Minefield? Hardly.

The realm of human relationships in the workplace is supposedly just such a place.

But it isn’t. In a minefield you don’t know where the explosive devices are buried. You don’t even know any are buried there until someone steps on one.

In the workplace, though, if you don’t know where every mine is buried by now, you haven’t been paying attention. Just in case:

> Physical contact. A handshake is the limit. If you think your colleague really needs a hug, you might be right. Needing one from you, though, is another matter. Unless you’re absolutely certain a hug from you would be welcome, keep it verbal, not physical.

> Repeated, unwanted attention. It’s a myth that one employee can’t ask another employee out for a date because that might constitute unwanted attention. The fact of the matter is, nobody on the offering side of the equation can know if their attention is wanted until it’s offered. Have you asked and been turned down? Now you know. Don’t ask again.

> Any hint of romantic intentions in a power relationship. Power = compulsion whether intended or not, and it isn’t okay no matter what signals you think you’re receiving.

> Overt sexual attention: Don’t. If you find this surprising, or you disagree, you need more help than KJR can give you.

> Any hint of tribal disparagement. If you sincerely believe a racial, ethnic, political, or religious group has undesirable characteristics, you’re welcome to your belief. You aren’t welcome to express it. The same goes for your thoughts about human genders and what they’re like. You also aren’t allowed to express your thoughts in the form of a joke — no matter how funny you’re sure it is — or to use pejorative identifiers in conversation, or to use “Jew” as a verb.

> Don’t call grown women “girls.” If you’re a guy, it’s demeaning. If you’re a woman, you’re encouraging guys to call them girls.

> Anger mismanagement. We in the workforce are human beings, not robots … at least, not yet. Any of us, in a given circumstance, might find ourselves afflicted with TSD (tantrum spectrum disorder). People who suffer from TSD express their unhappiness on a scale that has rage at one end and annoyance or irritation at the other. Except that if the expression is anywhere beyond irritation it’s the people around us who suffer.

That’s about it. Except that it isn’t, because everything above this paragraph is about what you shouldn’t do. Which is fine and useful if you want to avoid running afoul of Human Resources, which surprisingly enough tends to get these about right in most organizations and circumstances.

But … and this is, if you’ll forgive the expression, a big but … while the above advice keeps you out of trouble and the company out of court, it has nothing to do with career success.

Quite the opposite, if you focus your attention on staying out of trouble you’ll ignore the factor that, more than any other, determines your professional success: how well you manage your interpersonal relationships.

If you’ve read the KJR Manifesto (Keep the Joint Running: A Manifesto for 21st Century Information Technology, and if you haven’t … seriously? What’s wrong with you?) … if you’ve read it you understand the two ironclad relationship rules: Relationships Precede Process and Relationships Outlive Transactions. That is, no business process can survive distrust among those responsible for making it work. And very few battles are worth winning if they do serious damage to your working relationship with the people you’re battling with.

I know people who think “being professional” means keeping their personalities in abeyance, sharing nothing of themselves with their teammates, and in general doing their best impression of Commander Spock, only without the hand gesture and “live long and prosper” expression of goodwill.

If this is you … if you think you have to rein it in so far that nobody knows who you are and what you’re really thinking and feeling … it’s time for a re-think. There certainly are times and situations where Spockism is the best choice you have. In particular, when those around you are becoming increasingly excitable, the contrast alone will serve you in good stead.

Also, see TSD, above: If you find yourself sliding beyond irritation to exasperation and beyond, Vulcanizing yourself is just the ticket.

But for day-to-day interactions with your staff, managers, and peers, strong positive relationships are far superior to neutral ones.

So be a person. Not only will it make you more successful, it will make your days more pleasant as well.

From The Hollow Men:

Our dried voices, when

We whisper together

Are quiet and meaningless

As wind in dry grass

Or rats’ feet over broken glass

In our dry cellar …

This is the way the world ends, not with a bang but a whimper.”

– T.S. Eliot

Assume, for a moment, that the world we want to live in can’t exist without freedoms and democratic institutions that in turn depend on informed citizens.

If you agree this is an essential precondition for a desirable society then you also have to agree we all need trustworthy sources of information.

Not just sources we trust. That comes later. First they have to be trustworthy.

I first wrote about the need for trusted information providers and how the Internet exacerbates the challenge of recognizing them more than two decades ago in InfoWorld (read “Trusted Information Providers,” 3/17/1997, although I didn’t draw the proper distinction between trusted and trustworthy.)

There isn’t yet a Trusted Information Provider seal, but we’ve reached the point where we need one desperately — not only as citizens but in our roles as IT and business managers and professionals. As evidence, I offer “Hoax attempts against Miami Herald augur brewing war over fake, real news,” (Tim Johnson, McClatchy DC Bureau, 2/24/2018).

Briefly, an Internet imposter posed as Alex Harris, a Miami Herald reporter. The imposter issued offensive tweets spoofed so Mr. Harris appeared to be their source. Another imposter, or possibly the same one, created a phony and equally offensive Miami Herald story by Mr. Harris, using screen shots indistinguishable from legitimate Miami Herald articles, and distributed them through Twitter and Snapchat.

I can think of only three reasons someone might do this. (1) They might be taking advantage of our increasing tribalism to discredit those on the other side of the issue being reported on. (2) They might be trying to discredit the mainstream media by making it appear to be disgusting. Or, (3) they might be going a step further, fostering distrust of any information we read because we can never trust that the source is who or what it claims to be.

Their motivations don’t really matter, though. The inevitable outcome is to further increase our tribalism and to contribute to the increasing distrust of the sources of information we’re accustomed to relying on.

When I first wrote about the need for a Trusted Information Provider certification body I was thinking in terms of whether a given information provider adhered to trustworthy information gathering and vetting practices.

The stakes are higher now. We need some means for validating that the information we encounter does come from its purported source.

For general news I can offer a short-term solution: Stop getting any of it from the Internet. It’s easy to fake up a page that looks like the source is CNN, Fox, or any major online newspaper. It’s much harder, not to mention more expensive, to print a fake newspaper and distribute it to hundreds of thousands of doorsteps.

Which in turn isn’t as hard as hijacking a cable channel to send out truly fake news.

But that doesn’t solve the problem. In your professional life you also rely on information providers. Only there’s a very good chance you have no print publications available to you. No matter your field … IT, marketing, finance and accounting, human resources, or what have you, printed magazines are as it were, pretty much yesterday’s news.

And it isn’t just general-purpose trade publications that are at risk. Think about information publishers like Gartner and Forrester. If you receive information from them you receive it electronically.

And if you receive it electronically it can be counterfeited.

We need something that reverses the usual order of things. If you subscribe to, for example, the Washington Post, you occasionally have to log in — to authenticate yourself so as to have access to the information it publishes.

What we need is a reliable mechanism for Trusted Information Providers to authenticate themselves to us.

I once helped a client become PCI compliant. The company was owned and managed by members of a tightly knit community. So when the time came to institute background checks, the CEO was incensed. “Background? I know my employees’ parents and grandparents! I was there when a lot of them were born! I’m a guest at their weddings! Why do I need background checks?”

When we were all truly tribal, proving you were who you said you were took no more effort than showing your face.

Not anymore.

Now, proof of identity just might be the central challenge of our age.