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:
- Snares at Work
- Stuck in uncomfortable situations, we tend to think of ourselves as trapped. But sometimes it is our own actions that keep us stuck. Understanding how these traps work is the first step to learning how to deal with them.
- More Indicators of Scopemonging
- Scope creep — the tendency of some projects to expand their goals — is usually an unintended consequence of well-intentioned choices. But sometimes, it's part of a hidden agenda that some use to overcome budgetary and political obstacles.
- False Consensus
- Most of us believe that our own opinions are widely shared. We overestimate the breadth of consensus about controversial issues. This is the phenomenon of false consensus. It creates trouble in the workplace, but that trouble is often avoidable.
- 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?
- Pariah Professions: Part II
- In some organizations entire professions are regarded as pariahs — outsiders. They're expected to perform functions that the organization does need, but their relationships with others in the organization are strained at best. When pariahdom is tolerated, organizational performance suffers.
See also Workplace Politics, Problem Solving and Creativity and Managing Your Boss for more related articles.
Forthcoming Issues of Point Lookout
- Coming April 22: Quips That Work at Work: Part I
- Perhaps you've heard that humor can defuse tense situations. Often, a clever quip, deftly delivered, does help. And sometimes, it's a total disaster. What accounts for the difference? Available here and by RSS on April 22.
- And on April 29: Quips That Work at Work: Part II
- Humor, used effectively, can defuse tense situations. Here's Part II of a set of guidelines for using humor to defuse tension and bring confrontations, meetings, and conversations back to a place where thinking can resume. Available here and by RSS on April 29.
I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates.
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