When people say (or don't say) things, or do (or don't do) things, we make meaning out of what we observe. Our observations are inherently incomplete, because we don't know what's actually happening for other people. Usually, this ignorance does no harm. If we're wrong, the mistakes are often inconsequential, or clarification comes quickly enough to avert trouble.
But when we have strong reactions to our interpretations of others' behavior, we might easily hurt others or ourselves, because we tend to respond quickly. There's little time for clarification in advance, and even when clarification eventually arrives, we can be so wound up that we can't take it in.
Strong reactions indicate that it's time to slow down. Here are some insights about our interpretations and how they can be wrong.
- People aren't WYSIWIG
- Some text editor software is called "WYSIWYG," because What You See Is What You Get. Most people aren't WYSIWIG — what you see isn't always what you get. People don't usually reveal all of what's happening for them, and some rarely reveal any of what's happening for them.
- Concealing feelings is a social skill
- Have you not, at times, concealed your true feelings? We all can, and we all do, occasionally, with varying degrees of success. Indeed, in some situations, civility and politeness actually require that we conceal our feelings. And some people are so skillful at concealment that we have no idea how skillful they really are.
- Styles and abilities differ
- When people choose to conceal or dissemble, some adopt a cool, content-free affect that communicates very little. Others learn to communicate only the messages they choose to communicate, by carefully controlling voice tone, facial expressions and body language. People vary in their willingness and ability to present to the outer world something that differs from their inner world.
- Concealment and dissembling are equally confusing
- Some feel more comfortable concealing their feelings than they do feigning feelings they don't have. Some feel more comfortable
concealing their feelings
than they do feigning
feelings they don't haveTo them, feigning feels less ethical, more like lying. But to observers, there is little difference. When someone's outsides don't match their insides, confusion reigns.
- For some, concealing or dissembling is part of the job
- People in highly visible positions must learn how to control the messages they send through their behavior. If they don't control those messages, the people around them gain important advantages. And since highly visible people have large numbers of people around them, yielding those advantages can interfere with their job performance. If they aren't — or don't become — skillful concealers or skillful dissemblers, their jobs are at risk.
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More articles on Workplace Politics:
- When Others Curry Favor
- When peers curry favor with the boss, many of us feel contempt, an urge for revenge, anger, or worse.
Trying to stop those who curry favor probably isn't an effective strategy. What is?
- The Attributes of Political Opportunity: The Basics
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between true opportunities and high-risk adventures. Here are some of the attributes of desirable political
- A Critique of Criticism: I
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pain, even when the giver didn't intend harm. How does this happen? What can givers of feedback do to
increase the chance that the receiver hears the giver's message without experiencing pain?
- Kinds of Organizational Authority: the Formal
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found in organizations. Here's Part I of a little catalog of authority classes.
- The End-to-End Cost of Meetings: III
- Many complain about attending meetings. Certainly meetings can be maddening affairs, and they also cost
way more than most of us appreciate. Understanding how much we spend on meetings might help us get control
of them. Here's Part III of a survey of some less-appreciated costs.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming 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.
- And on May 9: Unethical Coordination
- When an internal department or an external source is charged with managing information about a large project, a conflict of interest can develop. That conflict presents opportunities for unethical behavior. What is the nature of that conflict, and what ethical breaches can occur? Available here and by RSS on May 9.
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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.