There, it happened again. Maureen was certain, now, that she wasn't really part of this team. Every time she offered her perspective on anything, they would listen politely and then continue on as if she had said nothing. Everything she said landed with a plop, so she decided to just sit quietly and endure.
Plopping is a dangerous practice. When we plop the contributions of others, we risk alienating them, and we risk losing access to whatever they do have of value.
A reasonable model of most group discussion is a series of sequential contributions, possibly overlapping in time or concept. When we make a contribution, we feel validated when it's acknowledged in some way, positively or negatively. Approving comments, extensions, expressions of disagreement, differences of opinion, counterexamples, and even disparaging remarks carry various degrees of validation. Even negative acknowledgments let us know that people did listen.
Plopping is a
dangerous practice —
we alienate the
people we plopSometimes a contribution is ignored completely — it plops. No following contributions refer to it; the group is utterly silent with respect to it. When this happens, we can feel rejected and frustrated because we have a seat at the table, but nothing more.
When our contributions plop, we tend to make a meaning about the plop that threatens our self-esteem. Although plopping a colleague's comment can be a deliberate act of rudeness, it can also be a result of failing to understand, or inattention, or confusion, or even distraction. Plopping has so many causes that it's difficult to conclude that insult was the motivation.
What can you do about plopping?
- Connect your comments to the comments of others
- Start your comment with "I agree with what Jen says, and I'd extend it a bit…" If we all did this, there would be no plopping at all, and the discussion would be more coherent.
- Be aware of biases
- Perhaps you've formed an opinion about someone on the basis of past performance, gender, past ill feelings, or other factors unrelated to the discussion content. Since biases can predispose us to plopping, awareness of our biases helps us avoid it.
- Don't try to unplop your own comments
- When one of our comments plops, some of us try to force the conversation back to it, to unplop it. This rarely works. The more you do this, the more irritated the group becomes.
- Offer related contributions
- Unrelated contributions are plop bait. Unless your comment is clearly relevant to the discussion, some people tend to see it as an attempt to score by redirecting the discussion. The more competitive people in the group might even intentionally plop your contribution. Sometimes, they'll even cut off those who try to build on it.
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With gratitude to the pizza crew at Consultants' Camp 2003 and especially to Pat Sciacca and Nynke Fokma.
Although plopping is usually disrespectful, it can be a useful tool when dealing with blowhards.
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More articles on Workplace Politics:
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- Maxims and rules make life simpler by eliminating decisions. And they have a price: they sometimes foreclose
options that would have worked better than anything else. Here are some things we believe in maybe a
little too much.
- Allocating Airtime: II
- Much has been said about people who don't get a fair chance to speak at meetings. We've even devised
processes intended to more fairly allocate speaking time. What's happening here?
- Meets Expectations
- Many performance management systems include ratings such as "meets expectations," "exceeds
expectations," and "needs improvement." Many find the "meets" rating demoralizing.
- Critical Communications
- From time to time, we're responsible for sending critical communications — essential messages
that the intended recipients must have. It's a heavy responsibility that can bear some risk. A strategy
for managing those risks involves three messages.
- Hidden Missions
- When you meet people who seem unfit for their jobs, think carefully before asking yourself why they
aren't replaced immediately. It's possible that they're in place because they're fulfilling hidden missions.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming October 5: Downscoping Under Pressure: I
- When projects overrun their budgets and/or schedules, we sometimes "downscope" to save time and money. The tactic can succeed — and fail. Three common anti-patterns involve politics, the sunk cost effect, and cognitive biases that distort estimates. Available here and by RSS on October 5.
- And on October 12: Downscoping Under Pressure: II
- We sometimes "downscope" projects to bring them back on budget and schedule when they're headed for overruns. Downscoping doesn't always work. Cognitive biases like the sunk cost effect and confirmation bias can distort decisions about how to downscope. Available here and by RSS on October 12.
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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.