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:
- Knife-Edge Performers
- 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?
- Obstructionist Tactics: I
- Teams and groups depend for their success on highly effective cooperation between their members. If
even one person is unable or unwilling to cooperate, the team's performance is limited. What tactics
do obstructors use?
- 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?
- The Perils of Novel Argument
- When people use novel or sophisticated arguments to influence others, the people they're trying to influence
are sometimes subject to cognitive biases triggered by the nature of the argument. This puts them at
a disadvantage relative to the influencer. How does this happen?
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming January 29: Higher-Velocity Problem Definition
- Typical approaches to shortening time-to-market for new products usually involve accelerating problem solving. Accelerating problem definition can also help. Available here and by RSS on January 29.
- And on February 5: Unrecognized Bullying: I
- Much workplace bullying goes unrecognized. Three reasons: (a) conventional definitions of bullying exclude much actual bullying; (b) perpetrators cleverly evade detection; and (c) cognitive biases skew our perceptions so we don't see bullying as bullying. Available here and by RSS on February 5.
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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.