You're in a meeting. Your boss is talking about something you know a lot about. Your boss doesn't know it, but she's conveying misinformation. What would you do:
- Correct your boss before she does real damage
- Sit quietly and let her dig the hole deeper; or
- Let her go for a while. Then comment, "Actually, I think there might be an update on that," or some other gentle way to offer a correction.
If you answered (1), (2), or (3), you could be in trouble, because there's no right answer. The choice that works best — the least bad choice — depends on you, your boss, the other people in the conversation, and on your relationships. What works well in one situation doesn't necessarily work well in another.
There is no one best way.
We'd all like to believe that a straightforward, honest, open offer to amend what the boss is saying should be acceptable. In a perfect world, it might be. But since most of us don't work in a perfect world, how can you tell what to do?
Option (1) is an example of what works well in open systems. The straightforward, content-focused approaches work well when the relationships support them, when everyone is comfortable with that level of openness, and when everyone has agreed in advance to operate this way.
Option (2) is an example of what can happen in closed systems, where safety is available only by exercising the utmost care. Systems in these configurations exact a high price in vigilance on the people who work within them. People must be constantly aware of a long list of behaviors that others regard as injurious or hurtful. The system suffers as a result. Effort that could otherwise be allocated to furthering organizational goals must instead be spent on attending to interpersonal wariness. The problem can become so severe that the system can actually become dysfunctional.
Option (3) We'd all like to believe that a
straightforward, honest, open
offer to amend what the boss is
saying should be acceptable.
In a perfect world,
it might be.is an example from a middle category between the open and closed systems. This category is the one most likely to apply to the typical work group. In these systems, some openness is possible, but the messages that are delivered so directly in open systems must be carefully encased in almost ritualized exteriors that communicate high levels of respect and care. These exterior messages are designed to make the recipient realize that the interior content is not a threat to the status of the recipient. Beware, though, because even the most tactfully delivered correction messages can trigger the backfire effect.
To determine what kind of approach to take, decide first what kind of system you're in. Closed? Open? In between? If you're in an open system, it's usually obvious to all. If you can't even discuss the concept of openness, you're in a closed system. If you just aren't sure, you're probably in between. Top Next Issue
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More articles on Workplace Politics:
- More Stuff and Nonsense
- Some of what we believe is true about work comes not from the culture at work, but from the larger culture.
These beliefs are much more difficult to root out, but sometimes just a little consideration does help.
Here are some examples.
- The Deck Chairs of the Titanic: Task Duration
- Much of what we call work is as futile and irrelevant as rearranging the deck chairs of the
Titanic. We continue our exploration of futile and irrelevant work, this time emphasizing behaviors
that extend task duration.
- Before You Blow the Whistle: II
- When organizations become aware of negligence, miscalculations, failures, wrongdoing, or legal infractions,
they often try to conceal the bad news. People who disagree with the concealment activity sometimes
decide to reveal what the organization is trying to hide. Here's Part II of our catalog of methods used
to suppress the truth.
- Suppressing Dissent: I
- In some groups, disagreeing with the majority, or disagreeing with the Leader, can be a personally expensive
act. Here is Part I of a set of tactics used by Leaders who choose not to tolerate dissent.
- 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.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming October 5: Downscoping Under Pressure: I
- When projects overrun their budgets and/or schedules, we sometimes "downscope" to save time and money. The tactic can succeed — and fail. Three common anti-patterns involve politics, the sunk cost effect, and cognitive biases that distort estimates. Available here and by RSS on October 5.
- And on 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.
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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.