Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 22, Issue 46;   November 23, 2022: Avoiding Speed Bumps: I

Avoiding Speed Bumps: I


Many of the difficulties we encounter while working together have few long-term effects. They just cause delays, confusion, and frustration. Eventually we sort things out, but there is a better way: avoid the speed bumps.
Speed bump and warning signs in Bloomington, Indiana, USA

Speed bump and warning signs in Bloomington, Indiana, USA. This particular speed bump is surrounded with warning signs. The speed bumps we encounter at work generally have no warning signs.

Photo (cc) Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported by Vitaly Barsov, courtesy Wikimedia.

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 Go to top Top  Next issue: Avoiding Speed Bumps: II  Next Issue

303 Secrets of Workplace PoliticsIs 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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This article in its entirety was written by a human being. No machine intelligence was involved in any way.

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In virtual or global teams, where remote collaboration is the rule, waiting for the answer to a simple question can take a day or more. And when the response finally arrives, it's often just another question. Here are some suggestions for framing questions that are clear enough to get answers quickly.
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Most of us have to talk to other people at work. Whether to peers, subordinates, or superiors, sometimes we must convey information that can be complicated when delivered in full detail. To convey complicated ideas effectively, avoid suspense.
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Most of us invest significant effort in communicating by email or any of the various forms of text messaging. Much of the effort is spent correcting confusions caused, in part, by a few traps. Knowing what those traps are can save much trouble.

See also Effective Communication at Work and Workplace Politics for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

A well-festooned utility poleComing June 26: Additive bias…or Not: I
When we alter existing systems to enhance them, we tend to favor adding components even when subtracting might be better. This effect has been attributed to a cognitive bias known as additive bias. But other forces more important might be afoot. Available here and by RSS on June 26.
A close-up view of a chipseal road surfaceAnd on July 3: Additive bias…Not: II
Additive bias is a cognitive bias that many believe contributes to bloat of commercial products. When we change products to make them more capable, additive bias might not play a role, because economic considerations sometimes favor additive approaches. Available here and by RSS on July 3.

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