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Why Playing Dead is Not an Option in the Organizational Wild West



Organization wild West

Apparent death, colloquially known as playing dead, feigning death, or playing possum, is a behavior in which animals take on the appearance of being dead. Playing dead in a wild west organizational environment will only take you so far and is definitely not on the path to success in any organizational ecosystem. A thriving ecosystem is dependent on the consistent movement and contribution of the life-forms inside of it. When we play dead in order to avoid conflict and cease to contribute, we damage the ecological construct of our organizational ecosystems that depend on life to survive.

In continuing from the first part of this organizational wild west series, we will dive into chapter two of our story. In part 1 of this series, Surviving the Frontier: Influence Without Authority in the Organizational Wild West, we explored the wild west ecosystem and took a closer look at the fight or flight dilemma that millennials are experiencing. In the second part of this series, I’ll use the rules of engagement to lead us on a journey that will reveal just why playing dead cannot be an option in the organizational wild west.

Chapter 2: The Top 4 Rules of Engagement

Alright, so you’ve chosen to fight. Now what? These rules of engagement will help guide you in creating your tactical plans. The goal, to engage with decision-makers in your organization in a holistic fashion that cultivates change versus going in with ‘guns blazing.’

  1. Identify the Needs of Your Organization
  2. Decide What it is That You Really Want & Need
  3. Learn How to Negotiate
  4. Discover the Art of Organizational Evangelism

Methods in Identifying Organizational Needs

  1. Be Present – Being present both physically AND mentally is vital. Identifying the needs of your organization requires us as influencers to pay attention, probe, analyze and investigate. In order to do this, we have to show up and be present.
  2. Make Yourself Available – Be approachable and accessible. Listen to your peers, leaders and those who report to you in order to gain perspective of the current state of the organization that you’re in.
  3. Keep a Mental Archive – Find a secure place to record your thoughts, feelings perceptions and reactions and analyze these archives to detect patterns.
  4. Be Open – Reserve making final judgements until you have all of the facts. There are always two sides to every story!

How Deciding What it is That You Really Want Aids in Negotiation

Now that we’ve figured out how to engage our leaders in a healthy way to create change in our organizations and we now know some methods that we can use to identify organizational needs, let’s use these tools to take a deeper dive into figuring out what it is that we really want and why. Ideally, our list of wants and needs will reconcile with the high-priority needs of the organization.

In trying to sort out what changes we really want to make in our organizations, It’s easy to get caught up in the perks push and lose sight of what really benefits everyone, including the business itself. Discovering what it is that you want and need has a lot to do with observing the temperament and actions of people and analyzing the impact of those behaviors on what is going on around you. You must determine what messages, actions, behaviors, and attitudes resonate with you the most and record the conclusions to your observations. You can then use your collection of observations as data points to determine what it is that you really want and why. Creating a roadmap of your wants and needs like the one below may also help to provide mental clarity.

WANT/NEED Work From Home Days A Private Office
How will this benefit everyone? I’ve asked around and most people feel that it would enhance work/life balance by being able to work from home 1 – 2 days a week. It will only benefit me.
How will this benefit my organization? Less turnover and happier employees that produce more.   I’m a key contributor in my organization and they need me.
Downside for employees? NONE Collaboration could decline.
Downside for the organization? Hard to manage productivity when teams work remotely. Increased costs for the company. Could also cause hostility among peers that do not have an office.
Negotiation Leverage Points To remain competitive in terms of recruitment this might need to be a high priority. I am a key contributor in my organization and they need me.
Is this an organizational need? YES: Could potentially cause high turnover without it. YES: If they value me they will give me what I want.


The strength of your negotiation literally lies within the alignment between what you identify as an organizational need and what actually is an organizational need. Campaigning for something that only benefits you, even if you are a top performer, is not a great negotiation tactic. Here are a few other things to consider when negotiating.

  • Research Your Industry – If what you’re lobbying for is something that the majority of your competitors are doing, create a business case and use that as a data point.
  • Take a Risk or Two – A good friend once told me that you have to “Work like you’re not afraid to lose your job.” Often times we are afraid of taking too big of a risk in terms of confrontation or taking a firm stance on something because we are afraid that we will get fired. I have found that taking big risks and a specific stance will bring you a long way in the wild west ecosystem.
  • Tap Into The Power of the Knowledge of Needs – Find out what makes your organization tick and laser focus on that criteria. Critical needs will often be reflected by the leaders of your organization as well. Lobbying to meet the collective needs of your organization will take you farther in negotiations.  
  • Be Persistent – Creating a conscious system of negotiation frames that can be used to support your original agenda is helpful. This could include having follow-up conversations, waiting for others to present the same concerns that you have and/or drafting more formal proposals.
  • Be Believable – Make sure to convey the urgency needed to solve the problem.
  • Maintain a GREAT Attitude – Stay objective and keep emotions in check. Take a time out when you need to. You can back-off without completely disengaging.

The Art of Evangelism

If you only remember one thing about evangelizing organizational change, let it be this…NEVER DISENGAGE! This concept is something that I like to call the Push-Pull Strategy. In Brazilian Jiu Jitsu there is always this concept of leverage that you create with an opponent. It involves creating consistent pressure and contact by either pushing someone backward or pulling someone forward but you are never disengaging. You are simply using more or less energy on your opponent and this is a key concept in organizational evangelism. Play the long game and plant seeds that cultivate the necessary thought patterns that you need in order to create solutions for the issue at hand.


  • Although playing dead may be an option, it is not a solution.
  • If you’re not contributing to your organizational ecosystem then you are leeching from the life and vitality that others collectively bring to it.
  • Don’t forget to harness predetermined resolve. If you decided to stick it out then be sure to honor the commitment to yourself.
  • Never disengage. Change is often incremental.

Now we’re completely immersed in our wild west ecosystem! Keep an eye out for additional articles in my organizational wild west series. Next, we’ll dive into the power of presence, resistance management techniques and much more. Stay tuned!

Tephra Miriam is an avid thought leader, author of middle-grade novel 'Escape to Clown Town', graphic artist, photographer, musician, activist and entrepreneur with a passion for change. Tephra grew up in Albuquerque, New Mexico and moved to Chicago, Illinois when she was 18 years old, where she currently resides. Her search for adventure took her far and wide at a young age and she continues to mentor, learn, work and speak all over the US. Tephra is a firm believer of redefining the way we think and live. She is a wellness advocate and often blogs on organizational development, challenging the status quo and creating a holistic work environment. Tephra believes that creating space in your life to play, imagine and dream is vital in problem solving, stress management and innovation. As a product of 12 years of homeschooling, Tephra started out at Harold Washington College in Chicago, Illinois before transferring to DePaul University and receiving her Bachelor of Arts degree in Global Communications and a Master of Arts degree in Applied Professional Studies with a concentration in Authorship and Entrepreneurialism.