increase your creativity, and drive your enemies nuts.

May 8, 2002

Pain in her heartIf You Weren't So Wrong So Often, I'd Agree with You
Diversity of perspectives is one of the great strengths of teams. Ideas contend and through contending they improve each other. In this process, criticism of ideas sometimes gets personal. How can we critique ideas safely, without hurting each other, while keeping focused on the work?

April 24, 2002

Two raccoons passing a rumor alongResponding to Rumors
Have you ever heard nasty rumors about yourself? When rumors are damaging, they can hurt our careers, our self-esteem, and even our health. Sadly, our response to rumors often compounds the serious damage they do.

March 27, 2002

A little girl breaks her mother's prized vase by accidentWhen You Make a Mistake
We've all made mistakes, and we'll continue to do so for as long as we live. Making mistakes is part of being human. Still, we're often troubled by our mistakes, even when we remember that many mistakes turn out to be great gifts. Why do we have such a hard time acknowledging mistakes?

March 13, 2002

One negative outweighs a world of positivesWhen It Really Counts, Be Positive
When we express our ideas, we can usually choose between a positive construction and a negative one. We can advocate for one path, or against another. Even though these choices have nearly identical literal meanings, positive constructions are safer in tense situations.

February 13, 2002

The birthday girlAfter the Accolades: You Are Still You
Have you had a major success lately? Have you become a celebrity in your organization? Are people showering you with accolades? When it happens, we feel great, and the elation does finally come to an end. What then?

February 6, 2002

One person taking the full loadAre You Taking on the Full Load?
Taking on the full load is what we do when we feel fully responsible for either the success or the failure of some organizational activity. Instead of asking for help, we take extreme measures to execute responsibilities that might not even be ours.

November 7, 2001

Scones and coffeeNever, Ever, Kill the Messenger
If you're a manager in a project-oriented organization, you need to know the full, unvarnished Truth. When you kill a messenger, you deliver a message of your own: Tell me the Truth at your peril. Killing messengers has such predictable results that you have to question any report you receive — good news or bad.

September 12, 2001

September Eleventh
Because of the events of September Eleventh, and out of respect for the dead and bereaved, Point Lookout didn't appear this week. I hope we can all find a way through our pain to a place of peace and respect for all. Please take the time that you would have spent reading Point Lookout and use it to move us all a little closer to that goal.

September 5, 2001

A bumper stickerEmail Happens
Email is a wonderful medium for some communications, and extremely dangerous for others. What are its limitations? How can we use email safely?

July 11, 2001

Good news/bad newsThe Fallacy of the False Cause
Although we sometimes make decisions with incomplete information, we do the best we can, given what we know. Sometimes, we make wrong decisions not because we have incomplete information, but because we make mistakes in how we reason about the information we do have.

June 27, 2001

Hula HoopingStay in Your Own Hula Hoop
Do you tend to commit to too many tasks? Are you one who spends too much energy meeting the needs of others — so much that your own needs go unmet? Here's how a hula-hoop can help.

June 6, 2001

HatsYou Remind Me of Helen Hunt
At a dinner party I attended recently, Kris said to Suzanne, "You remind me of Helen Hunt." I looked at Suzanne, and sure enough, she did look like Helen Hunt. Later, I noticed that I was seeing Suzanne a little differently. These are the effects of hat hanging. At work, it can damage careers and even businesses.

May 23, 2001

A shouting matchAvoid Typing Under the Influence
When we communicate, we can't control how other people interpret our communications. Accidental offense is inevitable, and email is especially likely to produce examples of this problem. What can we do as members of electronic communities when trouble erupts?

May 9, 2001

A bicycle raceDealing with Your Own Anger
However perceptive we become about what can anger us, we still do get angry once in a while. Here are four steps to help you deal with your own anger.

April 18, 2001

The triangleThe Triangulation Zone
When somebody complains to you about someone else's performance, you're entering into another dimension — a dimension of three minds. That's the signpost up ahead — your next stop, the Triangulation Zone.

March 28, 2001

Capitol Hill at nightThe Slippery Slope That Isn't
"If we promote you, we'll have to promote all of them, too." This "slippery-slope" tactic for winning debates works by exploiting our fears. Another in a series about rhetorical tricks that push our buttons.

February 21, 2001

Treasure flowers (Gazania rigens) at Alcatraz IslandCelebrate!
When you celebrate — even minor successes — you change your outlook, you energize yourself, and you create new ways to achieve more successes. Too often we let others define what we will celebrate. Actually, we're in complete command of what we celebrate. When we take charge of our celebrations, we make life a lot more fun.

February 7, 2001

Hard at WorkThe Tweaking CC
When did you last receive an email message with a "tweaking CC"? Probably yesterday. A tweaking CC is usually a CC to your boss or possibly the entire known universe, designed to create pressure by exposing embarrassing information.

January 10, 2001

Blaming and placatingDealing with Implied Accusations
Some people use rhetorical tricks that push our buttons, which makes choosing wisely difficult. Implied accusations make us defensive, which is almost always a bad place to be. What other choices do we have?

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