Monthly Archive: December 2017

Binary thinking – the fuel of hyper-judgmentalism

One characteristic of hyper-judgmental people that is easy to discern is their liking for binary thinking. When somebody, at some point in a conversation, says to me something like “I am a blck and white person”, I have a pretty good idea of what I am about to hear. Usually some variant of “My In Group Good, Those Others Bad”.
Sex and gender are fruitful topics for the hyper-judgmentalists, who fondly imagine that those are binary constructs that They Know All About.
Alas, not quite. As this thread makes clear, human gender and sexuality are nowhere near that simple. As the thread notes, bigotry as a concept is fuelled by simplistic binary judgments about good and bad, right and wrong, projected onto individuals or groups.
A graduation along a scale makes it difficult for bigots to operate unless they publicly disavow facts and science. That, of course, makes them look stupid in addition to being hyper-judgmental, not that it ever stops them.


Narcissistic Personality Disorder – an analysis of Donald Trump

Twitter user The Hoarse Whisperer wrote a tweetstorm this Summer about Donald Trump’s Narcissistic Personality Disorder. I extracted it from Twitter and tidied it up because it is too old to be rolled up into a thread by online software.
Here we go…

People with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) seem erratic but they’re actually ultra-predictable. They are simple machines.
There are only two driving impulses:
1) Avoid shame
2) Collect adoration and esteem.
That’s it. There is no other priority or concern
Trump will do anything humanly possible to try to avoid being publicly shamed/diminished in others’ eyes. It’s an impulse he can’t control.
Take Russia/Putin. If Trump were to acknowledge Russia interfered, he’d be admitting he was less worthy of the presidency.
Donald Trump would literally sell out his entire family and the country as well to avoid acknowledging that he didn’t deserve the office.
He is pathologically incapable of doing anything which admits to the world his worst internal fear: he’s unworthy of being seen as special
Now, he has no choice on how he has to play this. He HAS to actually make Putin look worthy of partnership. He has to make the shameful thing, look unshameful somehow. He has to make shameful hacking and potential collusion somehow seem smart or purposeful or dignified.
It cannot be done. It makes no logical sense. It will fall apart and as it does, Trump’s behavior and lying will get more outlandish.
But make no mistake, Donald Trump is clinically incapable of doing anything other than what he is doing: trying to avoid the shame of being discovered to be illegitimate and unworthy of public respect. He has an uncontrollable compulsion to avoid that awful truth.
No matter how absurd each new action or lie sounds, he’ll throw even his own family under the bus until there is no way out, and then he will first explode on everyone and everything around him when he realizes there is no escape.
It will be the crazy tweetstorm to end all tweetstorms… and then he’ll either
a) implode in a miserable ball of self-loathing and flee
(b) concoct some attempt at a face-saving exit. Claiming he’s too good for the job or that he’s protesting the “deep state”…
It’ll be transparent bullshit that none but the most loco Trumpers believe but he will take it to the grave swearing it’s true.
The key thing to remember in watching Trump is that there are literally only two things going on in his mind at all times.
1) Fight to the death to avoid being seen as shameful or underserving of public adoration…
2/ Doing whatever it takes to make the people right in front of him think he’s powerful, important and special.
That’s it.
Donald Trump is an empty shell. You need do no more than ask “what shame is he trying to avoid?” and you’ll understand his every move.

Trump has no grasp of how other people feel or think. He just tries to manipulate the people right in front of him. Since he surrounds himself with awful people, pleasing the crowd means saying and doing horrible things. He is then shocked by the coverage.
Then, when called out, he can’t handle the criticism and behaves really, really badly. Doubles down, says ridiculous things, etc. It’s all impulse
Narcissists, like sociopaths, have no empathy. Understanding what other people think or feel is literally beyond their abilities. Other people are either:
1) sources of admiration (narcissistic supply); or
2) sources of criticism (narcissistic injury).
Narcissists live for more narcissistic supply to bolster their grandiose (albeit fragile) self-image, and live in fear of narcissistic injuries that would puncture it. They are often charming and charismatic (seeking that supply). They can be highly functional, channeling the need for supply into hard work. But when things go wrong, it is NEVER their fault. Other people are to blame AND have betrayed them.

Psychologists, by default, see few severe NPDs because they refuse to seek treatment. Living with one is a whole different kettle of fish.

P.S. my money is on Trump spiraling down into denials then trying to pull a face-saving exit when it is far too late to escape consequences


The Roy Moore campaign – pay attention people

Folks, a brief rant as my inner “Pay attention people” personality surfaces.
People are expressing amazement that the supporters of Roy Moore are capable of uttering nonsensical twaddle as they seek to promote him as a candidate.
This is logical, but it is irrelevant.
Roy Moore’s campaign is not a conventional political campaign. It is the campaign of a Christian Dominionist cult leader. As such, the campaign is immune to factual attack. By definition, most of Roy Moore’s supporters are not listening to or motivated by facts or reason.
The aim of sending out “advisors” and the likes of Steve Bannon to stump for Roy Moore, and to show up on major TV networks and utter jaw-dropping nonsense, is not to sway undecided voters. Those people are probably regarded by the Roy Moore supporters as useful idiots and/or heathen vermin, to be exterminated when Judgment Day comes.
The entire aim of the Roy Moore campaign right now is to get every single one of their supporters to vote on the day. They simply intend to out-turnout Doug Jones.
The election can be won by Doug Jones, but only if every one of his supporters shows up and casts a vote.
If Roy Moore wins, the commentary on Alabama will be withering and highly deserved. But his supporters will not care. They are building Jerusalem in Alabama, and they don’t give a rats ass about the modern USA or the Constitution or any of that other Secular Evil.


The tales of sexual harassment – 2 comments

You will have noticed an epidemic of exposure and punishment for sexual harassment unfolding in the USA, with the current focus being on Big Fish in the media, showbusiness and political spheres.
I have two comments:

1. Sooner or later, whether anybody realizes it at the time or bothers to do the investigation to prove it, a person or persons will be punished and driven out of their profession based on accusations that are false. There is a rather concerning willingness on many peoples’ behalf to abandon any semblance of due process in a stampeding eagerness (as they see it) to give male harassers a deserved comeuppance. This is going to lead to some bad mistakes sooner or later.
2. The focus on show business, media and politics obscures the reality that a lot of sexual harassment has occurred in corporate America. It is easier to hide bad behavior when a business basically operates out of the public eye. The situation may be worse in family-owned and run businesses, which are often private corporations, with little to no external stockholdings to provide any checks and balances.


The subtleties of a hostile work environment

There have been many books and articles published about toxic work environments. A lot of the discussion is around the tendency of corporations to tolerate bad behavior from employees who are (correctly or not) perceived as successful. Bob Sutton has attacked this tendency with his “No Asshole Rule” writings.
When one uses the phrase “toxic work environment”, the image portrayed is usually one of out-of-control dysfunctionality. There is a lot of writing about work environments being “dysfunctional”. However, that term by itself is imprecise, and absent any clarification, almost meaningless.
I prefer to adopt a more nuanced approach of dividing dysfunctional work environments into two main categories.

1. Toxic
2. Hostile

Toxic environments are those where activities are occurring that meet one or more of the following criteria:

– Illegal
– unethical
– Capricious wilful abuses of power (bullying, intimidation, denigration either publicly or privately)
– Sexual harrassment
– Discrimination based on protected classes (ethnicity/culture, sexual orientation, religion)

By the way, “unethical” need not necessarily involve an action that is prohibited by Ethics guidelines or other rule books. I tend towards the rule that if an action looks and/or sounds bad if you have to explain it later, it is probably (at the least) unethical.
The legally significant phrase “Hostile work environment” usually refers to environments that meet one or more of the criteria listed above. The activities listed above, in many jurisdictions, are legally actionable, and can result in punitive action by the courts against the corporation.
However, a work environment can still be toxic, for more subtle reasons which, while they do not meet the criteria for being legally actionable, still result in a poorly-functioning workplace.
Hostile Environments are environments where the culture and attitudes of the majority of leadership and team members are actively and consistently undermining the communicated aims and objectives of the organization, or change management efforts within the organization

– Overt sabotage (up to and including insubordination)
– Covert sabotage (lack of committment, enthusiasm, avoidance of activities that form part of a change project, instruction of teams to not collaborate)
– Lack of respect and attention directed towards leaders and team members in the organization perceived as agents of change (especially if those leaders or team members are new to the organization, or if they are from a different part of the organization)

Hostile environments are not generally described as such. Some people operating in those environments may recognize that the environment dysfunctionality is resulting in under-achievement. However, many people in the environment are in denial, since to them, the normal characteristics of the environments are features, not bugs.
A lot of hostile dysfunctionality is based on negative views and attitudes towards people or groups who are perceived as “Others”, or, as a memorable phrase once summed it up, “Not one of Us”. That may encompass one or more of the following:

– new employees and leaders
– groups that contain members who have poor social skills
– groups whose role is part of a “check and balance” process, such as quality assurance, auditing, financial management
– anybody from “head office”
– consultants and contract staff
– people perceived as agents of change

new employees and leaders
A common process with new employees and leaders is to require that they “prove themselves”. For leaders, that is usually spelled out by existing leadership if the new leader is from outside the organization.
There should be defined, agreed and measurable success criteria for all new employees. However, the impactful informal social criteria are never documented, even though these may comprise many of the organization’s expectations of the new employee.
There is a reason why they are never documented of course. Firstly, they are hopelessly subjective. Secondly, they provide a covert measurement mechanism, one which the incumbent group members control, which is un-moderated by leadership. “We don’t care what THEY think, this is what WE think” can become the prevailing ethos.
This implied measurement process can encompass anything from “does he laugh at our jokes”, through to the requirement that the new employee behave and operate exactly like other group members. (If the employee has been hired as a change agent, you can probably understand how stupidly unproductive that second requirement might be).
New leaders are often imposed on an organization to correct what leadership sees as a serious leadership or operational deficiency, so they immediately (to use an old Biblical saying) have the Mark Of Cain. what I have discovered is the most critical skill they can deploy is that of active listening. If a leader is seen to be actively trying to understand how the current organization functions, they will be much better regarded than if they are seen as not interested, and just there to immediately turn the whole place upside down. Leaders who consistently make uninformed decisions soon suffer a loss of credibility.
The “prove yourself” ethos is dangerous, since it amounts to the imposition of informal, undocumented and non-meeasurable social and behavioral expectations on the new employee. The new employee is expected to “fit in”, “understand how we work” etc. etc.
If the employee is seen to not be “one of us”, then there is a wide variety of tactics that the rest of the group can deploy to obstruct or impede the contributions and actions of that employee.
The actions are usually subtle. They include work-related actions such as not copying the person on emails or meeting invites, not attending meetings called by the person, not responding to requests for information or assistance, through to more overt social signalling actions such as not inviting the person to lunch, celebrations or other social events.
The inevitable conclusion, at least some of the time, is that several months down the line incumbent people and teams are whining that Joe or Mary “does not fit in”, or, in the classic Orwellian Doublespeak language that is prevalent, is “not a team player”.
This is where strong leadership needs to be able to politely but firmly challenge the conclusion, including asking whether the process being followed is even fair or equitable. Sometimes, in highly social environments, people may need to be reminded that the workplace is not an extension of the local bar or neighborhood association, and that feelings are not a substitute for facts.

groups with poor social skils
When I became embedded into software development in the early 1980s it became clear that a lot of software developers had poor social skills. They were introverts, who wanted to be left alone to code. They hated meetings, were uncomfortable dealing with customers, and sometimes showed all of the symptoms of social anxiety, even in 1:1 situations. Software development groups in many corporations were, for a while, stuffed full of those kinds of people.
The situation has changed over the last 20 years, as agile methods have converted previously isolated and siloed development teams into constant-interaction groups, where hiding in the corner behind multiple monitors is less of an option. However, a significant percentage of people in around IT are still poor in social situations, which makes them reluctant group members. Many highly creative people fall into this category, especially if they have brains that operate differently (such as people with Aspergers Syndrome, which can go undiagnosed for a long time).
Sensitive management is needed to avoid driving gifted people out of organizations. Note, however, that dickery and behaving like an asshole are not likely to be excused by rationalizations like “well, he is shy”.

“check and balance” groups
These groups are always likely to have assimilation and trust issues, since they often exist to ensure that members of an organization consistently perform activities that they don’t like doing. Classic examples are legal compliance, quality assurance and documentation, and, the bane of many IT delivery projects, the PMO.
Skilful, diplomatic leadership in these groups is vital to ensuring that the group is accepted, not just from a work management viewpoint, but also from a personal viewpoint. Bombastic, imperious and demanding leadership in these kinds of groups will tend to result in the group, its members and its work being avoided by the organization. After all, nobody wants to constantly be told “do this or I will report you”.

anybody from “head office”
Almost by default, anybody from a higher-level group in the organization, who shows up to work with team members, will be seen as one of the following:

– a spy
– an agent of (unwelcome) change

This instinctive emotional reaction can only be ameliorated by open, honest and truthful communication about why the person or group is there, and their role. The communication has to meet all of those criteria, and

    there must not be any divergence between rhetoric and reality

. If any divergence becomes apparent, the person or team will immediately be seen as an unwelcome outsider, and the organization will begin to organize to obstruct the perceived goals of the visitor(s).
For example, if a team from head office arrives to perform what is portrayed as a process audit, but it becomes clear that the team is actually identifying groups and individuals who can be dispensed with, that will most likely result in the organization rapidly withdrawing engagement and co-operation. Lower-level employees have a lot less tolerance for bullshit and duplicity than most corporate leaders. The reason why a lot of lower-level people stay at lower levels is often because they either found out (by hard experience) or decided that they were not going to be able to tolerate the levels of bullshit, mendacity and political manouvering that would be required for them to advance. That does not make them naive or stupid. Some of them are just as smart as senior leaders. They just have no tolerance for bullshit, and they have well developed bullshit detectors that can detect a rhetoric-reality gap a long way away.

consultants and contract staff
I have lost count of the number of times I have heard people say things like “doesn’t matter, he’s only a contractor”, usually when attempting to justify or rationalize a capricious or punitive action aimed at a contract or temporary resource.
I have worked in organizations that treated temporary workers and consultants as, quite literally, a lower form of life, putting them in small work areas with poor facilities, and denigrating or ignoring them.
Given that one of the best ways in which you can actually ensure that a person will be a good contributor to the organization is to hire them on a temporary contract, and then make them an employee, it should be obvious why this approach is counter-productive. In the UK, when I worked in IT, companies that treated contractors poorly had…wait for it…major problems not only attracting contract staff, but also tended to have poor quality employees.

agents of change
The idea that agents of change are bad actors is a pervasive one in organizations that are not prepared for or not committed to a change that is being implemented. The agents of change are seen as not having the interests of the organization at heart. This is particularly true if those change agents are consultants or third party organizations. Many people have learned over the years how to pretend to embrace change while actually doing nothing, “waiting out” the inevitable failure of the change management initiative and its replacement by a new initiative that is likely to also fail. Once several successive change management initiatives fail, the chances of any subsequent one failing are greatly increased.

All of the sub-optimal behaviors discussed above can be remediated by leadership. However, leaders need to be prepared and able to understand what is really happening on the ground in corporations, particularly when trying to change the overall culture of the organization. Flying visits are never a substitute for spending time observing behaviors.

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