Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 7, Issue 50;   December 12, 2007: What We Don't Know About Each Other

What We Don't Know About Each Other

by

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.
The musical energy behind "Shall We Dance" (1937)

Academy Award® Winner Ginger Rogers. She is pictured here on the set with the other geniuses behind Shall We Dance (1937), including (from the left) choreographer Hermes Pan, Fred Astaire, director Mark Sandrich, Ginger Rogers, George Gershwin, Ira Gershwin and musical director Nathaniel Shilkret. As is often said, "Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did, except backwards and in high heels." (The quote is variously attributed, but GingerRogers.com attributes it to Bob Thaves, author of the comic strip "Frank and Ernest.") We truly appreciate the wit of the quote when we realize the burden Ms. Rogers was carrying as she executed the dances with such grace, and seemingly so effortlessly. However, "backwards and in heels" might not have been the only burdens she bore. As a child, her father kidnapped her twice during an extended custody fight between her parents. And as an adult, she was divorced five times, a number which seems significant to us even now, but probably meant much more to her in those times. Photo courtesy U.S. Library of Congress.

When we're around other people at work, we talk. We talk about work, but we also exchange tidbits about the world and about our lives. A movie. Politics. News. Family successes. Some of the tidbits can be pretty personal, but most aren't.

Think now about the things that you keep to yourself. How good (or bad) it felt to learn that your home is worth much more (or less) than you thought. What your boss said to you in your performance review. The illness of a family member. The costs of rescheduling your daughter's wedding. Your worries about your son's performance at school. Learning that the older boy who bullied you when you were nine will be joining the company as your department head. And on and on.

Most of the time, we don't dwell on this stuff, but it's there. It's the background that forms part of the landscape of Life. Most of what we don't talk about is somewhat problematic, because if something isn't problematic, we like to talk about it. We're intimately familiar with it all and we deal with it the best way we can.

We all have things we don't talk about. All of us. The man sitting next to you waiting for that flight, or that woman next to you at that meeting — they have their concerns, just as you do. Their concerns differ from yours, but they're just as real.

And since we don't often talk about these things, we begin to think that for others, they don't exist. We forget that the weight of it all sometimes gets to be too much. People snap at each other, and we assume it's a "personality clash," or a character flaw. People lose the thread of the discussion, and we think it's due to "lack of focus," or stupidity.

When it happens to us, we know perfectly well that it happened because we had a sleepless night with the new baby, or that we're worried about the asbestos found in our new home. When it happens to others, we forget that they can have good reasons, too.

We all have things
we don't talk about.
All of us.
This error is a form of the Fundamental Attribution Error. It happens because we have difficulty imagining what we know nothing about. And there's something you can do about it, starting right now.

When someone snaps at another (or at you), or loses the thread of the discussion, or misses a deadline — or whatever it may be — begin by reminding yourself that you have no idea what burdens he or she might be carrying. Instead of just reacting, remember the burdens you are carrying, take a breath, and slow down. Wait. Something good will come to you.

It won't always work, but every time it does, you'll make this world a little bit better for everyone. Go to top Top  Next issue: Tactics for Asking for Volunteers: I  Next Issue

101 Tips for Managing Conflict Are you fed up with tense, explosive meetings? Are you or a colleague the target of a bully? Destructive conflict can ruin organizations. But if we believe that all conflict is destructive, and that we can somehow eliminate conflict, or that conflict is an enemy of productivity, then we're in conflict with Conflict itself. Read 101 Tips for Managing Conflict to learn how to make peace with conflict and make it an organizational asset. Order Now!

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrensvXcmojtannXOrDkner@ChacVmbWobClycDbIFCRoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.

About Point Lookout

Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.

Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.

Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.

Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.

Related articles

More articles on Emotions at Work:

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?
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?
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.
The Soyuz TMA-09M spacecraft is seen reflected in the glasses of Expedition 36 backup Flight Engineer Rick Mastracchio of NASAFiltered Perceptions
How we see things influences how we see things, almost like a filter or sunglasses. What are your filters?
Henny Youngman in 1957Quips That Work at Work: 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?

See also Emotions at Work and Effective Communication at Work for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

Frederick Douglass, ca. 1879, famed abolitionist and ex-slaveComing June 20: Managing Dissent Risk
In group decision making, dissent risk is the risk that dissents about important decisions will be rejected without due consideration. As a result, group decision quality can suffer, and some groups will actually eject dissenters. How can we manage dissent risk? Available here and by RSS on June 20.
Puppies waiting intently for a shot at the treatAnd on June 27: Interrupting Others in Meetings Safely: I
In meetings we sometimes feel the need to interrupt others to offer a view or information, or to suggest adjusting the process. But such interruptions carry risk of offense. How can we interrupt others safely? Available here and by RSS on June 27.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenxHynxlDRknJkfmoSner@ChacByDRLDOfhqzptZzDoCanyon.com or (650) 787-6475, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.

Get the ebook!

Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:

Reprinting this article

Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Public seminars

The Race to the South Pole: The Power of Agile Development
On 14The Race to the Pole: An Application of Agile Development December 1911, four men led by Roald Amundsen reached the South Pole. Thirty-five days later, Robert F. Scott and four others followed. Amundsen had won the race to the pole. Amundsen's party returned to base on 26 January 1912. Scott's party perished. As historical drama, why this happened is interesting enough. Lessons abound. Among the more important lessons are those that demonstrate the power of the agile approach to project management and product development. Read more about this program. Here's a date for this program:

The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
Many The Power Affect: How We Express Personal Powerpeople who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Follow me at Google+ or share a post Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
Technical Debt for Policymakers BlogMy blog, Technical Debt for Policymakers, offers resources, insights, and conversations of interest to policymakers who are concerned with managing technical debt within their organizations. Get the millstone of technical debt off the neck of your organization!
Go For It: Sometimes It's Easier If You RunBad boss, long commute, troubling ethical questions, hateful colleague? Learn what we can do when we love the work but not the job.
303 Tips for Virtual and Global TeamsLearn how to make your virtual global team sing.
101 Tips for Managing ChangeAre you managing a change effort that faces rampant cynicism, passive non-cooperation, or maybe even outright revolt?
101 Tips for Effective MeetingsLearn how to make meetings more productive — and more rare.
Exchange your "personal trade secrets" — the tips, tricks and techniques that make you an ace — with other aces, anonymously. Visit the Library of Personal Trade Secrets.