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:
- Devious Political Tactics: Divide and Conquer, Part I
- While most leaders try to achieve organizational unity, some do use divisive tactics to maintain control,
or to elevate performance by fostering competition. Understanding the risks of these tactics can motivate
you to find another way.
- Nasty Questions: II
- In meetings, telemeetings, and email we sometimes ask questions that aren't intended to elicit information.
Rather, they're indirect attacks intended to advance the questioner's political agenda. Here's part
two of a catalog of some favorite tactics.
- What Insubordinate Non-Subordinates Want: I
- When you're responsible for an organizational function, and someone not reporting to you won't recognize
your authority, or doesn't comply with policies you rightfully established, you have a hard time carrying
out your responsibilities. Why does this happen?
- More Limitations of the Eisenhower Matrix
- The Eisenhower Matrix is useful for distinguishing which tasks deserve attention and in what order.
It helps us by removing perceptual distortion about what matters most. But it can't help as much with
some kinds of perceptual distortion.
- Pariah Professions: I
- In some organizations entire professions are held in low regard. Their members become pariahs to some
people in the rest of the organization. When these conditions prevail, organizational performance suffers.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming October 17: Overt Belligerence in Meetings
- Some meetings lose their way in vain attempts to mollify a belligerent participant who simply will not be mollified. Here's one scenario that fits this pattern. Available here and by RSS on October 17.
- And on October 24: Conversation Irritants: I
- Conversations at work can be frustrating even when everyone tries to be polite, clear, and unambiguous. But some people actually try to be nasty, unclear, and ambiguous. Here's Part I of a small collection of their techniques. Available here and by RSS on October 24.
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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.