Most managers face an array of undecided questions. Many issues have been open for months or years, and some have been "put to bed" repeatedly only to reawaken every time. Maintaining a heavy backlog of undecided issues requires great skill.
Here's a collection of techniques we use either to avoid engaging difficult problems, or to make such poor decisions that the issues never go away.
- Hurrying Past the Problem
- Don't waste time defining the problem. Turn over no rocks — you might find a problem that's even more difficult to deal with than the one you have.
- The Infinite Loop
- If you can't keep the issue off the agenda, you can still avoid a decision by keeping the issue on the agenda for as long as possible. Just dither, and dither, and never decide. Discuss it endlessly.
- The Detour
- After you engage the issue, develop a need for more information, advice, or resources. Delay making a decision until you've met that need.
- The High or Low Priority Interrupt
- You finally Maintaining a heavy
backlog of undecided
issues requires great skillget down to deciding something, and suddenly up pops an emergency so urgent that you have to drop what you're doing. If there are no emergencies, decide that this issue isn't pressing enough to deal with right now. Of course, it's all a ruse — you wanted to drop what you were doing.
- The Deflection
- You set out to make a decision on one issue, but another issue comes up. It takes logical precedence over the original issue, and you turn your attention to it. You forget the original issue, at least temporarily.
- The Tunnel Vision Technique
- You know what answer you want, and you take the most direct path to get there, independent of the true nature of the issue.
- Embarrassment Insurance
- If you're afraid that something embarrassing might be uncovered by a study, guide the process away from that embarrassment, and come to a conclusion as soon as possible.
- Avoiding the Undesirable
- To avoid politically undesirable approaches, exclude anyone or any topic that might lead to an open discussion of those approaches.
- Ground Hog Day
- Named for the film — make the decision, but before you implement it, open the issue again, and return to the beginning.
- Waiting for the Lone Ranger
- A search is underway for someone to fill a position that's logically responsible for this issue. It wouldn't be right to make a decision now, we'd be infringing.
- Death by Inaction
- When you've been unable to prevent a decision, you can still nullify it by undermining the implementation. It's almost as good as if you hadn't made the decision at all.
To limit these behaviors, first talk about them, and then track how often they occur. Giving them names helps us see what we're doing "in the moment." Knowing the trends in frequency of use of these ploys helps you limit their use.
The article you've been reading is an archived issue of Point Lookout, my weekly newsletter. I've been publishing it since January, 2001, free to all subscribers, over the Web, and via RSS. You can help keep it free by donating either as an individual or as an organization. You'll receive in return my sincere thanks — and the comfort of knowing that you've helped to propagate insights and perspectives that can help make our workplaces a little more human-friendly. More
Your comments are welcomeWould you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenogMhuqCxAnbfLvzbner@ChacigAthhhYwzZDgxshoCanyon.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.
This article in its entirety was written by a human being. No machine intelligence was involved in any way.
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.
More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:
- Coping and Hard Lessons
- Ever have the feeling of "Uh-oh, I've made this mistake before"? Some of these oft-repeated
mistakes happen not because of obstinacy, or stupidity, or foolishness, but because the learning required
to avoid them is just plain difficult. Here are some examples of hard lessons.
- This Is the Only Job
- You have a job. Even though you liked it once, those days are long past, and a return is improbable.
If you could, you'd hop to another job immediately, but economic conditions in your field make that
unlikely. How can you deal with this misery?
- Deciding to Change: Trusting
- When organizations change by choice, people who are included in the decision process understand the
issues. Whether they agree with the decision or not, they participate in the decision in some way. But
not everyone is included in the process. What about those who are excluded?
- Contextual Causes of Conflict: II
- Too often we assume that the causes of destructive conflict lie in the behavior or personalities of
the people directly participating in the conflict. Here's Part II of an exploration of causes that lie
- Flexible Queue Management
- In meetings of 5-30 participants, managing the queue of contributors can be challenging. A strict first-in-first-out
order can cause confusion and waste time if important contributions are delayed. Some meetings need
more flexible queue management.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming December 13: Contrary Indicators of Psychological Safety: I
- To take the risks that learning and practicing new ways require, we all need a sense that trial-and-error approaches are safe. Organizations seeking to improve processes would do well to begin by assessing their level of psychological safety. Available here and by RSS on December 13.
- And on December 20: Contrary Indicators of Psychological Safety: II
- When we begin using new tools or processes, we make mistakes. Practice is the cure, but practice can be scary if the grace period for early mistakes is too short. For teams adopting new methods, psychological safety is a fundamental component of success. Available here and by RSS on December 20.
I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenogMhuqCxAnbfLvzbner@ChacigAthhhYwzZDgxshoCanyon.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:
- Get 2001-2 in Geese Don't Land on Twigs (PDF, )
- Get 2003-4 in Why Dogs Wag (PDF, )
- Get 2005-6 in Loopy Things We Do (PDF, )
- Get 2007-8 in Things We Believe That Maybe Aren't So True (PDF, )
- Get 2009-10 in The Questions Not Asked (PDF, )
- Get all of the first twelve years (2001-2012) in The Collected Issues of Point Lookout (PDF, )
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
- 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.