Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 6, Issue 6;   February 8, 2006:

Ten Tactics for Tough Times: II

by

When you find yourself in a tough spot politically, what can you do? Most of us obsess about the situation for a while, and then if we still have time to act, we do what seems best. Here's Part II of a set of approaches that can organize your thinking and shorten the obsessing.
An aircraft armament technician pushes a 500-pound toolbox to an A-10 at Whiteman Air Force Base

Airman 1st Class Cameron Wheatley, 442nd Fighter Wing Aircraft Maintenance Squadron aircraft armament technician, pushes a 500-pound toolbox to an A-10 at Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri, Dec. 17, 2013. U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Nick Wilson.

Workplace politics is an amorphous mystery to many of us, in part because we lack some simple tools. Here's Part II of a little catalog of ten widely applicable tactics. See "Ten Tactics for Tough Times: I," Point Lookout for February 1, 2006, for more.

Am I solving the right problem?
Even if you solve the problem, your solution might not be useful unless you solve the right problem.
A risk of this tactic is inappropriately assuming responsibility for problem definition. Focus only on the portion of the problem definition space that truly is yours.
What's the smallest piece I can usefully address?
Often what looks unitary from afar is actually composite close up. Once you get into it, you can clearly see its separate parts.
When you can finally discern the pieces, focus on the easy parts. If one of them feels like a good fit, go for it.
Can I get help?
Often what looks
unitary from afar
is actually composite
close up
Asking for help can be difficult if we feel that asking for help is a sign of weakness. Some like the feeling of independence that comes with control, even if that sense of control is an illusion. See "Are You Taking on the Full Load?," Point Lookout for February 6, 2002, and "Heavy Burdens: Should, Always, Must, and Never," Point Lookout for February 27, 2002, for more.
When ownership of a problem is joint with others, all owners must work together. And even when you own the problem fully, addressing it might be beyond your capability. Ask for help when you need it.
What kind of help would help?
Difficult problems are difficult, in part, because the tools we do know about haven't worked. And when we don't know about something we need, it's hard to ask for it.
When you feel lost, ask someone what kind of help would help. Check in with a mentor, a coach, a colleague, or a friend.
Can I confront?
If the problem results from the actions of another, we sometimes feel the urge to escalate, to force our partners to change what they're doing. But escalation can be dangerous because it might harm the relationship.
Here are two alternatives. First, tell your partner what you want. Explain first what problems you face that might be visible only to you. Alternatively, and even less confrontational — ask for what you want. One possible risk of these tactics: they reveal that you know what's happening, and this knowledge might be used against you.
What do I already know?
Remembering what you already know is perhaps your most important tool. Sadly, under stress, remembering anything can be very difficult.
I remind myself by breathing. It slows me down and clears my mind, probably because oxygen is an aid to clear thinking.

Some of these ten tactics might fit for you. Some might not. Some might almost fit. Select, adjust, and add your own. Go to top Top  Next issue: Nepotism, Patronage, Vendettas, and Workplace Espionage  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

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See also Workplace Politics, Problem Solving and Creativity and Managing Your Boss for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

A possibly difficult choiceComing April 21: Choice-Supportive Bias
Choice-supportive bias is a cognitive bias that causes us to evaluate our past choices as more fitting than they actually were. The erroneous judgments it produces can be especially costly to organizations interested in improving decision processes. Available here and by RSS on April 21.
Two people engaged in pair collaborationAnd on April 28: The Self-Explanation Effect
In the learning context, self-explanation is the act of explaining to oneself what one is learning. Self-explanation has been shown to increase the rate of acquiring mastery. The mystery is why we don't structure knowledge work to exploit this phenomenon. Available here and by RSS on April 28.

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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.

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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!
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