Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 7, Issue 22;   May 30, 2007: Snares at Work

Snares at Work

by

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.

A snare is a trap in which the force that keeps the victim trapped comes from the victim. Not all traps are snares. The classic bear trap isn't a snare, because it holds the victim by the force of a spring. An example of a snare is the (possibly apocryphal) "monkey trap."

An organization can become
ensnared when it is so
involved in maintaining
its current business that
it overlooks newer, and much
larger opportunities
In one version, you place a heavy narrow-mouthed container on the ground, and insert a sweet-smelling nut as bait. The monkey reaches in to grab the nut, but can't withdraw its fist, which is now too big to pull out. Unwilling to release the nut, the monkey is trapped. This is a snare because it is the monkey's own action that traps it.

Snares can be attractive, repulsive, or both. Attraction snares tempt the victim, who is ensnared by continued effort to attain the bait. Repulsion snares are just the opposite — the victim is ensnared by fear, and continued efforts to avoid the threat. Combination snares contain both bait and threat, which we usually call "incentives" and "disincentives."

The Rindge Dam, in Malibu Canyon, California

The Rindge Dam, in Malibu Canyon, California, is an example of a snare that's both attractive and repulsive. Completed in 1926, the dam was intended to control floods and conserve water for the Rindge Ranch, operated at the time by May Knight Rindge. These purposes were the attraction or incentive component of this snare. By 1950, however, the reservoir had largely filled with silt. It no longer serves its intended purpose, and the Rindge Ranch no longer exists. Reopening the stream would give habitat access to steelhead trout and other native species, and would increase silt flow to rebuild Malibu Beach. But it would require the relocation of upwards of one million cubic yards (cubic meters) of silt, removal of all or part of the dam, and according to the Malibu Creek Watershed Council, an estimated $5 to $40 million dollars. These efforts and costs are the repulsive parts, or disincentives, of the snare. Meanwhile, the dam has remained in place, essentially useless, for 50 years. Photo courtesy Malibu Complete.

One common repulsion snare is the sense that we can't cancel an effort because we have too much invested already. Eventually, we might complete the effort, but the cost can be so high that the net value returned is negative.

Repulsion snares can also arise from feelings. For instance, even thinking about failures can be painful, but unless we do, we can't learn from them. Here the snare consists of our own feelings about failure. It can prevent many organizations from holding retrospectives, which dooms them to repeat preventable failures.

An attraction snare can arise when an organization fails to exploit a new technology because it's excessively committed to an existing technology. For instance, many have argued that the US railroads failed to move into air transportation because they were ensnared by the rail passenger businesses they were already operating.

Attraction snares also work on people. "Golden handcuffs," a common element of retention strategies, uses the bait of inordinate financial rewards to persuade people to stay in positions perhaps longer than would otherwise be in their best interest. The bait often consists of stock options, but while those options vest, other factors set in: family, community, increasing age, aging of their expertise, and so on. Snared at first by the promise of disproportionate financial reward, employees can become ensnared in their jobs by these external factors.

Snares are obvious when you're not snared; they're much less so when you are. Look around you for snared colleagues and organizations. When you find one, ask yourself if you might already be ensnared in a similar way. Realizing that you're snared is the first step to finding your way out. Often, all you have to do is let go of the nut. Go to top Top  Next issue: Hostile Collaborations  Next Issue

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? rbrenThSoADahPmvgMafhner@ChacpBwZHBIOPArTyyAOoCanyon.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:

Beatty Pennsylvania broad axTop Ten Signs of a Blaming Culture
The quality of an organization's culture is the key to high performance. An organization with a blaming culture can't perform at a high level, because its people can't take reasonable risks. How can you tell whether you work in a blaming culture?
The Roman ColosseumDevious Political Tactics: Divide and Conquer, Part I
While most leaders try to achieve organizational unity, some do use divisive tactics to maintain control, or to elevate performance by fostering competition. Understanding the risks of these tactics can motivate you to find another way.
Captain William BlighHow to Tell If You Work for a Nanomanager
By now, we've all heard of micromanagers, and some have experienced micromanagement firsthand. Some of us have even micromanaged others. But there's a breed of micromanagers whose behavior is so outlandish that they need a category of their own.
Comparison of energy consumption of compact fluorescent bulbs with incandescent bulbsWhat Insubordinate Non-Subordinates Want: II
When you're responsible for an organizational function, and someone not reporting to you won't recognize your authority, or doesn't comply with policies you rightfully established, you have a hard time carrying out your responsibilities. Why does this happen?
An egg sandwichThe Power and Hazards of Anecdotes: I
Anecdotes are short stories — sometimes just a single sentence. They're powerful tools of persuasion, but they can also be dangerous, to both anecdote tellers and anecdote listeners.

See also Workplace Politics and Critical Thinking at Work for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

Five almondsComing October 25: Workplace Memes
Some patterns of workplace society reduce organizational effectiveness in ways that often escape our notice. Here are five examples. Available here and by RSS on October 25.
Terminal 3 of Beijing Capital International AirportAnd on November 1: Risk Creep: I
Risk creep is a term that describes the insidious and unrecognized increase in risk that occurs despite our every effort to mitigate risk or avoid it altogether. What are the dominant sources of risk creep? Available here and by RSS on November 1.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenVLqwtCIQNhlKICkhner@ChacaNZQXcQntoNdIOCmoCanyon.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.
Workplace Politics Awareness Month KitIn October, increase awareness of workplace politics, and learn how to convert destructive politics into creative politics. Order the Workplace Politics Awareness Month Kit during October at the special price of USD 29.95 and save USD 10.00! Includes a copy of my tips book 303 Secrets of Workplace Politics which is a value!! ! Check it out!

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.