Sparring With a Colleague? Here’s How to Work It.

Rivalry with a coworker can be tense, uncomfortable, and–you guessed it–productive. While we may attempt to quell competitive dynamics with workmates, the tension can be instructive. Hillary Clinton recently worked her 2008 tussle with Barack Obama to poetic effect.

In the Balkans last month to promote unity between Herzegovina and Bosnia, the Secretary of State recounted a heated time in her past:

Mrs. Clinton said the United States supported constitutional reform, but she added that Bosnia could not move forward unless its Serbs, Muslims and Croats figured out a way to put country ahead of ethnicity. That, she said, is what she and her former rival, and current boss, did.

“I tried to beat him,” Mrs. Clinton told a mixed group of students during the town hall meeting. “And he won. And then when he won, he asked me to work for him.”

“I’m often asked how could I go to work for President Obama after I tried to beat him,” Mrs. Clinton added. “And the answer is simple. We both love our country. That has to be the mind-set here.”

The former US Senator from New York worked a part of her story that may have more comfortably lain buried with the past. Yet she brought it to the fore in order to make a point about the possibilities of unity against complex forces. This example of using her self demonstrated her presence in the moment, indicating to her audience that she was available to think out loud with them about the complexities of the issue.

While competition has inherent merit–prompting us to engage more fully in the task, bringing out our best effort, and connecting us to those with whom we’re competing–relating the experience of battling with someone can be even more valuable. This includes expressing what the rivalry means about you, your work and your relationships. Given Clinton’s context of building world peace, talking about these sensitive dynamics is clearly worthwhile.

When have you spoken out loud to the competition you’ve felt with a colleague? What resulted?

Image of Clinton and Obama via

How Naked Feelings Improve Leadership

Q: When is pain good to feel?

A: When you’re in a leadership position, and you may be avoiding it.

Actually, emotional pain is important to feel any time you experience it, regardless of your position.

In his post called “Why Leaders Must Feel Pain,” Peter Bregman describes the necessity for leaders to embrace difficult emotions, so as to bring humanity to their relationships and effectively elevate their leadership abilities.

Bregman recounts with brutal honesty his experience attending a week-long seminar that prompted some intense self-reflection, emotional release, and the subsequent application to business and leadership.

In revealing his naked feelings in the post, Bregman demonstrates leadership himself. Indeed, we all could have better work lives by connecting to emotions we strive to avoid. Imagine all the additional energy you could direct to accomplishing things, rather than hiding what’s inside you!

How can you feel painful yet life-affirming emotions in the workplace, without necessarily attending a leadership retreat? Keep reading this blog to find out.

When have your painful feelings helped you at work?

Image of Hilda Dokubo via

Are You Ready To Be Fired?

On the surface, it’s a terrible question to ask. Yet upon closer inspection, it’s vital for you to answer.

In our recent “Career Talk Live” interview with Leon, we learned he is a retired structural engineer, although he identified himself as a retired principal engineer. Big deal, what’s the difference? There’s a critical distinction.

“Retired structural engineer” refers to his occupation in the field of structural engineering, and “retired principal engineer” refers to his most recent role at a multinational aerospace and defense firm. This got us thinking about an article we read a while ago called “The Right Way to Be Fired.”

The authors describe the difference between two general mind-sets people have about themselves relative to where they work. One is an assignment mentality, wherein an individual sees her job as a temporary building block to her next work opportunity. The other is a tenure mind-set, which is:

“the comforting sense that an organization willingly parts with valued employees only when they formally retire. It has long been dead in corporate America, although most companies won’t openly admit it. After all, letting employees know that their jobs are finite would make them feel disposable and would hurt recruiting efforts.”

Leon related that he wasn’t quite ready to leave his employer, yet retire he did. We can learn something from him. Read more

Engineers and Scientists Need It, Too

Today is the Storycorps-sponsored National Day of Listening, wherein Americans are encouraged to take an hour to record an interview with a loved one.  Coincidentally, earlier this week we interviewed our dad Leon for an upcoming episode of “Career Talk Live: And What Do You Do?” the weekly talk show on Manhattan Neighborhood Network. We learned so much about both his professional life and the world of work.

As a structural engineer, Leon was dedicated to creating new ways of analyzing structures. One of the crown achievements of his career was a paper he published in the Journal of Guidance, Control and Dynamics titled “Jacobi Method for Unsymmetric Eigenproblems.” We wish we could say more about what that means! In his own words, it was “a big contribution to the world of mathematics.”

Upon retiring from a multinational aerospace and defense corporation, he strove to continue building upon the paper he wrote. For more than ten years he worked tirelessly at it, and sought a Fortran compiler to help him through the project. As of today, however, he reports all but giving up on his endeavors. Why?

It turns out what helped him write this paper–for which he was credited individually–was the informal feedback and institutional support he received while working as part of a team at the aerospace company. The desk-side conversations, elevator chats and multiple technological resources the organization provided facilitated the completion of his paper. The lack of these elements in retirement have been a real barrier to accomplishing a follow-up.

So what can we learn from this? One: if you’re part of a work group, acknowledge the influence of your colleagues on your projects. Two: while you’re feeling appreciation for their input, go ahead and thank them verbally. And three: if you want to work during your retirement, seek social support to keep you on track.

We’ve had the impression that scientists and engineers can work in silos, that the bulk of their work is a product of their minds alone. According to Leon’s experience, this is not at all accurate.

Watch the complete interview when it airs in December. “Career Talk Live” can be seen Tuesdays at 6:00pm ET (GMT-5) on MNN2 at

How have your teammates subtly influenced your projects?

A Workplace Maneuver Only for the Strong of Heart

Today is Thanksgiving, and we’re grateful for the pioneers of bringing your whole self to work who’ve come before us. One such luminary is Joycelyn Elders, the former United States Surgeon General.

Back in 1994 a furor erupted over her response to a question about HIV and AIDS education. She said since masturbation is part of human sexuality, perhaps it should be taught in school. This sentiment led to her forced resignation as Surgeon General. What a high price to pay for being forthright and responsible as a doctor and health educator.

We know how hard it can be to remain true to what you believe. In doing so, Dr. Elders lost her job, yet she kept her self.

The publicity she garnered for being outspoken follows her today. She speaks across the country on public health issues, so she enjoys a national platform from which to share her wisdom and expertise.

Does it pay to be open about a strongly held opinion, when some people may be angered by it? In an interview with CNN in 2005 Elders stated,

“If I had to do it all over again today, I would do it the same way. I felt I did it right the first time.”

So, we’d say yes.

Have you paid a dear price for holding steadfast to your conviction(s)?

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The Secret Motivator to Keep You Employed Past 2020

Remember the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico this past summer? It’s hard to forget, and yet it can be hard to remember with so much to distract us from ourselves.  While the well was hemorrhaging into the Gulf, some said President Obama was not angry enough about the situation. Concurrently, Americans were angry that the economic climate was less than robust and the unemployment rate was still relatively high.

Ultimately President Obama demonstrated leadership in making space for Americans to feel their own frustration about the spill.

What can we do with our anger about what’s going on in the world? And more pressingly, how do we

  • help the Gulf of Mexico recover
  • exploit sustainable sources of energy, and
  • increase our rates of employment?

Get this: anger isn’t always bad. It can motivate us to solve the problems that make us angry, such as the British Petroleum oil spill. Which is hard, because our inclination is to suppress this uncomfortable feeling. Instead of fighting it, let’s think about what we could accomplish — professionally — if we could

  • access our anger
  • understand its origins, and
  • address the origins in a way that makes us feel better.

Sounds pretty good, no? In this scenario we would be employed (yay!), and we’d be solving big problems.

Enter the Post Carbon Institute, which produced the video above.  Founded in 2003, it’s striving to determine how we can prevent the depletion of natural resources and still thrive in the world, a puzzle that will take years of strategizing and implementation.  This means potential work for many, many people through 2020 and beyond.

Was it born out of someone’s anger? If the founders examined the emotional experience that prompted the creation of the organization, we would expect to find at least a little anger in there, along with hope. The two can exist together, side by side.

Maybe a little anger motivated the production of “300 Years of Fossil-Fueled Addiction in 5 Minutes,” given the current world-wide policies on petroleum consumption? Why not?

Has anger informed your work? How?

Not Listening at Work Can Be a Pain in the Mouth

During a session of the Upper House’s constitutional affairs commission in Argentina this week, legislator Graciela Camano hit talkative lawmaker Carlos Kunkel on the mouth. Is this a reasonable resolution to a budget argument? Not really.

Aggression is an all-too-real component of human nature, so of course it exists in the workplace.  Because these feelings can be hard to tolerate–in yourself or in others–it may be helpful to work towards:

1. How you can channel aggressive feelings more productively, and
2. How we all might prevent frustration on the job from turning into rage.

We can relate to what Camano must have felt leading up to that slap: anger, competition, disappointment, frustration and resentment–a veritable cornucopia of unpleasant emotions. While it’s difficult to manage such feelings from workday to workday, physical assault is never an acceptable solution. Unless you’re a professional boxer, natch.

So what’s a workable solution?

In the video, it appears that neither Camano nor Kunkel is listening to the other. Camano stated she’s “been putting up with him all year long” and that “he is always attacking” her, which suggests they may not have a history of listening to each other.

Because budget-related issues often underscore complex, ideological questions, all lawmakers involved in the Upper House’s constitutional affairs commission could benefit from improving their active listening skills.

Have you lost control of yourself at work? What prompted you, and what resulted?