Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 1, Issue 33;   August 15, 2001: When All Your Options Are Bad

When All Your Options Are Bad

by

Last updated: August 8, 2018

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? rbrenmhXARWRMUvVyOdHlner@ChacxgDmtwOKrxnripPCoCanyon.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:

A portion of the memorial to the Massachusetts 54th RegimentHow to Get Promoted in Place
Do you think you're overdue for a promotion? Many of us do, judging by the number of Web pages that talk about promotions, getting promoted, or asking for promotions. What you do to get a promotion depends on what you're aiming for.
President Barack Obama with Stevie WonderWhat You See Isn't Always What You Get
We all engage in interpreting the behavior of others, usually without thinking much about it. Whenever you notice yourself having a strong reaction to someone's behavior, consider the possibility that your interpretation has outrun what you actually know.
An actual deck chair recovered from the sunken liner TitanicThe Deck Chairs of the Titanic: Obvious Waste
Among the most futile and irrelevant actions ever taken in crisis is rearranging the deck chairs of the Titanic, which, of course, never actually happened. But in the workplace, we engage in activities just as futile and irrelevant, often outside our awareness. Recognition is the first step to prevention.
A pariah dogPariah Professions: I
In some organizations entire professions are held in low regard. Their members become pariahs to some people in the rest of the organization. When these conditions prevail, organizational performance suffers.
Two men whispering at a village festivalJudging Others
Being "judgmental" is a stance most people recognize as transgressing beyond widely accepted social norms. But what's the harm in judging others? And why do so many people do it so often?

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

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

An abandoned railwayComing August 21: Perfectionism and Avoidance
Avoiding tasks we regard as unpleasant, boring, or intimidating is a pattern known as procrastination. Perfectionism is another pattern. The interplay between the two makes intervention a bit tricky. Available here and by RSS on August 21.
A dog playing catch with a discAnd on August 28: Playing at Work
Eight hours a day — usually more — of meetings, phone calls, reading and writing email and text messages, briefing others or being briefed, is enough to drive anyone around the bend. To re-energize, to clarify one's perspective, and to restore creative capacity, play is essential. Play at work, I mean. Available here and by RSS on August 28.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenmhXARWRMUvVyOdHlner@ChacxgDmtwOKrxnripPCoCanyon.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 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Public seminars

The Race to the South Pole: Lessons in Leadership
On 14The Race to the South Pole: Lessons in Leadership December 1911, four men led by Roald Amundsen reached the South Pole. Thirty-five days later, Robert F. Scott and four others followed. Amundsen had won the race to the pole. Amundsen's party returned to base on 26 January 1912. Scott's party perished. As historical drama, why this happened is interesting enough. But to organizational leaders, business analysts, project sponsors, and project managers, the story is fascinating. We'll use the history of this event to explore lessons in leadership and its application to organizational efforts. A fascinating and refreshing look at leadership from the vantage point of history. 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 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!