Did dilemmas constantly surround us? Welcome to the club! Being a manager usually means continually making decisions between plague and cholera, which we could only lose. Either we piss off the boss or our colleagues. Or we annoy the customers or the owners of the company. And when things go very stupid, both of them are pissed off. Because dilemmas constantly surround us, the thought quickly arises that we are doing something wrong or doing a lousy job as a manager.
Safe: Nobody’s perfect! We all make mistakes, but dilemmas are not the yellow card for bad management. On the contrary, dilemmas are the ticket to even taking part in the management game because of how we work with other people – whether in the company, a club, or our private sphere. They are an inescapable part of any organization, any business. We want to forego dilemmas, but we cannot.
But actually, you should be grateful for the dilemmas. Because in many cases, they are your raison d’etre as a manager! If there were only problems to be solved according to scheme F, the company would no longer need you as an expensive manager. The intern can work through scheme F cheaper than you, and the colleague’s algorithm will soon be even more affordable.
So if we cannot do without dilemmas, we should deal with them intelligently and relaxedly.
What are dilemmas?
These are the decisions that we can only seem to lose. we define a dilemma as “a predicament, a situation someone finds himself in, especially when he should or must choose between two equally difficult or unpleasant things.” But something is missing from the definition: not only are the two things difficult and uncomfortable, but both are in some ways indispensable. A decision becomes a dilemma when we have to make it even though we neither want one nor the other, but ultimately need both. Oswald Neuberger’s definition, therefore, sums up dilemmas well. We have a dilemma when
- we decide between the options have: There is pressure to act, and we can not push off indefinitely the decision.
- The possibilities are given: it is not about hypothetical things that could happen but about options that are clearly on the table.
- The chances are opposite: one option excludes the other – and at the same time, we need both options.
- The options are equivalent: No matter how you decide, both decisions are the same
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What are the most typical dilemmas?
Dilemmas appear in the most varied of forms and variants. But the majority of the difficulties can be classified into one of four categories
- Preservation and change: If we always do things the way we did before, sooner or later, we as a company will no longer be competitive. If we are constantly changing everything, an organization runs the risk of sinking into chaos, being so busy with its reorganization or change that it no longer has time to take care of customers and their concerns. The organization has to change constantly and stay the same at the same time.
- External determination and self-determination: As a manager, you do not have the time (and perhaps also not the desire) to monitor your employees constantly, to make all the decisions yourself. Then you wouldn’t have to hire the staff in the first place. But leaving all decisions to the employees is also not possible – after all, you are responsible. Constantly controlling is just as little an option as not controlling at all. You have to give freedom without giving freedom.
- Standardization and individualization: processes and rules are standardized in the company. Because it is too expensive and time-consuming to keep reinventing the wheel or define the exact key figure ten times in the company. But at the same time, neither the employees are the same, nor the customers, nor the game rules in the different markets and market segments. So we always have to go into individual cases – but not too much either. That would make the company too expensive and too slow. We have to standardize things and deviate from the standard at the same time.
- Competition and cooperation: We need colleagues to achieve something together, handle the project, or dissuade the boss from an idea that does not suit all of us. At the same time, we compete with our colleagues for the boss’s attention, the exciting projects, or the few opportunities to climb the career ladder. We have to compete and not compete at the same time.
How do you get a grip on dilemmas?
There are many dilemmas – unfortunately. And some are so tricky that no satisfactory solution can be found. Fortunately, these tough nuts are the exception. In most cases, the dilemma can be managed. We have a whole range of approaches at our disposal:
Sitting Out Dilemmas
The most underrated way to deal with dilemmas is to ignore the difficulty consciously. If we get rid of the idea that everything in the organization must always be perfect, we can overlook several puzzles as background noise. Of course, this does not work for all difficulties, but in more situations than you initially think.
Passing on dilemmas to others
Several dilemmas require action. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that we have to act ourselves. After all, we still have employees or superiors to whom we can delegate or escalate our dilemma. Sometimes they have the resources to deal with the difficulty better than we do.
Choosing one of the opposing poles
Sometimes, on closer inspection, the two options we have to choose between are not the same. So it makes sense to choose one or the other of the two poles consciously. However, since it is like a dilemma that we cannot completely do without the other pole, we have to reckon that this is only a temporary solution and that sooner or later, we will have the problem on the table again.
In many cases, we can try to get a grip on the dilemma with a compromise. Since many compromises are ‘lazy’ compromises, the dilemma is only off the table, thanks to the compromise. Still, it is so unsatisfactory that we have to deal with the topic again sooner or later.
From either/or to both / and
Since we need both poles anyway in a dilemma, instead of deciding between one or the other, it is also possible to head for one bar and the other. In one situation, we move to the left, in the other to the right, for a while, we give full throttle at work, a few years later, we shift down a gear professionally and tend to look after the family.
Is it a dilemma, or does it just look like it?
Dilemmas arise when we have to choose between a few alternatives. In many cases, however, there are several other options besides the two or three options we have in mind. Just because we have tunneled vision and hidden the alternatives turns a problem into a dilemma. Sometimes you can step back and find more options. Then the difficulty will be resolved, and we will have the issue off the table in the long term.
Dilemmas see positively once in a while
Too much satisfaction quickly leads to complacency. The fact that a situation bothers us and that we have to deal with a dilemma can trigger creative unrest in a company. A whole series of innovations is ultimately a solution to a puzzle. Necessity makes inventive – so are dilemmas!