Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 6, Issue 50;   December 13, 2006: Managing Pressure: Communications and Expectations

Managing Pressure: Communications and Expectations

by

Pressed repeatedly for "status" reports, you might guess that they don't want status — they want progress. Things can get so nutty that responding to the status requests gets in the way of doing the job. How does this happen and what can you do about it? Here's Part I of a little catalog of tactics and strategies for dealing with pressure.
The 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo

The 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo. Photo courtesy U.S. NASA.

Just as Les was about to answer Anna, his desk phone rang. He glanced at the caller ID, looked up at Anna, and said, "It's him again. Should I answer?" He knew what she would say.

"Yeah," she said. "He probably knows we're here."

Les picked up the handset. "Yeah," he said. Nobody used Hello for internal calls anymore.

Anna couldn't hear much, but she didn't need to. The caller was their boss, and he was probably asking for yet another briefing before the review the next afternoon. The conversation went on for a while, until Les looked up at Anna.

"Three PM OK with you?"

Anna nodded. Les said "OK" into the phone and put the handset back in its cradle. Hello was already gone, and Good-Bye was well on its way.

He turned to Anna. "That's lucky," he said sarcastically. "We're just so bored here sitting around doing nothing."

They both laughed, but it wasn't funny.

When projects falter,
demands for status
and explanations
escalate
When projects falter, demands for status and explanations escalate. Sometimes satisfying these requests interferes with the work, but at least we can understand why people worry. What's more puzzling is how this happens to projects that aren't in trouble.

Perceptions of an absence of progress usually drive such concerns. Here's Part I of a catalog of strategies for managing pressure by enhancing perceptions of progress. See "Managing Pressure: The Unexpected," Point Lookout for December 20, 2006, and "Managing Pressure: Milestones and Deliveries," Point Lookout for December 27, 2006, for more.

Choose names carefully
If a particular task encountered serious trouble in a previous project, re-using its name in a current project invites people to use their past experiences in assessing current risks.
Ironically, we often do better the second time around. Choose names that are relatively free of negative baggage.
When in trouble, don't talk — deliver
When there's little new to demonstrate, project leaders sometimes resort to words to convey a sense of progress. But during extended intervals between demonstrations of new capability, words interfere with perceptions of progress.
Because demonstrating new capability frequently does help, reschedule to provide something useful as soon as possible.
Short schedules help perceptions
Long schedules undermine perceptions of progress. This phenomenon appears to be psychological in origin, and it applies wherever customers have to wait for what they really want.
Schedule projects to complete as fast as possible. If necessary, decompose a large project into a sequence (or a partially parallel set) of smaller projects. The effectiveness of this approach might be one reason why agile methods are so popular, because they call for frequent deliveries of useful functionality.

Managing perceptions isn't just politics. Since pressure is usually counterproductive, these strategies can truly benefit your projects. I'll say more next time, but I'll pause here because I want to send this part to you as soon as possible. Go to top Top  Next issue: Managing Pressure: The Unexpected  Next Issue

Micromanagement is a common source of pressure. For insights on micromanagers and micromanaging, see "When Your Boss Is a Micromanager," Point Lookout for December 5, 2001; "There Are No Micromanagers," Point Lookout for January 7, 2004; "Are You Micromanaging Yourself?," Point Lookout for November 24, 2004; and "How to Tell If You Work for a Nanomanager," Point Lookout for March 7, 2007.

303 Secrets of Workplace PoliticsIs every other day a tense, anxious, angry misery as you watch people around you, who couldn't even think their way through a game of Jacks, win at workplace politics and steal the credit and glory for just about everyone's best work including yours? Read 303 Secrets of Workplace Politics, filled with tips and techniques for succeeding in workplace politics. More info

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenFfrJarBNdzLBzALmner@ChacQNrBEIRzuvHiiphvoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.

About Point Lookout

Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.

Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.

Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.

Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.

Related articles

More articles on Workplace Politics:

CornThe "What-a-Great-Idea!" Trap
You just made a great suggestion at a meeting, and ended up with responsibility for implementing it. Not at all what you had in mind, but it's a trap you've fallen into before. How can you share your ideas without risk of getting even more work to do?
Robert F. Scott and three of his party arrive at a tent left by Roald Amundsen near the South PoleManaging Non-Content Risks: I
When project teams and their sponsors manage risk, they usually focus on those risks most closely associated with the tasks — content risks. Meanwhile, other risks — non-content risks — get less attention. Among these are risks related to the processes and politics by which the organization gets things done.
RaspberriesHuman Limitations and Meeting Agendas
Recent research has discovered a class of human limitations that constrain our ability to exert self-control and to make wise decisions. Accounting for these effects when we construct agendas can make meetings more productive and save us from ourselves.
Nez Perce ceremonial shirtExasperation Generators: Irrelevant Detail
When people relate stories at work, what seems important to one person can feel irrelevant to someone else. Being subjected to one irrelevant detail after another can be as exasperating as being told repeatedly to get to the point. How can we find a balance?
Two hermit crabs in their snail shellsThe Perils of Limited Agreement
When a group member agrees to a proposal, even with conditions, the group can move forward. Such agreement is constructive, but there are risks. What are those risks and what can we do about them?

See also Workplace Politics, Conflict Management and Managing Your Boss for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

The United States curling team at the Torino Olympics in 2006Coming November 22: Motivation and the Reification Error
We commit the reification error when we assume, incorrectly, that we can treat abstract constructs as if they were real objects. It's a common error when we try to motivate people. Available here and by RSS on November 22.
A human marionetteAnd on November 29: Manipulators Beware
When manipulators try to manipulate others, they're attempting to unscrupulously influence their targets to decide or act in some way the manipulators prefer. But some targets manage to outwit their manipulators. Available here and by RSS on November 29.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenjeJdhwIiPylfUjqTner@ChacqeVJJsjFfcLyTTPioCanyon.com or (617) 491-6289, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.

Get the ebook!

Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:

Reprinting this article

Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Public seminars

Ten Project Management Fallacies: The Power of Avoiding Hazards
Most Ten Project Management Fallaciesof what we know about managing projects is useful and effective, but some of what we know "just ain't so." Identifying the fallacies of project management reduces risk and enhances your ability to complete projects successfully. Even more important, avoiding these traps can demonstrate the value and power of the project management profession in general, and your personal capabilities in particular. In this program we describe ten of these beliefs. There are almost certainly many more, but these ten are a good start. We'll explore the situations where these fallacies are most likely to expose projects to risk, and suggest techniques for avoiding them. Read more about this program. Here's a date for this program:

The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
Many The Power Affect: How We Express Personal Powerpeople who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Follow me at Google+ or share a post Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
Please donate!The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
21st Century Business TravelAre your business trips long chains of stressful misadventures? Have you ever wondered if there's a better way to get from here to there relaxed and refreshed? First class travel is one alternative, but you can do almost as well (without the high costs) if you know the tricks of the masters of 21st-century e-enabled business travel…

Beware any resource that speaks of "winning" at workplace politics or "defeating" it. You can benefit or not, but there is no score-keeping, and it isn't a game.

303 Secrets of Workplace PoliticsIs every other day a tense, anxious, angry misery as you watch people around you, who couldn't even think their way through a game of Jacks, win at workplace politics and steal the credit and glory for just about everyone's best work including yours? Read 303 Secrets of Workplace Politics!
303 Tips for Virtual and Global TeamsLearn how to make your virtual global team sing.
My free weekly email newsletter gives concrete tips and suggestions for dealing with the challenging but everyday situations we all face.
A Tip A DayA Tip a Day arrives by email, or by RSS Feed, each business day. It's 20 to 30 words at most, and gives you a new perspective on the hassles and rewards of work life. Most tips also contain links to related articles. Free!
101 Tips for Effective MeetingsLearn how to make meetings more productive — and more rare.
Exchange your "personal trade secrets" — the tips, tricks and techniques that make you an ace — with other aces, anonymously. Visit the Library of Personal Trade Secrets.