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:
- Devious Political Tactics: Divide and Conquer, Part I
- While most leaders try to achieve organizational unity, some do use divisive tactics to maintain control,
or to elevate performance by fostering competition. Understanding the risks of these tactics can motivate
you to find another way.
- Organizational Loss: Searching Behavior
- When organizations suffer painful losses, their responses can sometimes be destructive, further harming
the organization and its people. Here are some typical patterns of destructive responses to organizational
- When Your Boss Conveys Misinformation
- When your boss misspeaks — innocently, as opposed to deviously — what should you do? Corrections
are not always welcome, but failing to offer corrections can be equally dangerous. How can you tell
what to do?
- On Badly Written Email
- Even those who aren't great writers do occasionally write clearly, just by chance. But there are some
who consistently produce unintelligible email messages. Why does this happen?
- That Was a Yes-or-No Question: I
- In tense situations, one person might question another. As the respondent replies, the questioner interjects,
"That was a yes-or-no question." The intent is to trap the respondent. How does this work,
and how can the respondent escape the trap?
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming July 3: Appearance Antipatterns: II
- When we make decisions based on appearance we risk making errors. We create hostile work environments, disappoint our customers, and create inefficient processes. Maintaining congruence between the appearance and the substance of things can help. Available here and by RSS on July 3.
- And on July 10: Barriers to Accepting Truth: I
- In workplace debates, a widely used strategy involves informing the group of facts or truths of which some participants seem to be unaware. Often, this strategy is ineffective for reasons unrelated to the credibility of the person offering the information. Why does this happen? Available here and by RSS on July 10.
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- The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
- Many people 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.
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.