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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See also Workplace Politics, Problem Solving and Creativity and Managing Your Boss for more related articles.
Forthcoming Issues of Point Lookout
- Coming January 28: The Limits of Status Reports: Part II
- We are not completely free to specify the content or frequency of status reports from the people who write them. There are limits on both. Here's Part II of an exploration of those limits. Available here and by RSS on January 28
- And on February 4: Bottlenecks: Part I
- Some people take on so much work that they become "bottlenecks." The people around them repeatedly find themselves stuck, awaiting responses or decisions. Why does this happen and what are the costs? Available here and by RSS on February 4
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