Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 1, Issue 33;   August 15, 2001:

When All Your Options Are Bad

by

Last updated: January 17, 2021

When you have several options, and all seem politically risky, what can you do? Here are two guidelines to finding your way to a good outcome.

Ken was thrilled to be named lead for the HumongoCorp job. But thrill turned to chill as he scanned the email from HumongoCorp's CIO, Margo: Oscar would be leading their side of the effort. Trouble was, Oscar wasn't qualified to lead a project of this scale — he wasn't even qualified to lead a dog on a walk.

When no path seems safe,
take two steps: find more options
and then favor those options
that offer the most choices
Ken was certain that Oscar would be a problem for the project, but if he objected to Oscar, he risked offending Margo by questioning her judgment, and he might even lose the account. If he kept quiet, and if Oscar bungled the assignment, he risked disaster, and Ken might later be dinged for withholding his reservations about Oscar.

To Ken, all options seemed risky. You've probably been there yourself now and then. When no path seems safe, what can you do? Two steps: find more options and then favor those options that offer the most choices. Generating more options is easier if you look at every option you have and ask, "How can I change this to avoid what I'm afraid might happen?"

A variety of fruit choicesKen's options were either to accept Oscar and pray, or to express his reservations to Margo. To find more options, Ken faced what he most feared: that Oscar's participation could sink the project. He wanted to talk to Margo about this risk in a way that she could accept as a genuine expression of concern. So he decided to explain his reservations to Margo, and to ask her how soon she could replace Oscar.

This gave Margo a chance to replace Oscar on Ken's verbal request — Ken's preferred outcome. If she declined to replace him, he would say something like, "OK, I understand, and I hope you understand that I have to put my recommendations into writing. Look them over, and if you change your mind, let me know. Meanwhile, you have my word that I'll do my best to make this work." This step presents Margo with a problem of her own. If the project stumbles, and Ken's recommendation is in writing, Margo might have to answer either "Why didn't you replace Oscar?" or "Why did you replace Oscar?" If Margo quietly replaces Oscar very early, on Ken's verbal recommendation, these questions are less likely to arise. So above all, she doesn't want a written request from Ken. Ken had expanded his options by looking at the downside, modifying his approach to limit his risk and expand both his and Margo's choices.

Here's some homework. Perhaps the way your boss manages you creates real stress for you. You feel unappreciated, even abused. Your choices now are to continue to experience stress, or quit and look for a job. How can you expand your choices? Go to top Top  Next issue: Declaring Condition Red  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? rbrenhZLYrRMtUnyjppRsner@ChacotqZAFalhYTBMgJWoCanyon.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:

Benjamin FranklinPractice Positive Politics
Politics is a dirty word at work, as elsewhere. We think of it as purely destructive, often distorting decisions and leading the organization in wrong directions. And sometimes, it does. Politics can be constructive, though, and you can help to make it so.
Hiding from the truthThe High Cost of Low Trust: II
Truly paying attention to Trust at work is rare, in part, because we don't fully appreciate what distrust really costs. Here's Part II of a little catalog of how we cope with distrust, and how we pay for it.
Armando Galarraga, pitcher for the Detroit Tigers baseball team, pitching on July 25, 2010When Your Boss Conveys Misinformation
When your boss misspeaks — innocently, as opposed to deviously — what should you do? Corrections are not always welcome, but failing to offer corrections can be equally dangerous. How can you tell what to do?
Monarch butterfly (top) and Viceroy (bottom)Deceptive Communications at Work
Most workplace communication training emphasizes constructive uses of communication. But when we also understand how communication can be abused, we're better able to defend ourselves from abusive communication. One form of abusive communication is deception.
Stones: many, many stones.Stone-Throwers at Meetings: I
One class of disruptions in meetings includes the tactics of stone-throwers — people who exploit low-cost tactics to disrupt the meeting and distract all participants so as to obstruct progress. How do they do it, and what can the meeting chair do?

See also Workplace Politics and Problem Solving and Creativity for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

stacks of gold coinsComing January 27: Cost Concerns: Comparisons
When we assess the costs of different options for solving a problem, we must take care not to commit a variety of errors in approach. These errors can lead to flawed decisions. One activity at risk for error is comparing the costs of two options. Available here and by RSS on January 27.
A vial of COVID-19 vaccineAnd on February 3: Cost Concerns: Bias
When we consider the costs of problem solutions too early in the problem-solving process, the results of comparing alternatives might be unreliable. Deferring cost concerns until we fully understand the problem can yield more options and better decisions. Available here and by RSS on February 3.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenhZLYrRMtUnyjppRsner@ChacotqZAFalhYTBMgJWoCanyon.com or (650) 787-6475, 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 500-1000 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.

Bullet Points: Mastery or Madness?

DecisBullet Point Madnession-makers in modern organizations commonly demand briefings in the form of bullet points or a series of series of bullet points. But this form of presentation has limited value for complex decisions. We need something more. We actually need to think. Briefers who combine the bullet-point format with a variety of persuasion techniques can mislead decision-makers, guiding them into making poor decisions. 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 Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
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!
Join the Organizational Politics Group at LinkedIn.comJoin the Office Politics, Workplace Politics and Organizational Politics discussion group at LinkedIn.com, the premier professional networking Web site.
101 Tips for Managing ConflictFed up with tense, explosive meetings? Are you the target of a bully? Learn how to make peace with conflict.
Reader Comments About My Newsletter
A sampling:
  • Your stuff is brilliant! Thank you!
  • You and Scott Adams both secretly work here, right?
  • I really enjoy my weekly newsletters. I appreciate the quick read.
  • A sort of Dr. Phil for Management!
  • …extremely accurate, inspiring and applicable to day-to-day … invaluable.
  • More
52 Tips for Leaders of Project-Oriented OrganizationsAre your project teams plagued by turnover, burnout, and high defect rates? Turn your culture around.
Ebooks, booklets and tip books on project management, conflict, writing email, effective meetings and more.
Comprehensive collection of all e-books and e-bookletsSave a bundle and even more important save time! Order the Combo Package and download all ebooks and tips books at once.
If your teams don't yet consistently achieve state-of-the-art teamwork, check out this catalog. Help is just a few clicks/taps away!