Turning the last corner on his way to his boss's office, Matt heard laughter, and he instantly knew that Robert was again working on Will. He paused and took a breath, but when he turned into the doorway and looked into Will's office, he was hurt by what he saw.
Robert was in Will's chair, at Will's desk. Robert looked at Will as if to say "Up to you."
"Excuse me," Matt said to Will. "I can come back."
Will turned to Matt. "No, come in, come in," he said.
'So it's come this far,' Matt thought. 'Robert sitting at Will's desk, telling Will what to do and what to think.'
"It's OK," Matt said. "I'll be back after lunch. No problem." He turned and left, but he knew there was a problem.
When a peer curries favor with your boss, your options are limited. Before you act, think carefully.
- Time is short
- The current favorite has probably been working on your boss for longer than you know. If you're considered a threat, you've been targeted. And for aggressive operators, truth is no constraint.
- Unless something changes, your current job probably won't last.
- Assess the competition
- Those who curry favor are usually well practiced. They expect their peers to respond somehow, and they're probably ready for all the obvious or typical counter-tactics.
- Know their level of expertise. Unless you can deal with their tactics, taking direct action could further jeopardize your tenure.
- Don't respond in writing
- Writing, either
electronic or hardcopy,
- Writing, either electronic or hardcopy, is dangerous. Pretend that you've been given an organizational Miranda warning: Anything you put in writing could be used against you.
- Email can be especially risky. If you do take action, do so in person.
- If you act, expect a response
- Responses to your actions might be difficult to handle. The boss might feel accused of favoritism. The current favorites will likely defend their positions. Others on the sidelines might view your action as an attempt to become the new favorite.
- Choose actions that take account of these risks.
- Open your mind, not your mouth
- Keep an open mind about what you see happening around you. The really effective operators are so clever that they're very hard to detect. They can curry favor with you at the same time that they do with your boss.
- Trusting the wrong person can be a serious mistake — one I've made myself.
If the favorites are making headway, the boss is partly responsible. Possibly the boss knows what's happening and chooses to play along, or your peers are exploiting a vulnerability that the boss cannot control.
The situation is unstable in either case. If you manage to restore fairness, and the boss remains in place, a recurrence is likely. Any progress you make has to be considered temporary, until you can permanently discredit the favorite. Consider moving on.
According to The Dictionary of Word Origins (Joseph T. Shipley. Published by Rowman & Littlefield, 1967), the original expression was not to "curry favor," but to curry favel. In medieval times, Favel was used as the name of a horse. The etymology is complex but fascinating. Check it out. Order from Amazon.com
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More articles on Workplace Politics:
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Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming April 25: Narcissistic Behavior at Work: VI
- Narcissistic behavior at work distorts decisions, disrupts relationships, and generates toxic conflict. These consequences limit the ability of the organization to achieve its goals. In this part of our series we examine the effects of exploiting others for personal ends. Available here and by RSS on April 25.
- And on May 2: Narcissistic Behavior at Work: VII
- Narcissistic behavior at work prevents trusting relationships from developing. It also disrupts existing relationships, and generates toxic conflict. One class of behaviors that's especially threatening to relationships is disregard for the feelings of others. In this part of our series we examine the effects of that disregard. Available here and by RSS on May 2.
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- The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
- Many people who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.
Beware any resource that speaks of "winning" at workplace politics or "defeating" it. You can benefit or not, but there is no score-keeping, and it isn't a game.