Timeouts at the Office? Bill Kahn on Destructive Workplace Relationships

in Faculty, News, Organizational Behavior, School
October 2nd, 2012

From Kahn’s Blog for Psychology Today, “The Ostrich Effect”

Boston University School of Management’s Bill Kahn, author of the blog “The Ostrich Effect” for Psychology Today, has written a new piece about overcoming destructive relationship cycles in the workplace. Kahn is a professor of organizational behavior, and his blog is devoted to exploring the hidden sources of problems at work.

Moments of Truth

Pausing to Name the Truth is What Sets Us Free

The Ostrich Effect—the destructive cycles of relationships and work which occur when we avoid our true responses to situations—thrives when we follow our impulses without hesitation; it loses its grip when we stop and reflect.  Reflection inserts a crucial pause between impulse and action.  In the Ostrich Effect we are in full flight.  When we temporarily suspend that flight and gather ourselves, we begin to release ourselves and others from the Ostrich Effect.  The simple act of pausing to think about what is happening inside and around us can be profound….

“When people call timeouts they have not figured out all that needs to be figured out. They just know what is happening is somehow not right.”

Jim, the vice president of the accounting department at a pharmaceutical company, has been having trouble with Sophia, a vice president of one of the business units that he supports.  After a particularly contentious meeting, in which Sophia showed open disdain for his suggestions in a task force meeting, Jim decided to call a timeout.  He went to her office, closed the door, and asked for a few minutes of her time.  Sophia nodded.  Jim says that it seems that they aren’t getting along as well as they might.

With that simple, clear statement—just a sentence that describes what is plainly in front of them—Jim calls a timeout.  He halts the destructive sequence of the Ostrich Effect that has gripped their relationship….When people call timeouts they have not figured out all that needs to be figured out.  They just know that what is happening is somehow not right.  They understand that some truth must be gotten at and they cannot do so by themselves.  How do they begin?  By naming that which is right in front of them:  the too-much emotion in a given situation.

Read the full piece online at Psychology Today.

Banner photo courtesy of flickr user dphiffer.