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Beware of ‘Work Knots’ that Can Sabotage Jobs


For many, finding and keeping jobs is more challenging than ever. Understanding the hidden expectations and assumptions that often sabotage the workplace — “Work Knots” — gives managers, supervisors and employees a better chance to succeed. Learn to identify and resolve these typical office minefields.

Work Knots Sabotage Jobs

By Seth Eisenberg

For many, finding and keeping jobs is more challenging than ever. Understanding the hidden expectations and assumptions that often sabotage the workplace — “Work Knots” — gives managers, supervisors and employees a better chance to succeed.

Last week, PAIRS Foundation published a single advertisement on searching for a part-time Administrative Assistant, starting at $12/hour. Within a day, we received resumes and cover letters from nearly 100 applicants. Some of the job seekers had multiple, advanced degrees, others no degrees at all; most showed years of impressive experience, many were struggling to launch their careers; quite a few included glowing recommendations; in one way or another, most of the applications seemed to scream, “I’m looking for anything. Hire me!”

Over the years, we’ve hired many applicants in response to announcements on CraigsList, and similar sites. A few have been successful; most have not. My wife, who employs nearly 100 people at a local nonprofit, commented recently that as difficult as it is to find a job during this period of high unemployment, it’s critically important for those who have jobs to keep them. Whether it’s a part-time position at the local bowling alley, office work, customer service, retail sales, construction or any other job that allows us to contribute, develop our abilities, earn an income, and network, for those employed, today is a time to try our best to keep our jobs; certainly until the economy and housing markets rebound and employment opportunities become more plentiful. For those who are able to get in the door with a chance to prove their mettle, it’s a valuable opportunity to actively (and consistently) show the determination, maturity, and competence to make a difference for your company and co-workers every day.

While that advice is commonly understood, what often isn’t are the underlying, hidden expectations and assumptions that typically sabotage people at work, something we call “Work Knots.”  The concept of “Work Knots” is based on Lori Heyman Gordon’s original work identifying “Love Knots” that sabotage intimate relationships.  Love Knots evolved out of Lori’s search for answers to what had gone wrong in her relationship with a former Marine colonel and their struggle to sustain love and intimacy following his return from Vietnam. Fifty-two Love Knots are identified and unraveled in her books, “If You Really Loved Me …,” “Love Knots,” and “The Laundry List of Marital Mishaps and Double Binds.”

Be on the lookout for these hidden Work Knots at your workplace. In this week’s post, I share some of the most common Work Knots to be aware of among managers and supervisors. If you accidentally step on one, it can blow-up without anyone fully understanding what happened. Stay tuned with a free subscription to so you don’t miss the steps you can take to untangle and resolve these Work Knots along with upcoming articles on Work Knots that typically sabotage relationships between co-workers.

COMMON MANAGEMENT WORK KNOTS: Hidden Expectations of Managers and Supervisors that Typically Sabotage Workers and the Workplace

  1. YOU WOULD KNOW: If you really valued your job, you would know what the company needs, and you would do it. Since you don’t, you obviously don’t care. So when you ask for what you want, I won’t be very interested.
  2. YOU SHOULD GET TO KNOW: If you really valued your job, you would spend time getting to know your co-workers. You don’t. You don’t really care about working here.
  3. IT MUST BE YOU WHO’S WRONG: If we do not agree, one of us must be wrong. If it is me, that could mean I am dumb, stupid, ignorant or ineffective. My own position in the company could be threatened. I must prove it is you so that my job is safe.  I blame you, attack you, and argue with you. You distance, become closed and resentful. We no longer work well together.
  4. WHEN YOU ARE UNHAPPY: If you are unhappy or complain about something at work, I believe I should be able to fix it.  I don’t know how to fix it or I can’t fix it, so I feel inadequate. I get angry with you for making me feel inadequate. I withdraw from you and blame you when you are unhappy.
  5. IF I HAVE TO TELL YOU: If I tell you what I want and you do what I want, it doesn’t count because I had to tell you. If you do what I want, but not the way I wanted you to, it doesn’t count. I feel unsupported.
  6. I CAN’T NEED YOU: If I show you how important you are to me or the company, I will need you. I cannot trust you to stay.  I will provoke you, blame you, and drive you away.  So when you quit or get fired, I will know I was right.
  7. DON’T DO TOO MUCH: If I allow you to do too much for me or the company, I will need you. If I am too dependent and need you too much, I will not be able to succeed without you.  I will lose my ability to function on my own.  I will become weak.  I must not allow you to be too successful or important.  I will distance myself from you and care less about your work so that I won’t miss you too much or struggle when you leave.

Next week, I’ll share tips and strategies for untangling and resolving these typical Work Knots along with others that often sabotage collaboration among co-workers. Stay tuned!

Seth Eisenberg is President and CEO of the nonprofit PAIRS Foundation, one of the nation’s oldest and leading providers of relationship skills training programs. Learn more at

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