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:
- Dealing with Org Chart Age Inversions
- What happens when you learn that your new boss is younger than you are? Or when the first two applicants
you interview for a position reporting to you are ten years older than you are? Do you have a noticeable
reaction to org chart age inversions?
- Obstructionist Tactics: I
- Teams and groups depend for their success on highly effective cooperation between their members. If
even one person is unable or unwilling to cooperate, the team's performance is limited. What tactics
do obstructors use?
- The Politics of Lessons Learned
- Many organizations gather lessons learned — or at least, they believe they do. Mastering the political
subtleties of lessons learned efforts enhances results.
- Before You Blow the Whistle: I
- When organizations know that they've done something they shouldn't have, or they haven't done something
they should have, they often try to conceal the bad news. When dealing with whistleblowers, they can
be especially ruthless.
- Staying in Abilene
- A "Trip to Abilene," identified by Jerry Harvey, is a group decision to undertake an effort
that no group members believe in. Extending the concept slightly, "Staying in Abilene" happens
when groups fail even to consider changing something that everyone would agree needs changing.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming April 24: Big, Complicated Problems
- Big, complicated problems can be difficult to solve. Even contemplating them can be daunting. But we can survive them if we get advice we can trust, know our resources, recall solutions to past problems, find workarounds, or as a last resort, escape. Available here and by RSS on April 24.
- And on May 1: Full Disclosure
- The term "full disclosure" is now a fairly common phrase, especially in news interviews and in film and fiction thrillers involving government employees or attorneys. It also has relevance in the knowledge workplace, and nuances associated with it can affect your credibility. Available here and by RSS on May 1.
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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.