Every day, and possibly many times each day, we encounter situations in which we can choose how we respond. Often, we make the choice that seems to lead to the shortest path to our preferred outcome. Unfortunately, many of these paths have obstacles along the way that become evident only when we encounter them. In analogy to driving a car or a scooter or a motorcycle, or riding a bicycle, we choose paths that have speed bumps. Speed bumps are most noticeable when we've already driven over them. Too late then for slowing down to do any good.
The good news is that many speed bumps are avoidable, with just a little care. This post is the beginning of a little catalog of choices that might lead to better outcomes if we watch for speed bumps.
- Notify me either way
- It's risky to arrange with others to notify you (by text or voice) if X occurs, or not to notify you if Y occurs. Instead, arrange for them to notify you either way.
- One problem with no-notification-if-Y is that no notification is indistinguishable from other ways you could fail to be notified. For example, the notification text or email might not go through. Or your partner might have forgotten to tell you that X occurred. Or you might have forgotten to check your messages. Or a million other things.
- Have your partner notify you either way. Much safer.
- Make semi-permanent notes
- Important but tiny bits of information come our way all day. We commit most of them to memory — call home, send that text to the Cleveland office, jump through this or that hoop, and so on. We commit them to memory, but our memory isn't always as good as we need it to be. We err so often that the phrases "fell through the cracks," and "dropped the ball," are familiar.
- Instead of Speed bumps are most noticeable when
we've already driven over them. Too late
then for slowing down to do any good.trying to remember these numerous tiny bits of information, write them down. Key them or voice them into the notes app on your smartphone if you're fast enough. If not, write them on actual paper with an actual pen. Although a written record is more reliable than memory, you can still commit them to memory if you like. I like spiral notebooks for this purpose — steno size at my desk, or small cards when I'm moving about.
- Another advantage of committing this information to writing is that you're creating a record. You can review that record later if you need to, to resolve a mix-up, or to confirm that you did or didn't do something. And you can use the data to improve your personal process by learning to anticipate error-generating patterns that might otherwise escape notice.
- Doing nothing, at least for now, is an often-overlooked choice. Letting the situation evolve by leaving space for others to act can change things enough to open new paths forward that you might not have recognized. Or worse, your own action might have obscured paths that would have been revealed if you had waited.
- Waiting is an especially powerful move when you sense that the situation could evolve into something for which you have in mind a very workable response.
- "I agree"
- Use this simple statement to avoid several other troublesome approaches to expressing agreement. The troubled ones go something like, "Correct," or "That's right," or "True," or "100% correct." The problem with these ways of expressing agreement is that they do much more than express agreement. They also claim that in the context of the present discussion the speaker has authority to adjudicate Truth. They place the speaker in the position of evaluating the opinion of the speaker's partner. To the speaker's partner, this can feel like a usurpation of authority for the purpose of evaluating the personhood of others.
- Sometimes we say, "Correct" to avoid the ambiguity of "Right," a word that we also use for direction, as in left/right. That's an example of the language causing us to make an innocent choice that has unfortunate consequences. Sigh.
- A simple "I agree" will suffice.
These are four tactics that cost nothing or almost nothing. Yet they can produce dramatic savings. They have an enormous return on investment. More coming next time. Next in this series Top Next Issue
Is 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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More articles on Effective Communication at Work:
- Achieving Goals: Inspiring Passion and Action
- Achieving your goals requires both passion and action. Knowing when to emphasize passion and when to
emphasize action are the keys to managing yourself, or others, toward achievement.
- Embolalia and Stuff Like That: II
- Continuing our exploration of embolalia — filler syllables, filler words, and filler phrases —
let us examine the more complex forms. Some of them are so complex that they appear to be actual content,
even when what they contain is little more than "um."
- Cognitive Biases and Influence: I
- The techniques of influence include inadvertent — and not-so-inadvertent — uses of cognitive
biases. They are one way we lead each other to accept or decide things that rationality cannot support.
- 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.
- More Things I've Learned Along the Way: IV
- When I gain an important insight, or when I learn a lesson, I write it down. Here's Part IV from my
personal collection. Example: When it comes to disputes and confusion, one person is enough.
See also Effective Communication at Work and Workplace Politics for more related articles.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming March 29: Time Slot Recycling: The Risks
- When we can't begin a meeting because some people haven't arrived, we sometimes cancel the meeting and hold a different one, with the people who are in attendance. It might seem like a good way to avoid wasting time, but there are risks. Available here and by RSS on March 29.
- And on April 5: The Fallacy of Division
- Errors of reasoning are pervasive in everyday thought in most organizations. One of the more common errors is called the Fallacy of Division, in which we assume that attributes of a class apply to all members of that class. It leads to ridiculous results. Available here and by RSS on April 5.
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