To shirk is to avoid carrying out something such as an obligation, a task, or a responsibility. Motivations for shirking vary, but the simplest motives include laziness, fear, and distaste for work. An example of a more complex motive is reluctance to reveal ignorance, incompetence, lack of talent, or lack of a skill needed to accomplish the task. Understanding the motives of shirkers is important, but even more essential is recognizing shirking when it happens.
To shirk unnoticed is the shirker's ultimate goal. Here's a short catalog of tactics of artful shirkers.
- Pretend you're busy
- Looking busy can conceal the shirker's actual activities — surfing the Web, working on personal projects, whatever can be made to look like real work. But most important, shirkers can use fake work to deflect incoming task assignments, by backing their claims that they're "overloaded already." Ironically, pretending to be busy can be exhausting.
- Schedule check meetings too late
- Check meetings are meetings in which we verify that things are proceeding as planned and everyone understands what work is to be done. When shirkers schedule check meetings, they can time them to occur too late for any mid-course corrections. If what they've done is wrong or inadequate, the deadline is then too close to allow for any significant adjustments.
- Request feedback prematurely
- Asking for Understanding the motives of
shirkers is important, but even
more essential is recognizing
shirking when it happensfeedback early in an effort might indicate earnest concern for doing things right. It can also be a ploy intended to elicit words of encouragement that can later be cited as indicating that the level of accomplishment was adequate for the completed task, when the giver of the feedback was only trying to indicate adequate progress to that point. A request for early feedback can also be a trap for those who feel the urge to demonstrate how to do it right, and who thus inadvertently take on significant chunks of both the task and the associated responsibility.
- Transfer work to others
- Transferring work to others requires chutzpah, especially if the target of the transfer isn't someone to whom the shirker has the authority to assign tasks. The artful shirker just tells the target to do it, while subtly communicating the idea that the target is expected to take on the task. For example, "I need this by Friday," or "We're counting on you to get this done today."
- Exploit ambiguity
- Requests of the shirker that are ambiguous in the most innocent ways can be disastrous. For example, asking that "a communication go out," might actually be widely and reasonably understood to be a request that a formal email notification be logged and distributed promptly, but the shirker can interpret it broadly enough to mean that a casual conversation or phone call would suffice.
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More articles on Workplace Politics:
- How to Get a Promotion in Line
- If you want a promotion in line — a promotion to the next supervisory level in your organization
— what should you do now to make it come about? What risks are there?
- Dismissive Gestures: I
- Humans are nothing if not inventive. In the modern organization, where verbal insults are deprecated,
we've developed hundreds of ways to insult each other silently (or nearly so). Here's part one of a
catalog of non-verbal insults.
- Telephonic Deceptions: II
- Deception at work probably wasn't invented at work. Most likely it is a continuation of deception in
the rest of life. But the technologies of the modern workplace offer new opportunities to practice the
art. Here's Part II of a handy guide for telephonic self-defense.
- No Tangles
- When we must say "no" to people who have superior organizational power, the message sometimes
fails to get across. The trouble can be in the form of the message, the style of delivery, or elsewhere.
How does this happen?
- Pariah Professions: I
- In some organizations entire professions are held in low regard. Their members become pariahs to some
people in the rest of the organization. When these conditions prevail, organizational performance suffers.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming 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.
- And on May 9: Unethical Coordination
- When an internal department or an external source is charged with managing information about a large project, a conflict of interest can develop. That conflict presents opportunities for unethical behavior. What is the nature of that conflict, and what ethical breaches can occur? Available here and by RSS on May 9.
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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.