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.
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More articles on Workplace Politics:
- There Are No Micromanagers
- If you're a manager who micromanages, you're probably trying as best you can to help your organization
meet its responsibilities. Still, you might feel that people are unhappy — that whatever you're
doing isn't working. There is another way.
- More Stuff and Nonsense
- Some of what we believe is true about work comes not from the culture at work, but from the larger culture.
These beliefs are much more difficult to root out, but sometimes just a little consideration does help.
Here are some examples.
- How to Undermine Your Boss
- Ever since I wrote "How to Undermine Your Subordinates," I've received scads of requests for
"How to Undermine Your Boss." Must be a lot of unhappy subordinates out there. Well, this
one's for you.
- Group Problem-Solving Tangles
- When teams solve problems together, discussions of proposed solutions usually focus on combinations
of what the solution will do, how much it will cost, how long it will take, and much more. Disentangling
these threads can make discussions much more effective.
- The Deck Chairs of the Titanic: Obvious Waste
- Among the most futile and irrelevant actions ever taken in crisis is rearranging the deck chairs of
the Titanic, which, of course, never actually happened. But in the workplace, we engage in activities
just as futile and irrelevant, often outside our awareness. Recognition is the first step to prevention.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming November 27: Implicit Interrogations
- Investigations at work can begin with implicit interrogations — implicit because they're unannounced and unacknowledged. The goal is to determine what people did or knew without revealing that an investigation is underway. When asked, those conducting these interrogations often deny they're doing it. What's the nature of implicit interrogations? Available here and by RSS on November 27.
- And on December 4: Implicit Interrogation Tactics
- When one person tries surreptitiously to extract information from another at work, an implicit interrogation is taking place. Here are seven tactics that people use to interrogate others without revealing what they're doing. Available here and by RSS on December 4.
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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.