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Working with You Is Killing Me: Part #2

by Dr Tuvia Melamed on Mar.31, 2010, under Working with You Is Killing Me

Working with You Is Killing Me: Part #2

Dr Tuvia Melamed
ClearWater A&D
to download a pdf copy click here

The Empty Persona

This blog builds on an excellent, but not well known article – Managing Away Bad Habits – by James Waldroop and Timothy Butler that was published in 2000 in Harvard Business Review.

“I was here on Saturday afternoon. Where were you?” This kind of “subtle” pressure to work 24/7 is typical of the ‘Hero’ – one of the four characters featuring in this chapter of ‘Working with You Is Killing Me’. This chapter focuses on those colleagues who drive you crazy; yet you find it very difficult to challenge or to tackle them, simply because they are star performers. But they are star performers with a dark-side – they have a seemingly fatal personality flow or a psychological limitation that colours their achievements, holds them back, and makes the life of others a misery.

We have all worked with people who are star performers but have one serious personality shortcoming that makes life difficult for everyone, limits their effectiveness, and often proves to be their professional undoing. Robert Hogan applied a mental disorders’ taxonomy into organisational life. He identified eleven characteristics that limit star performers and causing despair to those around them. He calls these the “dark side” of personality.

Waldroop and Butler condensed these characteristics into six profiles of destructive behaviour patterns they labelled ‘bad habits’. They use the term as a shorthand way of referring to deep-rooted psychological flaws. ‘Bad habits’ or ‘dark-side’ are not compulsions like nail biting, swearing, or smoking. Nor they apply to people who at one time or another bully colleagues, been too negative, or over argumentative. Instead, the terms refer to high performers whose psychological makeup translates into consistently problematic behaviour. Their ‘dark-side’ is a central component of their personality and informs the way they behave from day to day. I call it the ‘Empty Persona Syndrome’ as there is something shallow or missing in their character, that makes them all front, but without much substance. This chapter looks at four empty personas: (a) the Hero, (b) the Bulldozer, (c) the Rebel, and (d) the Pessimist.

Type #1: The Hero

The Heroes are the superhuman of the workplace. They take pride in solving any problem that crosses their way. They are naturally resourceful, capable, and competent in any work situation. 

The Heroes are driven by ‘Need for Achievement’. They thrive on ‘mission impossible’ challenges and spend their life in a rat race, moving from one target to another. The inner action voice that drives them is ‘Hurry Up’ – work quickly and deliver high output in a short time.

The Heroes always push themselves – and, by extension subordinates – working too hard, doing too much, and doing it for too long. Their strengths are achievement orientation, high energy level, ‘can-do’ attitude, efficiency, and fire-fighting. Their weaknesses are empathy to others, ability to reflect, attention to detailed work, reliability, and precision.

Typical behaviours of the Hero include: — First one to arrive at work and the last one to leave — Give up, cancel, or postpone vacation or holiday plans because of work commitment — Let down family members by not spending time with them, being always busy, or breaking promises — Volunteer to solve problems outside their job description — Fire emails to colleagues and clients at the early hours of the night — Have their BlackBerry or iPhone as an integral part of their anatomy.

The main root cause underlying the Heroes’ bad habits is Ego Centricity – An inability to understand the world from the perspective of other people. They have a difficulty getting outside their own frame of reference and seeing the world through another person’s eyes. The void in their persona comes from lack of empathy. Heroes may choose to work seven days a week. That’s their prerogative. But their expectations that others will have to follow suit lacks an appreciation of the other person’s values, drives, and personal circumstances. This unnecessary coercion to comply burns out employees and destroys their morale.

The Hero is often the last person a manager wants to change. After all, why would you want to tamper with the behaviour of someone who gets more done in a day than anyone else does in a week? Yet, in the long-run, the Hero’s constant push and drive adds real costs to the bottom line – even if those costs are obscured by short-term results. The Hero’s trail is covered with the footprints of valuable employees who are burned-out, disillusioned, frustrated and demoralised – or good employees who simply could not take it anymore and simply left the company after trying to keep up with the Hero’s superhuman efforts.

 Type #2: The Bulldozer

The second empty persona is the Bulldozer – Driven by need for power, they run roughshod over others in a quest for power. Bulldozers are people who decided early in life that the world is a hostile place where you should do unto others before they do unto you – plus interest, just to ensure that they get the message.

The Bulldozers are driven by ‘Need for Power’. The inner action voice that drives them is ‘Be Strong’. They cope with everything thrown their way. Their strengths are decisiveness, getting things done, firmness, and crisis management. Their weaknesses are lack of sensitivity, openness, and an ability to express passion and emotion.

Typically, the Bulldozers: — Do not take prisoners — Show willingness to make tough decisions and stand behind them — Have an inflated self-importance — Display control-freak tendencies – need to be on top of everything — Detest and do not tolerate weakness, indecisiveness, and dependency — Are independent-minded.

The underlying psychological process that causes the Bulldozer’s bad habits is a failure to recognise when and how to use power. Most people feel a deep ambivalence about the use of power. These feelings stem from unconscious fears of our capacity for destructiveness. The Bulldozers are quite different. They are very clear and decisive about the use of power. They believe in ‘use it or lose it’. They are all too happy to obtain power and then exercise it bluntly as if they were waving a club rather than skilfully and delicately as if they were using a surgeon’s scalpel. The Bulldozers’ lack of trust and fear of being cheated, taken advantage of, ignored, criticised, or treated unfairly causes them to fear that if they will not take control, others will control them.

While the Bulldozers deliver results, they do it with a great expense. Their pathway is littered with terrified and bullied employees. They intimidate and alienate everyone in their path. They don’t trust others, and others don’t trust them.

Type #3: The Rebel

The Rebel, the third empty persona, automatically fights against authority and convention. Workplace rebels tend to be quite conventional in their knee-jerk reactions against the status quo. Even though they view themselves as radical and revolutionaries, most of their protests against “the system” don’t go beyond simple complaining and moaning – they rarely take action to change the things that bother them.

The Rebels are driven by ‘Need for Aggression’. Their rebellion is a form of passive aggressive act, where the aggression is hidden behind an over-righteous concern for the organisation.

Typically, Rebels: — Argue for the sake of arguing — Enjoy shocking colleagues with provocative statements — Fancy themselves as independent thinkers — Take a contrary point of view in a group situation — Seem energised by getting into a heated argument — Often clash with people in position of authority — Always ask the inappropriate questions in meetings — Constantly make jokes about the company’s management — Publicly question the motives behind any major change.

The psychological process that underlines the Rebel’s bad habit is a failure to come to terms with authority. As in the case of using power, most people are ambivalent about authority – moving between the need to belong (being part of a larger entity) to the need to be unique. The third debilitating psychological process is being stuck in one of the extremes. At one end are those who defy authority in every possible instance and in every possible way. At the other end are those who are overly deferential: ‘If top management says it’s true, it must be’. The rebels are stuck in the first extreme.

The Rebels exhaust, tire, and wear-out their colleagues with their constant challenge, arguing, criticising, and moaning. There is something over-righteous about them that is unappealing and causes others avoid them. Their insistent criticism of the system, management, and anything else, drains the energy from others. When the Rebels are challenged, they become very defensive, try to build a coalition against the ‘enemy’, and by doing so, they create bad atmosphere in the workplace and a ‘them and us’ culture.

Type #4: The Pessimist

The Pessimist focuses on the downside of every change; always worries about what could go wrong rather than considering how things could improve. “We’ve always done it this way.” This is the way of the Pessimist, the fourth empty persona, to crush their colleagues’ initiatives and keep the status quo. The Pessimists have nothing but the best intentions in mind. Their goal is to preserve the organisation from the harm that could come to it because of ill-advised change. The problem is that Pessimists think that nearly every change is ill advised. While at times the Pessimists’ worries are justified – more frequently, though, they simply stifle creativity and block fruitful opportunities.

Unlike the other types that are motivated by a specific need, the Pessimists are driven by fear of failure. They cannot tolerate the shame of being wrong or inadequate.

Typically, Pessimists tend to: — Master the ‘Yes-But’ argument — Display extremely cautious behaviour — Spend more times analysing than any other type before committing to action — Be highly indecisive — Dislike making mistakes and focus on minimising them — Be reluctant to speak up when disagreeing – Be extremely slow to make decisions.

The root cause underlying the Pessimists’ bad habits is a negative self-image. The low esteem is a painful experience and results in attempts to prevent any likelihood for it to occur in the future. Consequently, they direct all their energy to avoidance of any situation that can result in failure.

The risk-averse nature of the Pessimist equates to paralysis by analysis – a debilitating indecisiveness that causes others enormous frustration. The avoidance of shame can spread insidiously throughout an organisation’s culture, becoming an unconscious modus operandi that has disastrous results for the company’s capacity to innovate and take risks. Creative, energetic, and change-driven employees find this type of environment suffocating, and they tend to vote with their feet – seeking a more dynamic and leading edge employer.

Managing the Empty Personas

Changing the empty personas behaviour is a delicate matter. After all, you want them to continue to do all the good things they’ve been doing. At the same time, you have to let them know the implications of their behaviour in terms of the impact it has on the business’s bottom line. That would come as a shock, as they see themselves as great contributors.

The Hero

The Heroes are driven by activity – they like being busy and tend to fire fight. As such, they produce tremendous short-term results, but their long-term ones are neglected. The key to change the Heroes’ behaviour is by focusing them on thinking more about winning the war and less about the individual battles. The Heroes are extremely competitive – therefore, giving them a challenge will focus their mind. The only difference is that the challenge will be articulated as a long-term strategic proposition, rather than an immediate issue that need to be resolved. A good General knows when to pull back to fight another day. Accordingly, you should reward the hero for actions that demonstrate a long-term focus and ignore or at least underplay any short-term achievements. Furthermore, express displeasure with any activities that are oriented towards short-term gains (e.g., fire-fighting, working silly hours, putting heroic efforts to complete proposals in time, etc.). Consider the following as an example of typical pep talk or a coaching conversation with a Hero –

“You have proved yourself as an exceptional implementer – but to progress and gain the appreciation you deserve, you need to show the ability to operate at a higher level. Everyone is impressed and convinced by your dedication and ability to solve problems and handle crises, but where you haven’t proved yourself, is with your ability to create and execute a well-thought through long-term strategic plan. Unless you will do that, you will be pigeon-holed as a fire-fighter or a crises manager. That might be a rewarding experience to start with, but for someone with your capabilities, it will not be enough. After a while you will get frustrated, seeing other overtaking you, as you haven’t learn to adjust your ways…

Furthermore, the intensity in which you operate is costly both to yourself and others. I keep hearing continuous complaints about working long hours and weekends, and expecting others to do the same…

You are a high-achiever; here is a challenge for you. Try to achieve the same results working 8 hours a-day, five days a-week, instead of 70 hours a-week. I bet that you will find that it is possible. It is only a matter of focusing the mind. If you allow yourself 70 hours a week, you will fill the 70 hours with activities. However, if you know that you only have 40 working hours per week, you will become far more focus, effective and efficient. If you achieve that, your home life will improve, your productivity will increase, your thinking will be sharper and clearer, and your ability to see beyond the end of your nose will increase significantly – as for the first time you will have time to reflect…”

The Bulldozer

Bulldozers are often reluctant to change a style that in their eyes is highly effective. So to change a bulldozer, you have to demonstrate that on balance, the liabilities resulting from overall approach used by the Bulldozer outweigh the returns.  Start the coaching conversation by asking the Bulldozer if s/he has any idea how many enemies s/he has created within the company. Follow this with a powerful line: ‘If I put it to a vote, there’s no question – you’d be fired.’

A bulldozer will typically protest – ‘I haven’t reached and achieved what I have by being soft and nice.” The right response is: “Look, I don’t care if you think you’re the gentlest person on earth. It doesn’t even matter if I agree, because other people don’t. And it’s like being a stand-up comedian – if you think you’re funny but the audience doesn’t, you’re not.”

You need to be able to spell out the ins and outs of the cost of the Bulldozer’s behaviour to the organisation.

“We have eight people in the team. Each highly capable – yet, because of your approach, we don’t utilise them hundred percent. If in a brainstorm, eighty percent of the ideas come from you – it is no indication that you are ever so clever, and the others operate a much lower level than yourself. It is merely because the others are either too scared to talk, or not given a chance as you bulldoze them. What it means in financial terms is that I might utilise you for hundred percent, but only get ten to twenty percent out of the capability of the others. That’s not just a waste, this is economically unviable. It is a no brainer – it makes more sense to take you off the team and get the best out of seven people, that to have you, and have the others under-utilised…

In the last couple of years, we lost three good people. What I gather from the exit interviews is that many blamed the atmosphere you have created in the work place as the cause for their departure.  At the level in which they were operating the direct cost for replacing them (recruitment campaign, head hunter costs, etc.) is about thirty percent of their annual salary. The indirect cost associated with lost opportunities, time it takes the new recruit to reach an optimal performance level, disruption… is five time higher.  So, your behaviour is costing me a fortune… I am not denying that you are giving us fantastic returns, but the cost of getting these returns is far too high… What would you do if you were in my position? …”

The Rebel

Rebels enjoy most a game of tug of war. So the first tactic managing them is to turn things on their head. Instead of being the one who challenges, the Rebel is the one who is being challenged. A typical coaching conversation with a Rebel could start with a blunt and direct question –

“I have noticed that you tend to be very critical and challenging of the way we do things here. Are you happy here? Are you thinking of quitting? … You always seem to be butting up against the limits, venting your frustration, and putting the organisation down… bad mouthing management…

You say that this is just the way you are talking, or that you were just kidding around. I don’t buy that. And in any event, the things you say hurt people and it is exasperating listening to the constant barrage of criticism.

But more to the point – you seem to think that a lot of things around here should be changed. Well here is a challenge for you – An opportunity to prove that there is substance behind your words. It is very easy to criticise, it is a different matter to offer a clever solution. If you’re going to battle the counter-productive aspects of the ‘regime’, I want to see you coming out with a well thought through specific initiative or a plan of action, rather than taking the easy option of standing on the side lines and criticising. You can then present it to the Board, and be prepared to be challenged about it. So think it through very well and be ready to defend it. You will need to convince your audience that the benefits of adopting your initiative outweigh the costs implementing it.

 You have a choice. You can work to change things here or you can follow you old pattern and just be an irritant. If you choose the later, your career will stall and your influence on the organisation will never amount to much. I hope you make the other choice, because you’re right – this place isn’t perfect, and we need people like you to help improve it.”

The Pessimist

Like the Rebel’s constant criticism, the Pessimist constant resistance to change, can be irksome, annoying, and exasperating. After a while, people stop taking notice, and treat the Rebel or the Pessimist as irritating noise in the background. This is the line of argument to take in the coaching conversation with the Pessimist. Pointing out that as in the children’s story of the boy who cried wolf, the impact of the constant alarms is diminishing.

“It is okay to worry, but it’s important that your fears do more than guard the status quo. They should have a constructive edge.

I have been listening to your arguments closely over the last couple of months, and the pattern that emerged for me is that your risk evaluation is biased. You ignore both the potential upside of change, as well as failing to consider the downside of doing nothing.

In the future, when a change initiative is proposed, you should draw a two-by-two matrix that looks at the pros and cons of making the change as well as the pros and cons of doing nothing. By making this systematic consideration of initiatives into a routine, you will be forced into more objective risk analysis… Furthermore, I am willing to protect you from every kind of risk except one. If you try something new and fail, I’ll take the blame. If you try something new and succeed, you’ll get the credit. But if I find that you’re refusing to take risks or getting in the way of others who have good ideas, you’ll be held accountable.”


Waldroop, J. & Butler, T. (2000). Managing away bad habits. Harvard Business Review, 78, no. 5 (September – October).

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Working with You Is Killing Me: Part #1

by Dr Tuvia Melamed on Mar.21, 2010, under Working with You Is Killing Me

Working with You Is Killing Me #1

 Dr Tuvia Melamed
ClearWater A&D
to download a pdf copy click here


Being Hooked – The 1st Emotional Trap

The workplace is a volatile environment inhabited by emotional creatures who often rub each other the wrong way. Scratch the rational surface of any company, and you will find a breeding ground of negative emotions – anxiousness about performance, anger with colleagues, resentment with management, and stress and burnout from pressuring targets.

The first chapter in this series relates to being emotionally hooked.

Meet, Claudia {a fictitious name – but a real person} – a highly successful and powerful senior executive, but also a nightmare to work with.  I was engaged by the non-exec Board of a professional services firm to coach Claudia. The request came after continuous resentment and complaints from her colleagues coupled with an unprecedented level of resignations from members of her team. Confidential exit interviews revealed that the main reason people gave for leaving the secure job with the reputable firm was that “working with her, is killing me”.

At her best, Claudia tends to be very enthusiastic about, and work hard on, new products. She brings a sense of energy, dynamism, and urgency to new projects. At her worst, she is extremely hard to please and she is high maintenance – requiring a lot of handholding and reassurance. Claudia’s character is exemplified by inappropriate anger coupled with unstable and intense relationships that alternate between passion and idealisation to deflation and devaluation. Psychometric analysis of her profile revealed that Claudia expects to be disappointed in relationships. She anticipates being cheated, ignored, criticised, or treated unfairly. Consequently, she is constantly on guard for signs that others have treated, or will treat, her badly. In business, this translates to being sharp, on top of things and hard to fool. However, when she thinks that she has been mistreated, she erupts in emotional display that may involve losing her temper, yelling from one end of the office to the other, or sulking for days. Because she is so alert for signs of mistreatment, she finds them everywhere, even when others cannot see them. The distinctive emotional tantrums of Claudia make her unpredictable – It is hard to know when she is going to erupt, and what this eruption would look like. Furthermore, because she is so edgy and self-centred she is unrewarding to deal with. As a result of her unpredictability and edginess, she has trouble building and maintaining a team.

Claudia does not handle stress, pressure, failure, disappointment, or criticism very well, and she tends to ‘melt down’ rather easily. It does not take much for her to turn from being passionate and enthusiastic to becoming disheartened. In her history of relationships, she has been so easily disappointed, and when disappointed, her first instinct was to withdraw or leave. A key to understanding Claudia is her extreme degree of self-centricity. All information and experience is filtered through the lense of what does it mean for her personally, and she takes every comment, gesture, and expression of others personally. She personalises everything, but she does it privately, so all that others see and experience are the emotional outbursts, the sulkiness, and the tendency to withdraw.

Now consider others’ experience working with Claudia. Those working with her may feel that they have to be careful in all their interactions with her with the fear of offending her. Those reporting to her often feel that live in a constant state of terror, finding that they spend more time managing their relationship with her, than concentrating on their job. It is common for them to start their day wondering in what mood Claudia is, as her mood may affect the rest of their day. Their decisions when to request or negotiate a budget for their projects or initiatives, is not driven by the business environment, but by her daily mood. In a series of 360-degree interviews, those working for her suggested that the way of remaining sane, is to provide her with plenty of reassurance, keep her informed to minimise surprises, and give her a lot of previews so she knows what is coming. The general principle of handling her is the equivalent of trying to sooth a fretful child.

Being Hooked

The first emotional trap is that of being hooked – having a consistent irritable reaction to someone or something at work – i.e., whenever we come across this person or this thing at work, we feel irritated, annoyed, anxious, frustrated…

Being hooked means feeling trapped in relationships, positions, roles, and situations that drain our energy, invade our thoughts, keep us awake at night and make us feel stuck in no-win positions.

Here are some additional examples: Having someone ‘stealing’ your ideas and taking credit for them # having constant complaints from a particular customer who is never satisfied # being bombarded with unstoppable work demands # being forced to use an inefficient centralised template or system

The symptoms of being hooked are any of the followings:

  • Incompetence – Is there someone at work whose incompetence drives you mental?
  • Restrictive Interdependency – Is there someone at work on whom you depend to do your work, and whose way of operating prevents you from progressing your work?
  • Maladaptive Behaviour – Is there someone at work whose irrational behaviour wears on your nerves?
  • Withdrawal Reactions – To cope with stress at work, do you engage in excessive eating, alcohol drinking, watching TV, or using mind altering substances?

Businesses expect professional and non-emotional behaviour from its employees. Yet, many circumstances at work give rise to strong emotions. Individuals that are in such situation, feel trapped, stuck in a losing game. They cannot free themselves from the bad situation, and their emotions remain unexpressed and suppressed. They feel that the only two options open for them are either ‘suck it up’ or ‘quit’.

This experience of feeling caught in an emotionally distressing work situation is labelled being hooked. It is manifested in consistently having a strong negative internal reaction to someone (or something) at work. The degree of being hooked can vary from a mild irritation (such as a reaction to a colleague tone of voice) to a severe emotional breakdown (such as the inability to cope with line manager’s irrational behaviour).

The normal and common reaction when being hooked is activated (i.e., when someone else’s behaviour irritates us) is to blame our irritation and emotional responses on that person’s behaviour – but that doesn’t solve anything. We are still kept hooked.  The way out is to re-frame and manage our internal emotional responses first – i.e., controlling our automatic reaction that someone else’s behaviour triggered inside us. The principle here is simple – If we can control our emotional reaction, we can liberate ourselves from being hooked.

The process of changing our emotional response to irritating circumstances is termed unhooking. As opposed to feeling insulted by the constant need to chase a customer who will not return your calls, you can unhook by not taking it as a personal rejection and accepting it as part of doing business, where the customer is ‘king’. Instead of getting irritated by the incompetence of your colleague, you can unhook by changing your expectations and taking corrective actions to prevent the negative impact of that person’s ineptitude. Rather than despising the malicious office gossip, you can unhook by setting clear boundaries and showing no interest.

Easier said than done – not necessarily.

There are four simple steps to unhooking that help you release the negative emotions and stay calm, while taking specific actions to change your experience.

  • Physical action:  This step aims to release the negative energy caused by being hooked. As emotional discomfort produces shallow breath, you start by focusing on your breathing, and consciously breathing deeply and gently. If possible, engage in some physical activity such as walking round the block. This helps releasing the physical sensation associated with the negative emotion of being hooked.
  • Mental Reframing: Here you try to look at your situation from a different perspective, view your circumstances objectively, and evaluate the practical options open to you. At this step your rational part of the brain takes over from the emotional one. Ask yourself:
    • What is happening here? – e.g., my invoice is overdue again (for the last five consecutive times), the client’s finance manager  did not pay the invoice I have raised, she ignored all my last two ‘gentle reminders’ emails, and she did not return my call
    • What are the facts? – e.g., I need the invoice cleared within seven days to pay my suppliers
    • What part did the other person play in it? – e.g., She is disorganised, lacks respects for others, and does not care about anyone else but herself
    • How did I contribute to what has happened? – e.g., I take her incompetence and lack of response personally, I try to pacify her by using a very gentle approach, it stops me from wanting to do more work for this client
    • What are my realistic options? – e.g., I can stop personalising her bad attitude; she does not reject me, she is just dismissive of all suppliers; I can acknowledge her feeling of being very busy and under pressure from many suppliers and agree with her to send her a reminder a week before the invoice is due; I can ask to meet with the client and agree a process of timely payment of invoices; I can agree with the client a penalty close for late payment
  • Verbal Expression: This is a proactive action aiming to restructure the situation that causes you grief. The verbal expression requires you to focus on the overall goal as opposed to remaining stuck in the petty details. The aim is to express information in a manner that resolves problems rather than perpetuating them. As such, the verbal expression should contain no judgement, no blame, no accusations, no pointing finger, and no anger or any other negative emotion. It means taking responsibility for your own part of the situation. The verbal expression is not about a compromise, or about being nice. It is about clear, direct, and effective communication that allows the listener to hear you and consider your suggestions. Thus, instead of fuelling your own frustration regarding the late payment of invoices, you can approach the client and / or the finance manager, and ask: “How can I help you get the invoices paid on time? – … I can alert you a week before they are due … I can arrange a direct debit from your account…”
  • Toolbox Utilisation: This step is the equivalent of introducing a third-party to support your argument. Here we utilise simple business tools that either measures certain behaviours, create a behavioural benchmark, or disseminate information. The toolbox includes amongst others: job description # goal setting document # performance reviews # policies and procedures # disciplinary actions forms # memo, emails, and letters # meetings’ agenda # documentation.
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Working with You Is Killing Me

by Dr Tuvia Melamed on Mar.21, 2010, under Series, Working with You Is Killing Me

Working with You Is Killing Me

 Dr Tuvia Melamed
ClearWater A&D
to download a pdf copy click here

The series ‘Working with You Is Killing Me’ is a set of seven interlinked articles looking at managing the dark side of colleagues at work, and freeing oneself from the work-based emotional traps. The series draws on the work of, and gives credit to, Katherine Crowley and Kathi Elster, whose exceptional book ‘Working with You Is Killing Me’ was the inspiration for this series.

The series includes seven blogs:

  • Part #1 – Being Hooked – Emotional Trap: The first chapter of the 7-part series. This chapter explores the emotional trap of ‘Being Hooked’ – having a consistent irritable reaction to someone or something at work – i.e., whenever we come across this person or this thing at work, we feel irritated, annoyed, anxious, frustrated… Being hooked means feeling trapped in relationships, positions, roles, and situations that drain our energy, invade our thoughts, keep us awake at night and make us feel stuck in no-win positions.
  • Part #2 – The Empty Persona: “I was here on Saturday afternoon. Where were you?” This kind of “subtle” pressure to work 24/7 is typical of the ‘Hero’ – one of the four characters featuring in this chapter of ‘Working with You Is Killing Me’. This chapter focuses on those colleagues who drive you crazy; yet you find it very difficult to challenge or to tackle them, simply because they are star performers. But they are star performers with a dark-side – they have a seemingly fatal personality flow or a psychological limitation that colours their achievements, holds them back, and makes the life of others a misery
  • Part #3 – Fatal Attraction: When you first met, you felt drawn to that person; you were excited at the prospect of working together – there was something about that person that fulfilled a strong inner need within you. However, over time, interactions with this person left you emotionally exhausted and professionally frustrated – by now, you are dreading the next interaction. You spend your days and sleepless nights running conversations in your head, trying to understand the other person, thinking of ways of bringing the relationships to what it was in the past – but with no avail. No matter what you do, you cannot steer the relationships back to its vibrant beginning.
  • Part #4 – Managing Upward
  • Part #5 – Managers’ Emotional Baggage and Insecurities
  • Patt #6 – Managing Down
  • Part #7 – Case Studies
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Cognitive Processing

by ClearWater on Mar.18, 2010, under Pearls of Wisdom

open source video, video platform, open source video editor

Credit goes to Dana Lurie-Schlam for posting the link to the video on facebook .

A relatively short, yet powerful, lecture by Daniel Kahneman, the Harvard Professor, on processing and utilising memories. Using examples from vacations to colonoscopies, Nobel laureate and founder of behavioral economics Daniel Kahneman reveals how our “experiencing selves” and our “remembering selves” perceive happiness differently. This new insight has profound implications for economics, public policy — and our own self-awareness.

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The Dark Side of Leadership

by Dr Tuvia Melamed on Mar.16, 2010, under Articles

We are looking for People with the Potential to Fail…

 Dr Tuvia Melamed
ClearWater A&D
to download a pdf copy click here


The Dark Side of Leadership — On the route to become a major liability… 

Everyone is looking for people with the potential to be successful – but there are some roles, where the potential of getting it wrong, can outweigh the benefits of having a high potential, high performer in place. The reality is that in many cases, those who turn out to be a major liability, give an impressive impression of high potential and high capability. This paper looks at the HR² phonomenon – the High-Risk — High-Return individuals.

Remember Gerald Ratner, the entrepreneur who created the multi-million jewellery business, and in one statement (“People say. ‘How can you sell this for such a low price?’ I say, because it’s total crap”) wiped out an estimated £500m from the value of the company. How about Nick Lesson? – The golden boy of Bearing Bank, whose actions resulted in the sale of the 200-year establishment for £1.

It is not just the colourful characters that hit the news that can become a liability. In August 2007, British Airways was fined £270 million after it admitted that one of its senior managers tried to colluding with Virgin Atlantic over fuel surcharges and price-fixing on cargo flights.

So think about those high hitters who leave carnage behind them. It is a very difficult to challenge or argue against them; let alone stop them. As from performance perspective, they close major deals, lead complex projects to successful completion, create innovative products, attract clients, and deliver spectacular operational and financial results. Organisations try to learn to live with their shortfalls and justify it by saying that the business depends on them for its success. This is probably true, but only up to a certain point. In the long-term they can cause unacceptable collateral damage, and might bring the organisation to ‘its knees’. In safety-critical industries such as oil exploration, aviation, and medical care, there is plenty of evidence that such disruptive behaviour can cause life-threatening errors.

There are several reasons as to why do talented people derail in spite of their brilliance, and why they do not address their weaknesses before they cause havoc. One of the most common reasons is their lack of insight. They dismiss potential weaknesses as unimportant, redefine them as part of their ‘charm’, ‘style’ or even ‘secret of success’, and blame others for “overreacting”. What’s more, It is customary in many organisations to approve such actions by subscribing to cultural statements such as “I didn’t get where I am today by taking the soft approach or by being nice to people”; “we could do with a bit of backbone” or “It’s time we told it to people as it is – they need to know what is what”.

There is an organisational trap here – I call it HR² – it is an acronym for ‘High-Risk – High-Return’. The challenge for organisations with such high-risk high-return individuals is to retain their talents whilst minimising the damage they cause along the way.

The Center for Creative Leadership (McCall and Lombardo) researched executives who were viewed as technical gurus or tenacious problem solvers, but under demanding job pressures their strengths turned into liabilities that become costly and highly noticeable for the organisation. The study identified four sets of characteristics that can lead to such derailment – these were: (a) problems with interpersonal relationships (such as arrogance, aloofness, coldness and detachment); (b) problems with execution of business objectives (such as betraying trust, failure to follow through); (c) problems with inability to lead a team; and (d) problem with managing change or adapting to transition (such as limited strategic capacity; over-controlling). Likewise, Robert Hogan, one of the leading figures in the study of leadership derailment, used taxonomy of mental disorders that manifest themselves in a subtle way in organisational life and in the behaviour of derailed leaders. He categorised the characteristics that derail high flyers’ careers and cause negative consequences for their organisation into eleven derailing characteristics. He calls these the “dark side” of personality – the characteristics that are not normally apparent but which emerge when an individual is under great pressure (see the following table).

  Description On a Good Day Limitations
Excitable Inappropriate anger. Intense and unstable relationships, alternating between idealisation and devaluation. Clinical Term – Borderline Personality Passion; Empathy; Energy; Enthusiasm; Concern Volatility;  Emotional explosiveness; Emotional instability
Sceptical Distrustful and suspicious of others; Conspiracy theory oriented; Motives are interpreted as malevolent. Clinical  Term – Paranoia Shrewd; Insightful; Social and political insight; Critical analysis; Sharpness Cynicism; Negativity; Excessive suspicion; Blame; Draining energy from others
Cautious Social inhibition; Feeling of inadequacy; Hyper-sensitivity to criticism or rejection. Clinical Term – Avoidance Risk assessment; Voice of reason; Devil’s advocate Indecisiveness; Paralysis by analysis; Risk-averse;
Reserved Emotional coldness and detachment from social relationships; Indifference to praise and criticism. Clinical Term – Schizoid Emotional unflappability;  Focus; Concentration; Productivity Not gaining buy-in; Poor communication; Insensitive; Failing to get the best from others
Scheming Passive resistance to social and occupational performance; Irritation when asked to do something they do not want to do. Clinical  Term – Passive Aggressive Good social skills; Diplomatic; Political astuteness Passive aggression; Manipulation; Stubbornness; Killing initiatives
Bold Arrogance; Haughty behaviours or attitudes; Grandiose sense of self-importance and entitlement.  Clinical Term – Narcissism Charisma; Conviction; confidence; Courage; Energy; Untouchable mentality Arrogance; Belief in own press; Overbearing; Lack of remorse; Inability to learn from mistakes
Mischievous Disregard for the truth; Impulsivity and failure to plan ahead; Failure to conform to social norms.  Clinical Term – Antisocial Risk taker; Challenging; Charming; Mission impossible; Reckless; Deceitful; Morally bankrupted; Uncontrolled impulsivity; Steals the glory
Colourful Excessive emotionality and attention Seeking; Self-dramatisation; Theatrical and excessive emotional expression. Clinical Term – Hysteria Risk taker; Pushes boundaries; Challenging; Engaging; Impactful Impulsive and distractable; Prima-donna
Imaginative Odd belief or magical thinking; Eccentricity; Behaviour or speech that are odd or peculiar. Clinical Term – Schizotypal Creativity; Vision; Radical  innovation; Step change Unrealistic ideas; No consolidation; dismissal of best practice; No continuous improvement
Diligent Obsessive occupation with structure, orderliness, process, rules, control and procedures; Perfectionism. Clinical Term – Obsessive Compulsive High standards; Reliability; Good role model Control freak;  Micro-managing; Pure operational; not strategic
Dutiful High maintenance. Difficulty making simple decisions without advice or excessive reassurance; Difficulty expressing disagreement out of fear of loss of support; Excessive need to please. Clinical Term – Dependent Loyalty; Organisational commitment; Hard worker; Customer service; Polite Spineless; Good No.2 – Not a No. 1; Pushover; Inability to challenge authority

An Illustrative Case Study

ClearWater has recently supported a professional services firm going through a major operational and cultural change. Key to this change was M – An equity holding Managing Partner in the firm. M was in charge of a Strategic Business Unit (SBU) that included several diverse businesses. M’s biggest challenge was to create a cohesive SBU with clear identity and well-defined ‘routes to market’ strategy that builds on leverages among the diverse business units within the larger SBU. This was a difficult challenge as the different business units had a long history of independent operation without a broad umbrella. This challenge was vital to the Professional Services firm as the recession and tough economic market, made it difficult for many of the business units to break-even, let alone, make profit.

M’s rise to the Head of SBU position was a combination of five factors – An earlier success in winning a massive three-year contract with a highly respectable client; a tough, uncompromising, honesty and integrity; a down-to-earth, practical and pragmatic, no-nonsense approach; strong drive and ambition to succeed; and extreme dedication and commitment to the firm. Clearly, M’s role was critical to the future of the firm as the driving force behind the relatively new SBU, but the results were not coming in, performance targets were not met. Not used to failure, M doubled his effort in doing what he knows best and what proved a success in the past – Pushing and challenging the business units and individuals within them, closely monitoring and measuring their performance, setting tough targets and re-visiting them regularly, demanding total dedication and high standards, forcing central rules and procedures to standardise operations… But the results still did not materialise. The SBU was operating as a random amalgamation of independent and diverse business units, there were no significant cross-selling or collaborative projects, no leverages were realised among the different business units, and the financial results were behind agreed targets. Furthermore, the cost to colleagues was becoming a concern – the common joke/complain regarding M was “working with you is killing me”. Resignations of senior players were common occurrence, morale was low, and the two waves of compulsory redundancies initiated by M, made the SBU a depressing place to work. Many spent their time, buying time, before jumping ship.

The CEO sought our advice. Our assessment was that M’s profile was not suitable for a strategic integrative role. His skills were more as an entrepreneurial sole operator. The tough uncompromising style that made M a success in the first place, was likely to do more harm than good. More specifically M displayed two extreme ‘dark-side’ personality traits – ‘Diligence’ and ‘Reserved’.  These made M highly focused, tough and uncompromising, yet, under pressure they also brought the worst out of him. The strong operational focus with limited strategic perspective associated with high ‘Diligence’, meant an inability to create a cohesive and coherent vision for the SBU as a whole. When results were not emerging, M revert to the typical ‘Diligence’ approach of ‘try harder’ rather than ‘try something different’; ‘micro-manage’ rather than ‘seek innovation’, and ‘enforce compliance’ rather than ‘learn from local practices’. Furthermore, the ‘Reserved’ style meant strong focus on targets, but failure to gain buy-in to overall operational strategy. It resulted in forcing top-down decisions, while failing to properly communicate the rationale for them. It demanded compliance, while being insensitive to localised specific issues.

At a series of feedback meetings involving the Managing Partner and the CEO – it become clear that M’s strengths are not fully utilised in this role. The SBU was re-structured, the senior roles were re-defined. An additional Managing Partner was brought in to manage an element of it, and M’s role was re-defined around his strengths.

The HR² Approach

The HR² approach is used both to inform selection decision into high-risk positions, and development of managers that show signs of derailment. From a selection perspective, it stops the High-Risk High-Return slip through the net. It prevents the case of finding how disruptive they could be when it is far too late… From a development perspective, it offers a clear framework to manage and develop such individuals.

The approach places great importance on three things—an accurate pin-pointed diagnosis, a buy-in and involvement of all key stakeholders, and pragmatism.

HR² is a sophisticated 1-day intensive 1-to-1 psychological assessment, that has been scientifically developed and designed to target and ensure, that the people who are totally wrong, potential liability, or potentially damaging to your organisation, cannot … and do not … slip the radar. The 1-day diagnosis involves an in-depth semi structured interview, the completion of psychometric questionnaires, a business simulation exploring the ability to handle complexity, psychological exploration. Additional input that informs the diagnosis and prognosis includes: (a) the contextual factors that have influence over the individual and the situation; and (b) the challenges the organisation is facing now and in the future.

The HR² assessment explores four inter-dependent building blocks:

  • THINKING – Cognitive biases generated by Thinking Style and limitations in managing complexity
  • BEHAVIOUR – Maladaptive habitual behavioural acts
  • PERSONALITY – The interface between the bright side of personality and the emerging dark side
  • EMOTION – The distorted defence mechanisms used to handle emotional dispositions

When used for development, the 1-day diagnosis is followed by a series of 1-to-1 feedback session and a 3-way session involving the individual and their line manager. These sessions are used to draw a practical and pragmatic action plan and a personal development plan. In many instances this involves a mixture of structural changes to the organisation, the contextual setting, or the manager’s role, with a personal development programme for the individual. The pragmatic development programme offers a blend of ‘damage limitation’ interventions focusing the prevention of damage caused by derailing tendencies, with ‘strengths enhancement’ interventions where the individual gains insight to the ways they can best utilise their profile and their unique strengths.

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by Dr Tuvia Melamed on Mar.07, 2010, under Short Blogs


Dr Tuvia Melamed
ClearWater A&D

There is rarely a management development programme where the facilitator doesn’t use a quote. A quote to inspire, to get a point across, to summarise the essence… one for almost every occasion. Here are sixty quotes that were collected mainly from a discussion at www.Linkedin.com

My favourite is “Scream if you want to go faster”

  1. “What the caterpillar calls the end of the world, the master calls a butterfly” — Richard Bach
  2. “And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music.” — Friedrich Nietzsche
  3. “Nobody can make you feel inferior without your permission” — Eleanor Roosevelt
  4. “Things which matter most must never be at the mercy of the things that matter least.” — Goethe
  5. “For those who believe, no proof is necessary; for those who don’t believe, no proof is possible.” — Stuart Chase
  6. “The finest steel has to go through the hottest fire.” — John N. Mitchell
  7. “The 3 sentences for getting success – Know more than others, Work more than others, Expect less than others”  
  8. “The greatest danger for us is not that we aim too high and fail to achieve our goal, but we aim too low and we reach.” — Michelangelo
  9. “If you can imagine it, you can achieve it. If you can dream it, you can become it” — William Arthur Ward
  10. “Whether you think you can or you can’t, you’re usually right”
  11. “You miss 100% of the shots you never take”– Wayne Gretzky
  12. “It’s never too late to be what you might have been.” — George Eliot
  13. “Don’t confuse effort with results”
  14. “People laugh at me because I’m different. I laugh at them because they are all the same.”
  15. “Waves are my inspiration – not because they rise and fall but because each time they fall, they rise again.”
  16. “Strength lies in differences. Not in similarities” — Stephen Covey
  17. “I don’t think about risks much; when you gotta go, you gotta go…”
  18. “Do, or do not. There is no try” — Jedi Master Yoda
  19. “If you love what you do, you will never work another day in your life.”
  20. “Yes we can”
  21. “For a long time it had seemed to me that life was about to begin – real life. But there was always some obstacle in the way, something to be gotten through first, some unfinished business, time still to be served, or a debt to be paid. Then life would begin. At last it dawned on me that these obstacles were my life.” — Alfred D Souza
  22. Never argue with an IDIOT, first you have to stoop at his level and then he will beat you with his experience”….
  23. Even if you are on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there — Mark Twain
  24. “Yesterday is history, tomorrow is mystery. Today is a gift, that’s why we call it present.” — Kung Fu Panda
  25. “Your present circumstances don’t determine where you can go; they merely determine where you start.” — Nino Qubein
  26. “Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana.” — Groucho Marx
  27. “Every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the fastest lion or it will be killed. Every morning in Africa, a lion wakes up. It knows it must out run the slowest gazelle or it will starve to death. It does not matter whether you are a lion or a gazelle; When the sun comes up, you’d better be running.”
  28. “Obstacles are what you see when you take your eyes off the goal.” — Vince Lombardi
  29. “Leaders are people who do the right thing; managers are people who do things right.” — Warren G. Bennis
  30. “Whenever you cross the Hurdles in your way, they become a Milestone in your Life”.
  31. “Its always good to know what people expect from you, then you can surprise them by giving more”
  32. “When is the last time you did something for the first time.”
  33. Seek first to understand, then to be understood — Steven Covey
  34. Do one thing that scares you every day — Eleanor Roosevelt
  35. “Good judgment comes from experience. Experience comes from bad judgment.” — Jim Horning
  36. “Luck is preparation meeting opportunity” – Oprah Winfrey
  37. “The stone age did not end due to a lack of stone”
  38. Because we don’t know what is really important to us, everything seems important. Because everything seems important we have to do everything. Other people, unfortunately, see us as doing everything so they expect us to do everything. Doing everything keeps us so busy we don’t have time to think about what is really important to us.
  39. “People in cardboard boxes should throw stones”
  40. “I have always admired the ability to bite off more than one can chew and then chew it” — William C. deMille
  41. “Both optimists and pessimists contribute to our society. The optimist invents the airplane and the pessimist the parachute” — Gil Stern
  42. “… no matter where you go, there you are.” — Buckaroo Banzai
  43. “Don’t base your life on intentions. Either do it or let it go!” — Carolyn Hutchison
  44. “Sometimes its best to look reality in the eye and deny it.”
  45. “Throwing away ideas too soon is like opening a package of flower seeds and then throwing them away because they’re not pretty.” — Arthur B. VanGundy
  46. “Everything happens for a reason”
  47. “Don’t let others rent free space in your head”
  48. “I should have drunk more champagne” — John Maynard Keynes
  49. No one will remember what you said or what you did – they will only remember how you made them feel.
  50. “Your mind is on vacation, but your mouth is working overtime.” — Mose Allison
  51. “Be nice to the people you meet on the way up. You will meet them again on the way down.”
  52. “Life is like a box of chocolate. After the initial excitement, all you left with is the nasty coffee flavoured ones.”
  53. “I spent 90% of my money on women, drink and fast cars. The rest I wasted.” — George Best
  54. “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.” — Yogi Berra
  55. “When you’re finished changing, you’re finished.” — Benjamin Franklin
  56. “It only takes one.”
  57. “These are my principles – If you don’t like them, I have others” Groucho Marx
  58. “Expecting others to treat you fairly because you are good person is a little like expecting the lion not to attack you because you are a vegetarian”
  59. “Wherever you are… BE there!”
  60. “A complex system that works is invariably found to have evolved from a simple system that works.” — John Gaule
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Business Lessons from Lady GaGa

by Dr Tuvia Melamed on Mar.02, 2010, under Short Blogs

Business Lessons from Lady GaGa

 Dr Tuvia Melamed
ClearWater A&D
to download a pdf copy click here

 Some say the meteoric rise of Lady GaGa to fame will be short-lived and that she will disappear from the music scene, nearly as quickly as she emerged into it. This blog, puts the argument that there is a clear logic beyond the outlandish and eccentric new entry into the entertainment scene, and that are five simple, yet powerful lessons, for every business to learn from the new first lady of the music industry. 

The credit for this blog goes to Charlie O’Donnell who wrote the original article (16th Jan., 2010) in www.businessinsider.com and to my Twitter friend Roy Osing (www.bedifferentorbedead.com – @RoyOsing) who introduced it to me.


A couple of weeks ago I watched Lady GaGa emerging as the biggest winner of the 2010 Brits awards. The 23 year-old US star won Best International Female, International Album for The Fame, and International Breakthrough Act. It is easy to mock her outlandish outfits, her simplistic child-like lyrics, and her over-the-top attention craving. But hate her, or despise what she represents – It is difficult not to admire her meteoric rise and her tremendous achievements. A year ago she was an unknown – now…

You might ask what does Lady GaGa have to do with business practices (and if you are of a certain age you might have not even know who I am talking about). Nevertheless, there five intriguing lessons businesses can learn from the shooting star of the music industry.

Lesson 1: Be Remarkable – Stand Out from the Crowd

Look at the picture to the left. This outlandish outfit is typical of Lady GaGa. You cannot help but notice her. “What is it that she is wearing…? Does she wear anything underneath it? This business principle, it is about grabbing attention – about capturing the awareness of others and making them notice you. You want to your potential clients and customers to stop their daily routines and take note of your offering, service, product, or unique ideas. So – What is it about your offering that will make potential customers stop and notice?

Lesson 2: Stand on the Shoulders of Giants

To be great, you need to be able to recognise greatness and learn from it. Lady GaGa has clearly been influenced by the likes Madonna, Michael Jackson, and David Bowie. Rather than fight these influences and declares herself different, bigger, and better than them, she incorporates subtle references to these superstars into her performance. She does not portray herself as a replacement to those that came before her. Instead, she recognises that there is a reason why others are successful. The same lesson applies to businesses – Identify the leaders in your industry and see what is working for them and made more successful than you are. Adopt well executed strategies rather than dismissing them, and vault beyond them to claim your unique position. Do not mistake different for new and better. If you cannot recognise greatness, and build on it or off of it, then your chances of being great on your own are rather slim.


Lesson 3: Repeat the Message

Some might say the lyrics of her songs are irritating and mind numbing — “Pa-pa-pa-Poker Face”, “Rah-rah-ah-ah-ah;Roma, roma-ma: Ga-ga, ooh la la””, “Again and again, again, again, again, never stop”, ”I want your love, love, love, love; I want your love”…   Many of the Lady’s lyrics and sounds are repeated one right after another – simple, simplistic, yet highly memorable when listened to over and over again. As a business, you have to figure out what your key message is and repeat it again, and again, and again. Make it catchy and memorable – ‘It is all about people and behaviour’ or ‘from Tragic to Magic. Repeat it across your web-site, blog, Tweet it, make it the cornerstone of your marketing copy, PR, and business development activities. This helps creating clear and coherent brand awareness. Your audience looks at a massive amount of brand messages every day. To cut through, you have to be the same every single time someone experiences you. Trying to be everything to everyone will result in very small following. Sometimes, broken records aren’t so bad. Remember the classical impact creation practice – “first tell them what you are going to tell them; then, tell it them, and finally tell them what you have told them.”

Lesson 4: Be Relentless

On-hit wonders are not typical only of the music industry. Many businesses might have an initial success with a particular product, or service delivery; but resting on their laurels means that short life-shelf. The competition is catching up very quickly, and the market is constantly flooded with new products and innovations. Similarly, many start-ups display the one-hit wonder syndrome. They make a big noise upon launch, but quickly after the big fuss is over, they have no follow up and quickly lose momentum. Lady GaGa on the other hand, is a well oiled hit-making machine. Just when one of her songs starts losing steam, we are introduced to another tune that we just can’t get out of our heads. She keeps herself on our radar screen, and to do that, she releases a new song every three months. A business might be the new flavour of the month right now, but when the month is over… things are different. Constantly ask yourself what is going to be your next block buster… your next killer new feature… your next business development contract? If you don’t keep pace with the market dynamics, you soon become yesterday’s news.

Lesson 5: Create a brand with life of its own

At some point, a new company has to start acting like the real thing and stop behaving as if it is operating from the garden shed of one of its founders. Things take on a life of their own that is over and above the individual identities of the founders.  Lady GaGa created, promoted and publicly displays a facade detached from her real self. To her family and close friends, she is probably still Stefani, but to the rest of the world she is something else, bigger than life – she is Lady GaGa. The earlier the company founders behave like they have created something bigger than themselves, the sooner they will get there. This means getting non-exec Board members to regulate and control the business, taking strategy and process seriously, maintaining consistent corporate identities, delegating duty and responsibility, and adhering to procedure.

The learning’s from Lady Gaga are definitely worth repeating and are not limited to start-ups. Her success factors apply to all organisations looking to be successful in the fast pace and highly changing world we live in.

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