Two Dogs Sniffing and Status Anxiety

Communication Respect


Key Point: We limit others and ourselves when we attach too much to title and status. In organizations people are sometimes driven to titles because we hope or believe something magical happens to who we are when we achieve it. Of course, more money and responsibility is usually related and that is important. But status anxiety is something different and somewhat destructive. Alain de Botton, author, and contemporary philosopher, has written about the related shortcomings of status anxiety: “The first thing we ask someone is ‘what do you do [for a living]?’ It’s like that sniffing ritual when two dogs meet: ‘Sniff. Sniff. Aha. Gotcha.’”

A Big Think article on the topic and referencing de Botton, goes on to say:

“Typically, depending on the response to the job question, our interest in the other person rises or drops sharply off.

This, he points out, is terribly sad, misleading, and productive of all kinds of harmful social division and personal suffering. Why should we be tribalized or ostracized on the basis of one (admittedly time-consuming) aspect of our lives? Our deeper (and, de Botton argues, more important) human traits invisible until/unless we’ve passed the sniff test? 

De Botton says that status anxiety is more destructive than most of us can imagine. It convinces vulnerable people (without fascinating job titles) that their best personal qualities are worthless. It causes people to strive and struggle to meet goals that do little to further their inner well-being, on the (often unconscious) assumption that if their status improves, their worries will vanish. 

Once you’ve recognized the symptoms of status anxiety and snobbery in yourself, says de Botton, the remedy is to get out of the status game altogether, surrounding yourself with friends who are willing to take the time to get to know a person, regardless of the first impression. it is easier to realize your human potential when you feel free to experiment, to make mistakes, to take your time becoming somebody without feeling like a complete nobody in the meantime.”

Ask someone whose job is looking after a home or family how they feel when someone asks what “they do” at a social event. Often, the person asking the question is running to the closest appetizer tray before the “homemaker” finishes their response. Ok… I happen to have a great title (Chief People Officer) and I like what it stands for. I freely admit that I enjoy telling people what my title is. However, the article reminds me that I have a responsibility to honor and respect the title rather than expect or receive anything because of it. Maybe we should all have the CPO title? And of course “what I do” is a large percentage of me, but not my only trait. More importantly, of course, is who I am, what I authentically stand for, and the genuine value I bring to others. Leadership and contribution is earned through confident humility, compelling vision and virtuous values that become our real personal brand. The title itself has no sustainable value to anyone. 

Character Moves: 

  1. Do you have any status snobbery in you? Respect means to “look again.“ Titles inside or outside of organizations are short form banners that are convenient but essentially meaningless. What’s most important is what we know and understand about the whole person. 
  2. Status snobbery is destructive and taking the time to find out who someone is versus his or her title takes us to a more fulfilling relationship development path. Remember that people will always remember how we make them feel. When people care to learn about who we really are, it usually feels pretty darn good. 

Stop sniffing in The Triangle,


One Millennial View: Asking what someone “does” is likely not going anywhere, and it never will. I believe we should “ask,” but the message is not to “assume” a thing. There are a million reasons to inquire, ranging from networking possibilities to discovering common interests. Sometimes everyday “titles” can be the most interesting… I bet a plumber’s “worst day at work” story would hilariously trump any CEO’s. Just think about how many crazy stories a late night 7-11 clerk has… Ideally, no one is insecure about his or her job title. If they are, that’s on them, because every job can have interesting aspects… It’s about the storyteller… It’s on us to learn to be intrigued; it’s their responsibility to tell us the positives/communicate who they really are.

– Garrett

Edited and published by Garrett Rubis

Leadership Through Conversation

Accountability Organizational leadership


Key Point: Perhaps the most over used term and least clear word in management speak today is “communication.” Of course everyone wants to be a great communicator. Leaders are challenged to be great communicators. And when you ask people what their communication framework or model is, they often look at you like, “I don’t even know what your talking about… You know, just be a good communicator.” The following guideline can really help us improve as effective, leadership driven communicators. People really listen to communication that is INTIMATE, INTERACTIVE, INCLUSIVE, and INTENTIONAL. Read on to learn more:

Boris Groysberg is a professor of business administration at Harvard Business School. Michael Slind is a writer, editor, and communication consultant. They are the coauthors of Talk, Inc.: How Trusted Leaders Use Conversation to Power Their Organizations. They have some great research and work on leadership through conversation. Their model, which you will find at the end of this blog, will provide additional guidance.

Character Move:

  1. Be Intimate. Great conversation means finding a way to be personal and authentic. Even in large groups we can have a more personal discussion. Top-down pronouncements and being on transmit just isn’t very effective. Associates become good at taking mental vacations while sitting back looking at a monitor and/or watching us standing at a podium. We have to find ways of connecting personally. I would love to see organizations filled with real or metaphorical kitchen tables and a lot more old-fashioned “family dinner” settings.
  2. Be Interactive. It is important to have a conversation WITH colleagues and not just at them. Face-to-face is the best. Yet even with all the work mobility, workplace variety, and employees scattered everywhere, interactive tools like Yammer or others allow for more open and interactive dialogue. Blogs and discussion forums need to be common discussion tools for all of us. We can be interactive at a distance.
  3. Be Inclusive. The best way to engage others is to involve them in understanding and building the message. Everyone in the conversation has to work at it. In today’s world, informing does not necessarily mean that we’ve communicated. Dialogue means we are active with each other. How often do you see people sitting back, arms crossed while some executive is out in front trying to be profound, sweating and doing all the work as the transmitter? Everyone has to be involved in telling the company story and/or communicating the key message.
  4. Be Intentional. What is the intended outcome of your conversation? Does everyone you’re communicating with know what the expected result is? How do you know? Make sure the agenda and outcome is clear. Sometimes the communicator thinks it’s obvious. That is often not the case. Verify the target audience gets the intention. Check in with them before, during and after the conversation.

Being on transmit and exclusive top-down communication is a telling process. It is not necessarily effective communication. Email is often a lousy surrogate for communicating and a long email string is rarely representative of a great conversation. It certainly is not using conversation and dialogue as part of the leadership system. So when you’re about to send that email and/or give that big speech and think you’ve communicated, you may want to test it against the framework of an organizational conversation and supplement it accordingly.

More conversation in The Triangle,



Do You Have the Courage & Skills to TALK to each other?

Accountability Collaboration Productivity


Do you “chicken out” with texts or emails? We need more live conversations… …period!

Most of us have seen and even participated in the strings of unproductive emails that lead nowhere. In their wake they have left a carnage of wasted time and bruised egos. This increasing trend to using digital media for conflict resolution is a lousy use of digital tools. These tools are better suited for conversation, clarity, and confirmation but usually NOT for conflict resolution or problem solving. Emailing and texting may be easier and less stressful (initially), but become convenient vehicles of issue and conflict avoidance. Having disagreements and the ability to constructively resolve them are necessary for the progression of any group. We need to embrace the idea of positive conflict, and NOT get slicker at avoiding it, with the right context and medium. And that usually means us talking to each other. Yes, good ole fashioned face to face, “kitchen table” dialogue.

A recent Harvard Business Review blog noted the following difficulties with digital media for conflict resolution and decision making:

  1. It is hard to get the EQ (emotional intelligence) right in email. The biggest drawback and danger with email is that the tone and context are easy to misread. In a live conversation, how one says something, with modulations and intonations, is as important as what they are saying. With email it is hard to get the feelings behind the words.
  2. Email and text often promote reactive responses, as opposed to progress and action to move forward. Going back to the zero latency expectation in digital communications, it is hard for people to pause and think about what they should say. One of my colleagues suggests not reacting to any incendiary message until you have at least had a night to sleep on it, and always trying to take the higher ground in email. While by definition reactive responses occur in live discourse, they are usually more productive. The irony is that while email, as an asynchronous channel, has the potential to be more thoughtful, it often promotes the opposite tendency to be immediately reactive. Why? Because the bark is almost always bigger than the bite behind remote digital shields.
  3. Email prolongs debate. Because of the two reasons above, I have seen too many debates continue well beyond the point of usefulness. Worse, I have experienced situations which start relatively benignly over email, only to escalate because intentions and interests are easily misunderstood online. When I ask people if they have called or asked to meet the counterpart to try and reach a resolution, there is usually a pause, then a sad answer of “no.”

Character Move:

  1. Develop your own framework for determining when to use email/ text or to have a live conversation. Have the courage to make personal, authentic, live contact. Be timely! Don’t avoid it and let it stew.
  2. Decide to become a MASTER communicator by consciously building a dialogue tool set. It will be one of the most important things you can do for bettering your personal and professional life. If you cannot describe the communication tools and skills you practice then I think you’re kidding yourself about how effective you are (e.g. the STP tool for listening and problem solving in the “free resources” section of
  3. Stop that next unproductive email string, and talk live to your counterpart(s). Keep consciously practicing your “crucial conversation” skills. Embrace the opportunity.

Talking Live and Real in the Triangle,



An Open Mic and a Shamefully Closed Mind… Fly Away!

Management Respect


A Southwest Airlines pilot is back in the skies after accidentally broadcasting a profane tirade directed at the Chicago-based flight crews he worked beside. With his headset microphone stuck on “broadcast,” his hate filled spew went out to air traffic control and all the other aircraft in the area. The incident happened in March and was reported by KPRC-TV in Houston. The following is a partial transcript of what he said to his cockpit crew. Apparently he was unaware of his public broadcast. That however makes me wonder if this is pervasive amongst entitled and self-impressed pilots elsewhere.

“Well, I had Tucson to Indy all four weeks, and Chicago crews. Eleven out of twelve, there’s twelve flight attendants, individual, never the same flight attendant twice, eleven f***ing over-the-top, f***ing a**-f***ing homosexuals and a granny. Eleven. I mean, think of the odds of that. I thought I was in Chicago, which was party-land.

After that, it was just a continuous stream of gays and grannies and grandes… Well I don’t give a f***. I hate 100 percent of their a**es.

So, six months, I went to the bar three times. In six months, three times. Once with the granny and the f*g, and I wish I hadn’t gone.

At the very end with two girls, one of them that was part do-able, but we ended up going to the bar and then to the crew at St. Louis, and all these two women wanted to do was, one wanted to berate her sister and the other wanted to bitch about her husband.

Literally, for three hours, me and the F.O. (First officer). When that was done, got back to my room, I’m like why the f*** did I stay up?”

The rest of the transcript I heard deteriorated from there. Frankly if I was the CEO of Southwest, I would have fired this guy! I would have gladly taken on any lawsuit to make my point. Apparently he’s attended diversity training since that recording. But my experience is that people like this, who are so blatantly disrespectful and hate filled, will likely think of themselves as victims of misfortune (open mic) or liberalism (the politically correct). But let’s exchange his discrimination of choice to blacks, latinos, disabled; you name the group. It is all wrong. No excuses.

Character Move: If people talk like this in your organization, they need to be stopped. This doesn’t mean staying silent. This means confronting people and telling them that any personal attack is wrong. This takes courage because often the ignorant are bullies too. You could incur their wrath. It won’t be fun. We have the responsibility to treat others and ourselves with the utmost respect. Shame on this pilot for his behavior.

Respect in the Triangle,


Do You Know the Gossiping Guidelines?

Accountability Organizational culture


Gossiping is a negative drag in the workplace. It is almost always hurtful and brings no value to anyone. Email and social media provides even more opportunity for gossiping. Text can be even more harmful than face to face personal attacks. Janet Ott, a coach and one of finest communication teachers I know, gives the following advice regarding gossip. This is an abbreviated version from her March newsletter:

“First, let’s define gossip: I believe it’s anything you say about another person that you would not say to their face.

There are many consequences to our engaging in this verbal exercise. First, the gossip is often negative or even nasty – and that brings everyone’s mood down, even though it can be a juicy social experience! Most importantly, you label yourself as someone who is unsafe, petty. People almost always wonder “What is he/she saying about me when I am not present?” Other fallout in the workplace includes conflict, hurt feelings, and rumors running rampant.”

Ott acknowledges that while, gossiping is human and commonplace it is unacceptable. She offers some guidelines:

  1. Before you open your mouth – check your intention. The only green light would be using this discussion to get help in identifying a solution to deal with the issue or person. Be honest with yourself.
  2. There is no trivial comment (verbal or nonverbal) ever made by a leader. Every comment is noticed and given meaning. Never, never speak negatively about any other member of your management team or ANY employee. This includes nonverbal gestures like eye rolling or heavy sighs when the person’s name is mentioned. People will be eager to talk about your negative judgments and they will spread faster than a virus.
  3. When you hear what sounds like a rumor, gently ask the person if they have “checked it out” with the source or would be willing to do so. Stop feeding the rumor mill.
  4. If you are with someone or a group and the talk turns to bad-mouthing someone else, politely excuse yourself (…gotta go!) or gently say something like “I’m uncomfortable talking about _______ when they are not here. Let’s change the subject.” Listening to gossip perpetuates it – silence doesn’t count.

Gossiping flies directly in the face of respect as a value. Let’s be self accountable about gossiping. If you and I stop it, the chain is broken.

Character Move: let’s be really observant about gossiping. Let’s see if we can go a week without participating in gossip. Let’s build from there.

No gossiping in the Triangle,