When people say (or don't say) things, or do (or don't do) things, we make meaning out of what we observe. Our observations are inherently incomplete, because we don't know what's actually happening for other people. Usually, this ignorance does no harm. If we're wrong, the mistakes are often inconsequential, or clarification comes quickly enough to avert trouble.
But when we have strong reactions to our interpretations of others' behavior, we might easily hurt others or ourselves, because we tend to respond quickly. There's little time for clarification in advance, and even when clarification eventually arrives, we can be so wound up that we can't take it in.
Strong reactions indicate that it's time to slow down. Here are some insights about our interpretations and how they can be wrong.
- People aren't WYSIWIG
- Some text editor software is called "WYSIWYG," because What You See Is What You Get. Most people aren't WYSIWIG — what you see isn't always what you get. People don't usually reveal all of what's happening for them, and some rarely reveal any of what's happening for them.
- Concealing feelings is a social skill
- Have you not, at times, concealed your true feelings? We all can, and we all do, occasionally, with varying degrees of success. Indeed, in some situations, civility and politeness actually require that we conceal our feelings. And some people are so skillful at concealment that we have no idea how skillful they really are.
- Styles and abilities differ
- When people choose to conceal or dissemble, some adopt a cool, content-free affect that communicates very little. Others learn to communicate only the messages they choose to communicate, by carefully controlling voice tone, facial expressions and body language. People vary in their willingness and ability to present to the outer world something that differs from their inner world.
- Concealment and dissembling are equally confusing
- Some feel more comfortable concealing their feelings than they do feigning feelings they don't have. Some feel more comfortable
concealing their feelings
than they do feigning
feelings they don't haveTo them, feigning feels less ethical, more like lying. But to observers, there is little difference. When someone's outsides don't match their insides, confusion reigns.
- For some, concealing or dissembling is part of the job
- People in highly visible positions must learn how to control the messages they send through their behavior. If they don't control those messages, the people around them gain important advantages. And since highly visible people have large numbers of people around them, yielding those advantages can interfere with their job performance. If they aren't — or don't become — skillful concealers or skillful dissemblers, their jobs are at risk.
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
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More articles on Workplace Politics:
- The Costs of Threats
- Threatening as a way of influencing others might work in the short term. But a pattern of using threats
to gain compliance has long-term effects that can undermine your own efforts, corrode your relationships,
and create an atmosphere of fear.
- On Noticing
- What we fail to notice about any situation — and what we do notice that isn't really there —
can be the difference between the outcomes we fear, the outcomes we seek, and the outcomes that exceed
our dreams. How can we improve our ability to notice?
- When the Answer Isn't the Point: II
- Sometimes, when we ask questions, we're more interested in eliciting behavior from the person questioned,
rather than answers. Here's Part II of a set of techniques questioners use when the answer to the question
wasn't the point of asking.
- Narcissistic Behavior at Work: III
- People who behave narcissistically tend to regard themselves as special. They systematically place their
own interests and welfare ahead of anyone or anything else. In this part of the series we consider how
this claimed specialness affects the organization and its people.
- Columbo Tactics: I
- When the less powerful must deal with the more powerful, or the much more powerful, the less powerful
can gain important advantages by adapting the strategy and tactics of the TV detective Lt. Columbo.
Here's Part I of a collection of his tactics.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming January 22: Disjoint Awareness: Bias
- Some cognitive biases can cause people in collaborations to have inaccurate understandings of what each other is doing. Confirmation bias and self-serving bias are two examples of cognitive biases that can contribute to disjoint awareness in some situations. Available here and by RSS on January 22.
- And on January 29: Higher-Velocity Problem Definition
- Typical approaches to shortening time-to-market for new products usually involve accelerating problem solving. Accelerating problem definition can also help. Available here and by RSS on January 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.