Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 2, Issue 28;   July 10, 2002:

Doorknob Disclosures and Bye-Bye Bombshells

by

A doorknob disclosure is an uncomfortable, painful, or embarrassing revelation offered at the end of a meeting or conversation, usually by someone who's about to exit. When we learn about bad news in this way, we can feel frustrated and trapped. How can we respond effectively?

Just as Gene reached for the phone to call Eileen, it rang. He picked up with his usual "Morning, Gene Phillips." It was Eileen. "Gene, got a minute? I want to update you on Marigold." "Sure," he replied, "come by." As he hung up, he marveled at how often this happens — you reach for the phone to call people just as they call you.

A doorknobThis time he thought he could explain the coincidence. Marigold was in crisis, and it weighed heavily on them both. A minute later, she popped in, closed the door, and sat down at his conference table. He rolled his chair over to join her.

"So. Tell me," he said.

"It's about what we expected," she began. "Bellamy can't make the slipped date, so it's Plan C — Plan B is dead."

This was news to Gene. "Plan C?"

"There isn't one yet. We get to work it out."

"Typical," he said. They talked for a time about options, but none seemed especially wonderful. Then Eileen's pager went off — she was late for a meeting. So they decided to let it go for now, and talk tomorrow.

If we learn to deal with
doorknob disclosures,
we have more choices
and less risk of
feeling trapped
Eileen stood up to leave, stepped to the door, and grasped the knob. "Oh, and I'm thinking of moving on. I've got an offer and it's too good to pass."

Gene stared.

What Eileen did is known as a "doorknob disclosure" or "bye-bye bombshell" — an uncomfortable, painful, or embarrassing revelation offered at the end of a meeting or conversation, usually by someone who's about to exit.

Organizations also engage in doorknob disclosures. An outstanding example is the Friday layoff.

When we learn about bad news in this way, we can feel frustrated and trapped, and sometimes angry, but if we recognize a doorknob disclosure as it's happening we can make more useful choices. Here are three tips for dealing with doorknob disclosures.

Deal with fears
Perhaps the motivation for the doorknob ploy is fear or embarrassment. Explore this. You're more likely to make a constructive connection with the discloser after you first work to calm the fear.
Work from a place of mutual respect
The doorknob ploy is disrespectful, because it limits your ability to respond. Work first towards mutual respect, rather than addressing the disclosure itself.
When power is a factor, think
If the discloser has greater organizational power than you do, think carefully. Even if you get around the doorknob, the discloser might use more heavy-handed techniques to limit your freedom.

Because the doorknob ploy imposes a time constraint, it adds stress, making a good outcome unlikely if you try to deal with it immediately. Ask, "When would you like to talk about this?"

And understand that the discloser might not want to talk. Sorry to end on a down note — gotta go, I'm late for a meeting. Go to top Top  Next issue: Double Your Downsizing Damage  Next Issue

Rick BrennerThe 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 welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenXEiRBfuFHUtjHrqUner@ChacpYPvvSVhUNIOeXHKoCanyon.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 Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:

The Johari WindowAssumptions and the Johari Window: II
The roots of both creative and destructive conflict can often be traced to the differing assumptions of the parties to the conflict. Here's Part II of an essay on surfacing these differences using a tool called the Johari window.
Flourless chocolate cakeTwenty-Three Thoughts
Sometimes we get so focused on the immediate problem that we lose sight of the larger questions. Here are twenty-three thoughts to help you focus on what really counts.
The deadline at Rock Island Prison during the U.S. Civil WarIrrational Deadlines
Some deadlines are so unrealistic that from the outset we know we'll never meet them. Yet we keep setting (and accepting) irrational deadlines. Why does this happen?
Rapids in a northern streamThe Risks of Too Many Projects: I
Some organizations try to run too many development projects at once. Whether developing new offerings, or working to improve the organization itself, taking on too many projects can defocus the organization and depress performance.
The Scapegoat by William Holman Hunt (1827-1910)Red Flags: III
Early signs of troubles in collaborations include toxic conflict, elevated turnover, and anti-patterns in communication. But among the very earliest red flags are abuses of power. They're more significant than other red flags because abuses of power can convert any collaboration into a morass of destructive politics.

See also Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

A beach at sunsetComing August 4: What Are the Chances: I
When estimating the probabilities of success of different strategies, we must often estimate the probability of multiple events occurring. People make a common mistake when forming such estimates. They assume that events are independent when they are not. Available here and by RSS on August 4.
Main Reading Room of the U.S. Library of CongressAnd on August 11: Many "Stupid" Questions Aren't
Occasionally someone asks a question that causes us to think, "Now that's a stupid question." Rarely is that assessment correct. Knowing what alternative assessments are possible can help us respond more effectively in the moment. Available here and by RSS on August 11.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenXEiRBfuFHUtjHrqUner@ChacpYPvvSVhUNIOeXHKoCanyon.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!
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!