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:
- Stalking the Elephant in the Room: I
- The expression "the elephant in the room" describes the thought that most of us are thinking,
and none of us dare discuss. Usually, we believe that in avoidance lies personal safety. But free-ranging
elephants present intolerable risks to both the organization and its people.
- The Politics of the Critical Path: II
- The Critical Path of a project is the sequence of dependent tasks that determine the earliest completion
date of the effort. We don't usually consider tasks that are already complete, but they, too, can experience
the unique politics of the critical path.
- No Tangles
- When we must say "no" to people who have superior organizational power, the message sometimes
fails to get across. The trouble can be in the form of the message, the style of delivery, or elsewhere.
How does this happen?
- Deep Trouble and Getting Deeper
- Here's a catalog of actions people take when the projects they're leading are in deep trouble, and they're
pretty sure there's no way out.
- Allocating Airtime: I
- The problem of people who dominate meetings is so serious that we've even devised processes intended
to more fairly allocate speaking time. What's happening here?
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming April 15: Incompetence: Traps and Snares
- Sometimes people judge as incompetent colleagues who are unprepared to carry out their responsibilities. Some of these "incompetents" are trapped or ensnared in incompetence, unable to acquire the ability to do their jobs. Available here and by RSS on April 15.
- And on April 22: Intentionally Misreporting Status: I
- When we report the status of the work we do, we sometimes confront the temptation to embellish the good news or soften the bad news. How can we best deal with these obstacles to reporting status with integrity? Available here and by RSS on April 22.
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- Bullet Points: Mastery or Madness?
Decision-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.
Here are some dates for this program:
- 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.