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:
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happen? Start with a focus on you.
- 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
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- The Risky Role of Hands-On Project Manager
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conflicts of interest.
- Kinds of Organizational Authority: the Formal
- A clear understanding of Power, Authority, and Influence depends on familiarity with the kinds of authority
found in organizations. Here's Part I of a little catalog of authority classes.
- Fooling Ourselves
- Humans have impressive abilities to convince themselves of things that are false. One explanation for
this behavior is the theory of cognitive dissonance.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming August 22: Dealing with Credit Appropriation
- Very little is more frustrating than having someone else claim credit for the work you do. Worse, sometimes they blame you if they get into trouble after misusing your results. Here are three tips for dealing with credit appropriation. Available here and by RSS on August 22.
- And on August 29: Please Reassure Them
- When things go wildly wrong, someone is usually designated to investigate and assess the probability of further trouble. That role can be risky. Here are three guidelines for protecting yourself if that role falls to you. Available here and by RSS on August 29.
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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.