Sometimes you're asked by another, "What do you need?" or "What do you need to make this work?" Recognize these questions as great gifts — most often, the asker is sincerely trying to help. Sadly, and too often, the answers we supply are self-defeating. They do lead the asker to supply what we ask for, but we ask for things that don't really help, and we fail to ask for things that would really help.
How does this happen and what can we do about it?
I've seen several different ways to supply self-defeating responses to this great gift of a question. Rather than offer a catalog, here are some guidelines for providing helpful responses.
- Know the difference between "wants" and "needs"
- Confusing what we'd like with what we actually must have can be disastrous. We can find ourselves spending goodwill and political capital reaching for non-essentials.
- A simple test to distinguish wants and needs begins with asking yourself, "If I don't get this, is the goal achievable?" If the answer is no, it's a need. If the answer is yes, then ask, "At what additional cost is the goal achievable?" The answer to that then becomes a new need.
- Know your redlines
- Once we know our needs, we usually find that some are a bit mushy. For example, we might not know how long something will take or how much it will cost, or how much mastery a candidate team member truly possesses.
- Even when needs are mushy, you probably can determine your minimum requirements — your redlines. Know your redlines and be prepared to communicate them clearly.
- Stay in your own hula-hoop
- Resisting the temptation to take on the problems of others is difficult. (See "Stay in Your Own Hula Hoop," Point Lookout for June 27, 2001) When answering the what-do-you-need question, we sometimes include the needs of others on whom we depend for our needs.
- Instead of listing others' needs, enumerate your own. Include the items you need from those others. What your suppliers need is not one of your needs. It's one of theirs.
- Respond with whats, not hows
- Problem solving Confusing what we'd like
with what we actually must
have can be disastrousis another difficult-to-resist temptation. We tend to offer what we think will be the ingredients of solutions rather than the outcomes we actually need.
- Instead, focus your answers on what you need. You can suggest ways of achieving it, and those suggestions might lead to joint problem solving — a most desirable result. But be clear about the distinction between what you need and how to get there.
Most important, practice. Before you enter the conversation, assume the best — assume that you'll receive this great gift of a question. Making up your answer on the fly might work, but it's risky. It's far better to work out your answer in advance, using these guidelines. You can begin by asking yourself this question: what do I need to practice answering the what-do-you-need question? Top Next Issue
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More articles on Workplace Politics:
- Devious Political Tactics: Credit Appropriation
- Managers and supervisors who take credit for the work of subordinates or others who feel powerless are
using a tactic I call Credit Appropriation. It's the mark of the unsophisticated political operator.
- When we offer a contribution to a discussion, and everyone ignores it and moves on, we sometimes feel
that our contribution has "plopped." We feel devalued. Rarely is this interpretation correct.
What is going on?
- Ethical Influence: II
- When we influence others as they're making tough decisions, it's easy to enter a gray area. How can
we be certain that our influence isn't manipulation? How can we influence others ethically?
- The 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
- Suppressing Dissent: II
- Disagreeing with the majority in a meeting, or in some cases, merely disagreeing with the Leader, can
lead to isolation and other personal difficulties. Here is Part II of a set of tactics used by Leaders
who choose not to tolerate differences of opinion, emphasizing the meeting context.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming 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.
- And on March 7: Narcissistic Behavior at Work: II
- Narcissistic behavior at work threatens the enterprise. People who behave narcissistically systematically place their own interests and welfare ahead of anyone or anything else. In this Part II of the series we consider the narcissistic preoccupation with superiority fantasies. Available here and by RSS on March 7.
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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.