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?
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More articles on Workplace Politics:
- What You See Isn't Always What You Get
- We all engage in interpreting the behavior of others, usually without thinking much about it. Whenever
you notice yourself having a strong reaction to someone's behavior, consider the possibility that your
interpretation has outrun what you actually know.
- On Being the Canary
- Nobody else seems to be concerned about what's going on. You are. Should you raise the issue? What are
the risks? What are the risks of not raising the issue?
- Management Debt: I
- Management debt, like technical debt, arises when we choose paths — usually the lowest-cost paths
— that lead to recurring costs that are typically higher than alternatives. Why do we take on
management debt? How can we pay it down?
- Management Debt: II
- As with technical debt, we incur management debt when we make choices that carry with them recurring
costs. How can we quantify management debt?
- Projects as Proxy Targets: II
- Most projects have both supporters and detractors. When a project has been approved and execution begins,
some detractors don't give up. Here's Part II of a catalog of tactics detractors use to sow chaos.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming April 24: Big, Complicated Problems
- 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.