Tick... Tick... Tick... Tick...
It seemed like a simple issue. I had shared some information with a colleague, that's all. We'd both been asked to review and respond to a document and give our approval to it. I knew I couldn't put my approval on it (in good conscience), and I conveyed my decision to her. I told her it was her decision whether or not she signed off on the document, but I let her know why I couldn't. An hour later, she was talking with a person from the team who had created the document, sharing with them that neither of us would be signing off. Well, you can guess what happened next. A big blow-up.
There are occasions when the timing of the office politics are as critical as the issue itself. Sometimes, you need to take action immediately on an office politics issue. For others, "sleeping on it" is the best way to take action. You may change your mind, or circumstances surrounding the office politics may be different in a day or two. The moment you voice your stance on an issue, you've just communicated a lot of ammunition to the other office politics players. This may actually be one of the few issues where I advocate procrastination. It is OK to have an unspoken thought.
Some questions to ask yourself when deciding when to communicate your office politics intentions:
- Do you want to give the other party enough time to react? Sometimes you may want to let them change course; other times, you may want them backed into a corner so they can't take further action.
- How impatient is the other party? Are they OK if you think about it overnight, or do they want you to provide an answer right away?
- How does your answer impact the power balance between you? As I said, once you've communicated your intentions, you've just provided them with new ammunition. Prolonging your answer also gives you some breathing time to develop strategies to possible reactions down the road.
- How will they react to your message? Will they blow up? Will they take it in stride? Will they understand your point of view or will they make (possibly incorrect) assumptions?
- Is it just bad timing to communicate here and now? As they say, timing is everything. There may be considerations outside your office politics challenge which may taint the views. If someone is just having a bad day, ANYTHING you say could be taken the wrong way.
Again, before you hit SEND on that email or pick up the phone for that pithy retort, stop, pause, think, breathe... and consider whether it has to be communicated right now.