Ten Tactics for Tough Times:
by Rick Brenner
When you find yourself in a tough spot politically, what can you do? Most of us obsess about the situation for a while, and then if we still have time to act, we do what seems best. Here's Part I of a set of approaches that can organize your thinking and shorten the obsessing.
It's the rare education that includes even one course in workplace politics. Yet for most of us, whatever career we chose, workplace politics is a part of workplace life. Some days we do well. And then there are the other days. What do you do when you face a really difficult political problem? Here's Part I of a little catalog of ten often-useful tactics. See "Ten Tactics for Tough Times: Part I," Point Lookout for February 1, 2006, for Part II.
- What problem am I solving?
- By the time most of us think about problem solving, we're already deep in, having started solving before we're sure of the problem. If this pattern is familiar, it's probably a good idea to start your thinking by asking "What problem am I solving?" Knowing where you actually are usually helps.
- After you've fully assessed the situation, you can determine what to keep doing, what to start doing, and what to stop doing.
- Is this entirely my problem?
- Sometimes we jump right into solving difficult problems without asking whether they're ours to solve, especially when we feel that the consequences of not solving the problem probably will be ours to deal with.
- Unless all of the consequences affect you, taking on the problem probably is taking on too much. Once you act, you risk gaining ownership of all the consequences, including those that wouldn't have been yours to deal with.
- What happens if I wait?
- We can't be really sure
that what we think
actually will happen
- In most cases, consequences are uncertain. We can't really be sure that what we think will happen actually will happen.
- Often, it's best to wait. Then you can deal with the consequences that are real — and those that are yours.
- Whose problem is this, anyway?
- If you've decided that the problem — or some of it — really isn't yours to solve, consider who might be the true owner or owners of the problem. Sometimes, the true owner is obvious, because they're either contending with you for solving rights, or they've run off and hid. More often, ownership is ambiguous, and determining the true owner becomes the first priority.
- A risk when using this tactic is hastily assuming ownership of the meta-problem — the problem of determining the true owner of the original problem. Step away from problems that aren't yours, and let the true owner of the meta-problem keep ownership of it.
These tactics can help, often by providing relief from the urge to address problems unnecessarily. To use them, though, you have to solve another problem first — you have to remember to use them. And that can be really difficult. We'll deal with that one next time. Top Next Issue
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More articles on Workplace Politics:
- Dismissive Gestures: Part II
- In the modern organization, since direct verbal insults are considered "over the line," we've developed a variety of alternatives, including a class I call "dismissive gestures." They hurt personally, and they harm the effectiveness of the organization. Here's Part II of a little catalog of dismissive gestures.
- More Stuff and Nonsense
- Some of what we believe is true about work comes not from the culture at work, but from the larger culture. These beliefs are much more difficult to root out, but sometimes just a little consideration does help. Here are some examples.
- Obstacles to Finding the Reasons Why
- When we investigate what went wrong, we sometimes encounter obstacles. Interviewing witnesses and participants doesn't always uncover the reasons why. What are these obstacles?
- Impasses in Group Decision-Making: Part I
- Groups sometimes find that although they cannot agree on the issue at hand in its entirety, they can agree on some parts of it. Yet, they remain stuck, unable to reach a narrow agreement before moving on to the more thorny areas. Why does this happen?
- Active Deceptions at Work
- Among the vast family of workplace deceptions, those that involve presenting fiction as reality are among the most exasperating, because we sometimes feel fooled or gullible. Lies are the simplest example of this type, but there are others, and some are fiendishly clever.
See also Workplace Politics, Problem Solving and Creativity and Managing Your Boss for more related articles.
Forthcoming Issues of Point Lookout
- Coming May 27: Compulsive Talkers at Work: Peers, Part II
- Our exploration of approaches for dealing with compulsive talkers now concludes, with Part II of a set of suggestions for what to do when peers who talk compulsively interfere with your work. Available here and by RSS on May 27.
- And on June 3: Just Make It Happen
- Many idolize the no-nonsense manager who says, "I don't want to hear excuses, just make it happen." We associate that stance with strong leadership. Sometimes, though, it's little more than abuse motivated by ambition or ignorance — or both. Available here and by RSS on June 3.
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- For most of us, making decisions is a large part of what we do at work. And we tend to believe that we make our decisions rationally, except possibly when stressed or hurried. That is a mistaken belief — very few of our decisions are purely rational. In this eye-opening yet entertaining program, Rick Brenner guides you through the fascinating world of cognitive biases, and he'll give concrete tips to help you control the influence of cognitive biases. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:
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- Town Center City Club, 222 Central Park Ave., Suite 230, Virginia Beach, VA 23462: June 3, Monthly Meeting, Hampton Roads Chapter of the Project Management Institute. Register now.
- MITRE, in Bedford, MA: October 20, Monthly Meeting, Boston SPIN. Register now.