A project manager — call him George — once asked me about guiding a team in making tough decisions. Senior management had informed George that they had rejected his team's recommendation, opting instead for an idea the team felt was unworkable. George couldn't convince the managers of their error, and they'd told him to "Make it so."
Fearing the team would go ballistic if he told them the news, and not wanting to command them, George told the team the issue was still open, and asked them to rethink it, hoping to nudge the discussion in the "right" direction.
He asked me what I thought. (What do you think?)
Although George's plan might "work," it's ethically questionable, because it deprives the team of important information. Unless they come to the "right" answer, they're headed for trouble. He's also concealing the difference between their perspective and management's. If the team knew about that difference, they might pursue some other course, such as approaching one or more managers privately to have a candid conversation.
And if George's ploy is ever uncovered, his relationships with the team members could be irreparably harmed.
George infringed the team's "freedom to see and hear what is here" — one of Virginia Satir's Five Freedoms, introduced last time. In my view, that infringement makes his action unethical. Here are the last three of Satir's Five Freedoms, with applications to influencing others.
- The freedom to feel what one feels, instead of what one ought
- When we try to control another's feelings, we're probably over the line. Shaming others for feeling what they feel — or for feeling at all — is a common way to violate this freedom. Phrases such as "Don't get all in a tizzy about this," or "Relax and hear me out," are indicators (perhaps) of these attempts.
- Suppressing feelings doesn't eliminate them, but it does distort them, which limits our ability to use them constructively.
- The freedom to ask for what one wants, instead of always waiting for permission
- Constraining what Telling people, "Don't get
all in a tizzy about this,"
is one way to infringe
their freedom to feel
what they feelpeople can ask for is one way to infringe this freedom. People also try to constrain how others make requests, in what forum, to whom or how often. And we can find instances of retribution for having made requests.
- Groups that constrain this freedom deny themselves legitimate ways of learning about resource deficits and other organizational problems.
- The freedom to take risks in one's own behalf, instead of choosing to be only "secure" and not rocking the boat
- Killing the messenger is one way to deter people from taking risks in their own behalf, but we can also do it by imposing a heavy burden of strictly enforced policies. Because problem-solving organizations thrive best when they form partnerships with their people, limiting personal risk-taking harms both the individual and the organization.
Sometimes we infringe the freedoms of others unintentionally, outside our awareness. Moving slowly leaves time to think. Pause. Check out what you're doing. If you're in a gray area, look first for another path. First in this series Top Next Issue
Is 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
See "Never, Ever, Kill the Messenger," Point Lookout for November 7, 2001, for more about killing the messenger.
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More articles on Workplace Politics:
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- Prudent risk management begins by accepting the possibility that unpleasant events might actually happen.
But when organizations try to achieve goals that are a bit out of reach, they're often tempted to stretch
resources by revising or denying risks. Here's a tactic for managing risk revision.
- Management Debt: I
- Management debt, like technical debt, arises when we choose paths — usually the lowest-cost paths
— that lead to recurring costs that are typically higher than alternatives. Why do we take on
management debt? How can we pay it down?
- Behavioral Indicators of Political Risk
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of possible trouble are the behaviors of the people around you.
- The Discontinuity Effect: What and Why
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interactions. Why does counterproductive competition happen?
- Unethical Coordination
- When an internal department or an external vendor is charged with managing information about a large
project, a conflict of interest can develop. That conflict presents opportunities for unethical behavior.
What's the nature of that conflict, and what ethical breaches can occur?
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming February 8: Kerfuffles That Seem Like Something More
- Much of what we regard as political conflict is a series of squabbles commonly called kerfuffles. They captivate us while they're underway, but after a month or two they're forgotten. Why do they happen? Why do they persist? Available here and by RSS on February 8.
- And on February 15: Four Razors for Organizational Behavior
- Deviant organizational behavior can harm the people and the organization. In choosing responses, we consider what drives the perpetrators. Considering Malice, Incompetence, Ignorance, and Greed, we can devise four guidelines for making these choices. Available here and by RSS on February 15.
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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.