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:
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indirectly can be a safe way — sometimes the only safe way — to preserve or restore
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- Intentionally Misreporting Status: II
- When we report the status of the work we do, we sometimes confront the temptation to embellish the good
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ambition, and self-delusion.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming December 6: Off-Putting and Conversational Narcissism at Work: III
- Having off-putting interactions is one of four themes of conversational narcissism. Here are seven behavioral patterns that relate to off-putting interactions and how abusers use them to control conversations. Available here and by RSS on December 6.
- And on December 13: Contrary Indicators of Psychological Safety: I
- To take the risks that learning and practicing new ways requires, we all need a sense that trial-and-error approaches are safe. Organizations seeking to improve processes would do well to begin by assessing their level of psychological safety. Available here and by RSS on December 13.
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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.