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Volume 22, Issue 47;   November 30, 2022: Avoiding Speed Bumps: II

Avoiding Speed Bumps: II


Many of the difficulties we encounter when working together don't create long-term harm, but they do cause delays, confusion, and frustration. Here's Part II of a little catalog of tactics for avoiding speed bumps.
A form of off road driving also known as mud bogging

A form of off-road driving also known as mud bogging. Mud bogging is a motor sport in which drivers compete to determine who can drive farthest through a mud pit. If several drivers reach the end of the pit, elapsed time determines the winner.

In analogy with the workplace, technique determines success. For example, in mud bogging, driving in a straight line is important, because it reduces drag and thus increases speed. And a steady speed can prevent digging the vehicle into a hole it can't power out of.

Image by AndrewH courtesy Wikimedia.

When we work in groups, either in collaborations or merely cooperating, we occasionally encounter minor difficulties of our own making — call them speed bumps. For example, asking a question phrased one way can produce a helpful reply. But phrase it only slightly differently, and it becomes a speed bump — the response can be hostile and defensive, if you get a response at all. When working with others, seemingly minor differences in approach can create enormous savings by smoothing the way to the outcomes we seek.

This is Part II of a little catalog of tactics for avoiding speed bumps in everyday workplace situations. Have a look at Part I for more.

Instead of what?
If you're an Ace — very good at what you do — you're probably maxed out. People want an Ace to handle the issue they care about because they know it will get done right. And since you're maxed out, when a seeker (your boss, say) wants you to handle one more thing, X, two ways to find time to do X come to mind most readily. Choice A is to take time from something you're already doing. You reject A immediately, because you're an Ace and you don't want to do anything halfway. Choice B is to take time out of your personal account — your non-work life. If you're like most Aces, you often choose B.
If you habitually choose B — taking time out of your personal account — and if you're still single, or single again, or stressed to the point of sleep disturbance, or overdue for a vacation, or if you haven't seen a dentist in a while, habitually choosing B might be an explanation for your condition.
There is a choice C.
You can ask the seeker, "Instead of what?" In other words, you can ask the seeker to choose which of the things you're now doing needs to be set aside for now while you deal with X. Try this approach. But find some words to say that are less harsh than, "Instead of what?" Maybe something along the lines of, "Sure, I can do that, if we can work out what to say about whatever it is I have to set aside to get time to do that. Help me with that?"
When do you want it?
When a task or assignment (call it X) lands in your hands, you'll likely need to set a priority for it. And you might have a fairly clear idea what X's priority should be. Even so, you might have a priority in mind that differs from the priority the seeker has in mind.
The delivery When working with others, seemingly
minor differences in approach can
create enormous savings by smoothing
the way to the outcomes we seek
date isn't directly what you want to know. The delivery date is just one measure of the priority the requestor has in mind for X. Asking for a statement of the delivery date can help you determine how well your sense of X's priority matches the requestor's sense of X's priority.
Frequently, the seeker's response to your query will be, "As soon as possible." That isn't much help. To smoke out a little more truth, your response to that could be, "OK, I'll get started on X right after I wrap up task Y." In other words, you're saying that X is a lower priority than Y. If the requestor agrees, you have a deal. If not, then you can negotiate relative priorities, which is what you wanted from the outset.
When do you want need it
Needs and wants are different. A need is an input that causes major disruptions rippling through the organization if it isn't available. In the project context, most people prefer to reveal their wants rather than their needs.
Even if you can steer the conversation away from wants toward needs, some people "pad" their needs so as to manage the risk of not receiving what they truly need.
Still, you have a slightly better chance of learning their true needs if you ask them to tell you what they need instead of what they want.
In a crazy system, you might need to break the rules
Some human systems are inherently broken. In a broken system, there is just no way to get the job done if you follow the rules. Obviously, unless you have the power to change the rules, you have three options: (a) you can exit the system, or (b) you can satisfy yourself with low (or zero!) performance, or (c) you can break the rules.
Exiting the system could involve voluntary termination or internal transfer. Those options can take time, assuming they are available. Until then, you must live with low or zero performance, unless you're willing to break the rules.
Breaking the rules isn't an option we like to consider. But it is an option to consider.
When you need time off, ask for it
On rare occasions, you need time off on a particular day or dates, and you know about it in advance. A birth, a family reunion out of town, a court date, surgery, whatever. Among the most common mistakes people make about asking for time off for these constrained situations is procrastination. Avoid that mistake. Let people know about your need well in advance. When they know early enough it's easier for them to accommodate your need.
Be prepared to answer a question about why you need the time. They have a right to ask, and you have a right not to be very specific. "Personal reasons" is a reason. And be prepared for questions about whether you can adjust the date. If you can adjust it, do so. If you can't, say so.

Last words

Collect these tactics, and others. Add to your collection any techniques you see others use effectively to avoid the speed bumps in their paths. The techniques of special interest are those that you believe might help you avoid speed bumps you've encountered in your experience. First in this series  Go to top Top  Next issue: Reaching Agreements in Technological Contexts  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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Ramblers are people who can't get to the point. They ramble, they get lost in detail, and listeners can't follow their logic, if there is any. How can you deal with ramblers while maintaining civility and decorum?
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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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