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Observing and Documenting Behavior of Micromanagers and other Corporate Psychopaths

News Toxic managers Books Recommended Links Recommended Papers Insubordination Threat Sociology of Organizations Books
Fighting Strategies Understanding micromanagers Documenting Micromanager Behavior Enemy at the Gate: Rules of communication with micromanager The psychopath in the corner office Abusive, Authority Based Relationships Learned helplessness
The Fiefdom Syndrome Work Overload Micromanagement induced burnout Coping with the toxic stress Narcissistic Managers Humor Etc

Note 1: Paranoid incompetent micromanagers (PIMM), who successfully combine tight control of minute details/procedures used in performing assignments with toxic incompetence are often called "control freaks" (CF). This category of corporate psychopaths represents really nasty beasts of IT jungles who tend to completely paralyze their victims.  They are completely different from PHB on Dilbert cartoons and in many way are close to narcissistic managers.

In this set of pages that include

we will mainly address this menace. 

Note 2: Good advice about the topic is difficult to come by and depends on your concrete situation: take any recommendations with a grain of salt.

Programmers, system administrators and other IT folk are usually taught many languages, issues of programming style, issues of software engineering; it is somewhat surprising that this approach usually is not extended to conversations. Social skills usually are not a forte of many IT professionals.  Once we are aware about this deficiency  we may actually turn weaknesses to an advantage by compensating for them.  And the fact that you are reporting to paranoia incompetent micromanager should serve as a wake up call.

You can see why this can be a hard idea for some diehard technologists to take. It means embracing the idea that besides your latest C++ or Java or Perl code tricks  you need to learn something useful that solves concrete problems for you as a person,  not as a device that drives computer 24*7 :-).  It means also accepting that technology exists primarily to serve people. It means becoming more well-rounded person with a genuine interest in the world beyond lines of code,  chipsets and motherboards, including developing a genuine interest in the ways your organization, your boss, and the IT ecosystem in general  operate.

If you are reporting to PIMM those skills are really vital and you better be prepared.  The only defense to ignorance is knowledge: One must understand the enemy and know own deficiencies, weak spots, typical avenues of attack and limitations. One step in the right direction is learning to document micromanager behavior.  Being a subordinate of a PIMM is not unlike being a child of alcoholic and you may start to develop set of wrong adjustments to the situation that cripples you as a personality. Some literature on the topic can help. See for example  [PDF] Adult Children of Alcoholics. Don't worry about revenge via lawsuits, or fighting back, or personal pride. Be concerned about your own mental and emotional well being.

Documenting micromanager behavior is important both from the point of view of diminishing stress as well as from the point of view of defending yourself  if things go too nasty (you can expect making some mistakes). Learning this skill is not an easy thing. People tend to jump to conclusions: just look how readily we label behavior of our manager based on the first self-help book we bought. And often in reality your manager can be quite different type of  corporate psychopath. More often then not your first classification attempt is blatantly wrong.

Documenting micromanager behavior is important both from the point of view of diminishing stress as well as from the point of view of defending yourself  if things go too nasty (you can expect making some mistakes). Learning this skill is not an easy thing.

The other important value in systematic documenting psychopath behavior is that it reveal that path of betrayals typical for any corporate psychopath. The key here "document"; this is different from spy and you need to remember that difference.

First, you might not even realize the extent of the problem. Futterman explains, "Taken in isolation, these events may seem trivial, but taken as a whole, it often becomes more clear what's actually going on. Some victims may be in denial or discount these events as isolated incidents. Your written records can document how severe the situation is."

And, of course, if you decide to take legal action down the line, you may need the information. It's best to document these incidents as soon as possible so they're fresh in your mind.

Documentation is also important if you plan to report the behavior to your boss's boss or to your company's human resources department. And don't dismiss the idea of taking the bull by the horns and working toward a solution.

Also without documentation you might not even realize the extent of the problem  and methods used to intimidate and control you. Important observation, worth repeating again is:  "Taken in isolation, each event may seem trivial, but taken as a whole, it often becomes more clear what's something really nasty is actually going on. Some targets may even be in denial or discount these events as isolated incidents. Written records help to see bigger picture and understand how severe the situation is."

That's why it is important to keep a diary of any incidents and periodically try to correlate it with the separately created profile of you psychopathic boss. You will see how simplistic are labels like micromanager, bully, narcissist when applied to real, complex beast in IT jungles: your psychopathic boss. 

Only by painstaking observation and collection of verifiable "episodes" you can closer to correct understanding of what makes a particular corporate psychopath tick and what of your weaknesses he exploit most in his attacks. 

Still the methods of attack and intimidation are usually repetitive and analyzing them greatly reduce the stress in all forthcoming episodes.

The first thing to do is to create a structure format of "observational note".  You can model it after insurance companies crash report after all this is not that different topic :-) and use the same format in all notes. It should include:

One problem is with classification of PIMM behaviors: this phenomena is too variable to fit into rigid classification cells.  As a usable proxy you can try to adapt coding procedures developed by Sillars  who classified statements made during interpersonal conflict into seven categories:

  1. Denial and equivocation: deny conflict or that are evasive and ambiguous.
  2. Topic management: statements that shift or terminate the topic in an evasive manner.
  3. Noncommittal remarks: statements that neither acknowledge, deny or evade conflict. Noncommittal remarks represent a neutral style of communication reminiscent of casual conversation.
  4. Irreverent remarks:  make light of a conflict in a friendly manner.
  5. Analytic remarks: provide or seek information about a conflict issue in a non-confrontational manner.
  6. Confrontational remarks:  verbally competitive, individualistic comments, such as insults, criticism, hostile jokes and imperatives that demand concessions
  7. Conciliatory remarks:  express supportiveness or a desire for reconciliation, for example, through complements or concessions.

Those categories are somewhat fuzzy but they do reflect typical conversational strategies and two dimensions in which each communication exists:

You can create categories of your own but it is important to have them and fill them with typical examples for each side.  In particular, the usage of your competence with supposedly incompetent paranoid micromanager (PIMM) should be studied as this is one of the few favorable factors on your side in such conflicts. You might reassess your notes a week later as some things and behaviors are visible only at distance. Important part is to carefully document your own behavior and types of your responses on each of those. You will instantly see typical attacks, own mistakes in responding to them and how some of your weaknesses were exploited.

Pay special attention to deception. Normal humans have a predisposition to believe what they are told. This phenomena is often called  “truth bias.” Moreover IT specialists are usually relatively weak in detecting deception in verbal interactions: they spend just too much time with computer instead of people to fully acquire and develop such skills. But that turn into huge deficiency in dealing with corporate psychopath as deception is their natural habitat.  Please remember that when dealing with corporate psychopaths nonverbal cues are generally unreliable indicators of deception.  Those guys usually can hide their true face and emotions like accomplished poker players. Still the use of uncertainty and vagueness can be one indicator of deception. Deceivers were also found to take longer to respond and at times to even withdraw from interaction.

Document who was present in particular conversation of emotional outburst. Try to describe your feelings during the incident.

The next stage is to classify most frequent areas of conflict. Strangulating micromanagement would probably be the first and this goes without saying. But there can be more. First of all many PIMM has an illusion that they are mentoring you while their mentoring is often worse then "mentoring" provided  by an army drill sergeant. Constant criticism of some activities with such pretexts as  "poor teamwork", "inappropriate behavior"  is pretty common.  It is important to understand that like in any war attack on a weak position in one area can often be used to get obedience in the other. If you hear about "poor teamwork" be ready that you will be assigned to help PIMM's patsy in some doomed, screwed beyond any repair project: kind of cordial invitation to the death march.

In difficult conversations PIMM generally use three lines of attack:

Only regular analysis and practice can help to avoid the pitfalls when facing a difficult conversation with PIMM and come out as a winner.

After you collect evidence about several such episodes you will be surprised by commonalities and usage of same tactics, verbal clichés again and again. You may even need to hide smile hearing them again in the next encounter.  Often PIMM use for strangulation is limited to a dozen of catch phrases as "insufficient team work", "inappropriate behavior", etc.  After this arsenal is well known they can be more easily deflected. While such attacks might make you nervous first, you might be able to use them even to your advantage later encounters by attacking the assumptions behind the statement and use of Socratic questions.

In case you need to file a complain the first thing to do is to find out what is your company has a policy against workplace bulling as this is the least common denominator of the behavior for all types of corporate psychopaths.  This is not a legal requirement so your company might not have such policy. In this case you need to follow standard grievances procedure and that diminishes your chances for success unless you have a really strong supportable evidence.  Ask your human resources department about procedure for filing grievances if you are not sure about them. If there is no such procedure report to your manager boss. 

In case there is no such procedures (in many small companies there are none) write a complain to your boss supervisor. In this letter you need to provide dated evidence of the most appalling episodes. Describe the level of distress you felt and any medications that you need to take to cope with this.

If you are fired you can resort to legal action. But outside o f narrow scope of sexual harassment this path is costly, time consuming and your chances to prevail are not that great.  If you suffer serious illness that can be attributed to the unfair treatment you got, they might be slightly higher. In this case it might make sense to dig the Web on the topic, talk to a couple of lawyers and compare their advice on how to proceed. Remember that they can be biased toward legal action even if the case is weak. See Chapter 19 in a book "The Bully at Work" by Gary and Ruth Namie


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[Feb 19, 2007] 5 Tips Dealing with an abusive boss -  By Gerri Willis

Oct. 15, 2004 ( money.cnn.com )Then there are the gatekeepers -- people who are obsessed with control -- who allocate time, money and staffing to assure their target's failure. Control freaks ultimately want to control your ability to network in the company or to let your star shine. Another type is the screaming Mimis who are emotionally out of control and explosive.

2. Don't take it lying down

If your boss has a difficult management style, you don't have to let their bad behavior go. You can respond -- just remember to stay professional.

So, if your boss insults you or puts you down, Susan Futterman, author of "When You Work for a Bully" and the founder of MyToxicBoss.com, suggests responding with something like, "In what way does calling me a moron or an idiot solve the problem? I think that there's a better way to deal with this."

If you find out that your boss is bad-mouthing you to higher-ups in the company, confront them directly and professionally. Get the evidence in writing from your source if you can. Then, ask him or her what is causing them to do this.

You could say, "I've been hearing from other people in the company that you're not happy with my work, you and I know that this isn't the case and I want to talk about how we can fix this."

If your boss has been defaming you, that's illegal. You may want to consult an attorney.

If your boss is a control freak who's breathing down your neck, you should address it. Say, "I can't function effectively if you're going to be micromanaging me and looking over my shoulder all the time. If I'm doing something fundamentally wrong, let's talk about it. But this isn't working."

If someone screams at you, don't be a doormat. If you've made a mistake, acknowledge it. But let your boss know that they're creating a difficult work environment. Even if you haven't made a mistake, you may want to calmly ask what they're upset about and if you can address it.

3. Take notes. Documenting your boss's bad behavior is key for two reasons, according to Futterman.

First, you might not even realize the extent of the problem. Futterman explains, "Taken in isolation, these events may seem trivial, but taken as a whole, it often becomes more clear what's actually going on. Some victims may be in denial or discount these events as isolated incidents. Your written records can document how severe the situation is."

And, of course, if you decide to take legal action down the line, you may need the information. It's best to document these incidents as soon as possible so they're fresh in your mind.

Documentation is also important if you plan to report the behavior to your boss's boss or to your company's human resources department. And don't dismiss the idea of taking the bull by the horns and working toward a solution.

Try arranging a face-to-face meeting with your boss. Tell them you want to discuss the problems you've encountered because you want to resolve them.

Chances are often slim that this will work, however. If they reject the opportunity to discuss things with you, add that to your documentation.

4. Know when it's too much.

Bosses may exhibit bad behavior sometimes. Hey, no one is perfect, not even bosses. But if your boss is abusing you, that's a problem.

The problem takes on greater urgency if the abuse starts to make you feel bad. If you chronically suffer high blood pressure that started only when you began working for your boss; or you feel nauseous the night before the start of the work week; or if all your paid vacation days have been used up for mental health breaks.

When the bullying has had a prolonged affect on your health or your life outside of work, it's time to get out. It's also time to leave if your confidence or your usual exemplary performance has been undermined.

Ironically, targets of abusive bosses tend to be high achievers, perfectionists and workaholics.

Often bully bosses try to mask their own insecurities by striking out.

5. Control your destiny.

Even after you leave your nightmare boss, you'll still have to explain why you left to potential new employers.

Futterman advises against dramatizing your old work situation. One way to gracefully sidestep the issue: say you and your manager had a longstanding disagreement over the most effective way of getting things done and you thought the most professional way to resolve it was to move on.

"You certainly don't want to start recalling and recounting the abuse you suffered. You'll inevitably get upset and that's not the way you want to handle a job interview," she says.

Try to control the interview situation to the extent you can. Don't give your abusive boss as a reference but rather someone else with whom you worked previously. Another good choice might be a colleague or a peer you're on good terms with or someone who can speak about you professionally.

Also, if you only worked for your bullying boss for a short time, you may want to consider leaving that job off your resume altogether

The Monster Blog Your Boss A Psychopath

Gary,

Maybe I've somehow misled you, but I am not unemployed. I have had some real SOB's (of both genders), but I haven't had any such for some time. My recommendation to all is to document everything, anytime one of these psychos acts out. And while you are doing this, seek employment elsewhere. Yes, it's a pain, but it is also necessary. The economy is growing, but few jobs outside of the start-up IT positions of the mid-90s and union jobs have the luxury of employees telling off their employers.

Take notes. E-mail them to yourself, if nothing else. Sure, some bosses read e-mail; fine. If the SOB fires you because you are taking notes, then that only accelerates the inevitable. Perhaps, and I know this is a stretch, if they read what it is they are doing, MAYBE they'll realize their errors.

Either way, protect yourself; those notes may save you in HR if you decide to challenge your dismissal.

 

Interpersonal Deception Theory Ten Lessons for Negotiators by James Hearn

September 2006 ( mediate.com)...The following suggestions are offered:

1. Acknowledge your limitations – IDT is, in part, important because it demonstrates that people are poor at detecting deception. Thus, it is crucial that one not rely upon a perceived ability to detect deception in the negotiation context. Forewarned, in this case, is forearmed.

2. Is there a reason to lie – There are habitual liars who compulsively engage in deception. However, most people do no lie without reason. It is natural to think that deception would be beneficial to any negotiating party. However, this is not the case. This view misinterprets the process of negotiation.

Many statements will be made in the course of a negotiation. Not all statements will completely true or completely false. In evaluating the veracity of any given statement or response the negotiator should ask whether and in what way deception would be beneficial to the Sender. Leakage actually varies based upon motivation. For instance, when “deceit is motivated by self-interest it will contain greater strategic (i.e., compensating) behavior to formulate plausible lies, reduce leakage, and project a favorable image.”

3. Flood the circuits – IDT demonstrates that when a Sender’s cognitive abilities are “overloaded” they will begin to leak. It stands to reason that the greater the load, the greater the leak and the easier its detection. Another major premise of IDT is that individuals are poor lie detectors in one-on-one communication situations. Thus, it would appear to be to a negotiator’s advantage to increase the load on their opposite.

This may be accomplished, for instance, if the negotiator can arrange to get their opposite in a two-on-one negotiation. In this way the Sender’s work will be doubled. There may even be an opportunity for a “good cop-bad cop” scenario where one of the negotiating pair purposefully leaks suspicion while the other does their best to suppress such leaks.

There is at least one caveat to this procedure. Buller and Burgoon state that when communication transactions go beyond two participants they become increasingly less interpersonal and their model may begin to break down. To combat this perhaps only one of the negotiating pair should actually conduct the negotiation while the other observes the lone negotiators behavior.

4. Watch for leakage – The major reason for successful deception is that in interactive contexts Receivers fail to recognize the available clues and leakage. Thus, in a negotiation one should watch for those clues discussed herein. The difficulty of this task is acknowledged (i.e., considering truth bias, deceiver sensitivity, etc.).

5. Compensate for truth bias – One should be aware of the existence of the truth bias. This awareness does not necessitate a shift down the truth continuum to an expectation of falsity. However, realizing this inherent bias one should be more able to prevent its exploitation.

6. Watch your own suspicions – It should be remembered that being inept at detecting deception also means that one is inept at determining veracity. Therefore, one should be careful not to over interpret behavior as leakage.

7. Realize you are at a disadvantage - The research demonstrates that deceivers are more adept at detecting Receiver suspicion and adapting to it than Receivers are at detecting deception. This can mean that the deception Sender can be aware of the Receiver’s doubts even before they are.

8. Know your opposite – The ability to detect leakage is related to one’s familiarity with the normal behaviors of an individual. In polygraph exams the operator will begin by asking simple questions (name, age, address, etc.) to establish a base-line against which to measure subsequent responses. The negotiator should also attempt to do this with their opposite prior to commencing substantive negotiations.

It is more difficult to detect deception in one to whom we are favorably disposed. IDT says that it is dangerous to negotiate with someone you know and respect since it increases the truth bias. The obverse is also true. If a relationship is based upon mistrust or is otherwise negative there may actually be a lie bias held by the parties.

9. Sleep on it – Individuals are better at detecting deceptive in a reflective mode. Therefore, one should seek the opportunity to reflect upon the course of the negotiation prior to finalizing the deal.

10. Trust but verify – In the end there is no substitute for knowledge. Going into a negotiation a negotiator should have as much knowledge as possible about the subject of the negotiation, the possible positions to be taken by their opposite, the reputation of their opposite and their ultimate bottom line. All theories, including IDT, are simply tools to assist the negotiator in obtaining the best possible result. No theory can act as a substitute for a careful investigation of the statements and allegations made during the course of a negotiation.

[Jun 2, 2005] How to survive a bad manager - scottberkun.com by Scott Berkun

... ... ...

There are many different factors that contribute to negative opinions of managers. It’s not the goal of this essay to list them all, but here are some of the basics:

Skimming this list should have one of two effects:

If you are in the former group please re-read the first paragraph of this essay. Odds are good you can do better.

For most of you the above list should point out a few bad qualities your manager does not have. This is good. You should take a moment to imagine how much worse it could be (picture an evil manager, wearing a red cape, in a dark dungeon of a cubicle farm, laughing to himself as he uses the list above as a checklist for his daily activities). If you can see some behavior in your manager than isn’t as bad as others there is room for you to make better use of your manager.

Skills: strengths and weaknesses

It’s easy to fall into the trap of labeling people as bad, and blaming them for everything. Saying “my manager sucks” may relieve tension, but it’s not going to improve your working conditions. Remember that managers are just people, and all people are better at some things than at others. Even if your manager does suck, he sucks in some ways more than others.

When you are working for someone else, good or bad, it pays to spend some time evaluating what their strengths and weaknesses are. The more time you can spend exposed to their strengths, and the less time you spend exposed to their weaknesses, the less frustrated you will be.

It sounds elementary, but the following exercise works wonders. Make two lists: Strengths and Weaknesses. Fill them in with all of your opinions about your manager. Think back to the first day you started working with them. Were they more useful then? Are they good at working with certain people? Fighting for budget increases? Put it all in the list. Build an analysis of your manager.

If you have a hard time with this, or end up with his only strength being “can use his picture for karate practice”, talk with co-workers that work for the same manager.[better "used to work for the same manger" -NNB]

They will have had different experiences with him/her and will have a different perspective (Do it privately over coffee if there are things you want to keep confidential).

Pay attention to who works best (or worst) with your manager and talk to them. If you ask enough people you’ll likely conclude that every person sees the manager differently. They might all have criticisms, but they may be about different things or be for different reasons. With information from several sources, you now see your manager more clearly than you did before.

[Jan 14, 2007] Tips for coping with a micromanager by Jeff Davis

July 9, 2002 (Techrepublic.com)

“Begin to document the micromanagement in writing,” she said. “If the micromanager says one thing but acts out something else, you need to document that pattern.”

According to O’Brien, when the micromanager gives you an assignment, you should follow up with an e-mail message like this: “This is my understanding of the assignment and the time line. If this is incorrect, please get back to me.”

O’Brien said that the next step is to go to human resources with your documentation. However, in O’Brien’s experience, this tactic may backfire. If the HR department intervenes, the employee may face the prospect of retaliation.

If you don’t get satisfaction from human resources, O’Brien recommends going to an outside source, such as an employee assistance program or a career counselor, to get some help and a plan to deal with the situation.

“Get your job search up and running,” O’Brien said.

She believes that working for a micromanager is a no-win situation that can adversely affect your health and your career. “Micromanagers make you feel like you never do enough,” said O’Brien. “No matter how well you think you’re doing, micromanagers make you feel like you never do anything right, and that your job is in jeopardy.”

Managing Pressure: Milestones and Deliveries by Rick Brenner

Pressed repeatedly for "status" reports, you might guess that they don't want status — they want progress. Things can get so nutty that responding to the status requests gets in the way of doing the job. How does this happen and what can you do about it? Here's Part III of a set of tactics and strategies for dealing with pressure.

Pressure often comes from the disparity between expectations and reality. We can limit this disparity by limiting the perceived ups and downs that come with most projects. Here are some tactics for managing pressure by smoothing out the ups and downs. See "Managing Pressure: Communications and Expectations," Point Lookout for December 13, 2006, and "Managing Pressure: The Unexpected," Point Lookout for December 20, 2006, for more.

Space milestones evenly
It's common practice to divide project timelines into uneven segments distinguished by milestones, with some milestones identified as "major." This practice can undermine perceptions of progress, because people prefer steady forward progress to an uneven stream of equal-sized steps forward. This is true even if the achievements vary greatly in significance. Spacing milestones unevenly creates progress perception problems. To manage perceptions, let go of the distinction between kinds of milestones. Have more milestones, and space them fairly evenly. Spacing milestones unevenly creates progress perception problems. Have more milestones, and space them fairly evenly.
 
Milestones near deliveries are critical
Gaps between milestones just prior to a delivery are especially costly, because they engender anxiety about a lack of real evidence that the project is healthy. Anxiety increases if preparations are underway for receiving the delivery. Idle time creates fear. Choose milestones that provide news during parts of the schedule when people might be susceptible to fear.
 
Deliver usable capability at regular intervals
Even when a schedule has evenly spaced milestones, customers, sponsors and management can become anxious when the project delivers usable capability at irregular intervals. Milestones that don't "matter" to the customer have little positive impact on perceptions of progress.  
 
The psychological reason for this may be related to airline passengers' aversion to itineraries that have legs in them that go the "wrong way" even when those itineraries are faster. Milestones that don't "matter" represent cost and schedule without real progress. Schedule regular milestones that have customer impact.

As a sponsor or a senior manager, you're uniquely positioned to smooth out the experience of these ups and downs. Establish review processes that ensure that these pressure-management strategies are used throughout the organization. Project plans should have evenly spaced, frequent milestones that deliver real value early and often. And establish after-action reviews for projects that recently passed through crises to enable project team learning.

A little pressure does help, but most of us are under way more pressure than is helpful. And we can do something about that.

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The Last but not Least


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Last updated: August 15, 2009