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Effective Communication at Work

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

Eugene F. Kranz, flight director, at his console on May 30, 1965, in the Control Room in the Mission Control Center at HoustonComing April 23: Design Errors and Group Biases
Design errors can cause unwanted outcomes, but they can also lead to welcome surprises. The causes of many design errors are fundamental attributes of the way groups function. Here is Part II of our exploration. Available here and by RSS on April 23.

A metaphorical depiction of the creation of artificial intelligenceAnd on April 30: Office Automation
Desktop computers, laptop computers, and tablets have automation capabilities that can transform our lives, but few of us use them. Why not? What can we do about that? Available here and by RSS on April 30.

Other topics:

December 4, 2013

An actual red herringSome Truths About Lies: Part IV
Extended interviews provide multiple opportunities for detecting lies by people intent on deception. Here's Part IV of our little collection of lie detection techniques.

November 27, 2013

The molecular structure of Oleic Acid (a cis fat, top), and Elaidic Acid (a trans fat, bottom)Some Truths About Lies: Part III
Detecting lies by someone intent on misrepresentation is an important skill for executives, managers, project managers, and just about anyone involved in knowledge-oriented organizations. Here's Part III of our little collection of lie detection techniques.

November 6, 2013

A meeting at the 13th Annual FAA Commercial Space Transportation ConferenceTwelve Tips for More Masterful Virtual Presentations: Part II
Virtual presentations are unlike face-to-face presentations, because in the virtual environment, we're competing for audience attention against unanticipated distractions. Here's Part II of a collection of tips for masterful virtual presentations.

October 30, 2013

A daffodilTwelve Tips for More Masterful Virtual Presentations: Part I
Virtual presentations are like face-to-face presentations, in that one (or a few) people present a program to an audience. But the similarity ends there. In the virtual environment, we have to adapt if we want to deliver a message effectively. We must learn to be captivating.

August 7, 2013

An Empire AppleVirtual Meetings: Dealing with Inattention
There is much we can do to reduce the incidence of inattention in virtual meetings. Cooperation is required.

July 31, 2013

Word salad with font dressingVirtual Meetings: Indicators of Inattention
If you've ever led a virtual meeting, you're probably familiar with the feeling that some attendees are doing something else. Here are some indicators of inattention.

May 22, 2013

A black kite, a species of hawkEmbolalia and Stuff Like That: Part II
Continuing our exploration of embolalia — filler syllables, filler words, and filler phrases — let us examine the more complex forms. Some of them are so complex that they appear to be actual content, even when what they contain is little more than "um."

May 15, 2013

Fugu Rubripes, the Fugu fishEmbolalia and Stuff Like That: Part I
When we address others, we sometimes use filler — so-called automatic speech or embolalia — without thinking. Examples are "uh," "um," and "er," but there are more complex forms, too. Embolalia are usually harmless, if mildly annoying to some. But sometimes they can be damaging.

February 20, 2013

William Tecumseh Sherman as a major general in May 1865On Badly Written Email
Even those who aren't great writers do occasionally write clearly, just by chance. But there are some who consistently produce unintelligible email messages. Why does this happen?

February 13, 2013

A flame arrestor of the type that is required on gasoline cans in the United StatesPreventing the Hurt of Hurtful Dismissiveness
When we use the hurtfully dismissive remarks of others to make ourselves feel bad, there are techniques for recovering relatively quickly. But we can also learn to respond to these remarks altogether differently. When we do that, recovery is unnecessary.

February 6, 2013

An Eastern Hog-Nosed Snake (Heterodon platirhinos) with head flattened in a threat postureReframing Hurtful Dismissiveness
Targets of dismissive remarks often feel that their concerns are being judged as unimportant, which can be painful when their concerns are real. But there is an alternative to pain. It requires a little skill and discipline, but it can work.

January 30, 2013

Marie Antoinette, queen of France from 1774 to 1792Recognizing Hurtful Dismissiveness
"Never mind" can mean anything from "Excuse me, I'm sorry," to, "You lame idiot, it's beyond you," and more. The former is apologetic and courteous. The latter is dismissive and hurtful. We have dozens of verbal tactics for hurting each other dismissively. How can we recognize them?

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.

December 5, 2012

A schematic representation of the flagellar components of Salmonella enterica serovar TyphimuriumWhen Over-Delivering Makes Trouble
When responding to inquiries such as "Is that correct?" we sometimes err by giving too many reasons why it's incorrect. Patterns of over-delivery can lead to serious trouble. Here's how.

November 21, 2012

Silly putty dripping through a holeOn Facilitation Suggestions from Meeting Participants
Team leaders often facilitate their own meetings, and although there are problems associated with that dual role, it's so familiar that it works well enough, most of the time. Less widely understood are the problems that arise when other meeting participants make facilitation suggestions.

September 26, 2012

Two barnacles affixed to the shell of a green musselGetting Into the Conversation
In well-facilitated meetings, facilitators work hard to ensure that all participants have opportunities to contribute. The story is rather different for many meetings, where getting into the conversation can be challenging for some.

April 25, 2012

Then-Capt. Elwood R. Quesada who became commanding general of the 9th Fighter Command in operation OverlordCommunication Refactoring in Organizations
Inadequate communication between units of large organizations is one factor that maintains the dysfunction of "silo" structures in large organizations, limiting their ability to act coherently. Communication refactoring can help large organizations to see themselves as wholes.

February 1, 2012

President George W. Bush of the United States and Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi ArabiaSocial Transactions: We're Doing It My Way
We have choices about how we conduct social transactions — greetings, partings, opening doors, and so on. Some transactions require that we collaborate with others. In social transactions, how do we decide whose preferences rule?

March 2, 2011

The first page of Thomas Paine's pamphlet <i>Common Sense</i>Publish an Internal Newsletter
If you're responsible for an organizational effort with many stakeholders, communicating with them is important to success. Publishing an internal newsletter is a great way to keep them informed.

December 1, 2010

A New England stone wallHow to Misunderstand Somebody Else
Misunderstandings are commonplace at work, as in most of the rest of Life. At work, they might be even more commonplace, because at work it sometimes seems that people are actually trying to misunderstand. Here's a handy guide for those who want to get better at misunderstanding others.

September 23, 2009

Historic handshake in Porvoo Finland in 2007The Ups and Downs of American Handshakes: Part II
Where the handshake is a customary business greeting, it's possible to offend accidentally. Here's Part II of a set of guidelines for handshakes in the USA.

September 16, 2009

A Roman coin from the reign of Marcus Cocceius NervaThe Ups and Downs of American Handshakes: Part I
In much of the world, the handshake is a customary business greeting. It seems so simple, but its nuances can send signals we don't intend. Here are some of the details of handshakes in the USA.

August 12, 2009

The USS Indianapolis on July 10, 1945, off Mare IslandLong-Loop Conversations: Anticipation
In virtual or global teams, conversations are sources of risk to the collaboration. Because the closed-loop response time for exchanges can be a day or more, long-loop conversations generate misunderstanding, toxic conflict, errors, delays, and rework. One strategy for controlling these phenomena is anticipation.

June 24, 2009

Carl Philipp Gottfried von ClausewitzLong-Loop Conversations: Clearing the Fog
In virtual or global teams, conversations can be long, painful affairs. Settling issues and clearing misunderstandings can take weeks instead of days, or days instead of hours. Here are some techniques that ease the way to mutual agreement and understanding.

June 10, 2009

A Katrina rescue in New OrleansLong-Loop Conversations: Asking Questions
In virtual or global teams, where remote collaboration is the rule, waiting for the answer to a simple question can take a day or more. And when the response finally arrives, it's often just another question. Here are some suggestions for framing questions that are clear enough to get answers quickly.

March 11, 2009

Former Illinois Gov. Rod BlagojevichMasked Messages
Sometimes what we say to each other isn't what we really mean. We mask the messages, or we form them into what are usually positive structures, to make them appear to be something less malicious than they are. Here are some examples of masked messages.

January 14, 2009

Bill Moyers — host of the PBS program Bill Moyers JournalAsking Clarifying Questions
In a job interview, the interviewer asks you a question. You're unsure how to answer. You can blunder ahead, or you can ask a clarifying question. What is a clarifying question, and when is it helpful to ask one?

October 1, 2008

Freight Peer Exchange participants discuss freight business opportunitiesHow to Eliminate Meetings
Reducing the length and frequency of meetings is the holy grail of organizational science. I've attended many meetings on this topic, most of which have come to naught. Here are some radical ideas that could change our lives.

June 11, 2008

Boston in 1826Inbox Bloat Recovery
If you have more than ten days of messages in your inbox, you probably consider it to be bloated. If it's been bloated for a while, you probably want to clear it, but you've tried many times, and you can't. Here are some effective suggestions.

June 4, 2008

One site auditing a virtual presentationVirtual Presentations
Modern team efforts almost certainly involve teleconferences, and many teleconferences include presentations, often augmented with video or graphics. Delivering these virtual presentations effectively requires an approach tailored to the medium.

May 7, 2008

Autumn colors on Clopper LakeEnding Conversations
At times, we need to end the current conversation. It's going nowhere, or we have something important to do, or we just don't want to deal with the other person. Here are some suggestions for ending conversations.

April 30, 2008

Accretion Spins Pulsar to Millisecond RangeBemused Detachment
Much of the difficulty between people at work is avoidable if only we can find ways to slow down our responses to each other. When we hurry, we react without thinking. Here's a suggestion for increasing comity by slowing down.

March 5, 2008

2nd. Lt. Henry Martyn Robert, U.S. Army (center)What, Why, and How
When solving problems, groups frequently get stuck in circular debate. Positions harden even before the issue is clear. Here's a framework for exploration that can sharpen thinking and focus the group.

February 13, 2008

The portrait of Alexander Hamilton that appears on the U.S. 10-dollar noteCommunication Templates: Part II
Communication templates are patterns that are so widely used that once identified, nearly everyone recognizes them. In this Part II we consider some of the more toxic — less innocuous — communication templates.

February 6, 2008

Rabin and Arafat shake handsCommunication Templates: Part I
Some communication patterns are so widely used that nearly everyone in a given cultural group knows them. These templates demand certain prescribed responses, and societal norms enforce them. In themselves, they're harmless, but there are risks.

January 9, 2008

Roger Boisjoly of Morton Thiokol, who tried to halt the launch of Challenger in 1986Towards More Gracious Disagreement
We spend a sizable chunk of time correcting each other. Some believe that we win points by being right, or lose points by being wrong, but nobody seems to know who keeps the official score. Here are some thoughts to help you kick the habit.

January 2, 2008

The rabbit that went down the rabbit-holeOur Last Meeting Together
You can find lots of tips for making meetings more effective — many at my own Web site. Most are directed toward the chair, or the facilitator if you have one. Here are some suggestions for everybody.

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.

August 8, 2007

A hug about to happenUnwelcome Workplace Hugs
Some of us are uncomfortable about workplace hugs, and some want to be selective. Sometimes hugs are simply inappropriate. Here are some tips for dealing with unwelcome workplace hugs.

May 9, 2007

Handbill for the exhibition of Manet's The Execution of Emperor MaximilianHave a Program, Not Just an Agenda
In the modern organization, it's common to have meetings in which some people have never met — and some never will. For these meetings, which are often telemeetings, an agenda isn't enough. You need a program.

April 25, 2007

Secretary Tom Ridge, President George W. Bush, and Administrator Michael BrownWhen Stress Strikes
Most of what we know about person-to-person communication applies when levels of stress are low. But when stress is high, as it is in emergencies, we're more likely to make mistakes. Knowing those mistakes in advance can be helpful in avoiding them.

April 11, 2007

USS Lexington, an early aircraft carrierTroublesome Terminology
The terms we use at work to talk about practices, policies, and procedures are serviceable, for the most part. But some of them carry connotations and hidden messages that undermine our larger purposes.

April 4, 2007

Doodles by T.D. Lee, created while working with C.N. YangDismissive Gestures: Part III
Sometimes we use dismissive gestures to express disdain, to assert superior status, to exact revenge or as tools of destructive conflict. And sometimes we use them by accident. They hurt personally, and they harm the effectiveness of the organization. Here's Part III of a little catalog of dismissive gestures.

March 28, 2007

Humans aren't the only species that communicates by facial expressionsDismissive Gestures: Part II
In the modern organization, since direct verbal insults are considered "over the line," we've developed a variety of alternatives, including a class I call "dismissive gestures." They hurt personally, and they harm the effectiveness of the organization. Here's Part II of a little catalog of dismissive gestures.

March 21, 2007

Gen. George Casey, Dep. Sec. Paul Wolfowitz, and Sec. Donald RumsfeldDismissive Gestures: Part I
Humans are nothing if not inventive. In the modern organization, where verbal insults are deprecated, we've developed hundreds of ways to insult each other silently (or nearly so). Here's part one of a catalog of non-verbal insults.

February 28, 2007

The Night Café, by Vincent Van Gogh, 1888Changing the Subject: Part II
Sometimes, in conversation, we must change the subject, but we also do it to dominate, manipulate, or assert power. Subject changing — and controlling its use — can be important political skills.

February 21, 2007

A can of sardines — what many of us feel like on board a modern airlinerChanging the Subject: Part I
Whether in small group discussions, large meetings, or chats between friends, changing the subject of the conversation can be constructive, mischievous, frustrating, creative, tension relieving, necessary, devious, or outright malicious. What techniques do we use to change the subject, and how can we cope with them?

February 14, 2007

US President John Kennedy set a goal of a trip to the moonAchieving Goals: Inspiring Passion and Action
Achieving your goals requires both passion and action. Knowing when to emphasize passion and when to emphasize action are the keys to managing yourself, or others, toward achievement.

January 17, 2007

The robotic explorer OpportunityDefinitions of Insanity
When leaders try to motivate organizational change, they often resort to clever sloganeering. One of the most commonly used slogans is a definition of insanity. Unfortunately, that definition doesn't pass the sanity test.

January 10, 2007

A German Shepherd in a calmer momentWhen Fear Takes Hold
Leading an organization through a rough patch, we sometimes devise solutions that are elegant, but counterintuitive or difficult to explain. Even when they would almost certainly work, a simpler fix might be more effective.

November 29, 2006

Ancient stairs at ruins in CambodiaThe True Costs of Indirectness
Indirect communications are veiled, ambiguous, excessively diplomatic, or conveyed to people other than the actual target. We often use indirectness to avoid confrontation or to avoid dealing with conflict. It can be an expensive practice.

November 15, 2006

A 1940s-era trap fishing boatNasty Questions: Part II
In meetings, telemeetings, and email we sometimes ask questions that aren't intended to elicit information. Rather, they're indirect attacks intended to advance the questioner's political agenda. Here's part two of a catalog of some favorite tactics.

November 8, 2006

The game of chess, a strategic metaphorNasty Questions: Part I
Some of the questions we ask each other aren't intended to elicit information from the respondent. Rather, they're poorly disguised attacks intended to harm the respondent politically, and advance the questioner's political agenda. Here's part one a catalog of some favorite tactics.

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.

June 28, 2006

Presenting to persuadePresenting to Persuade
Successful, persuasive presentations involve a whole lot more than PowerPoint skills. What does it take to present persuasively, with power?

June 7, 2006

An appealing plate of pasta (not what I ate that evening)If Only I Had Known: Part II
Ever had one of those forehead-slapping moments when someone explained something, or you suddenly realized something? They usually involve some idea or insight that would have saved you much pain, trouble, and heartache, if only you had known.

May 31, 2006

An appealing plate of pasta (not what I ate that evening)If Only I Had Known: Part I
Have you ever regretted saying something that you wouldn't have said if only you had known just one more little fact? Yeah, me too. We all have. Here are some tips for dealing with this sticky situation.

May 3, 2006

A headline about the War of the Worlds BroadcastDeliver the Headline First
When we deliver news at work — status, events, personnel changes, whatever — we sometimes frame it in a story line format. We start at the beginning and we gradually work up to the point. That might be the right way to deliver good news, but for everything else, especially bad news, deliver the headline first, and then offer the details.

April 12, 2006

Shaking an orange treeWhen You Aren't Supposed to Say: Part III
Most of us have information that's "company confidential," or even more sensitive than that. Sometimes people who want to know what we know try to suspend our ability to think critically. Here are some of their techniques.

April 5, 2006

A mousetrap with baitWhen You Aren't Supposed to Say: Part II
Most of us have information that's "company confidential," or possibly even more sensitive than that. Sometimes people who try to extract that information use techniques based on misdirection. Here are some of them.

March 29, 2006

The Great WallWhen You Aren't Supposed to Say: Part I
Most of us have information that's "company confidential," or possibly even more sensitive than that. When we encounter individuals who try to extract that information, we're better able to protect it if we know their techniques.

March 8, 2006

In the conference roomInterviewing the Willing: Tactics
When we need information from each other, even when the source is willing, we sometimes fail to expose critical facts. Here are some tactics for eliciting information from the willing.

March 1, 2006

In the conference roomInterviewing the Willing: Strategy
At times, we need information from each other. For example, we want to learn about how someone approached a similar problem, or we must interview someone about system requirements. Yet, even when the source is willing, we sometimes fail to expose critical facts. How can we elicit information from the willing more effectively?

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?

November 2, 2005

Threatened and fearfulThe Costs of Threats
Threatening as a way of influencing others might work in the short term. But a pattern of using threats to gain compliance has long-term effects that can undermine your own efforts, corrode your relationships, and create an atmosphere of fear.

September 7, 2005

Allison presentingMastering Q and A
The question-and-answer exchanges that occur during or after presentations rarely add much to the overall effort. But how you deal with questions can be a decisive factor in how your audience evaluates you and your message.

August 24, 2005

Which came first — the chicken or the egg?Dealing with Condescension
Condescending remarks hurt. When we feel that pain, we often feel the urge to retaliate, even when retaliation might not be appropriate. Our responses are more effective when we understand where condescending remarks come from.

August 17, 2005

Two rabbits doing the Condescension Cha-ChaControlling Condescension
Condescension is one reason why healthy conflict becomes destructive. It's a conversational technique that many use without thinking, and others use with aggressive intention. Either way, it can hurt everyone involved.

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.

May 25, 2005

A water bottleAn Agenda for Agendas
Most of us believe that the foundation of a well-run meeting is a well-formed agenda. What makes a "well-formed" agenda? How can we write and manage agendas to make meetings successful?

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?

May 4, 2005

Thor's Hammer, Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah, USAEmail Antics: Part IV
Nearly everyone I know complains that email is a real time waster. Yet much of the problem results from our own actions. Here's Part IV of a little catalog of things we do that help waste our time.

April 27, 2005

A tournamentQuestioning Questions
In meetings and other workplace discussions, questioning is a common form of conversational contribution. Questions can be expensive, disruptive, and counterproductive. For most exchanges, there is a better way.

April 13, 2005

The Cone NebulaShining Some Light on "Going Dark"
If you're a project manager, and a team member "goes dark" — disappears or refuses to report how things are going — project risks escalate dramatically. Getting current status becomes a top priority problem. What can you do?

April 6, 2005

Electronic MailboxEmail Ethics
Ethics is the system of right and wrong that forms the foundation of civil society. Yet, when a new technology arrives, explicitly extending the ethical code seems necessary — no matter how civil the society. And so it is with email.

March 30, 2005

Two infants exchanging secretsSee No Evil
When teams share information among themselves, they have their best opportunity to reach peak performance. And when some information is withheld within an elite group, the team faces unique risks.

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.

February 9, 2005

What not to eat on the phone: Peanut butterVirtual Communications: Part III
Participating in or managing a virtual team presents special communications challenges. Here's Part III of some guidelines for communicating with members of virtual teams.

February 2, 2005

A mobile phoneVirtual Communications: Part II
Participating in or managing a virtual team presents special communications challenges. Here's Part II of some guidelines for communicating with members of virtual teams.

January 26, 2005

A mugful of pencilsVirtual Communications: Part I
Participating in or managing a virtual team presents special communications challenges. Here are some guidelines for communicating with members of virtual teams.

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.

November 10, 2004

Three penniesThe Fine Art of Quibbling
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.

October 6, 2004

Patterns of ConversationPatterns of Everyday Conversation
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.

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?

September 1, 2004

A nervous dogThe Power of Presuppositions
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.

August 25, 2004

A lie detectiveSome Truths About Lies: Part II
Knowing when someone else is lying doesn't make you a more ethical person, but it sure can be an advantage if you want to stay out of trouble. Here's Part II of a catalog of techniques misleaders use.

August 4, 2004

A lie detectiveSome Truths About Lies: Part I
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 Part I of a catalog of techniques misleaders use.

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.

June 30, 2004

A metronomeSelling Uphill: The Pitch
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?

June 23, 2004

Uphill skierSelling Uphill: Before and After
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?

April 14, 2004

Two dinosaurs fightingMudfights
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.

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.

November 19, 2003

Henry David ThoreauEncourage Truth Telling
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.

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 22, 2003

A plopPlopping
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?

August 13, 2003

What's in it for him?Beyond WIIFM
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.

July 9, 2003

Planet earthCorrosive Buts
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?

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?

March 26, 2003

A rumor millThere Is No Rumor Mill
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?

February 5, 2003

A debateYou and I
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.

January 29, 2003

A spirited conversationDiscussus Interruptus
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?

January 22, 2003

A cliff interrupting a trailLet Me Finish, Please
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?

January 1, 2003

Virginia  Satir's Yes No MedallionSaying 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.

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.

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 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.

November 28, 2001

FightingDangerous Phrases
I recently upgraded my email program to a new version that "monitors messages for offensive text." It hasn't worked out well. But the whole affair got me to think about everyday phrases that do tend to set people off. Here's a little catalog.

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.

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