Paranoid thoughts in the office can hold you back

Posted Online: March 18, 2013, 7:58 pm
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By Joan Lloyd
Yvonne is a worrier, especially now that she is reporting to a new manager.

"My new manager spends a lot of time in his office. I heard he made a lot of changes in his last company. I think I'm going to lose my job because he brought some of his former staff to this company over the last few months, and he is always talking to them a lot more than he is talking to me …"

Joel has been fighting with his IT department for several weeks. "I know they are just trying to stonewall me. They are looking for ways to say 'no' to every request my department makes …"

What you think, you start to believe, what you believe you begin to act on, and what you act on could be dead wrong.

We are all guilty of making up stories to some degree, and I acknowledge that being alert to signals can be a tool for self-preservation, but when you start spinning a tale that is unfounded, you can end up creating a bad situation where none actually existed.

I've been involved in numerous coaching situations where one party had convinced themselves that another person was doing something negative intentionally, only to discover the other person didn't have any negative motive.

The workplace is full of enough intrigue — you don't have to make up stories where none exist. To guard against overreaction to someone, and downright paranoia about their actions, here are some signals that you may need to step back off the ledge:

— You start scrutinizing emails from someone you suspect is against you, or opposed to your idea. You hear yourself thinking sarcastic retorts, some of which you may even put in your email response, or tell others about.

— You start CCing other people in your email correspondence. You want to bring other people into the email chain so you can protect yourself and corner the other person.

— You start talking about the other person, instead of to the other person.

— After every meeting with the person, you start replaying the meeting over and over in your head to examine each phrase and nuance for hidden meanings.

— You are cautious in your responses to the person, weighing how they may interpret your remark before it is out of your mouth.

— You over prepare for meetings and rehearse responses to questions they haven't even asked yet.

This kind of negative storytelling usually sends confusing signals to the other person, and can make the relationship more strained than it actually is. If any of these symptoms are happening to you, it's time to replace the story you are making up with the real thing.

Here are some straightforward techniques to unwind yourself off of the axle you're wrapped around:

— Use the "3-Email Rule:" After three back and forth emails, pick up the phone and say, "Going round and round on email isn't getting us anywhere. Let's discuss it."

— If you are spending more than 10 minutes composing an email — writing and rewriting it — pick up the phone or walk down the hall and talk face-to-face.

— Instead of wondering why someone isn't scheduling meeting time with you, reach out and schedule meeting time with them.

— Rather than ruminating about what the other person meant by a comment, ask them by paraphrasing what you think they said. For example, "Are you saying our project isn't a priority and you don't want to give us resources, or that you can give us resources but not right now?"

— Instead of planning attacks and counterpunches, lay the issue on the table and try to find common ground. "We've been wrestling with this issue for a month. Let's talk about what each of us does want and what we don't want and see if we can come to some common ground."

— Take ownership for your share of the issue, and it's likely to break the ice and the other person will probably come clean about their behavior, too.

— When in doubt, just ask. "Am I reading things right? It seems as if there is some tension between us. Are you upset by something, or am I just reading you wrong?"

Regular communication is difficult enough to decipher, why not save yourself the angst and have more transparent conversations?

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee-based executive coach, organizational & leadership development strategist. Email your question to Joan at and visit to search an archive of more than 1400 of Joan's articles.


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1914 — 100 years ago: Vera Cruz, Mexico, after a day and night of resistance to American forces, gradually ceased opposition. The American forces took complete control of the city.
1939 — 75 years ago: Dr. R. Bruce Collins was reelected for a second term as president of the Lower Rock Island County Tuberculosis Association.
1964 — 50 years ago: Work is scheduled to begin this summer on construction of a new men's residence complex and an addition to the dining facilities at Westerlin Hall at Augustana College.
1989 — 25 years ago: Special Olympics competitors were triple winners at Rock Island High School Saturday. The participants vanquished the rain that fell during the competition, and some won their events; but most important, they triumphed over their own disabilities.

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