Opportunities to take action are more common than we realize, because we overlook so many of them. Among the opportunities most overlooked are the opportunities to exploit resources provided by the situation itself. I call these resources situational momentum. Here are three examples of choices that exploit situational momentum.
- Dealing with an unfavorable risk/reward ratio
- Everyone was quiet. Just as Ellen expected, James was suggesting indirectly that she be the one to deliver the bad news to the department. He didn't use her name, and he didn't even look her way, but obviously, he expected her to volunteer. She didn't want to. She would have become the ogre, and it was James's responsibility anyway.
- Instead of volunteering immediately, she waited, and to her great relief, Michael volunteered to deliver the news. Ellen's waiting exploited two resources provided by the situation: the passage of time, and the urges of others in the meeting.
- If the mission is unrewarding or risky, leaving space and time for another to take up that mission might relieve you of unwanted and undue responsibility.
- Waiting when waiting does no harm
- Warren was overloaded. As his deadline approached, Ilsa, his project manager, worried that Warren would be late with his deliverable. She considered approaching Warren's supervisor, to express her concerns.
- But there was slack in the schedule, so she decided to wait and see. Sure enough, Warren was late. When Ilsa did meet with Warren's supervisor, instead of expressing worry over what might happen, Ilsa could put forward hard evidence of Warren's overloading. Ilsa had waited for the situation to produce actual evidence.
- When you can wait, events can sometimes erase worries, or convert worries into evidence, saving you from needless anxiety.
- Avoiding a public tiff
- The meeting If the mission is unrewarding
or risky, leaving space and
time for another to take up
that mission might relieve you
of the responsibilitywas running late, but Marcus didn't care. He began relating something he'd heard from Tamra in Marketing: users found David's documentation confusing and inadequate. Marcus droned on, hinting indirectly that for the next release, David should be replaced.
- David silently steamed. For that last release, Marcus had argued that David should shift his attention to something Marcus thought more important than the documentation he was complaining about now. But David kept still, and when Marcus finished, David said, "Hmm, next time you see Tamra, ask her to drop me a note. I'd like to hear more."
- Instead of engaging with Marcus in a public tiff, David gave Marcus an action item — one he was compelled to accept because of his professed concern about quality. Eventually, Marcus might learn to convey these kinds of concerns to David privately before bringing them to public attention.
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The concept of using situational momentum is closely related to the approach based on Aiki, and explained in many sources, including The Magic of Conflict, by Thomas Crum (Order from Amazon.com). Using situational momentum is similar to what Crum calls cocreation.
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More articles on Workplace Politics:
- The Risky Role of Hands-On Project Manager
- The hands-on project manager manages the project and performs some of the work, too. There are lots
of excellent hands-on project managers, but the job is inherently risky, and it's loaded with potential
conflicts of interest.
- Durable Agreements
- People at work often make agreements in which they commit to cooperate — to share resources, to
assist each other, or not to harm each other. Some agreements work. Some don't. What makes agreements durable?
- High Falutin' Goofy Talk: III
- Workplace speech and writing sometimes strays into the land of pretentious but overused business phrases,
which I like to call "high falutin' goofy talk." We use these phrases with perhaps less thought
than they deserve, because they can be trite or can evoke indecorous images. Here's Part III of a collection
of phrases and images to avoid.
- Congruent Decision Making: II
- Decision makers who rely on incomplete or biased information are more likely to make decisions that
don't fit the reality of their organizations. Here's Part II of a framework for making decisions that fit.
- Facts, Opinions, Estimates, and Desires
- One reason why resource allocation debates can become so difficult is confusion about the differences
among facts, opinions, estimates, and desires. Clarifying their differences can reduce the length and
intensity of resource allocation debates.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming October 12: Downscoping Under Pressure: II
- We sometimes "downscope" projects to bring them back on budget and schedule when they're headed for overruns. Downscoping doesn't always work. Cognitive biases like the sunk cost effect and confirmation bias can distort decisions about how to downscope. Available here and by RSS on October 12.
- And on October 19: Bullying by Proxy: I
- The form of workplace bullying perhaps most often observed involves a bully and a target. Other forms are less obvious. One of these, bullying by proxy, is especially difficult to control, because it so easily evades most anti-bullying policies. Available here and by RSS on October 19.
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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.