Not everything is what it seems. Take questions, for example. When we ask questions, we're usually seeking answers. Sometimes, though, the questioner already knows the answer. A teacher's question might guide a student to a discovery. A prosecutor's question might induce a witness to reveal inconsistencies in prior testimony. Even when we know the answer, the answer might still be the point of the question.
But there are times when the asker is more interested in the behavior of the person questioned than in the answer he or she provides. At work, we don't usually think about behavioral assessment, because we do it so intuitively. But what if someone asks a question with behavioral assessment in mind?
Here is Part I of a collection of suggestions to help you prepare for such questions. I refer to the Asker as "Alpha" and the Target of the question as "Tango." By a coin flip, I determined that Alpha is female and Tango male.
- If the question is ambiguous…
- Does Tango answer directly, making assumptions to resolve the ambiguities? Or does he notice the ambiguities and ask for clarification?
- Alpha could be trying to determine whether Tango has the nerve to request clarification. But if Tango is too careful — if he seems wary — Alpha might interpret that wariness as an attempt at concealment. Does Tango know how to ask for clarification without seeming wary?
- If the question uses arcane vocabulary…
- When Tango doesn't understand the question, does he try to conceal his confusion, or does he admit to confusion, and ask for clarification?
- Admitting confusion or ignorance can be difficult, especially in settings in which knowledge and sophistication are valued. Is Tango confident enough in his abilities that he can acknowledge his limitations?
- If it contains erroneous assumptions…
- When There are times when the asker
of a question is more interested
in the behavior of the person
questioned than in the answer
he or she providesthe question presupposes something Tango knows is false, does he offer a correction? Or does he deliver a tactful response that conceals whether or not he noticed the error?
- If Tango chooses to conceal that he noticed the error, this ploy tells Alpha about his acting (or poker-playing) abilities. If he addresses the error, his response shows her how skillfully he can present the correction without offending her. This technique is also useful for determining Tango's level of expertise. Can he spot the error? Is he confident enough to offer a correction?
- If it's couched in inappropriate language…
- If Alpha uses inappropriate language, or displays bigotry, does Tango let it slide, or does he object? How strong or how direct is his objection?
- Does Tango exhibit nerve and integrity? If Alpha is a superior, does Tango let that cow him? If Tango objects, how deftly does he manage it?
We'll continue next time with examples of tactics that are a little more hostile. Next in this series Top Next Issue
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More articles on Workplace Politics:
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- Some employees deliver performance episodically, while some deliver steady, but barely adequate performance.
Either way, they keep their managers drained and anxious, on the "knife edge" of terminating
them. How can you detect knife-edge performers, and what can you do about them?
- Dismissive Gestures: II
- In the modern organization, since direct verbal insults are considered "over the line," we've
developed a variety of alternatives, including a class I call "dismissive gestures." They
hurt personally, and they harm the effectiveness of the organization. Here's Part II of a little catalog
of dismissive gestures.
- How to Avoid a Layoff: Your Situation
- These are troubled economic times. Layoffs are becoming increasingly common. Here are some tips for
positioning yourself in the organization to reduce the chances that you will be laid off.
- Active Deceptions at Work
- Among the vast family of workplace deceptions, those that involve presenting fiction as reality are
among the most exasperating, because we sometimes feel fooled or gullible. Lies are the simplest example
of this type, but there are others, and some are fiendishly clever.
- Time to Let Go of Plan A
- We had a plan. It was a good one. Our plan seemed to work for a while. But then troubles began. And
now things look very bleak. But people can't let go of the plan. For some teams in this situation, there
isn't a Plan B. For others, Plan B is a secret.
See also Workplace Politics and Effective Communication at Work for more related articles.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
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- Most workplace collaborations produce results of value. But some collaborations — pseudo-collaborations — are inherently incapable of producing value, due to performance management systems, or lack of authority, or lack of access to information. Available here and by RSS on June 14.
- And on June 21: Asking Burning Questions
- When we suddenly realize that an important question needs answering, directly asking that question in a meeting might not be an effective way to focus the attention of the group. There are risks. Fortunately, there are also ways to manage those risks. Available here and by RSS on June 21.
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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.
- Wikipedia has a nice article with a list of additional resources
- Some public libraries offer collections. Here's an example from Saskatoon.
- Check my own links collection
- LinkedIn's Office Politics discussion group