Saturday, November 25, 2017

Three Simple Questions to Determine Harassment.

Since the public revelations about Harvey Weinstein there has been a flood of claims of inappropriate behavior by those in power in the workplace. Some acts we have heard about are criminal in nature and everyone can agree those are wrong. But what if what was done isn't criminal in nature? We hear some perpetrators and their defenders saying things like "it was just a kiss" or "I am sorry if they were offended by something I did, but I didn't intend any harm" or "I was just joking." How can we judge when something isn't appropriate?
While working as a consultant on sexual harassment cases I have used a simple test that I think most can agree upon as a common-sense guide to determine when behavior is not appropriate.
I call it the 3-G Test or Three Generation Test.
Let me explain by using an example: Let's say a man is accused by a co-worker of doing or saying something sexually inappropriate (I am using a man, because they are usually the ones engaged in this type of behavior, though not exclusively.) The test is simple. We ask the following three questions:
  1. Would he think it was okay if a stranger said or did the same thing to his 11 year old daughter (or niece)?
  2. Would he think it was okay if a stranger did or said the same thing to his spouse (or his sister)?
  3. Would he think it was okay if stranger did or said the same thing to his mother?
If the answer to any of those three questions is "no" then it was inappropriate behavior. It is called the Three Generation Test because it covers three generations of people. It is based on the concept that if we wouldn't allow a stranger to say or do something to those dearest to us, then we probably shouldn't say/do it to our coworker.
The same three questions can be asked of someone who is defending someone else's inappropriate conduct. Would they be okay with the person they are defending doing those things to their daughter, spouse/sibling or parent?
I frequently used the 3-G Test when dealing with people who didn't think what they did was all that bad. Often when I asked them the three questions they were appalled or angered by the thought of someone else saying or doing what they had done to their own loved one. It often helped them see the victim's perspective.
Work behavior is never appropriate if it is offensive to the other person.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Hiring A President

A few years back I wrote an article called “Hiring the Best and Avoiding the Rest.”

Recently I have been thinking about how we “hire” a new president. So, I am going to make an attempt to apply good Psychological principles to the process of hiring a president. Please note that throughout this rambling I will use “hiring” and “electing” to mean the same thing.

As citizens today we are faced with the difficult problem of electing a qualified person to be our president. We have a real problem because unlike hiring an employee, we cannot place “help wanted” signs everywhere and just pick the best qualified candidate. We cannot post a job description on and wait for the best to apply. Unfortunately most of the time, we just wait until election time and vote for one of the people on the ballot, a ballot determined for us by the political parties. But given that we don’t have much say in the “pre-screening” process (or do we?), what could we all do to improve who we end up with as our president? In fact, there really is not pre-screening...anyone can declare him/herself a candidate in the primary.

Elections are always a gamble. We can never know the outcome of our decision until after the election and actual on-the-job performance occurs. Many presidential candidates sounded wonderful, until they got into the job.  However, we can increase our probability of electing (hiring) a more qualified president by improving the process we personally use when we mark our ballot. Elections are a high stakes game of chance, the future of the country is at stake. We as citizens need to be prepared to make sure we have the odds on our side. Think of it this way:

An election is a game of chance.
Smart citizens (electors) know how to play the game
by using a systematic process to
maximize the potential for choosing a successful president.

Most of us do not take the election (hiring) process as seriously as we should. Smart voting (hiring) not only gets a good person in the job, but it helps avoid problems down the road. Hiring the wrong person is a costly mistake for a company, but it can be even more costly for an entire nation! Smart voting won’t avoid all mistakes, but it will improve our odds. 

Electing a Leader

Perhaps the most important thing that Psychology tells us about human performance is that:

The best predictor of future performance is recent past performance, especially performance in the same or similar skill areas.

I would never hire someone to fill an accounting position who had never done accounting, even though she was a very successful salesperson. Nor would I hire someone to be a leader who has never led anything before. So, why would we hire someone to lead the most powerful nation in the world without looking at leadership ability? Am I being too harsh? I don’t believe so. That’s why the success of our presidents (and all political leaders for that matter) is so unpredictable…the process is done so poorly! I am not blaming the candidates; I am blaming the system that brings us those candidates, the media, and the voters.
So, I will state it again...

The best predictor of future performance is recent past performance, especially performance in the same or similar skill areas.

When we vote we should be thinking about who can lead us based on how well they have led throughout their lifetime. 
There you have it. Pretty simple. Will this happen? Probably not. Why? Because the media are too invested in the "likeability" factor of the candidate,  And I would maintain that most often we have elected the more "likeable" of the two candidates. And, frankly, that has not served us very well. 

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Higher Education on the Brink

Higher Education of today is much like the American auto makers during the 1980s and 1990s and since.

Beginning in the 1980s the Big Three automakers in Detroit saw a continuous decline in sales and loss of market share to foreign competition. But since their original share of the US market was so large, they felt no urgency to change their mode of operation. They had always done things a certain way and it worked. They were world leaders and their size alone was proof that their approach was the best. Why worry about these upstart foreign manufacturers?  They would soon be gone. The market would return to the way it had always been, they just needed to wait it out.

Since about 1970, the price of autos had risen much faster than the rate of inflation, yet the American auto was no more reliable than before (it still needed to be replaced every 3-4 years.) Foreign autos were the same or lower price than American cars, were lasting much longer and ran more efficiently. The Big Three ignored what was happening and did not make any systemic changes to their operations – why change something that had worked for decades. Their primary strategy was to change their marketing approach. I remember meeting with a marketing consultant for GM in 1989 and he described how they were going to regain young buyers by simply changing their advertising. “We just need to make our marketing appeal to younger people” he told me. He also told me how they needed to urge customers to “buy American” which implied buying a foreign built car was unpatriotic. In other words, don’t change what you do; just change how you advertise it. They believed that advertising was all that was needed. They ignored changing technology, rising energy costs and, most importantly, a change in customer expectations of quality. But customers were no longer going to pay more and more for a product of the same quality.

Unfortunately, I think higher education is today in much the same situation. Before I explain why, let me make one qualifying statement. I am speaking about the “average” public and private university, who happen to account for the vast majority of college graduates. The “elite” schools (Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Stanford, Duke, etc.) are not in immediate danger because they all have large endowment funds and huge numbers of applicants compared to the number of students they can accept. Those elite colleges and universities will continue to be financially sound. But the rest of the four year colleges and universities are closer to the brink of disaster than they are either aware of or willing to admit.

Problem One – Staffing Patterns

Benjamin Ginsberg in the Washington Monthly stated,”Between 1975 and 2005, total spending by American higher educational institutions, stated in constant dollars, tripled, to more than $325 billion per year. Over the same period, the faculty-to-student ratio remained fairly constant, at approximately fifteen or sixteen students per instructor. One thing that changed, dramatically, is the administrator-per-student ratio. In 1975, colleges employed one administrator for every eighty-four students and one professional staffer—admissions officers, information technology specialists, and the like—for every fifty students. By 2005, the administrator-to-student ratio had dropped to one administrator for every sixty-eight students while the ratio of professional staffers had dropped to one for every twenty-one students.”

Mr. Ginsberg goes on to say, “Forty years ago, America’s colleges employed more professors than administrators. The efforts of 446,830 professors were supported by 268,952 administrators and staffers. Over the past four decades, though, the number of full-time professors or “full-time equivalents”—that is, slots filled by two or more part-time faculty members whose combined hours equal those of a full-timer—increased slightly more than 50 percent. That percentage is comparable to the growth in student enrollments during the same time period. But the number of administrators and administrative staffers employed by those schools increased by an astonishing 85 percent and 240 percent, respectively. Today, administrators and staffers safely outnumber full-time faculty members on campus.”

Problem Two – A Stagnant or Shrinking Pool of Students

There is a projected decrease in the number of high school graduates in many parts of the country, but primarily in the Midwest and Northeastern states. Growth in the number of high school graduates will slow in other parts of the country.  And since universities are primarily funded by tuition, even a small decrease in enrollment can have a devastating affect on their ability to operate without a deficit. And since universities are labor intensive operations it is more difficult to quickly cut costs.

Problem Three – Rising Tuition Costs

According to a 2014 report by the University of Denver, over the last thirty years median family income has increased by 16 percent while tuition at private, non-profit universities has increased by 167 percent and by 257 percent at public universities. This disparity between family income and tuition has resulted in students funding their college education with larger and larger student loans. We are now at the point where students (and families) can no longer justify the size of the loans required to fund a four-year college degree. It is finally at the breaking point for many families. This is very similar to the auto industry where buyers were paying more and more for the same quality product.

Problem Four – Community Colleges

Community colleges charge much lower tuition rates than four-year schools. Why? Part of the reason is that they are often partially funded locally by property taxes. Community colleges also focus on general classes taught in the first two years of college which can be delivered in larger classrooms and therefore more cost effectively. Since they do not offer four-year or graduate degrees, they do not need to have quite as highly educated a faculty. And their faculty primarily teaches and does little if any academic research. These all lower their teaching personnel costs dramatically.

In addition, most community colleges have not invested in large housing and dining complexes, or expensive athletic programs, all of which increase the overall cost of the institution. Community colleges primarily stick to teaching subject matter, again, lowering overall cost to deliver education.

Since community college tuition is usually much lower than the tuition of four year institutions, this creates strong competition for the new high school graduate who is considering college. Forty years ago most students who wanted a four year degree went directly to a four year institution. Now many students spend their first two years of college at a community college due to the lower tuition and the fact that community college courses usually can be easily transferred to a four year institution later.

Problem Five – Decision Making Methods and Leadership

Much like the Big Three auto companies of the 1980s, universities have cumbersome decision making systems. Like the Big Three they have not faced competition is decades, if ever. Most have never had to face a crisis in the past. In addition, they are saddled with committee after committee who often meet to discuss ideas but not implementation of change. At many universities it is can easily take a year or more to add a single new class to the curriculum. So, making major changes to the institution can take much longer. In the academic area, universities have tenured faculty, so layoffs are difficult, if not impossible. And while corporate American has shrunk the size if its management ranks over the past 20 years, the management ranks of higher education have grown significantly, further slowing the decision making process and increasing personnel costs.

In addition, universities are much like the Big Three of the 1980s in that virtually all leadership comes from within higher education. They are all “home grown” leaders who pretty much all lead the same way, with no sense of urgency. They have all trained under leaders who never had to face a financial crisis and whose biggest decisions involved who was granted tenure or what new courses should be added to the curriculum. Rarely have universities had to face large revenue shortfalls like many organizations have in the private sector. Let’s face it; how higher education is managed has really not changed in over 100 years.

Problem Six – Technology as the Solution

Some have said that the solution to delivering higher education more efficiently is through the use of technology…often in the way of online college courses. But as more universities attempt to use online courses they learn several things. First, a well designed online course is much more expensive than expected. Teaching online is a very labor intensive process. Second, not all subject matter lends itself to online teaching (how does one conduct a chemistry experiment or learn interactive skills or teach critical thinking in an online course?) Some fields of study are more suited to online coursework than other fields. Third, and perhaps most importantly, not all students learn well in an online course environment or even want to take online courses. I have yet to find any data that shows what percentage of students are willing to take all or most of their college coursework online. The research that has been done primarily surveys current online students, not potential online students.

Problem Seven – Societal Doubts about College Degrees

Every day more and more prominent people in society (reporters, politicians, business leaders) raise doubts about the cost effectiveness of a college degree and whether it is truly worth the money spent on it. In addition, students and parents of students have the same doubts. They look at the costs and wonder if having $60,000 to $80,000 or more of student loan debt upon graduation is worth it. This is especially true when the total student loan debt for the US is now more than a trillion dollars and rising. On top of that the media constantly points out the highly successful people in our society who never obtained a college degree.

The Future

As someone who spent a large part of my professional career consulting with and advising organizations, I am not optimistic about the future of higher education. The seven areas outlined above would be difficult for excellent leaders and organizations to handle. Higher education is anything but nimble. After more than 20 years under the gun the Big Three auto companies are still struggling. I hope I am wrong, but I don’t see four-year universities and colleges as being any more innovative or flexible than the still struggling American auto industry.

It is clearly not a pretty picture!

Monday, April 28, 2014

An American Love Story - 2015

By Dr. Larry Pfaff

How do I express my feelings for you?
It is difficult to put into words; you do so much for me.
You make me feel complete as never before.
When I wake and see you beside me, I feel comforted.
Just looking at you makes me smile.
I cannot take my eyes off of you.
I learn so much from knowing you, about myself and others.
You help me find my way through life.
I want you with me always, every minute of every day.
Each day with you makes me better.
When we are apart I feel lost.
I long for your return, to touch you, to hold you, to be with you.
Each time we are reunited, I feel whole again.
I don’t know how I existed before you came into my life.
I cannot live without you.
My dearest
My irreplaceable smart phone.

Copyright 2014 Lawrence A. Pfaff

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Misuse of National Polls

I find it incredibly frustrating when every network news show compares popularity poll numbers of the President to popularity poll numbers of the entire Congress.

You cannot compare opinions about a group of people to opinions about an individual. It is the old "comparing apples to oranges."  This is a misuse of polling data and the polling companies should know better.

 Let me give you an example. When people are asked how they feel about lawyers in general, typically the rating is always very low. But if you ask those same people how they feel about "their own" lawyer, they will typically say they think he/she is okay. The same is true for many other professions. Even though we may think of a group in negative terms, the individuals we know in that group are okay in our minds.

If you ask people if they like their individual member of Congress you will get numbers higher than the President. I would submit that most people like their personal representative in Congress, but when they think of this large body of hundreds of people they don't like them very much.

So, what the polling companies should do is have people rate their own member of Congress and then give an average of those results. I am sure you will most likely get rating near the approval ratings of the President. But, if there are large differences in those that would be worth reporting.

But let's be honest here, it makes for better press to report low popularity numbers for Congress. Honesty in use of data seems to have gone out the window.

Just my two cents...

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Tuesday, June 18, 2013



Dr. Larry Pfaff, Professor of Psychology
Spring Arbor University
Phone: 269-370-0083                                                 


Portage, MI, June 18, 2013 –Dr. Lawrence A. Pfaff is the primary author of the research “Perceptions of Women and Men Leaders Following 360-Degree Feedback Evaluations” published in the current issue of the Performance Improvement Quarterly.


Based on previous research and publications it has been theorized that women leaders would employ relational leadership behaviors significantly more frequently than men leaders. It has also been theorized that men and women leaders would employ the use of task-oriented behaviors equally. But these theories have not been tested in the actual workplace, especially not from the perspective of those who work with the leader.

In this study, researchers used a customized 360-degree method to examine the frequency with which 1,546 men and 721 women leaders perceived themselves and were perceived by colleagues (supervisors, employees, peers) as using 10 relational and 10 task-oriented leadership behaviors. Relational behaviors include such things as communication, trust, coaching, and participation. Task-oriented behaviors include such things as goal setting, planning, strategy and decisiveness.

The study results did not match what was expected from previous literature. Dr. Larry Pfaff, lead researcher said, "The women simply outscored the men. Female leaders - as rated by their bosses, themselves, colleagues and the people who work for them - were rated significantly better than their male counterparts, not only in the relational skills, but also in the task-oriented skills. The women leaders were not just stronger on the 'softer' skills such as communication, feedback and empowerment but also in such areas as decisiveness, planning and setting standards."

Employees rated female leaders significantly higher than male leaders in eighteen of the twenty skill areas assessed.  Men and women tied in the other two areas.  Bosses rated female leaders higher than male leaders in sixteen of the twenty skill areas. On self ratings, women scored themselves higher in seventeen skill areas.  Peers rated women higher on thirteen of twenty areas.
"This study clearly challenges the conventional wisdom that women are only better at the ‘softer skills’ such as communicating, empowering people and being positive," said Pfaff. 

"The statistical significance of this data is dramatic," said Pfaff.  "While gathering data on more than 2,400 subjects, on average, men are not rated significantly higher by any of the raters in any of the areas measured."

Using a method known as 360-degree feedback, each leader was evaluated by his/her boss, direct reports, peers and self on the Management-Leadership Practices Inventory (MLPI).  The MLPI uses 85 items to measure twenty skill areas.  The MLPI is a reliable, valid measure of leadership behavior.  MLPI results have been shown in research to correlate to a leader's workgroup productivity.  The areas measured by the MLPI are:  Goal Setting, Planning, Technical Expertise, Performance Standards, Coaching, Evaluating Performance, Facilitating Change, Delegation, Recognition, Approachable, Directive, Participative, Strategy, Communication, Teamwork, Empowering Employees, Trust, Resourcefulness, Self Confidence, and Decisiveness.

Since 1980 Lawrence A. Pfaff and Associates has provided human resource consulting services to businesses across the country.  The focus has been on employee and executive development, 360-degree feedback and selection systems.  Pfaff and Associates is the developer of SELECTProTM Selection Interview Software and the MLPI System of 360-degree feedback inventories.

The complete article can be obtained from Dr. Pfaff at or by calling 269-370-0083.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Men and Women Leaders

Here is the abstract from my latest article published this month in the Performance Improvement Quarterly:

In this study, researchers used a
customized 360-degree method to
examine the frequency with which
1,546 men and 721 women leaders perceived
themselves and were perceived
by colleagues as using 10 relational
and 10 task-oriented leadership behaviors,
as addressed in the Management-
Leadership Practices Inventory (MLPI).
As hypothesized, men and women
leaders, as well as their supervisors,
employees, and peers, perceived women
leaders to employ nine of the 10 relational
leadership behaviors signifi cantly
more frequently than men leaders.
Additionally, the employees’ perceptions
of their women leaders’ use of
task-oriented behaviors were signifi -
cantly higher when compared to similar
assessments from the employees of men
leaders. However, the leaders as well as
their supervisors and peers perceived
men and women leaders’ use of taskoriented
behaviors as approximately
equal. Broader implications of these findings
are discussed.

More on this to follow soon.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Message to Mayor Bloomberg

Dear Mayor Bloomberg:

I grew up as a baby boomer. As boomers we survived being born to mothers who smoked and/or drank while they were pregnant. We ate blue cheese dressing, tuna from a can and didn't get tested for diabetes. As infants we were put to sleep on our stomachs in baby cribs covered with bright colored lead-based paints.

There were no childproof lids on medicine bottles, locks on doors or cabinets. We rode our bikes wearing baseball caps, not helmets. As infants & children we rode in cars with no car seats, no booster seats, no seat belts, and no air bags. 
We drank water from the garden hose and not from a bottle. We shared one soft drink with four friends, from one bottle and no one actually died from this. We ate cupcakes, white bread, real butter and bacon, and drank Kool-Aid made with real white sugar. And, we weren't overweight. WHY? Because we were always outside playing...that’s why!

So, Mr. Mayor, instead of taking away some of the few things that give people joy, why not focus on encouraging something positive! Do you really think that limiting the size of a soft drink is going to make anyone's life better?

Kind of makes me want to go get a Big Mac and a large Coke!!!

Saturday, February 23, 2013

The Problem with Government Programs

I was thinking today about all the things that our government is "trying" to do in the name of helping us and all the programs that the president proposed in his State of the Union address and something dawned on me...when our leaders are going to "get it?"

I know it may be because I teach Psychology, but when are we all going to realize that people don't just function in a vacuum. Human beings are driven by consequences (rewards and punishment). We all have an innate ability to quickly measure a situation and take the actions that will be in our own best least in the short run. So, we cannot just give things to people without it having consequences for those people and everyone else.

Why do we as a society constantly create situations that make people less productive and less happy? This is nothing new...I first saw it in the several unionized jobs that I held where it became clear that because no one could earn a higher pay rate than anyone else, people did the next best thing...they did the minimum amount of work to get by, thereby maximizing their own personal return on investment of their time. I saw it when I worked my way through college as a construction worker and I later saw it when I was a unionized public school teacher. Sure there were a few people who worked hard anyway, but they were the exception. The system just did not reward working harder, so most people won’t.

We see it in many government programs that encourage people to not work. Why should I look for a job when I am on unemployment? Especially when finding a job means I will lose “free” money? We see it in health insurance policies that give us the impression that we can go to the doctor for "free" so we end up going more often than we really need to, which in turn drives up health insurance costs for everyone. An example reported by a CBS station in Pennsylvania showed how a single mother could get over $80,000 in welfare benefits.

We see the entitlement attitude in the endless late night television advertisements by lawyers telling us that we am "entitled" to some sort of settlement for something someone else did to me. I personally see it when I have college students tell me they deserve an “A” in a course simply because they paid their tuition. Or, they deserve an “A” because they came to class. When challenged on this they tell me they always received “A’s” in high school for just showing up to class.

We see it in legislation like the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), in which our elected representatives voted to spend a trillion dollars on something that the Congressional Budget Office estimated will help 2 percent of the population. We see it in programs like Cash for Clunkers where the government (because of its wonderfully efficient systems) spent something like $24,000 on each clunker it took off the road! And we see it when government auditors estimate that over 40 percent of people getting free government cell phones probably don’t qualify for them. I am sure everyone can cite many more examples of programs with incentives in the wrong place.

So, the bottom line is...people do things because they either pay off, or appear to pay off for them personally. We are just wired that way. It is up to the people designing the system to understand that. Unfortunately our political leaders are primarily interested in doing what pays off for them. Once again it is all about self-interest.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

"Forbes on Fox" segment unfair to Spring Arbor University

The Forbes on Fox panel today talked about the Spring Arbor University Student Loan Repayment program. Unfortunately several of the panelists made comments without full knowledge of how the program works. Those comments were negative and gave misleading information or made incorrect assumptions about the loan repayment program. This is in response to those comments.

Some of the specifics of the program at Spring Arbor University:

-          The student must graduate from the university, therefore the program gives students the incentive to finish the degree and not drop out. If they drop out they cannot use the program.
-          After graduation they must be employed at least ¾ time (minimum 30 hours per week). So, they cannot just “sit around and do nothing.”
-          There are lower and upper income thresholds that give the student incentives to get a higher paying job because they will be farther ahead if they do. It is not an “all or nothing” program like many government give aways.
-          If their income is below the lower income threshold long enough, they will receive reimbursement for the entire amount of loan payments. But remember, it is a reimbursement. So, the graduate is still responsible for repaying the loan. They are just being helped when their income is low, but they must be employed.
-          As income increases to the upper income threshold, the benefit is reduced proportionately and in a way that give them the incentive to get better paying work.
-          Assistance will continue until loans are repaid or income increases above the upper income threshold.

Concerns raised by the Forbes on Fox panel and response to each:

This program will just encourage graduates to not seek employment after graduation (John Tamny). No it will not! To collect the graduate must be employed. They are not allowed to be unemployed. It only helps them if their income is below the threshold. This encourages the graduate to work no matter what the income level and allows them to pursue jobs in their chosen field even if the job does not pay a high wage. It just gives them the freedom to not worry about the loans payback schedule. Currently graduates of college who cannot find a well paying job stay unemployed. This program requires them to be employed in order to get assistance. It would be like requiring people on food stamps to first show that they are taking the initiative to help themselves before they get the food stamps. Or it would be like the unemployment program not allowing the unemployed to wait until they find a job that pays better then the one they lost.

This is just a “Hail Mary pass” for institutions in trouble and who charge too much already.   This was a very well thought out part of a business plan. The plan works based on the principle of an insurance policy and is administered by an organization in exactly that way. It does not increase costs by spreading them across all students because the cost of the program is covered by additional student enrollment in the coming years that will be handled without any increase in staffing at the university. The increased enrollment is due to the program itself and therefore does not have any additional marketing costs attached to it. So, tuition was not increased to cover the program and costs are not increased at the university.

This must have been thought up by the Obama administration. Someone else who went to the school is paying off my loan.  Again, not true. It is covered by an insurance fund which the last time I looked, is based on the free enterprise system. There is no redistribution of wealth as one panelist said. It is an insurance fund that is covered by the university streamlining its processes and staffing and enrolling additional students. In fact, this program is more like a warranty on an automobile which can only be collected on if the owner meets certain conditions (regular maintenance). Graduates are getting a warranty on their education but they only can collect based on certain reasonable conditions.

Go ahead and try it because online education is going to cost less and knock out 50% of colleges anyway. The fact is that online education does not cost less. In many cases online course cost more to deliver and there are many areas of education where online will not work (for example, would anyone on the panel go to a medical doctor who got his/her M.D. online? I would bet not. Or would the panel use a lawyer who did their degree online?) Online education is only effective in certain types of courses and subject matter. The future is an integration of online and classroom education which Spring Arbor is also doing.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

People to Politicians: Do Your Job!!!!!

In my view the election results are very clear... incumbents won everywhere... nationally, statewide and locally. And, if the rest of the country is like Michigan, ballot proposals were rejected also. This tells me the people are giving a clear message to the politicians... We are tired of replacing elected officials and getting the same results, so do your job and get things done!

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Growing up as a Baby Boomer

They survived being born to mothers who smoked and/or drank while they were pregnant. Their mothers took aspirin, ate blue cheese dressing, tuna from a can and didn't get tested for diabetes. As infants they were put to sleep on their stomachs in baby cribs covered with bright colored lead-based paints.

There were no childproof lids on medicine bottles, locks on doors or cabinets. When they rode their bikes they had baseball caps not helmets on their heads. As infants & children they would ride in cars with no car seats, no booster seats, no seat belts, and no air bags. Riding in the back of a pick-up truck on a warm day was always a special treat.

They drank water from the garden hose and not from a bottle. They shared one soft drink with four friends, from one bottle and no one actually died from this. They ate cupcakes, white bread, real butter and bacon, and drank Kool-Aid made with real white sugar. And, they weren't overweight. WHY?  Because they were always outside playing...that’s why!

They would leave home in the morning and play all day as long as they were back when the streetlights came on. No one was able to reach them all day, and, they were O.K. There were no video games, no 150 channels on cable, no DVD movies, no surround-sound or CD's, no cell phones, no personal computers, no internet and no chat rooms. THEY HAD FRIENDS and they went outside and found them!

They fell out of trees, got cut and broke bones and there were no lawsuits from these accidents. They were given BB guns for 10th birthdays, made up games with sticks and tennis balls and, although they were told it would happen, they did not put out any eyes. They rode bikes or walked to a friend's house and knocked on the door or rang the bell, or just walked in and talked to them. Little League had tryouts and not everyone made the team. Those who didn't had to learn to deal with disappointment. Imagine that!!

These generations have produced some of the best Risk-takers, problem solvers and inventors ever. The past 50 years have been an explosion of innovation and new ideas. They had freedom, failure, success and responsibility, and they learned how to deal with it all.

Are the kids really better off now that the lawyers and the government has regulated so much of our lives for our own good.

Kind of makes me want to run through the house with scissors!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

CSDD: A New Mental Health Diagnosis

Today I was thinking about how Facebook has changed its format. Then I thought about how Microsoft continually changes the format and menus on its software. Then I thought about how Google has recently changed the format of Gmail. Personally I have not talked to anyone who likes the changes that are made to any of those (or other software for that matter). At work everyone complains when they hear of Microsoft coming out with a new version of Office...because they all have to totally re-learn every program used in the Office Suite. And its not just the re-learning, its that the new format/design is usually less intuitive than the previous one! It is rumored that use of anti-anxiety medications by office professionals spikes after the release of a new version of Office Professional.

Why is it that software developers create a piece of software or a website that people just love...and then after it becomes popular they start changing it...for no apparent reason.

Then my training as a Psychology Professor clicked in and it struck me! The age of technology has resulted in a new Psychiatric Diagnosis - Compulsive Software Development Disorder or CSDD for short!

It is the compulsive need by software designers to constantly change their software in ways that do not improve the functionality of the software. At the same time the changes they make to the software are found to be incredibly annoying to the users of the software. It is the type of disorder that, if not treated immediately, will accelerate in occurrence. Software begins to be revised more and more frequently resulting in greater level of anxiety among the users of the software. The sufferer often uses energy drinks and other stimulants. At this time there is no known cure other than for users of the software in question to discontinue use and put the company out of business.

Note: This commentary is meant to be is not true and no harm is intended to any parties.

Friday, March 18, 2011

What Ever Happened to Little Albert?

The famous Little Albert study by Psychologist Dr. John B. Watson from 1920 has always been very controversial. For decades people have speculated about Dr. Watson's experiment on a baby and what impact it may have had on the baby's life. Well, finally it looks like some researchers have tracked down what happened to Little Albert.

I have made a short video explaining it. Enjoy...


Sunday, August 29, 2010

Some Thoughts About Love...

It is a mystery why we fall in love. It is a mystery how it happens. It is a mystery when it comes. It is a mystery why some love grows and it is a mystery why some love fails.

You can analyze this mystery and look for reasons and causes, but you will never do anymore than take the life out of the experience. Just as life itself is more than the sum of the bones and muscles and electrical impulses in the body, love is more than the sum of the interests and attractions and commonalities that two people share. And just as life itself is a gift that comes and goes in its own time, so too, the coming of love must be taken as an unfathomable gift that cannot be questioned in its ways.

Remember that you don't choose love. Love chooses you. All you can really do is accept it for all its mystery when it comes into your life. Feel the way it fills you to overflowing, then reach out and give it away. Give it back to the person who brought it alive in you. Give it to the world around you in any way you can.
This is where many lovers go wrong. Having been so long without love, they understand love only as a need. They see their hearts as empty places that will be filled by love, and they begin to look at love as something that flows to them rather than from them.

Remember this and keep it to your heart. Love has its time, its own season, its own reason for coming and going. You cannot bribe it or coerce it, or reason with it. You can only embrace it when it arrives and give it away when it comes to you. Love always has been and always will be a mystery.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

When corruption is the norm

When corruption is the norm then the world is truly in trouble. I am not saying that throughout all of our society that this is so, but in certain areas we are getting close. The latest is the expanding case of government officials offering politicians jobs illegally and after being caught responding, "Well, everyone does it."

The response is not the problem. In fact it is no different than when the child tells his/her parent that, "Everyone is doing it, what's the problem." Of course we all know the typical parent response..."so if Johnny jumps off the Empire State Building, then you should to?!" I view the "everyone does it" excuse at the same level of the rapist who says, "If she didn't want to be raped, then she shouldn't dress that way." In other words the person is trying to take the focus off himself and put it on everyone else. But let's face it, it is an absurd excuse and should be labeled as such.

The problem today is that corruption is becoming so much the norm in politics that people are actually supporting the "everybody does it" excuse. And it is spreading to other areas.

Not very long ago if someone used that type of excuse for illegal or unethical behavior they would be called to task for it. But today, people are actually buying the excuse...which in my mind is quite scary.

Honesty and truth should be our norm. And when people do not abide by it, then we should call them on it. But more and more we don't. And we see more and more of the excuse that "everyone does it." Soon we may see a time when honesty and truth are no longer the standard that we live up to, but the exception.

In fact I believe that when corruption becomes the norm then honesty will be viewed as a threat to the corrupt. And then the honest must be vilified. And where will we be then?

Sunday, May 2, 2010

I Love These Lyrics!!!

These are perhaps my favorite song lyrics of all time, simply because they are such an accurate statement about our society:

"Where I come from we believe all sorts of things that aren't true. We call it - 'history.'
A man's called a traitor - or liberator
A rich man's a thief - or philanthropist
Is one a crusader - or ruthless invader?
It's all in which label
Is able to persist
There are precious few at ease
With moral ambiguities
So we act as though they don't exist"

Now think about words in light of our political leaders!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Classical Conditioning

Here is a YouTube video about Pavlov's Classical Conditioning.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

The Rise of Narcissism

Narcissism --an inordinate fascination with oneself; excessive self-love; vanity. Freud would have described it as erotic gratification derived from admiration of one's own physical or mental attributes, being a normal condition at the infantile level of personality development.

Recently it was reported that the level of clinical narcissism among college age students had doubled over the past 15 years to 34 percent! That is an incredibly high percentage but it has been confirmed across the country.

So, what does that mean and how could that happen? Well, in my mind it fits in beautifully with some of my earlier posts about the sense of entitlement that young adults display on a regular basis.

But I think I have an idea about one of the main reasons behind this incredible increase in narcissism...and the answer lies right here, on the web.

About 20 years ago when I was doing full time consulting I interviewed a woman who had just completed her masters degree. She was looking for a position in corporate training. At that time people starting out in that field were making an annual salary of around $30,000. During the interview I asked her what level of pay she was expecting in her first job and without pause she said, "At least $50,000!"  I had to do my best to keep from laughing out loud. As we talked further it was clear that she had obtained a false sense of worth while completing her graduate degree. Her professors told her how incredibly bright and marketable she was. But I knew she would learn the reality of the situation soon enough. At the time I was surprised at how out of touch she was with reality. But that is nothing compared to people today.

But today people are being mislead into a false sense of self-worth on a regular basis. And the internet is to blame to a large degree.

Think of it this way...the average college student believes that it is perfectly normal to report hourly to the world what he/she is doing. And they actually believe that the rest of the world truly cares! And it is not just college age people either...I have friends on my Facebook page who report such things as: heading to the store, driving my car, done with work for the week, home alone, just teed off the 8th hole, leaving the golf course now, etc. And they think that all their "friends" on Facebook really want to know all of that.

But think of all the other ways that we are given a false sense of self-worth on the internet...

--Five years ago a web page was a big deal. Today everyone has one.

--Before YouTube it was difficult to post a video on the internet, now it is so easy anyone can do it. So we can show everyone our lives in video. It seems like YouTube has been here forever, but it is only about five years old!

--In addition to Facebook there are blogs and Twitter. And I am sure it will not stop.

It wasn't long ago that instant messaging seemed amazing. Now we can share our lives minute by minute with the rest of the world...and that MUST prove that I am important...right?

Well, doesn't it?  Hello?

 The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of EntitlementDo you hear me out there???!!!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

The Fisherman's Lesson

One beautiful summer Saturday a man decided that he wanted to enjoy the sunshine and relax doing one of his favorite weekend activities, fishing. So, he got his little boat and his fishing gear prepared. On the way to his favorite little fishing lake he stopped at the convenience store that also sold bait. While he was there buying his night crawlers, he bought a lunch to take along and even got a little flask of whiskey to help relax him while fishing.

When he arrived at the boat launch it was the perfect day...75 degrees and sunny, with a mild breeze. His little seven horsepower motor puttered him out onto the lake and over to one of the areas where he preferred to fish. It was close to a swampy shoreline so there were no houses nearby. In addition to being one of his "lucky spots" for fishing, this part of the lake often had lots of birds and a few reptiles so that if the fishing wasn't good there was always something to watch.

He shut down the engine and threw out the anchor. This was his favorite lake because it was too small for skiing or tubing and there were no beaches on the lake, so it tended to be quiet. Not many people in the area even knew about this little lake. Today he felt extra lucky because he was the only one on the lake and that was just fine with him.

There was always something about being on the water with the sounds of nature that was naturally relaxing for him. But it turned out that it was not a great day for fishing. He got a few nibbles but they were few and far apart. Still it was nice to be out in the beautiful was good.

As the time passed he started to spend more of his time watching everything around him. First he watched the clouds and remembered being a kid and trying to find shapes of objects in the random cloud formations. It made him feel like a kid again to do the same thing now. But soon the clouds cleared and he thought to himself, "Even the clouds are not cooperating with me today!" But that was alright, this was a day to relax. He had even decided that if he did catch any fish he would most likely just throw them back...he was in a generous mood. So since the clouds had disappeared, he turned his attention to the ripples on the water caused by the breeze. There was something about moving water that was entrancing. He could watch it for hours. But after about ten minutes the wind died and the ripples died along with it.

So, he began to look along the shoreline to see if there were any animals to watch today. There were no birds. He could hear a few frogs croaking in the water, but that was about all. Then all of a sudden he saw a little splash over by some reeds in the water followed by a little movement toward his boat. There was something long and thin moving toward him. As it got closer he could see that it was a small water snake and it was holding something in its mouth...something that was wiggling a little! As it got even closer he could see a small frog being held in the snake's mouth...still alive…his four legs sticking straight out and wiggling! His immediate thought was to feel sorry for the little helpless frog...he thought to himself, "that poor frog, caught by that evil snake."

The snake kept moving closer to the boat. As it moved along side the boat he couldn't take it any longer. He quickly reached over the side of his boat and grabbed the snake right behind its head. He squeezed the snake slightly and as he did it released its grip on the frog enough for the man to take the frog out of the snake’s mouth. The frog was still alive and appeared to be unharmed. He held the little frog down near the water and it jumped out of his hand and swam away. As it swam out of sight the fisherman had a nice warm feeling of having done a good deed...he had saved the little frog's life. He was proud of what he had done.

After a few minutes he realized he still was holding the snake. He looked down at it and it looked up at him. For some reason, at that moment he realized that not only had he saved the frog, but he had most likely taken the snake's meal away from him. What right did he have to interfere with nature like that? He tried to think what he could do to make it up to the snake. He didn't have any frogs in the boat that was certain. As he looked over at his tackle box he saw his lunch and next to it was the flask of whiskey.

He made a decision...whiskey had always be good for him, so why not the snake? He reached over with one hand, opened the flask, picked it up and put a few drops of the whiskey in the snake’s mouth...and it didn't even flinch. He then put the snake over the side of the boat and gently set it in the water and let it swim away...and it headed right back toward the swampy area where it first had been.

At that point the fisherman thought to himself that this was possibly the perfect win-win situation...he had saved the frog's life AND the snake came out ok too! He sat back feeling proud of himself. He looked up and some clouds were back and he marveled at their beauty. This was indeed a great day! He closed his eyes and relaxed.

After a while he thought he heard a very soft sort of bumping sound on the side of the boat. He had no idea what that could be, so he leaned to look over the side of the boat. To his surprise there was the snake looking up at the fisherman with TWO frogs in his mouth!

The fisherman learned a valuable lesson that day: whatever behavior you reward you will get back two fold!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Being Alone

Why are most people so afraid to spend time alone?

Each year when I teach new graduate students who are training to become counselors I ask them a question that goes something like this…

What is the longest period of time that you have spent alone? But before they are allowed to answer I give some restrictions. This alone time cannot be while you are sleeping. It cannot be while you are driving. You cannot be reading anything. It cannot be while you going somewhere or accomplishing a task (walking, running, exercising, etc.) It cannot be while you are eating or while you are around others (as in a restaurant or cafe.) Obviously no radio or music or television is allowed. In other words, this is time alone, in silence, where you are there to experience yourself and your own thoughts.

What I have found is that the typical person will tell me that the longest time that meets these criteria is about one hour. Occasionally a few people will have been alone in silence for two hours. This is throughout their entire lifetime!

It is amazing to me how many people in our society are afraid to be alone, even for a short time. They feel the need to be constantly inundated with sounds and sights. The internet is just another one of those distractions, constantly bombarding us with information, while at the same time distracting us from thinking about important things in life.

I think silent, alone time is important for all of us. It gives us time to think, relax and examine our purpose in life. The first time I learned the power of solitary silence was back when I was on a 25-day Colorado Outward Bound experience when I was 24 years old. During our time in the wilderness we were each required to spend a 72 hour period during which we had no human contact. It was not a survival exercise; it was a time to get in touch with ourselves. To this day, that was one of the most powerful and positive experiences in my life. I finally had taken the time in my life to look at me.

I guess I think of silence a little differently than most people. I once read a psychologist describe that silence should be treated like fine wine…observed and consumed slowly…taken in and experienced…not feared but embraced. And I think that silent time with others can be valuable too…a time where we can experience each other without words getting in the way.

So, the next time you are alone with a chance for silence, don’t turn on the television or your computer or your IPod. And, don’t immediately try to find someone to be with. Try experiencing the silence and discover the person you are. You may be positively surprised by the incredible depth of your own personality!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

How We Change

By Dr. Larry Pfaff

Counselors and therapists often observe widely different results when two individuals with the same skill deficiency, problem behavior or emotional difficulty receive the same intervention. Why? What prompts one person to change while another does not, even though they receive the same treatment or try the same activities? The answer may be found in some very interesting psychological research.

A New Model for Change

Traditionally, we have relied on a model that implicitly defined change as the movement from unproductive or inappropriate behavior to productive or appropriate behavior. Change is seen as a dramatic shift from one stable state (inappropriate behavior, unproductive, unskilled) to another stable but more appropriate state.

What is wrong with this conceptualization of change? First, it leads us to expect people to change quickly. So people attend one-day seminars to change their lives and are disappointed with the results. Or, people are promised that reading one self-help book will change their lives forever. Or, if we just knew the “Secret” then life would be perfect. Unfortunately, life-long behavior cannot be changed quickly.

Our traditional conceptualization leads us to expect change to be a dichotomous event. We think people should shift instantaneously from poor skills to good skills. We expect people to instantaneously shift from being shy and reserved to outgoing and gregarious. This is supported in the media and society in general, where change looks easy (usually taking place in one half-hour episode). So, we expect change to be almost instantaneous, whether the change has to do with weight loss, smoking, exercise, relationships, or work behavior.

Research has been done that shows a more accurate view of how people actually change. It can also help us in our counseling efforts. The central concept of this model is the notion of stages of readiness to change. Four categories of readiness have been defined: precontemplation, contemplation, action, and maintenance. The stages of change were first identified in a 1982 study comparing the processes of change used by smokers quitting on their own and smokers participating in two commercial treatment programs. Subsequent research has established that the amount of progress people make in changing behavior depends on their stage of change readiness.

Precontemplation. Individuals in the precontemplation stage have no intention of changing their behavior in the near future, usually defined as within the next six months. Many precontemplators deny they need to change, or they do not feel their situation is serious enough to change. They are resistant to acknowledging that a problem even exists. It isn't that they can't see the solution, they can't see the problem. For them the cost of changing behavior clearly outweighs the benefits. Precontemplators may feel that they are being pressured to change. Coerced change is rarely successful. When the pressure is off, they revert to old behavior patterns. The precontemplator is the client who during counseling says, "I don't understand why I'm here. I don't need any of this." This stage is most evident in the addicted individual, where the addict does not see addiction as a problem, but rather a solution.

Contemplation. Individuals in the contemplation stage acknowledge that they need to change, and they are seriously considering change. Movement to this stage is critical for change to occur. An individual must acknowledge that he/she has a problem and know what the problem is for productive change to take place. Contemplators weigh the pros and cons of the problem and examine possible solutions. An individual who is at this stage has somehow gained a new awareness of his/her current behavior. They are not ready for change yet, but they are willing to think about the alternatives and examine current behavior patterns.

Action. This stage is a period of active effort to change behavior. Action involves overt changes and requires considerable commitment of time and energy. Seminars and training programs can only help people at this stage. Unfortunately, action does not always equate to permanent change.

Maintenance. This is the stage in which people work to consolidate gains and prevent relapse. Traditionally, this is viewed as a static stage. However, maintenance can be a continuation, not the absence, of change. For an individual, maintenance often occurs after counseling is terminated where the environment, family and friends support the changes the individual is making. When this stage is missing there is often relapse.

Making Change Efforts More Effective

The model described above gives insight into the effectiveness, or ineffectiveness, of individual change efforts. It can help us understand why one client has changed his/her behavior after therapy (or any intervention) while another has not. The changing client most likely comes to therapy at the contemplation (or sometimes action) stage. The non-changing client is often at the precontemplation stage and probably did not understand why he/she was even in therapy. This often occurs when someone is set to therapy or forced to obtain counseling. Note: seminars, training programs and self-help books are most effective for people who are already at the action stage. They can occasionally help move an individual from contemplation to action, but the vast majority will only help those who are ready to take action.

Individuals must be moved from precontemplation to contemplation before or at the beginning of therapy. To move ahead in the cycle of change, precontemplators must acknowledge the need for personal change. What causes people to begin to think seriously about change? Research shows that the individuals need "consciousness raising" in order to progress. Consciousness raising is defined as a systematic method of confronting the person with observations about his/her behavior. In other words, the person must be helped to see his/her behavior from the perspective of others. Only then can we increase the likelihood of training success.

Discussing the difficulty of modifying problem behavior, Mark Twain commented: "Habit is habit, and not to be thrown out the window but coaxed downstairs a step at a time." Thus, human behavior does not occur with one bold effort. Change requires movement through discrete stages. Proper awareness and monitoring of the entire development effort is critical to counseling effectiveness. Otherwise, we are delivering counseling that is likely to fail.

Saturday, February 13, 2010


Once again antidepressants are in the news.

There was a January Newsweek story ( about how little affect antidepressants really have on depression. I really encourage people to read the Newsweek article.

There continues to be more research showing that placebos (sugar pills) are as effective as antidepressants. So, with all of this data why are antidepressants becoming more and more popular? And with no true data to support the effectiveness of antidepressants, why are pharmaceutical companies continuing to create more antidepressants?

Well, let's look at it this way...

If you were running a pharmaceutical company and could choose one of the following areas to pursue, which would you? Here is a very simple analysis:

Area 1 - Serious psychological illnesses like schizophrenia.

Characteristics: easy to diagnose when someone suffers from it - easy to tell when someone improves from treatment.
Market size: very small percentage of the population, but the patient must take the medication the remainder of his/her life. Good long term sales but low volume.

Area 2 - Bacterial infections.

Characteristics: easy to diagnose the condition - also easy to tell when someone improves.
Market size: Potentially large, anyone can get an infection. One big downside, you only take the medication until the infection is healed. All sales are short term. Sales are great when there is a major outbreak of infections though.

Area 3 - Depression

Characteristics: not easy to diagnose clearly - a very wide range of levels of depression. Although there are outward symptoms a great deal of the diagnosis is based on patient self report...much like pain.
Market size: The entire population, virtually everyone displays some of the symptoms of depression at some time (as the Zoloft commercial says we all feel a little down at times.) Plus, the patient, once on antidepressants must take them the rest of his/her life. Excellent potential volume and long term sales.

So, strictly from a profit standpoint, which drug makes the most sense to pursue? Ones that have clear symptoms and limited markets or a drug for a condition that is hard to determine with a huge market...with a lifetime of use?

Hmmmm. So, you make the choice...

Of course, one would hope that someone at a pharmaceutical company might be more concerned about ethics and health, than just profits...but then maybe I am just a dreamer.

How does the saying go, "Just follow the money..."

Monday, February 8, 2010

Being a Professor

I was sitting in my office at the university, trying to prepare for my new semester of classes. In reality, I was looking out the window and watching the snowflakes drift to the ground. It is amazing the patterns they make as they fall. It is especially fulfilling since my office is on the third floor and the wind currents are much more interesting. Its a good thing that I have a window by my allows me to be more easily distracted. I rationalize this by telling people that the window allows me to ponder the great truths of life.

In actuality I was wondering why it is that every year I revise my courses rather than take the easy way out and just teach the same thing. I am sure that must say something about me, but I am not sure what. Perhaps I should go ask a psychologist...heavens no, I can't do that. You know what I always tell my therapy students? Going to see a therapist is at one extreme like receiving a warm hug and at the other extreme like hiking up a steep mountain trail with someone poking you in the back with a stick every few steps! And usually it is more like the stick in the back...but for some reason we know we need to get up the mountain, so in some strange way we are thankful for the poke in the keeps us motivated. And that stick in the back sort of like that itch we can't stop scratching.

As I pondered this question of the ages my email made the little "ping" sound that I had received a message. A little window popped up and I did not recognize the sender. It used to be that the phone would ring and I would have to answer it. But now hardly anyone calls anymore and that is probably good. Email allows me to see who is trying to reach me and then I can decide if I want to respond now, later or not at all. The problem with the phone is that, at best, you may know who is calling, but you don't know what they are calling about. It could be something interesting, or it could be your which case you always let the call go to voice mail. Email gives us many more options and ways to avoid responding to people...avoiding and procrastinating...isn't technology great!

Since I did not recognize the person who sent me the message I was curious enough to open it gave me another excuse to not do my work preparing my courses. The note said something about how they were referred to me by a friend of a friend who has a relative who works with me. I hate it when people do that and they don't even say who these people are. I am sure that one day a stock broker from New York call bank will send me an email with that same excuse for writing.

Of course this person just wanted to know if she could talk to me on the phone since she was told that I was "the only one who could help her." She also said that her situation was urgent and somehow involving a legal matter of some sort. The legal thing got my attention since I have been involved with a number of cases involving law and counseling over the years. I waited a few more minutes and decided that that calling her would at the very least allow me to procrastinate even further and there really were no down I called.

When I called I got voice mail...of course. Even diversions from work have voice mail now! I left a message saying that I was responding to her message.

Within minutes I received a call back. And boy did she have a story to tell...definitely worth my time and efforts...and a little ego boost too. It was a very involved tale and I may be able to help...boy the life of a college professor is a never ending adventure...

Being a professor also allows me at times to help people who cannot afford to pay for help...and that is a very fulfilling part of my life. This one was an issue that always gets my attention