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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Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
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- 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.