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. 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:
- Practice Positive Politics
- Politics is a dirty word at work, as elsewhere. We think of it as purely destructive, often distorting
decisions and leading the organization in wrong directions. And sometimes, it does. Politics can be
constructive, though, and you can help to make it so.
- What Insubordinate Non-Subordinates Want: II
- When you're responsible for an organizational function, and someone not reporting to you won't recognize
your authority, or doesn't comply with policies you rightfully established, you have a hard time carrying
out your responsibilities. Why does this happen?
- Managing Non-Content Risks: II
- When we manage risk, we usually focus on those risks most closely associated with the tasks at hand
— content risks. But there are other risks, to which we pay less attention. Many of these are
outside our awareness. Here's Part II of an exploration of these non-content risks, emphasizing those
that relate to organizational politics.
- The Perils of Novel Argument
- When people use novel or sophisticated arguments to influence others, the people they're trying to influence
are sometimes subject to cognitive biases triggered by the nature of the argument. This puts them at
a disadvantage relative to the influencer. How does this happen?
- The Power and Hazards of Anecdotes: II
- Anecdotes are powerful tools of persuasion, but with that power comes a risk that we might become persuaded
of false positions. Here is Part II of a set of examples illustrating some hazards of anecdotes.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming August 22: Dealing with Credit Appropriation
- Very little is more frustrating than having someone else claim credit for the work you do. Worse, sometimes they blame you if they get into trouble after misusing your results. Here are three tips for dealing with credit appropriation. Available here and by RSS on August 22.
- And on August 29: Please Reassure Them
- When things go wildly wrong, someone is usually designated to investigate and assess the probability of further trouble. That role can be risky. Here are three guidelines for protecting yourself if that role falls to you. Available here and by RSS on August 29.
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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.