Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 17, Issue 34;   August 23, 2017: Look Where You Aren't Looking

Look Where You Aren't Looking

by

Being blindsided by an adverse event could indicate the event's sudden, unexpected development. It can also indicate a failure to anticipate what could have been reasonably anticipated. How can we improve our ability to prepare for adverse events?
September 11, 2001 attacks in New York City

September 11, 2001 attacks in New York City: View of the World Trade Center and the Statue of Liberty. Photo by U.S. National Park Service, courtesy Wikimedia.

When adverse events occur, whether personal or work-related, surprise or shock or emotional paralysis are common reactions. Along with the pain, a meta-pain can appear. We think, "I knew that could happen," or "How could I have let myself fall for that again?" or "Why wasn't I ready for that?" In a usually vain attempt to alleviate the meta-pain, we blame others, relieving ourselves of responsibility for being unprepared.

Clever, perhaps, but meta-pain often persists. Setting the incident aside and moving on might feel better in the short run, but doing so bypasses an opportunity to learn how to look where you aren't looking.

An example: Over coffee, you and Chris, a colleague, are discussing problems you both have managing Evan. He's usually late to meetings, and frequently unprepared. You ask Chris for advice. She asks for details, which seems reasonable. You provide details. Next day, Evan's supervisor Ilene calls, asking why you're complaining about Evan to others, instead of bringing the problem to Ilene's attention.

You could have asked Chris for confidentiality, which you did not. You could have adjourned to a more private place for the discussion, which you did not. Neither measure would have provided complete safety, but both would have been prudent.

This is a minor example of a mildly adverse event. A little care would likely have prevented it, but some adverse events are beyond controlling. How can we be better prepared for adverse events? Ask yourself:

"What don't I like to think about?"
Knowing what you're averse to considering helps in overcoming the aversion. Some dislike thinking that people they trust might violate confidences. Some dislike pondering complex situations cloaked in uncertainties. Some dislike secrecy or needing privacy for delicate conversations.
Denying Denying what you must consider, just
because you dislike considering it,
doesn't reduce its importance.
what you must consider, just because you dislike considering it, doesn't reduce its importance. Either find a path to acceptance, or find a new situation in which such things are less significant.
"What preparations don't I like to make?"
Having accounted for the necessary considerations, the next step is preparing for eventualities. That entails accepting that adverse events might occur. Some find it comforting to ignore the necessity of preparation.
Denying the need to take steps doesn't reduce the need to take steps. Noticing denial is often enough to end it.
"What might I lose if I prepare?"
Some believe that thinking about adverse events causes them.
While a positive attitude can indeed improve one's performance, merely considering what can go wrong need not make for a negative attitude, because adopting a negative attitude takes extra effort. Truly preparing for hardship is possible only if there is determination to make things go right.

We can't foretell the future, but of one thing we can be certain: an adverse event will happen. What are you prepared to do about it? Go to top Top  Next issue: They Just Don't Understand  Next Issue

303 Secrets of Workplace PoliticsIs every other day a tense, anxious, angry misery as you watch people around you, who couldn't even think their way through a game of Jacks, win at workplace politics and steal the credit and glory for just about everyone's best work including yours? Read 303 Secrets of Workplace Politics, filled with tips and techniques for succeeding in workplace politics. More info

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Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

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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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The form of workplace bullying perhaps most often observed involves a bully and a target. Other forms are less obvious. One of these, bullying by proxy, is especially difficult to control, because it so easily evades most anti-bullying policies. Available here and by RSS on October 19.

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