Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 17, Issue 30;   July 26, 2017: Strategic Waiting

Strategic Waiting

by

Last updated: August 8, 2018

Time can be a tool. Letting time pass can be a strategy for resolving problems or getting out of tight places. Waiting is an often-overlooked strategic option.
Probably not the kind of waiting we have in mind here

Probably not the kind of waiting we have in mind here. The kind of waiting we see in the photo is probably not strategic. Strategic waiting is inherently patient.

Sometimes waiting is the strategy of choice. Waiting can lead to the best outcome for all concerned, or if you aren't concerned for all, it can lead to the best outcome for you. Strategic waiting isn't procrastination. It isn't simply enduring the passage of time until whatever is happening (or not yet happening) stops happening (or starts). Strategic waiting is a choice to achieve favorable results, or to increase the chances of favorable results, by exploiting the passage of time.

In past issues, I've discussed several examples of strategic waiting in different situations. Here's a collection plus a couple more.

Take time to prepare your response to bullying
Most bullies know far more about bullying than their targets know about responding to bullying. When preparing to finally respond to the abuse, a common error targets make is to respond before they're really ready. Waiting to respond while making full preparations is a smart strategy. See "Biological Mimicry and Workplace Bullying," Point Lookout for March 31, 2010, for more.
Make space for others to volunteer
Usually, voluntarily taking responsibility for an unpleasant or risky task is appreciated. But volunteering is wise only if the degree of appreciation is in proportion to the risk or unpleasantness of the task. When in doubt, consider waiting to see if someone else volunteers. See "The Power of Situational Momentum," Point Lookout for February 24, 2010, for more.
Wait to accumulate solid evidence
When contemplating filing a complaint about someone's behavior or performance, be certain that you have a solid, documented case. Waiting for evidence to accumulate to a sufficient level is wise. See "The Power of Situational Momentum," Point Lookout for February 24, 2010, for more.
Solve problems with time
Creativity Strategic waiting is a choice
to achieve favorable results,
or to increase the chances of
favorable results, by exploiting
the passage of time
happens even when we aren't trying. Sometimes, setting a problem aside for a while is all that's required for generating the insight that opens the path to a solution. Waiting for your brain to work on the problem, in the background, can be a useful strategy. See "The Shower Effect: Sudden Insights," Point Lookout for January 25, 2006, for more.
Some problems vanish when solutions present themselves from unexpected sources, but that's more likely to happen if you give it a little time. And some problems are never resolved, but with time, resolving them can become unimportant or even irrelevant.
Let trouble be a lesson
Some people, groups, or organizations need to learn important lessons. For whatever reason, they don't heed warnings however sincere they might be. Waiting for a small example of the trouble foretold can be an effective means of changing minds, if the example is small enough to prevent major damage, but big enough to focus those minds.
Express opinions at the right time
When expressing an opinion sufficiently divergent from what most believe, prepare for opposition and rejection. That's acceptable. But if you express such opinions often enough, opposition and rejection happen independent of the opinion expressed. To limit this risk, wait for the group to move toward your view just a bit before expressing your view. Too much divergence, too consistently, erodes your credibility even if your views are usually valid.

How to use some of these waiting tactics might not be obvious. Give it time. Go to top Top  Next issue: Linear Thinking Bias  Next Issue

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See also Problem Solving and Creativity and Conflict Management for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

The Leonard P. Zakim Bunker Hill BridgeComing September 25: Planning Disappointments
When we plan projects, we make estimates of total costs and expected delivery dates. Often these estimates are so wrong — in the wrong direction — that we might as well be planning disappointments. Why is this? Available here and by RSS on September 25.
Samples of bubble wrapAnd on October 2: Start Anywhere
Group problem-solving sessions sometimes focus on where to begin, even when what we know about the problem is insufficient for making such decisions. In some cases, preliminary exploration of almost any aspect of the problem can be more helpful than debating what to explore. Available here and by RSS on October 2.

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