Workplace columnist Daneen Skube advises a reader on how to handle overly optimistic co-workers.

Share story

Q: Every year, everyone in my company gets hysterical about finishing everything we didn’t do all year long in December — performance reviews, finishing client projects and nailing down new business for 2009. Maybe I’m getting old, but after the year I’ve had, I can’t drink the magic Kool-Aid and pretend I believe we’ll levitate before 2009. Suggestions?

A: First off, although I laughed at your metaphor of “magic Kool-Aid,” people at your company won’t think it’s funny — so don’t start by telling them the naked truth.

Realize that the magic Kool-Aid of wishful goal setting is an extremely popular beverage in corporate circles. People decide on goals that sound impressive, and send out memos that inform everyone the company will levitate or else. The problem is, no one can fly, but no one wants to admit he can’t fly. Many people just start jumping wildly off chairs trying to look like they are suspended in air. They at least can’t be accused of not being a “team player.”

If you look about as glum as Eeyore the depressed donkey, sigh and state, “I can’t fly,” you’ll be in big trouble. You’ll also be about as popular as that kid in the fairy tale who tells the emperor who thought he was wearing beautiful clothes that he’s naked in front of his kingdom.

Your instinct to not jump off chairs and join the frenetic effort to do the impossible is wise. The trick is to deliver the news without volunteering to have your co-workers shoot the messenger.

Realize that there is one thing hysterical people never do: think.

When your co-workers start jumping off chairs, it’s effective and powerful to ask a few questions. Will what they are doing result in permanent liftoff? Can they continue to avoid gravity, and what will happen if their feet touch the floor?

Obviously, the specifics of what you’d ask would be about the logistics of finishing performance reviews, guaranteeing the completion of client work and the tasks needed to be done before contracts for new work in 2009 are signed. For your co-workers, they will truly find the devil is in the details as their feet touch the ground in reviewing what needs to happen.

Anybody can expect you to fly, but flying takes planning. Jet packs, airline tickets or great skill with paragliding equipment may all be necessary. If you just blurt out that your co-workers are delusional, you’ll have predictable interpersonal problems. Instead, consider being the still, calm voice that says, “Sure let’s levitate … Now, how were we planning to do that?”

I’ll tell you a story about a patient I once worked with who was convinced he was Jesus. I never argued with him, but at about lunchtime one day I told him I was hungry and requested some fish and loaves. He looked humorously at me and said, “Come on, Doc, get real.” Like my former patient, people drop out of delusions much faster if you allow them to see they’re not real than if you argue with their fantasy.

The last word(s)

Q: In every job I’ve had, people complain that I’m rebellious. I’ve got a chance to take an adventurous job in New Zealand. Don’t you think a fresh start would help?

A: Nope. You can take the rebel out of the job, but New Zealand won’t take the rebellion out of the rebel. In any job, you’ll need to accept authority sometimes.

Daneen Skube, Ph.D., is an executive coach, trainer, therapist, speaker and author. She can be reached at 1420 N.W. Gilman Blvd., No. 2845, Issaquah, WA 98027-7001; by e-mail at; or at Sorry, no personal replies. To read other Daneen Skube columns, go to