Why work sucks: Your boss is trying to predict threats

Avoiding Risk And Your Brain

Employee-manager relationship: challenging. Work: inherent clusterfuck much of the time. Reasons for this: numerous. Some reasons are even rooted in science! Here’s one:

“[The brain’s] need [to survive] focuses attention on the sources of danger and on trying to predict where the next threat will appear, on escape or full frontal battle rather than on an innovative or creative solution, on avoiding risk rather than managing it towards a new suite of products, market or way of doing business,” Swart writes. “And of course, the most important part of our environment is other people and our relationship with them.”

Read that over a couple of times; if you need the source, here you go. It’s an MIT researcher speaking, so … there’s some broad vetting there.

Here’s the researcher, FYI:

So … the brain focuses attention on sources of danger and trying to predict where the next threat will appear. OK.

Now combine that idea with this idea — namely, that senior managers mostly fear being viewed as incompetent — and you kind of have an idea of the core issue with work. Let’s recap:

  • People’s brains are trained to focus on danger and threats.
  • Your manager is a person. (For the most part.)
  • His/her brain is focused on that, and/or escape/battle.
  • Your manager fears being viewed as incompetent.
  • Thus, incompetence is a potential threat. And a danger.
  • The goal is to minimize risk, then.
  • In short, blame the brain of your manager — even if you think they lack one.


Ted Bauer

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