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? rbrenscUJrQnFixvtnyGXner@ChacFcuKrbRRZEkkyNmUoCanyon.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:

Three-legged racing teamDevious Political Tactics: The Three-Legged Race
The Three-Legged Race is a tactic that some managers use to avoid giving one person new authority. Some of the more cynical among us use it to sabotage projects or even careers. How can you survive a three-legged race?
FearWhen Power Attends the Meeting
When the boss or supervisor of the chair of a regular meeting "sits in," disruption almost inevitably results, and it's usually invisible to the visitor. Here are some of the risks of sitting in on the meetings of your subordinates.
1988 Nobel Laureate Leon Lederman celebrating his eightieth birthdayPolitical Framing: Strategies
In organizational politics, one class of toxic tactics is framing — accusing a group or individual by offering interpretations of their actions to knowingly and falsely make them seem responsible for reprehensible or negligent acts. Here are some strategies framers use.
A fiddler crab, resident of the Ashepoo Combahee Edisto (ACE) Basin National Estuarine Research Reserve in South Carolina, USACommunication Traps for Virtual Teams: II
Communication can be problematic for any team, especially under pressure. But virtual teams face challenges that are less common in face-to-face teams. Here's Part II of a little catalog with some recommendations.
A section of the Rose Kennedy Greenway in Boston in 2008The Politics of the Critical Path: I
The Critical Path of a project or activity is the sequence of dependent tasks that determine the earliest completion date of the effort. If you're responsible for one of these tasks, you live in a unique political environment.

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

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

Prof. Tom PettigrewComing February 21: The Ultimate Attribution Error at Work
When we attribute the behavior of members of groups to some cause, either personal or situational, we tend to make systematic errors. Those errors can be expensive and avoidable. Available here and by RSS on February 21.
Daffodils of the variety Narcissus 'Barrett Browning'And on February 28: Narcissistic Behavior at Work: I
Briefly, when people exhibit narcissistic behavior they're engaging in activity that systematically places their own interests and welfare ahead of the interests and welfare of anyone or anything else. It's behavior that threatens the welfare of the organization and everyone employed there. Available here and by RSS on February 28.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenMeuwIaxKprHJBmsGner@ChacOtVsYojhRgwIjVYjoCanyon.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

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.
Technical Debt for Policymakers BlogMy blog, Technical Debt for Policymakers, offers resources, insights, and conversations of interest to policymakers who are concerned with managing technical debt within their organizations. Get the millstone of technical debt off the neck of your organization!

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.