Not everything is what it seems. Take questions, for example. When we ask questions, we're usually seeking answers. Sometimes, though, the questioner already knows the answer. A teacher's question might guide a student to a discovery. A prosecutor's question might induce a witness to reveal inconsistencies in prior testimony. Even when we know the answer, the answer might still be the point of the question.
But there are times when the asker is more interested in the behavior of the person questioned than in the answer he or she provides. At work, we don't usually think about behavioral assessment, because we do it so intuitively. But what if someone asks a question with behavioral assessment in mind?
Here is Part I of a collection of suggestions to help you prepare for such questions. I refer to the Asker as "Alpha" and the Target of the question as "Tango." By a coin flip, I determined that Alpha is female and Tango male.
- If the question is ambiguous…
- Does Tango answer directly, making assumptions to resolve the ambiguities? Or does he notice the ambiguities and ask for clarification?
- Alpha could be trying to determine whether Tango has the nerve to request clarification. But if Tango is too careful — if he seems wary — Alpha might interpret that wariness as an attempt at concealment. Does Tango know how to ask for clarification without seeming wary?
- If the question uses arcane vocabulary…
- When Tango doesn't understand the question, does he try to conceal his confusion, or does he admit to confusion, and ask for clarification?
- Admitting confusion or ignorance can be difficult, especially in settings in which knowledge and sophistication are valued. Is Tango confident enough in his abilities that he can acknowledge his limitations?
- If it contains erroneous assumptions…
- When There are times when the asker
of a question is more interested
in the behavior of the person
questioned than in the answer
he or she providesthe question presupposes something Tango knows is false, does he offer a correction? Or does he deliver a tactful response that conceals whether or not he noticed the error?
- If Tango chooses to conceal that he noticed the error, this ploy tells Alpha about his acting (or poker-playing) abilities. If he addresses the error, his response shows her how skillfully he can present the correction without offending her. This technique is also useful for determining Tango's level of expertise. Can he spot the error? Is he confident enough to offer a correction?
- If it's couched in inappropriate language…
- If Alpha uses inappropriate language, or displays bigotry, does Tango let it slide, or does he object? How strong or how direct is his objection?
- Does Tango exhibit nerve and integrity? If Alpha is a superior, does Tango let that cow him? If Tango objects, how deftly does he manage it?
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More articles on Workplace Politics:
- The High Cost of Low Trust: I
- We usually think of Trust as one of those soft qualities that we would all like our organizational cultures
to have. Yet, truly paying attention to Trust at work is rare, in part, because we don't fully appreciate
what distrust really costs. Here are some of the ways we pay for low trust.
- Managing Pressure: Milestones and Deliveries
- 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 III of a set of tactics
and strategies for dealing with pressure.
- When It's Just Not Your Job
- Has your job become frustrating because the organization has lost its way? Is circumventing the craziness
making you crazy too? How can you recover your perspective despite the situation?
- Managing Non-Content Risks: II
- When we manage risk, we usually focus on those risks most closely associated with the tasks at hand
— content risks. But there are other risks, to which we pay less attention. Many of these are
outside our awareness. Here's Part II of an exploration of these non-content risks, emphasizing those
that relate to organizational politics.
- Exasperation 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?
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming April 25: Narcissistic Behavior at Work: VI
- Narcissistic behavior at work distorts decisions, disrupts relationships, and generates toxic conflict. These consequences limit the ability of the organization to achieve its goals. In this part of our series we examine the effects of exploiting others for personal ends. Available here and by RSS on April 25.
- And on May 2: Narcissistic Behavior at Work: VII
- Narcissistic behavior at work prevents trusting relationships from developing. It also disrupts existing relationships, and generates toxic conflict. One class of behaviors that's especially threatening to relationships is disregard for the feelings of others. In this part of our series we examine the effects of that disregard. Available here and by RSS on May 2.
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- The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
- Many people 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.
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.