Interpersonal Edge: Don't fall for fantasy in the workplace
Saturday, February 9, 2013

By Dr. Daneen Skube
Tribune Media Services
Q. My team and my manager work with a charismatic supervisor who is always telling lies about what he's going to do for our company. My team and manager hang on every word he says, make excuses for why he doesn't deliver, and then look forward to his next promise. I'm sick of my team getting hung out to dry. How do I get my team and manager to wake up?
  A. You can get your manager and team to wake up and smell the deception by diplomatically pointing out what it costing them to keep putting their faith in your local snake oil salesman. Your charismatic supervisor clearly is appealing to the hopes and dreams of your team so effectively that they are reluctant to let go of the fantasy he is selling.
  There are people in the workplace who have little or no empathy but are superb at reading what people want. People like this sometimes live a life of crime and become con artists, and sometimes they get jobs in organizations like yours.
  Most people want certain outcomes so badly that they are easy targets for a person who is willing to lie. Once coworkers figure out what this person is doing, he or she simply quits, moves, or disappears and works the same game on a new organization.
  The only way to be immunized against an office con artist is to be painfully aware of the difference between reality and fantasy. Some people figure if something sounds too good to be true, they are being conned. Those people rarely get fooled. Then again, reality is a much harder road to walk than a cushy fantasy.
  To break your colleagues out of their dream world, stop directly attacking the behavior of your local con artist. Instead, next time he makes a ridiculous promise, ask your team about the fallout if he fails to deliver. 
  Focus on the specific consequences for each of them. Don't try to pry their clutching fingers away from their hope that this supervisor is their hero. Confirm that, indeed, this guy may bring heaven to earth, but ... how will it affect a promotion, an opportunity or the reputation of your team if his promise doesn't materialize.
  If you look at the marketing of products, you'll notice that most companies surely employ psychologists or someone with psychological expertise to consult on sales campaigns. Marketing and sales efforts often focus on getting customers to buy a promise rather than a product.
  Car commercials promise that you'll be sophisticated, environmentally responsible or frugal. The truth is, obviously, buying a car makes you none of these things, but that is certainly not what the commercials imply. When we are accustomed to buying promises rather than products, it can be difficult to avoid falling for a clever sales pitch.
 If you can patiently keep pointing out the possible downside of depending on promises that never arrive, your coworkers' anxiety will make them more interested in reality. Time and experience will be your best ally to help your manager and teammates quit buying the latest fantasy spun by your workplace charmer.
Daneen Skube, Ph.D., executive coach, trainer, therapist and speaker. She's the author of "Interpersonal Edge: Breakthrough Tools for Talking to Anyone, Anywhere, About Anything" (Hay House, 2006).   Contact her at or 1420 NW Gilman Blvd., #2845, Issaquah, WA 98027. 
This was printed in the February 10, 2013 - February 23, 2013 Edition

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