The Ostrich Effect : Solving Destructive Patterns at Work book cover
1st Edition

The Ostrich Effect
Solving Destructive Patterns at Work

ISBN 9781138023512
Published December 2, 2015 by Routledge
214 Pages

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Book Description

The Ostrich Effect goes beyond the typical "how to" approach of most books that deal with difficult conversations at work. It aims to teach the reader what conversations to have, and when to have them, in order to solve destructive problems that occur in the workplace.

Like the proverbial ostrich with its head in the sand, people often avoid confronting small issues at work, but, if avoided, these issues will escalate and inevitably wreak havoc. Drawing on a combination of social science research and Kahn’s practical experience as an organizational psychologist, the book examines the micro-processes that underlie the way in which these problems develop and flourish. These micro-processes are tiny, fleeting, and hardly noticeable, but when they are identified, something startling becomes apparent: there is a predictable pattern to this escalation. The book uses a variety of examples to demonstrate this pattern across a range of organizations and industries, and offers a toolkit to help guide the reader in resolving people problems at work. The toolkit focuses not on changing others, but on changing how we interact with others—our own behavior is the most powerful force for change that we have.

The ostrich remains the symbol of those of us who foolishly ignore our problems while hoping that they will magically disappear. By identifying this "ostrich effect", the reader is empowered to re-frame and neutralize its impact.

Table of Contents

1. Hiding in Plain Sight  2. Just Between Us  3. Work-Arounds  4. Speak Now  5. Spillover  6. Hauntings  7. Truth to Power  8. Eyes Wide Shut  9. The Scalpel and the Damage Done  10. Staying in View

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William A. Kahn is professor of organizational behavior at Boston University’s Questrom School of Business, USA. He has written widely for academic and practitioner audiences, is an expert blogger on Psychology Today, and consults for a number of public and private organizations on issues related to leading organizational change. He authored Holding Fast: The Struggle to Create Resilient Caregiving Organizations and The Student Guide to Successful Project Teams, both published by Routledge.


This remarkably engaging, insightful book about relationships, as applicable at home as in the workplace, provides a roadmap to clearer understanding of self and others. Drawing on decades of organizational research and consulting, Kahn explains how to tackle seemingly intractable problems, starting from impasse, moving to deeper truth, and finally, to resolution.—Robin Ely, Harvard Business School, USA

The Ostrich Effect addresses the human side of enterprise in a unique and compelling way. Through storytelling, Bill Kahn paints a vivid picture of interactions we experience every day by coupling our unique needs and desires, interests and motives, and tendencies and temperaments with the additional complexity of situational context.—Kenneth W. Freeman, Boston University, Questrom School of Business, USA

Kahn has written a fascinating and deeply thoughtful exploration of how and why we make bad choices when faced with relationship difficulties. The Ostrich Effect provides its readers with guidance on how to reframe a narrative, tell a new story, and start on the path to stronger, more communicative relationships.—Lee Bolman, University of Missouri-Kansas City, USA

Not since Goleman's Vital Lies, Simple Truths has a psychologist brought such clarity to the ways we avoid addressing our most difficult and important relational moments. Bill Kahn not only examines why we do this—he provides guidelines for how to navigate these emotionally demanding personal and organizational challenges in a text that is both thoughtful and helpful.—David Berg, Yale School of Medicine, USA