Becoming a Logical Listener

April 2012 is going down in my project management record book as the busiest and most intense work weeks for as long as I can remember — and that is a good thing. To accommodate my over-flowing task schedule, I have asked a fellow PM and writer, Barbara Brown, to create this week’s post.

Thank you, Bruce. It is a pleasure to have the opportunity to share on a topic I have been thinking about recently – logical fallacies. I know that sounds arcane and academic. However, identifying fallacious arguments can sometimes help you win a contentious point in a business discussion. Or, at least, construct a masterful putdown when you are talking back to a radio or TV commentator.

N. B.: Keep in mind that few people appreciate having the logic of their conclusions questioned. Therefore, in many situations, it is best to keep your insights to yourself and use this knowledge only to improve the validity of your own arguments.

What is a logic fallacy?
Logic is about drawing justifiable conclusions from premises or data.  The prototypical example of deductive logical reasoning is: All men are mortal (premise1), Socrates is a man (premise 2); therefore Socrates is mortal (conclusion). In more normal conversation, however, the conclusions are often not clearly reachable from considering only the premises because — wait for it — the speaker engages in the use of logic fallacies. Here is an example:

(P1) Barack Obama was elected president in 2008;
(P2) The economy began falling apart in 2008; therefore
(C) Barack Obama caused the poor economic conditions.

This example shows a relatively common logical fallacy, especially in an election year, called: post hoc ergo propter hoc or just post hoc for short. This argument is fallacious because it assumes causality based solely on chronology.

Other Frequently Encountered Logic Fallacies
“Straw Man” The person presenting an argument with a “straw man” wants to appear as if he or she has considered the opposition’s arguments and can refute them. They accomplish this feat by selecting an exaggerated example supposedly from the other side, and then proceed to disprove the example. Sounds reasonable, doesn’t it. However, the trick to a “straw man” debate is that the person chooses a weak argument for the opposing side or misrepresents their position. Then, they ask you to conclude, in essence, if one of the opponent’s arguments can be so easily shown false, then all of their arguments are wrong, which is why this type of logical fallacy is also called, a fallacy of extension. Example:

Agile programming teams have no manager to lead them
Teams without a sense of direction or purpose are destined to fail
Therefore, developing software using agile methods will fail.

“False Dilemma” This logic fallacy uses an argument that assumes there are only two decision options, when in reality there are many options.

We have to choose between Microsoft Project and Primavera for our project management software.

“Slippery Slope” In this type of logical fallacy, if one accepts a slightly disagreeable action one must also accept that this will lead to increasingly bad events.

If Robert is not punished for failing to turn in his status report, then no one will feel compelled to report project status. Without status information, management will make poor decisions and projects will fail. If projects fail, the company will lose market share. If we lose market share, we will go bankrupted and we will all be without a job. Therefore, Robert must be fired.

“Complex Question” joins two premises (one, usually, unstated) as if they were one. This technique is often called, “asking a loaded question”. The logical fallacy is in the assumption that the two premises are linked. The complex question fallacy is committed when a question rests on an unproven assumption.

How do you expect to be an effective manager when you cannot get to work on time?

I know that dissecting discussions for their logical fallacies is not everyone’s cup of tea.  However, I confess that sometimes on the ride home from work through stop-and-go traffic, I have felt better about losing a contentious point when I can find the fallacy in my antagonist’s argument.

If you want to have some more fun with logic, you might enjoy listening to the LSAT Logic in Everyday Life podcasts.

Dealing with a micromanaging boss or client

OK – How many of you have had to deal with a boss or client who is what we call a “micromanager”?  There are successful techniques that you can apply to help deal with a boss/client that micromanages your project. First though, it helps to understand where the micromanager is coming from and what problems he or she is trying to avoid.

Behaviors of a micromanager

Micromanagers are into control. Micromanagers are afraid to delegate authority or responsibility. They want to be apprised of even the smallest details about the project. And, they need that information updated constantly (Many would prefer telepathic real time updates!). Micromanagers often want to make ALL project decisions — from the important ones, such as staffing, to the minor ones, like the placement of the white board. Their constant need for data and their tendency to require “all decisions go through them for approval” slows the team’s progress — not to mention driving you, the PM, a bit batty.

During the execution of a project, the micromanager may not limit their interaction to requests for information. They may also try to tell team members how to do their jobs (even if they have never done the job). Be aware that on the rare occassion when the micromanager appears to be delegating authority and responsibility, they are likely to take back control at the first sign of trouble.

Motivations of a micromanager

I am not saying that I agree with micromanagers, but understanding what can motivate or drive them to this behavior is the first step in dealing effectively with them. Here are some of the common motivations:

  • Micromanagement may be the only kind of management they know how to do
  • They may be insecure in their position or in their knowledge
  • They genuinely believe that the project will not succeed without their direct and constant involvement
  • Because they do not feel competent to deal with complex issues, they choose to deal with small, trivial ones where they do feel competent
  • Maybe his or her boss is micromanaging them, and you know the saying about stuff rolling downhill….

Consequences of micromanagement practices

If you have a micromanager then you will have probably experienced or observed the following:

  • Team members stop trying to improve processes and results
  • Project do not succeed as well as they might have if everyone applied more of their knowledge and experience
  • Project managers (and other project members) fail to learn lessons that help them mature as PM professionals
  • Leadership is not developed (see Project Leadership Requires Sharing Responsibility)
  • High rate of employee loss — especially the bright, talented and potential future managers
  • Increase in stress, anxiety and anger for everyone involved

Working effectively with a micromanager

Well I don’t have any magic bullets, but here are some tips you can try.

As justified as your frustration and anger may be when you have to work under a micromanager, you need to take a deep breath and make the best of the situation. Then, you need to take some actions to try to counter the effects of this behavior on the project and the team.

Anticipation of the needs of the micromanager for authority and information should be dealt with preemptively. For example, when given a task, find out as many details as possible about the micromanager’s expectations. Listen carefully and feedback your understanding of the task. Asking detailed questions may limit the number of “bring me a rock” exercises you have to go through.

Keep the lines of communication open with the micromanager – yes I know how painful this can be. You may be able to build a trusting relationship over time that allows you to provide feedback on the deleterious effect of his or her management style. At worst, you will at least be able to talk with them about how it negatively impacts the project.

Provide the level of detail and frequency of project information they ask for, but add information on why and how. You may be helping to train the micromanager at the same time increasing their trust in you. Take the initiative to set up meetings and phone calls before they ask.

Give credit to the micromanager when it is due and reward them verbally when they stop micromanaging for a minute.

Don’t let them “push your buttons”.  Keep your cool and remember that you are doing the job and keep reminding them that you can handle the tasks.

So have you had encounters like this?  What tricks and techniques have you used?

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