Saturday, February 27, 2010


According to Wikipedia the meaning of "deflection" varies, depending on its contextual use. For example, deflection can mean bending under load (in engineering) or even shooting ahead of a moving target (in military contexts). Our favorite meaning, because it reflects the deflection we've experienced, comes from physics, in which it is defined as an event in which an object collides and bounces against a plane surface. Here are the seven habits.

Circumspect Deflect. From your first day on campus through the next seven years, keep this simple technique readily available. Upon a request for procedural information, assume a puzzled but attentive air, punctuated with "hmmm." Follow with some variation of "I'm the new gal around here, and I don't want to steer you in the wrong direction. You'd better check with an expert, such as [insert name of 'expert' here]." Don't commit, and you won't be asked again.

Classic Deflect. Leadership literature overflows with classic deflection strategies from which you can liberally borrow. When presented with an idea from a valued colleague requiring your potential action, first acknowledge its goodness; then, immediately direct it to a holding pen. "Good idea! Bring me data to support it," or "Good idea! Form a committee to consider it," or "Good idea! Run it past my associate dean," or even, "Good idea! Gather data, form a committee, and run it past so-and-so, and get busy on a strategic plan for it."

Cog-in-the-Wheel Deflect. Remember the Journey song, "Wheel in the Sky"? "Wheel in the sky keeps on turning / I don't know where I'll be tomorrow." A slight word change increases its relevancy: cog in the wheel keeps on turning. You want to assist your colleagues, but you are powerless to do so: the department chair, dean's office, graduate school, or some other larger, more powerful entity makes the rules; you are just a cog in the wheel. Keep turning.

Sycophant Deflect. Your colleague has a brilliant idea, so shiny and so fantastic that before acting on it, you gush over it and then suggest that he take the idea up for executive review. However, before going up, you suggest he dig deep to guarantee he fully understands the contextual history behind his idea. Shortly, your colleague is dazed. Should he go up and then down? Down and then up? Both simultaneously? Whew!

Pirouette Deflect. A subject crash lands on the programmatic, departmental, or committee table, and it's an inconvenient truth, to quote a popular Internet inventor. What to do? Spin. Spin the subject around and about until colleagues lose track of the original subject, and it morphs into one of your choosing. "Weapons of mass destruction? Actually, the issue is bringing democracy to the people." Closer to home: "A budget deficit? Actually, it's a way to reposition departmental assets."

Introspect Deflect. Tired of youngsters with fancy ideas promising to impinge on your time and territory? Here's a technique for long-time colleagues and those who (even slightly) predate their colleagues. As others discuss the idea, appear interested and press one index finger to the lips as your head gently bobs in agreement. Then, join the discussion by helpfully noting, "Oh, we tried that [months, years, decades ago], and it didn't work. Boy, history is a great teacher,
isn't it?" Deflection accomplished.

Paralysis-by-Analysis Deflect. Earlier, we noted we had spent years in careful observation of collega deflectivus. This is only partially true. We also spent years discussing, but never writing, this current piece on deflection. Frankly, we are amazed this article is in print, given the intensive deflection it encountered. To that, we can only add a final strategy discovered while writing this piece: the "I need more time to fully investigate it" deflection. We'll get back to you
about this technique . . . upon further investigation.

For those wanting to master these habits for their own benefit, consider a few points. Knowing when to use the "right" deflective technique comes with practice. Don't be deterred; even those unskilled in the art of deflection can immediately use the simple reply to any question, "Let me think about that and get back to you." As your deflective skills grow, you will continually add to your repertoire, perhaps even inventing deflective techniques yet unknown to harness the power of future knowledge and technologies. First, however, check with an expert, run it past so-and-so, keep turning, take it up for review (but first dig deep for contextual history), then spin it. And don't ask for our help, because it didn't work before, even upon further investigation. We'll have to deflect on this one.

AUTHORS: Michelle Maher and Katherine Chaddock.

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