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Toxic Emotions at Work: How Compassionate Managers Handle Pain and Conflict

by Peter Frost - http://www.toxinhandler.com - Harvard Business Review Press

...a new (2003) book on leading with compassion and handling toxic work environments. [info/excerpt].

The title is pretty self-explanatory, and the book is a marvelous description of an emerging phenomenon that results from complex and challenging work environments. The notion of toxic organizations isn't new, everyone has a story about one. What is new is the way leaders and managers are trying to deal with toxicity in organizations. As more and more managers develop their authenticity at work, they become more and more open to the swirling currents of emotion that surround them. Mangers who help to manage these currents in organizations become "toxin handlers" and require a whole set of strategies aimed at preserving their health and the health and compassion of the organization.

This book opens up a whole new side to management, leadership and action with purpose. It's based on stories of actual practice and contains tools and discussion aimed at increasing the capacity of organizations and people to lead with compassion in times of rapid and emotionally exhausting change.

The HBR Press site has this teaser for the book:

      In Toxic Emotions at Work, Peter J. Frost argues that managers must work to
      institutionalize compassion if they want to avoid the debilitating effects of
      pain on performance. Regardless of the organization or job level,
      pain--caused by anything from abusive bosses to budget pressures to
      unexpected traumas--is an inevitable byproduct of work. When pain is
      acknowledged and managed, it can be transformed from an emotional
      obstacle to a constructive force for change. But if it is ignored, pain can poison
      the workplace, hamper productivity, and threaten the bottom line. A world run
      on human capital requires human responses to the often harsh realities of
      business--and most leaders are shirking this vital responsibility.
      Consequently, self-appointed pain managers--"toxin handlers"--are currently
      shouldering the burden of emotional pain for entire organizations. Based on
      an in-depth study of this pervasive phenomenon, Frost illustrates how
      managers can recognize and support toxin handlers--and, importantly, what
      they must learn from these individuals to take on the critical role of emotional
      management themselves. The author also reveals the main sources of
      organizational toxicity and outlines ways companies can develop and
      formalize caring and constructive responses. Making a compelling case for
      compassion in business, this book helps leaders transform pain from an
      occupational hazard to a force for healthy organizations. 

At the above link, you can read an excerpt of the book too.

Frost's website for the book is at http://www.toxinhandler.com

Links to Peter's articles past...

That'll get you started...


To see this story with its related links on the Guardian Unlimited 
site, go to http://www.guardian.co.uk

How scientists proved that the pain of rejection is all too real
Ian Sample, science correspondent
Thursday October 09 2003
The Guardian

The pain of rejection is more than mere metaphor. A team of scientists 
have found that to the brain, a social snub is just like stubbing a 

Brain scans carried out on volunteers showed that when they suffered a 
social snub, the brain's "pain centre" went into overdrive. The finding
suggests that any emotional stress, such as the demise of a 
relationship or the loss of a loved one, might be far more closely
linked to real pain than previously thought.   

Scientists have known for some time that when a person is physically 
hurt, a part of the brain called the anterior cingulate flickers into 

"It's like an alarm system. It lets you know when you're feeling pain,"
said Matthew Lieberman, a psychologist at the University of California 
in Los Angeles.  

Dr Lieberman and his colleagues Naomi Eisenberger and Kipling Williams 
decided to see if the same part of the brain was triggered by emotional

They got volunteers to lie down in a brain scanner while   they played 
a simple computer game. The game involved hitting buttons on a handset 
to catch a virtual ball and then throw it to one of two other players 
on a screen.  

Volunteers were told that the game was unimportant and that it was only

being used to check that connections to the other players lying in 
scanners elsewhere worked. But the researchers were not telling the

The other two players were not real at all, but were being controlled 
by a computer program.  

When the game started, all three players passed the ball   around so 
that each got a fair share of the action. But after playing for a
while, the computer-controlled players suddenly started throwing the ball only
between themselves.  

"We had people coming out of the scanners saying 'Did you see what they

did to me!'," said Dr Lieberman.  

The volunteers who felt most put out by the snub showed the biggest 
changes in brain activity. Their brain's "pain centre" had become far
more active.  

"The response to this social exclusion was remarkably similar to what 
you see in response to physical pain," said Dr Lieberman.  

According to Dr Lieberman, his results should change how we think about

emotional pain. "We tend to think physical harm is in a different 
category to emotional harm, but this shows we should be aware that
emotional pain can cause the same kind of distress to someone as physical pain." 

Professor Anthony Dickenson, of University College London, who 
specialises in the origins of pain, said: "This whole area is
incredibly important because it's proving to the medical profession once and   for
all that emotional distress is a genuine thing, that people who are 
distressed and upset are not malingerers.  

"It shows that the psychological aspects of pain are genuine and real 
and dealing with it is not a case of telling people to pull themselves 

Dr Richard Wise, of Oxford University, who has used magnetic resonance 
imaging to study the effect of pain on the brain, said: "Studies like 
this have a broader value in that they can help us build up an idea of 
the networks in the brain that are involved in experiencing different 

Copyright Guardian Newspapers Limited

this also seems related here...


My Job, Myself, My Problem? Joanne Gordon A new study says U.S. workers are unhappy--and why employers should care. http://www.forbes.com/2003/01/24/cz_jg_0124work.html


"Here's the gist: Of 1,100 people from 1,004 companies with 500 or more employees, 55% described their work in negative terms--using phrases such as exhausted, confused and unsupported. A full third felt "intensely negative."

"What's surprising is why. In short, people feel bad about work because work makes them feel bad about themselves. A higher salary or quirky benefits like a corporate gym, it turns out, aren't the real keys to glee."

"What puts that bounce in your step is a sense of confidence, control and community," says Mark Mactas, chief executive and chairman of Towers Perrin, the New York City-based human resources consulting firm that commissioned the study, "Working Today: Exploring Employees' Emotional Connection to Their Jobs."

". disgruntled employees will quit as soon as they can; 28% of those who felt very negative are already job hunting. The rest will stay put but waste time whining at the office." (The Emotional Virus: http://www.emotionalmastery.com/virus.html)

". the study tracked a "statistically significant" correlation between positive emotions and companies' five-year shareholder return. The more positive workers' emotions, the higher company profits."

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Last edited May 13, 2004 12:09 pm CentralTimeUSA by MichaelHerman
© 1998-2019 Michael Herman and www.michaelherman.com, unless signed by another author or organization. Please do not reprint or distribute for commercial purposes without permission and full attribution, including web address and this copyright notice. Permission has always been granted gladly to those who contact me and say something about themselves, their work, and their use of these materials. Thank you and good luck! - Michael