Do you need to shift the bull?

Here are eleven principles you can apply today. Now you can stop blaming other people for the amount of bullshit in your workplace and shift it yourself.

Don't be defensive - BE CURIOUS


Be curious - park your ego, ask, listen, understand.


Any time you get feedback.


To encourage people to be honest with you, to model openness and to learn from what they say.


We all react differently to hearing things we don't like. The feedback may be critical or just someone asking questions. Regardless of their intentions, if we feel threatened we get defensive. We may be overt or covert.

Overtly - we argue, undermine, intimidate, counter-attack, blame, mock, recruit others, dramatise, go cold, sulk, quit...

Covertly - we hide our reactions, think how wrong they are, argue silently, judge, dismiss, avoid the interactions, sabotage ... It's as if we are making ourselves the victim of the other person's feedback. They say, "Can I make a comment?" and we say, "You can, you just need to know that what you're about to say could have a permanent damaging effect on my self-esteem! Please, speak freely."

How can anyone speak freely when we make them responsible for how we feel about ourselves? This is a precarious way to live because other people may not look after your self-esteem with due care. Let's face it, most of us don't do it that well ourselves! One simple question from a colleague, a raised eyebrow, a joke can be experienced as a full-on assault on my very being. But it is not my true being - it's just my ego.

My ego's first reaction to feedback is rarely a good one. I have to be conscious enough to tell myself, "Don't react - respond."

Once we have parked our ego, we can focuse entirely on understanding what is being expressed by others. We can ask clear questions. We can even ask ourselves questions like, "Why am I having such a strong reaction to this? What am I afraid of? What matters even more than my little ego here?"

We still need to judge what we're hearing - to decide how true or useful it is - but only once we're certain we've understood. How can you judge something you haven't fully understood? And how can we fully understand until we've asked questions, listened and checked ourselves for resistance?

If our defensiveness shouts, "I don't want to know!" most people decide not to tell us. We could be blocking helpful information. And we're certainly not going to be easy to work with because we're continually saying that my little self is more important than what we are trying to achieve together.

People learn that I can't hear other views. They tell others, so everyone knows not to question me.

If I'm a manager, people lose respect. I may think - in my ego-centric delusion - that they respect me because they never challenge me. But people being afraid of you - or, more specifically, afraid of what will happen to them if they question you - is not people respecting you.

In my experience, the leaders who get the greatest respect are those who consult others and give and receive feedback. Their authority is not about being "right" but being open, honest, authentic, acting with integrity. Of course they must have some smarts, but that includes being smart enough to know they don't know everything and don't need to.

Giving feedback can be terrifying. How will they react? What is this person attached to? Where are their buttons? What's happening in their private life that might affect how they receive this feedback? Will this lead to bullying complaints, stress leave, workers' compensation?

For so many of us, it seems too hard so we just avoid it. If we stop giving each other feedback, we enable unhealthy egos to get even sicker. We don't build up the muscles of resilience, the skills of robust exchange.

And those things we would say if people could hear them may get turned into other negative behaviours such as (outwardly) muttering, gossiping, manouvering, sniping with passive-aggressive attacks or (inwardly) resenting, stewing, repetitive mental dialogues and the various symptoms of stress.

You can make the inspirational decision to be one less defensive person in your workplace - to be open and curious. It's a great gift you can give to yourself and to the world.

What if I actually have to defend myself?
You have been accused of something you didn't do or the other person is clearly wrong. For example, you were firm with a customer but you're being told that you were aggressive.

  • Should you defend yourself? Yes.
  • Should you still be curious? Yes.
  • Can you defend yourself without being defensive? Yes.

The key difference, I reckon, is where the response comes from. If your ego gets to be in control, it's an automatic reaction and it's probably defensive. But if you notice the reaction - rush of blood, stomach flip, tighening jaw, knuckles closing around a stapler - and then manage to slow down, breathe ... Well, now we can consciously defend. And we still start with questions.

  • What did you see or hear that you thought was aggressive?
  • How much do you know of the lead-up to the incident?
  • Is it possible that what I thought was just a firm tone sounded aggressive to you?
  • Do we know what the customer thought?
  • What are our values and how do they apply? ...
  • And so on.

When you have a better understanding of their viewpoint, what they know and don't know, their values and priorities, you can have a much calmer, more confident conversation.

We're more able to defend ourselves if we're present, calm, focused and open-minded. So get into that state, ask smart questions and get out of the Me vs. You mentality.

Don't be defensive, be curious. Pure gold. Try it out.


  • Make a list of your defensive reactions. If you're feeling brave, tell some workmates what they are.
  • Notice your defensive reactions as they arise. Slow down, breathe. Ask questions.
  • Focus entirely on understanding what is said (or not said). • Imagine you are not invested in your own viewpoint, that you have no investment whatsoever, so you are free to wonder. • Consider the possibility there is a blind-spot in your perception.
  • Be determined to learn something even if it hurts your ego.
  • Give yourself a little positive feedback - to your deeper self - that you are trying something different, building new muscles.
  • Do not judge until you're certain you have understood.
  • If you are finding it hard to park your defensiveness, say so. "I'd like to understand this but I'm reacting a bit. Can we leave it for a few minutes/hours/days and I'll come back to you?" Once you've settled down, come back for the conversation.
  • If you realise you were defensive yesterday, you can still go back and own it. Ask if you can have the conversation again. That's still a big improvement on what most people do.


Be careful that your ego does not pretend to ask questions for learning when it really intends to just trap the person, undermine them, make them look stupid. For the curiosity to cure your defensiveness, it must be genuine.


When you hear something you don't like and notice yourself getting defensive, start with a genuine question.

Don't make excuses - TAKE RESPONSIBILITY


Say what happened and take responsibility.


Any time you would normally make an excuse.


Excuses are childish, unprofessional, dishonest and disempowering.


When people arrive late, what do they usually say? "Sorry, the last meeting ran over, the traffic was terrible, I couldn't find a park."

They don't usually say, "I'm sorry I'm late - I didn't leave early enough. I was sitting there, having a coffee with Terry, I looked at my watch and thought, ‘If I don't go right now, I could be late' - but I just kept sitting there!"

How often have you left late, arrived late and then blamed other factors? If you left at a reasonable time and got a flat tyre, that's a reason. If you left too late and you know it but you blame other things, that's an excuse.

We excuse ourselves from the responsibility. We say, "This was out of my hands." Well, most things are - but the choice about when to leave, that was within my control so why not own it? When kids get told off in class, what do they usually say? "It wasn't me - it was him."

If you tell your teenager off for something, do they say, "You're right, Mum / Dad. I've reviewed the incident and identified three poor decisions. Here are the steps I'm taking to ensure it doesn't happen again"? Not likely, huh?

Another common excuse is "I haven't had time" or "I haven't had a chance." For example, "to reply to your email". Have you replied to other emails? Of course you have. You've chosen the ones you felt were a higher priority.

But we don't say that - we say we haven't had time or had a chance. This disowns the many choices I'm making. The reality is that on any given day there are things left on my To Do List. So each day I make choices - I continually, in every second, prioritise something over something else. Even as I write now, there are a hundred other things I could be doing and I'm choosing this. As a conscious, professional adult, I make this choice.

When someone says, "Have you written that report?" instead of saying, "No, I haven't had a chance" I could say, "No, here's what I've been doing ..." and explain what I've been doing instead. If I've made good choices, they'll most likely withstand scrutiny. If not, we're gonna have a conversation. But hiding behind the imaginary "chance" or the mysteries of "time" mean I take no responsibility, I just react to stuff, I'm not being an adult. If I'm over-reactive, you'll also hear things like, "He was giving me attitude so I just gave it back". He is responsible for how I behave, not me. I'm just reacting and my reaction is jusitifed.

Thats how children talk. Ask a child, "Why did you hit him?" and their answer is almost invariably about what the other kid did. They don't say, "Well he said I wasn't a real pirate and I felt embarrassed and I filled up with rage and before I could breathe deeply and choose something else, I'd hit him."

Children don't talk that way because they don't have that level of self-awareness or emotional intelligence and fair enough. It's up to us to teach it to them - which is tricky if we don't have it either. If we think our reactions to the world are justified by the triggers, then we cannot truly be adults.

You have some control over how much things affect you. Another classic excuse is to say "have to" and "can't" as if we're being forced to do things we're actually choosing.

At a workshop in Melbourne, a participant spoke to me during a break. "I'm just letting you know I have to go at 2:45pm because I've gotta go and get my kids." I said, "That's fine - you leave when you want to leave and thanks for letting me know - but you don't HAVE to go, you're CHOOSING to."

She said more slowly, "No, I HAVE to. I have to get my kids." I said, "I understand, you're collecting your kids from school, I'm just saying that it's a choice. You could've taught them to get a bus, had them picked up by a friend or a taxi, had them walked home by someone, put them in after-school care - you've chosen to collect them yourself. It's a choice."

Again she said, "No - I have to." I failed to convince her.

Some people think I'm being too harsh but the actual circumstances are not the relevant bit of the story, it's the choices. She could've said, "I'm leaving at 2:45pm because I'm going to get my kids from school." That's all I'm suggesting.

Our responsibility is our ability to choose our response. When we make excuses, we weaken this ability.

When we take responsibility, we strengthen those muscles, our character, our resolve. We grow up, grow capable of greater things.

The vast majority of things in life are beyond my control. Why would I give up responsibility for the few things I CAN control? Those things include my choices and my responses. I decide my attitude and where I focus my attention.

And I know some of the things that affect how I feel every day, too - exercise, coffee, alcohol, what I read, the people with whom I spend time. I take responsibility for them, too, because they affect my ability to choose my responses.

Most excuses are not to do with big life dramas - they're the every day escape acts we do in our commitments.

"I didn't get the agenda, she never replied to my email, I didn't know how to do it, she was being rude, he didn't ask what I wanted, I've just been really busy, it's a tough market out there, I have to take this call, I haven't had a chance ..."

If you want an Adults Only workplace - with no children on the payroll - we all need to get better at taking responsibility. And rather than waiting for others, you can choose to lead the way.


  • Ask, "What could I have done differently?" Accept responsibility for that. Speak it honestly.
  • Look at what's about to happen and ask yourself, "What's the adult thing to do here?" Aim to do that.
  • If you're struggling to take responsibility, be honest about that. If you feel powerless over something, say so and ask for help.
  • See if you can give up the words "I haven't had a chance" and "I haven't had time". Try replacing "I have to take this call" with "I'm going to take this call." Just try it for a couple of weeks.
  • Make a list of things that make you stronger. Do some of them.


If you're a manager, don't expect people to take responsibility if they've seen others punished for doing so. If they're safer making excuses, they'll likely do so. And if you're making excuses, you're teaching them to do the same thing.


On one occasion when I would usually make an excuse, I will take responsibility and I will not seek recognition for doing it.

Don’t make excuses - TAKE RESPONSIBILITY

Don't waffle - USE LESS WORDS

Dont Waffle - USE LESS WORDS


Use less words.




Bullshit hides in verbosity.


Your message can get lost in too many words. And something may not be bullshit but may sound like it just because of the waffle and fluff around it.

Use less words.


  • For written language – read over it, remove needless words. Read again, remove more.
  • For spoken language – slow down, be succinct.
  • Once you’ve said it, stop.
  • Banish unnecessary additions such as “absolutely”, “obviously”, “totally”, “extremely”. For example, when someone asks a question, instead of saying, “Oh, yes, I would say absolutely, most certainly,”just say, “Yes” with certainty.


The main risk is sounding abrupt, direct or rude. Risk it.


I will say more with less words.

Don't use corporate speak - USE REAL WORDS


Use real words.


All the time.


Much corporate-speak is intangible and inhuman, even when it’s talking about tangible things and real humans.


Mission statements, company values, HR policies, marketing brochures – they’re so often full of language that strips soul from workplaces. But where does it come from?

“Drill down”, “traction”, “synergy”, “going forwards”, they’re all useful words and often help leaders talk about the difficult things they must address.

But the majority of people are turned right off by the language. They feel they are being lied to. Or that their solid work is being reduced to two-dimensional drivel. Some people do it to sound smart, professional or competent.

It doesn’t work on me, perhaps not on you. Gold chains and hairy chests don’t work on everyone either – they don’t have to.

But most people are not impressed by people who say corporate stuff, they’re inspired by people who do real stuff. Lead, solve complex problems, navigate through difficulty, act with courage, show you care – that’s the stuff that impresses us.

Managers sometimes hide behind corporate responsibilities, as if a corporate role subverts their responsibility to be a good person. You’re supposed to be a leader, not a coward. Stand by your decisions and communicate them clearly.

What are your Values?

Most organisations have a charter saying, “Here are the five things we care about and by which our behaviour is judged.”

They’re fairly typical: Respect, Innovation, Integrity. Like this:

  • Respect – We treat all staff, customers and stakeholders with respect and celebrate diversity at work.

I’m yet to see a Values Charter like this:

  • Selfishness – We all ask ourselves, “What’s in it for me?
  • Feuding – We have little fiefdoms run by inflated, insecure tyrants who compete for resources and make life hard for each other.
  • Short-term focus – We prioritise our share price now rather than thinking two generations into the future
  • Politics – People who refuse to play the game will fail. People who flatter their bosses and self-promote will excel.

I say I’ve never seen a Values Charter like that – but I’ve seen organisations where that behaviour was modelled and rewarded.

How many leaders have robust debates about what “Respect” means in solving this dilemma, which decision has the most “Integrity”, or how essential open feedback is to “Innovation”?

How many workplaces can say, “Our leaders are the finest example of living these values – watch them every day”?

If you’re not planning to check yourself against the Values, why have them? Stop bullshitting yourself and everyone else by sticking it on the wall.

If you promote someone who doesn’t live those Values, you might as well announce the promotion and then walk over and tear down the poster.

The real Values of an organisation are shown up by how people behave and treat each other when they’re under pressure.

Don't use corporate speak - USE REAL WORDS

The CEO of a local council told me once that when he arrived at his new workplace, he took the Values poster off the staffroom wall and had his PA – quietly – change all of the Values to negatives. Along the bottom, they wrote “When you have read this, come to the CEO for a voucher for dinner”. He figured he’d stop at $300 worth. He never spent a cent.

In 1961, JFK said: “I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the Earth.”

If he was a modern Australian Prime Minister, he’d say: “Our intention is to engage with key stakeholders on a fiscally-responsible plan to transport a human to a chosen celestial body and further return them to their origin. We aim to do this in a timely manner and in a way that reflects our core values and commitment to occupational health and safety.”

We’ve gradually learned to talk this way – most of us unconsciously and many of us fighting a gag reaction – and as a result, corporate sins have been condoned, opportunities lost, imaginations quashed, lives turned grey, workplaces lacking the vigour, joy, spontaneity and humanity of truly great work.


  • Replace your Mission Statement with a Statement of Purpose.
  • Re-write your Values Charter in real words. Hire, fire, promote and make the big decisions with those Values.
  • Use more verbs, stories and metaphors.
  • Be human, use your heart, recover your soul.
  • Scan your words for corporate-speak, catch yourself in the moment and try to say something more real.
  • When you hear corporate speak, ask politely what is meant and try to translate it back into real words. Don’t say it like you’re better than them, you’re just checking you understand.


Simple language can quickly become buzzwords and corporate bullshit. Be careful you don’t replace corporate speak with something real, only to have it become corporate speak through overuse. Keep it alive.


I will translate corporate concepts into words that connect better with people.

Don't use corporate speak - USE REAL WORDS

Don’t have an opinion if you don’t need one - STAY OPEN


Stay open.


Any time you don’t need one.


Opinions can get in the way of learning and having an open conversation.


The brain loves to fill in gaps. That’s why we love Quiz Nights.

This terrific organ must make sense of the world in order to function and protect the rest of the organism. Part of how it does this important work is by constantly, automatically filling in gaps.

Trouble is, it doesn’t always re-fill that gap later when new information comes to hand. The gap isn’t there anymore – it’s been filled with judgement, a guess or opinion.

And the ego sure does love to judge. Right, wrong, like, hate, fruit, vegetable, performer, slacker.

The brain fills in gaps with assumptions and guesses. The ego adds meaning, feeling, opinion.

The day after the Rudd Government announced the “mining tax”, you could’ve walked down any High Street and asked, “Is it a good idea?” and I’ll bet you a monkey that more than half the people would’ve answered with a yes or no.

“Yeah! About time they paid their share, those fat cats exploiting resources that belong to all of us” and so on. “No! Bloody Government, we wouldn’t be what we are without mining, saved our whole economy they did!” and so on.

To which we could ask:

How much is the tax? What percentage will the increased revenue be of the total federal budget? Who will it be charged to? How will it be calculated? Who proposed it and why? What other taxes or tax changes were proposed alongside it? Which ones are being adopted and why? What will be the flow-on effects? How far into the future are you assessing those flow-on effects? What are your values? What do you think is important in tax policy?

I reckon most people could not have answered those questions and wouldn’t feel they need to.

Sometimes we do not consciously form opinions so much as:

  1. Unconsciously draw them from the subconscious mind based on the programming already put in place by our family, peers, class, workmates, society, culture; or
  2. Take the opinion most loudly espoused by people we perceive to be most like us.

William James said, “A great many people think they’re thinking when they are merely rearranging their prejudices.” One great way to reduce the controlling behaviours of your ego is to have less opinions.

If you’re a manager, it drives people nuts when they bring you an issue and can see in your body language that you’ve made up your mind before they finish explaining. They learn you’re too quick to judge, you don’t listen. Then they don’t bring the issues at all.

You might say, “Great! I’m fed up with people’s issues!” But how much information are you missing out on because people reckon you’re too close-minded to listen.

Of course people also get frustrated when their managers are indecisive. This principle clearly says “don’t have an opinion if you don’t need one.” If you’re required to make a decision, make it. Just stay as open-minded as you can be the rest of the time.

When do you need an opinion?

  • When you need to make a decision – a choice between things.
  • When someone is counting on your advice.
  • When you consciously feel it adds to the conversation.
  • When it’s a hypothesis that enables you to further a discussion.

When do you NOT need an opinion?

  • When you do not have to make a decision or choice.
  • When no one really needs your advice.
  • When the conversation is travelling just fine without one.

And when should you definitely not have an opinion?

  • When you have so little information or experience that it won’t be an opinion at all, just an ignorant judgement.
  • When you will just match incoming data to your existing opinion (as most of us do) and not see anything else.
  • When you are just thinking about your opinion and not paying attention to others.
  • When it’s got nothing to do with you.

Opinions that are not problematic

  • Theories, hypotheses, ideas you’re working on. “Well I’m working on the idea that it could be XYZ but I’m also aware …”
  • Beliefs and values that you currently, consciously hold but are prepared to test against new knowledge or other ideas. “I usually reckon it’s best to XYZ but I’m open to other ideas if someone can suggest something better …”

What’s the cost?

A senior copper on a course in Canberra told me he knew two cops who’d left the job because they failed to catch a killer.
They’d picked their prime suspect and focused all their resources that way. As they were preparing the arrest, the murderer struck again – and it was not their suspect.

When they looked back over the investigation, they realised evidence had been coming in all the time but they were so fixed on their first opinion they’d been blind to anything else.

They never recovered from the stress and remorse.

Most of us do not work under this kind of pressure. But we can still make all kinds of mistakes at work by judging too quickly, having opinions that block learning, being closed in conversation, being averse to new ideas.

Just try it and see how you go.

And if, after trying it, you have an opinion on this principle, I’ll be keen to hear it! And I’ll do my best to be really open-minded as you express it.


  • Notice when you express opinions automatically.
  • Decide to stay open as long as possible.
  • When asked what you think – if you don’t need to have an opinion – try saying you’re still thinking about it.
  • Actively seek information that could challenge your opinion.
  • If you don’t have to have an opinion til 3pm Thursday afternoon, don’t. Stay open til then.


Do not confuse postponing your opinion with just hanging onto it until later. If you dismiss information that doesn’t support your opinion, you’re not open at all. Leave the opinions aside while you research and reflect – and come back to them later.

If you’re opinionated, it’s not enough to just hide it – you’ll have to work on actually opening your mind.


I will listen fully to something without having an opinion about it.

Don’t Express Opinion as Fact - USE “I” STATEMENTS


State opinion as opinion, belief as belief, perception as perception.


When you want to challenge beliefs or perceptions.


  1. You could be pushing your view onto others.
  2. If you believe your opinion is fact, you may make it so.


These statements are written as facts:

  • A Crew doesn’t care whether B Crew hits their targets.
  • She was having a go at me.
  • The whole thing will fall on its arse in six weeks.
  • No one wants to go bowling, it’s boring.
  • It isn’t worth our time.
  • There’s no butter in the fridge

But they’re only facts if they can be proven. If they can’t, they’re beliefs or perceptions being expressed as if they’re facts.

To express opinion as opinion, I need “I” statements.

  • I reckon A Crew doesn’t care ...
  • I believe she was having a go at me ...
  • I think the whole thing will fall on its arse ...
  • No one I’ve spoken to wants to go bowling ...
  • From my perspective, it isn’t worth the time...
  • I can’t see any butter in the fridge

It would sound weird and be tedious to do this all day. If I wrote “I think” every time I made an assertion in this book, no one would read it. (I don’t THINK anyone would read it.)

Some say it’s unnecessary because we know they’re all opinions anyway, but I feel strongly this principle is essential because I’ve seen people bullied and manipulated by those who express their opinions as facts.

There is also the danger I could go ahead and make my opinion become a fact.

Maybe I say to you, “She was having a go at me.”

Now it’s possible she was having a go at me. It’s also possible she criticised our team’s results and I took it personally. They are different things. But if I’m convinced she was having a go at me, I behave as if it’s true. I avoid her, snipe at her, gossip behind her back. I believe it’s true, behave as if it’s true, soon I make it true. If I have the awareness and communication skills to separate fact from perception, I can look at this more clearly.

I might say, “She criticised our results. I feel I have worked very hard. I was expecting praise. I didn’t hear any praise. What I heard was criticism. I reacted as if it was a personal attack. It felt to me like she was having a go at me. Maybe she wasn’t.”

The behaviour that flows from these thoughts is very different. To prevent ourselves from turning our negative opinions into reality, we must learn to question ourselves:

Did it really happen that way or did I just see it that way? Who would see it differently? Why do others respond differently to the same situation? How can I work out what’s the truth and what I’m just assuming or imagining in my own messed-up head?

Don’t Express Opinion as Fact - USE I STATEMENTS

Reflecting the “fact” back as opinion or perception

When you’re dealing with someone who frequently expresses their opinions as facts, you can try this:

Reflect their words back to them but add the “I” statement as a “You” statement and make it a question. “So you think …? So you feel …? So from your perspective …?”

You may need to do this several times for a person to catch on. You may even need to tell them exactly what you’re doing so they can see it clearly.

Here’s an example:

Bob We should never have asked for their input.

Claire You think we shouldn’t have asked for their input. Why?

Bob They’ve just dragged the whole thing out.

Claire You feel they’ve dragged it out. Do you think it’s just taken longer or do you think they’ve deliberately made it longer?

Bob They’ve dragged it out to try to control the process.

Claire OK, so Bob feels like they’ve deliberately slowed the process down to control it. Sounds to me like you’re pretty frustrated with them. Raj, what do you think?

Claire gets a comment from Raj. He may begin by saying, “I think …” because she has reiterated the “You” statements. If Bob is still not getting it, Claire can be more explicit.

Raj I don’t think they’re trying to control the process but I do think it’s taken too long and I’m definitely frustrated.

Bob Of course they’re trying to control the process, they never wanted this to go ahead in the first place.

Claire Bob, can you please express your opinions as opinions? You may be right but it may also be just your perception. So what have you seen or heard that suggests to you that they never wanted it to go ahead?

If you work with the same people often – certainly if you’re the manager – you may get to the point where they can quickly change from stating “facts” to expressing opinions.

Bob We should never have asked for their input.

Claire Opinion, Bob!

Bob Alright, I THINK we should never have asked them.

Claire Why? Bob Well they’ve just dragged the whole thing out.

Claire (Eyebrows raise)

Bob It feels to me like they’ve deliberately dragged it out to control the process. I think they never wanted it to go ahead. Doesn’t anyone else think that? What do you reckon, Raj?

I don’t do this all the time. I don’t say, “I personally think, by my standards, that Breaking Bad was excellent television.” I just say, “Best TV show ever made!”

However, if you and I were in dialogue about something more important than TV shows and it became clear that we disagreed, I could switch to express my opinions as opinions. How easily can you switch? Whenever there’s too much head-butting in a meeting, you could say, “Opinion as opinion!” and watch the dialogue change.


  • Next time you express an opinion, ask yourself, “Did I express that as opinion or fact?”
  • If you stated opinion as fact, try expressing it again as an “I” statement.


Sometimes we express a viewpoint as fact because it’s more efficient. It might be painful to constantly say “I think” and “I believe”. Fine, don’t do it all the time. But do it where stating opinion as fact is your technique to control, manipulate or dominate, or when you want a genuinely open discussion. Encourage others to do the same and the dialogue can be very different!


I will speak for myself – using “I” statements – and ask others what they see, think and feel.

Don’t get too emotionally invested DETACH AND REFLECT


Detach and reflect.


You want to check out whether your “truth” is true or just convenient; or when you need to be more open.


If you’re heavily invested in believing something is true, you can’t tell if it’s true or not.


It’s a good thing to be passionate. When you’re working on a task or a project, someone might say you have a real sense of “ownership” and how good that is.

It’s great to have a healthy sense of ownership – caring about the quality of the work and its impact on everyone – but what happens when healthy ownership becomes ego-driven possessiveness?

We must distinguish between being passionate and getting too attached.

So what’s the difference?

Bullshift Attachment Principles Information
If I am passionateIf I am attached
I am prepared to thrash the idea out with anyone to make sure it makes sense. I only discuss it with people I think will support it.
I respond to questions and challenges with some answers but also with more questions and curiosity. I react to questions with defensiveness, aggression and by closing out people who don’t agree.
I want others to share my excitement. I want others to support my attachment or dependence and affirm that this is mine.
I want the outcome if I can prove it’s the best possible thing. I want the outcome even if I can’t prove it’s the best thing.
I have plenty of emotion but still question and challenge the idea. I am so emotional that I can’t see clearly, challenge the idea objectively or look for flaws.
I am prioritising the greater good. I am prioritising the satisfaction of my ego over the group and even over my greatest Self.
I am positively energised – even when I am angry, upset or frustrated, the essence of the energy is positive. I am negatively energised – I am anxious, uptight, dark, gloomy, moody, bitter, conniving, paranoid or controlling.
I am conscious, mature and respectful in getting it done. I am manipulative, underhanded, dishonest or nasty to get it done.

How do you know if you’re too attached?

Ask yourself these questions.

  • Would I still think it was a good idea if it had been suggested by someone I don’t like?
  • Would I still want this to happen if I had nothing to gain from it?
  • Am I protecting my status or a false sense of security?
  • Am I prioritising myself over everyone else?
  • Do I need or want this to be true?
  • Am I trying to control something I do not need to control?
  • What am I afraid of?
  • Have I sought out people to challenge and question this?
  • How have I responded to the challenges and questions so far?
  • What is my ultimate motivation here?

Don’t get too emotionally invested DETACH AND REFLECT


  • Choose a belief, opinion, idea or project.
  • Identify and acknowledge your emotional investment in it.
  • Mentally remove the investment and detach.
  • Review the belief. Now what do you think?
  • Cultivate relationships with people who will tell you when you’re too invested or who will give you perspective.


This won’t work if you are not serious about removing the emotional investment. You have to say, “What if I didn’t care?” For example:

  • Choose a belief. “This project should get a massive injection of resources.”
  • Identify and own your investment in it. “We’ve spent money already and my reputation is on the line.”
  • Remove the investment. “What if I wasn’t involved and didn’t care?”
  • Review the belief. “This thing is not working and throwing more money at it isn’t going to help. I am going to cop it, but that’s not a good enough reason to continue. We should pull out.” Remove your investment and then ask, “What is the truth here?”


I will notice an attachment that is causing a problem for myself or others. I will loosen my grip.

Don’t gossip BE RESPECTFUL


Be respectful.




Gossip is toxic.


Gossip usually has two characteristics:

  1. It’s negative stuff, and
  2. It may not be true. It’s usually just judgments, stories, rumours and guesses.

How can that be good?

When you gossip, you encourage people to judge others and to be two-faced (as gossip usually involves saying things about people you would not say to them).

Gossip and rumours can soon become commonly held perceptions that shape behaviour. “I heard they’re going to be cutting costs so I’m spending all of my budget allocation now.”

Some people don’t do individual gossip but they do organisational gossip:

“I heard they’re gonna take this whole part of what we do and outsource it to bloody subcontractors.”

“Do you know if it’s true?” “Nup.”

“Shall we pass it on?” “Yep.”


  • Hear the gossip and notice the part of you that likes it.
  • Be aware of the desires and judgments that arise.
  • Let them pass. Do not react.
  • Try saying something to halt the gossip. (Be aware
  • that doing so may make you part of future gossip).
  • Do not pass it on.


Gossip can be exciting. There may be some perverse pleasure in hearing it.

But we should ask ourselves, “Do I know this is true? Why do I want to talk about it? What is my motivation here?”

If your motivation is selfish, nasty or egotistical, then decide whether you really want to behave that way today.

By passing this bit of gossip on, are you making a positive impact on yourself and others?

Most gossip is about taking other people down. Why do you want to do that? Could you do something better than that?

It’s up to you.


I will only say things about people that I’d say to them if they were here.

Don’t gossip BE RESPECTFUL

Don’t pretend BE AUTHENTIC


Be authentic.


As much as you can.


Pretending costs you more than it’s worth.


Many of us feel a lot of pressure – or a small, persistent pressure – to be something we’re not. To pretend.

We might even learn how to fulfil that pretence – to look the part, say the right things, convince everyone it’s real.

We may even convince ourselves.

But if it aint real, it aint real.

We may end up married to a pretence, working 50 hour weeks for a pretence, trading true vocation for pretence, dying a long, long way from home.

If you have to pretend to be someone else to get the job or get into a relationship, isn’t there a risk you’re going to have to maintain the disguise to keep it? What is that costing you?

It’s such a lot of work.

Some of us don’t pursue our passions because it seems like such a risk and so much effort, and yet we’ll put the same or even more effort into maintaining a pretence.

It’s one of the great paradoxes – for most of us, it takes a hell of a lot more to work to pretend than to just be true.

Children and adults pretend different things.

Children pretend:

  • They are superheroes.
  • They are fairies.
  • They can shoot bullets from sticks.
  • They are allergic to foods they don’t like.
  • Their cubby is an office.
  • Their cardboard crown makes them a princess.
  • They are asleep (when they want to be carried inside).
  • They have a sore (when they want sympathy, cuddles or love).
  • They haven’t heard a clear instruction (when they don’t like it).

Adults pretend:

  • They agree with the boss.
  • They agree with each other.
  • They think something’s funny.
  • They can afford things they can’t.
  • They have tans they don’t.
  • They have friends they don’t.
  • They’re enjoying the party.
  • They care about their health (when they don’t eat well or exercise).
  • They care about the environment (when they don’t do much more than recycle paper).
  • They care most of all about their children (while prioritising everything else ahead of them)

The Emperor’s naked arse

Many a bad idea would’ve died quickly in a small meeting if someone had said, “I think that’s a bad idea.”

Instead, a room full of people just pretended they were in agreement.

There are so many things in life that are just ridiculous and yet the people sit around telling the Emperor how good he looks.

You and I will die and this will still be true – there will be Emperors (CEOs, celebrities, senior managers, ministers, authorities, partners, parents, toxic agitators) who wield such power over others that no one will be prepared to say, “Mate, you’re not wearing any clothes, you’re completely starkers!” – but you and I don’t have to do it.

Ask yourself: How often are you being called on to praise the fine threads of a naked Emperor?

Is it a relatively minor part of your life and not particularly threatening to your ability to live authentically? Or are you going through this pantomime on a daily basis? And if so, do you have any sense of what it’s costing you?

Snap a shot of the Emperor’s naked arse and send it to him by email attached to your resignation.

Alright, that might be too much ego and a bit dangerous in terms of getting a good reference, but ask yourself whether you might not be happier and more fulfilled working somewhere that doesn’t call on you to constantly pretend.


  • Accept your fear. When you feel the need to pretend in order to fit in or maintain a certain image, acknowledge the fear that drives it. Explore it. Learn a little about where it comes from. And then, over time, see if you can let it go.
  • Remove yourself from situations and relationships that require you to constantly pretend.
  • Speak your truth. Whichever part of it you can get out of
  • your mouth.
  • Be your truth. Stop pretending and be yourself.


The need to belong, win or be affirmed can lead you to bullshit. At first, if you stop pretending, you may not know what to replace it with. You may get sucked back into pretending. Others may still affirm your false image. Be alert. Be as true to yourself as you can be.

There are people who’re attracted to exactly who you are. If you are not being yourself, how will they recognise you?

As Shakespeare wrote: “This above all, to thine own self be true.”


I will to mine own self be true.

Don't use sarcasm SAY IT STRAIGHT or DON’T SAY IT


Say it straight (or don’t say it).


When the sarcasm is anything other than genuinely good-natured banter.


To deal directly with the stuff that needs to change (Say It Straight) or stop putting your junk on others (Don’t Say It).


I have a problem with Jim. He’s too fit. He rides his bike to work every day, one of those expensive bikes, and wears all that riding gear – what’s up with that? The water bottle, special cap, clumpy-clump shoes. He’s all trim torso and leg muscle and vital eyes. He looks like he’s ready for anything when I’m still waking up. When there’s a birthday morning tea, he never eats the cake. I’ve got more fat than I’d like, I don’t exercise enough and I know it. But I don’t have the time.

Jim’s a nice guy and a good worker so I can’t completely hate him but I just wish he wasn’t so fit and disciplined.

Fortunately, I’m not alone. There are other pudgy, excuse-making cake-eaters like me and we take shots at him.

“Nice bike, mate – you need a mortgage to get that?”

“Great lycra – you wear that out at night?”

“You coming to the pub? They’ve got low-carb beer!”

Underneath all the jokes, we’re just chipping away, trying to slowly wear him down so maybe he doesn’t ride every day, has a piece of cake, puts on a bit of fat, finds himself “too busy” for exercise.

One day I walk into the office and he’s slumped in a chair eating a cheese sausage and I say, “My work is done here.”

I also have a problem with Nina.

She’s late to meetings, forgets to print the agenda. She’ll walk in late, see everyone’s got a cuppa and say, “Oh, I fancy a cuppa” and go make one! Drives me nuts! What’s the point in being on time if she’s not?

Again, we just take shots at her.

“You on the night shift, Nina?”

“You on country time, are ya?”

“Oh the Queen has arrived everyone, we can start now.”

We’re hoping to grind away at her until she comes on time.

We’re using sub-text and hoping she’ll work it out.

Sarcasm is soooo mature and professional

Sarcasm is saying one thing with your words and the opposite with your voice and body: “That’s SUCH a great idea, Tom” with an eye-roll. The text (words) say it’s a great idea, the sub-text (voice and body) says he’s an idiot. Sarcasm comes from a Greek word that means “to tear flesh, bite the lip in rage, sneer”.

What’s the problem with being sarcastic in the workplace?

Well of course it’s not always a problem.

You might make one crack at Nina and she changes her behaviour. That’s just a bit of casual, Aussie back-handed management, right? Couple of cracks from your wry, sardonic wit and she’s in line. Nice work.

But if you’ve made one crack, two, three, and the behaviour hasn’t changed ... my experience is that it’s not going to.

Someone says, “Are you gonna talk to Nina?”

You say, “I have! A bunch of times!”

They’re thinking, “No – you’ve made a bunch of jokes, she’s shrugged ‘em off and you’re losing the respect of the team.”

If you’ve tried several times to communicate through jokes or sub-text or sarcasm and it’s missed the mark, whose fault is that?

We could say Nina is socially inept but she apparently doesn’t have the professionalism to be organised and punctual in the first place so it’s no surprise she doesn’t read sub-text or understand the meta-game of workplace dynamics either, is it?

Plus, if I’m applying Principle #2, I can’t continually blame other people for not understanding me.

What if we said: It is entirely my responsibility to ensure I understand. It is entirely my responsibility to ensure I am understood.

Of course I can’t make that happen in every instance but working towards it makes me a better communicator and reduces mistakes.

Say it straight.

Be respectful, professional – sensitive if necessary – but say it straight.

Don't use sarcasm SAY IT STRAIGHT or DON’T SAY IT

When my problem with you is really my problem with me

Imagine I said, “Nina, that’s three meetings in a row you’ve been late to. Were you aware of that? Did you try to be on time and not make it or just not try? Are you aware of the effect it has on other people? Being late all the time and forgetting the agenda, these things are frustrating the team. We’re trying to be disciplined and organised and we feel like you’re letting us down. Other people are starting to arrive late. What’s it gonna take for you to be on time and organised?”

Said with empathy and respect – and making it a conversation rather than a lecture so you can hear her point of view – that sounds fair enough, doesn’t it?

Now imagine saying to Jim the cyclist, “Here’s the thing, mate – you exercising all the time and eating so healthy makes the rest of us feel bad. You’re a constant reminder of how we could be more fit and healthy if we chose to be. And we don’t like it. So if you could just drive to work, that’d be great. If you could have two pieces of cake at morning tea; I’m not saying you have to take up smoking but just when other people are having one …”

That’s ridiculous, isn’t it?

That’s why the principle is “Say it straight or don’t say it”.

If you play through in your mind what you would say if you were to speak with no sub-text whatsoever, direct and leaving nothing out, you might discover it’s not a fair and reasonable issue you have with that person. It’s your issue – with yourself – and you should stop throwing it at other people.

How often do you feel justified in disliking or deriding another person because they symbolise an issue you have with yourself?

I don’t like him, he looks rich and I have issues with money.

She’s loud and I learned in my family that I had to be quiet.

She looks like a model and reminds me of a girl in school who used to look down on me. I don’t like her.

I work harder than those people because I need to succeed to feel loved or because I am a martyr who has to sacrifice myself to feel needed. I resent those people who don’t do the same.

Add your own ...

If it’s theirs, hand it over. If it’s yours, own it.

If the issue you have with this person’s behaviour really is about them and something they need to change, then hand it over. Talk straight. Say it simply and plainly. Ask respectful questions.

If, however, it’s actually about you, then own it. Take responsibility for projecting your issues onto others. Ask yourself why you’re doing that. Look at the behaviour that’s flowing from it – avoiding them, attacking them, sneering at them, undermining them – and see if you can reel that behaviour in.

And don’t use sarcasm as a shield to pretend you were “just kidding”. Ask yourself, am I? Or am I just chipping away?

Calling out other people’s sub-text

When someone is using sarcasm or some other kind of sub-text, try calling it out. I suggest this approach.

1. Use “I” statements

Don’t tell the other person what they’re doing or how you think they feel. Instead, speak for yourself about how you’re experiencing it.

e.g. Not “You’re obviously frustrated,” rather, “I get the sense you’re pretty frustrated”.

2. Direct the attention to a “third point” – that is a thing that is not you and not them (a task, diagram, project) – to show you’re not taking it personally. e.g. Not “What’s your issue with me?” rather, “What is your concern with this plan?”

3. Ask for an idea or a criticism to make it clear you don’t think this is perfect and you’re trying to improve it.

Here are those three things in one sentence:

“Insert Name, (1) my feeling is that you’re not a hundred percent convinced (2) about the implementation plan. (3) Which bit do you reckon needs some work?”


  • Catch yourself scoffing, joking or making cracks and check your motivation. Is it good-natured banter, casual management? Or is it something more passive-aggressive?
  • If you think you’re just having fun together, ask yourself if it’s fun for them. If it is, enjoy!
  • If it’s not – and it’s a way of controlling them – ask yourself why you’re doing that. (e.g. Do you think you work harder than them? Does something in them make you feel bad about yourself?) Now own those feelings and projections.
  • If the issue actually matters, make the time and space to raise it openly with them and ask questions about it.
  • If you have no right to control or change their behaviour, then it’s your problem – deal with it. Take it to therapy, talk to a friend, pray, meditate, exercise, laugh it off, but stop projecting your stuff onto others.


Australians love taking the piss and, mostly, it’s in good fun. I’ve been working with cops for 20 years and I’ve never seen anyone so merciless with banter as a group of off-duty cops away from the public. They’re hilarious (if sometimes a bit dark) and the humour helps them build camaraderie and a thick skin.

However, sarcasm is also a good disguise and there are times when the sarcasm has become too much but the person who is suffering doesn’t want to say so. They don’t want to be told they “can’t take a joke.” So check your motivation and be sure to balance the jokes with plenty of positive straight-talking.


If it matters, I’ll be direct. If it’s my stuff, I’ll take it to therapy. I will use humour when we have a good, robust relationship. If in doubt, I’ll leave it out. I will strengthen myself and my relationships by lifting the sub-text into the text.

Don't mutter, SPEAK UP


Speak up.


When it counts.


Muttering is childish, unprofessional and disempowering. Failure to speak up allows bad things to happen.


What is the point in going home and whinging to someone who has no power to help you?

Of course we all have frustrations in our work and it’s essential we express them – but in a healthy way. There’s a difference between venting to let off steam and constantly whinging.

How much happier could you be if you dedicated that energy to making changes? Your ego may get a kick out of muttering but your soul comes alive when you express your deepest truths.

It may be that today it is easier to mutter than speak up. But if you don’t speak against this situation, this person’s behaviour, how will it be down the track? What’s easy now can get hard later.

In most workplaces, you will always have fellow mutterers with whom to share the mutterings – but are they helping you to be your best self? To accept or change anything? To be happy?

If this is a place that condones poor behaviour, is it the right place for you? Are you contributing to an unsafe work culture by muttering rather than speaking out? Do you want to support this culture if it doesn’t support you?

Another question to ask is: Are you sure you would not be safe if you spoke up? I have heard many stories of people being terrified to speak, working up the courage, speaking up and then … nothing bad happened! So maybe you’ve talked yourself into believing it’s unsafe when that’s not the case. Could it be?

Are there things you could do, or be, or get, or make happen if you took responsibility?

I obviously don’t mean that you should walk around saying everything in your head – “You’re the worst boss I’ve ever had. You look hot in that dress. One more donut and you’ll need a new belt, big fella!” – I am talking about those moments when we can affect ourselves and others for the better by being courageous, honest and direct.

If you’re a leader or a manager who wants others to speak up, you’ll need to apply all of the Bullshift principles to help them do so. You cannot expect people to speak up unless you’re making it safe and replacing your own defensiveness with curiosity. Once you’ve done that, you can say: Don’t mutter - Speak up!


  • If it’s a bad idea, say so.
  • If the meeting is going in circles, say so.
  • If someone is being bullied, call it.
  • If someone is being sexist, racist, homophobic, call it.
  • If the place is full of bullshit, change it or leave. Don’t just go home and crap on about it again and again. Or at least make the decision to be one person who will do this differently.
  • If you’re not sure of yourself, don’t blurt out assertions, just ask good questions with respect and genuine curiosity.
  • If you’re not ready to speak up, go to the later section on “Owning Your Bullshit” and tick the reasons why.


One trap is to be overly opinionated. Another is to have a valid opinion or viewpoint and not speak up through fear or masochism.

Be respectful, be polite, be sensitive – and SPEAK UP!


I will be courageous and speak up about one thing.

Don't mutter, SPEAK UP