If your boss or someone even higher in your reporting chain is engaged in a feud with a peer, pretending that you aren't involved can be dangerous. For instance, your boss might ask you for ammunition in the form of embarrassing information about the opposition, or you might be asked to deliver "ordinance" yourself. Either way you're at risk. See "Don't Staff the Ammo Dump," Point Lookout for January 3, 2001, for more.
It can get pretty complicated. If your job responsibilities require that you collaborate in an effort sponsored by the "opposition" organization, you might find yourself in a lose-lose situation. If you do collaborate, you risk being seen as disloyal within your own organization; if you don't collaborate, your job performance could be at risk.
When leaders fight, there's danger for everyone. Yet, we rarely hear of training in "Surviving Your Boss's Feuds," in part, because a program like that might be seen as an admission of serious organizational dysfunction. That's ironic, since offering such training would deter feuding behavior, or at least encourage any feuding partners to work things out. When leaders fight, HR isn't likely to be much help.
Here are some insights for surviving when leaders fight.When leaders fight,
HR isn't likely
to be of much help
- Everyone feels the pain
- Certainly the antagonists feel pain — they wound each other at work, and they probably carry their pain home at night. And their subordinates fear for their careers if "their side" should lose. Even the non-aligned fear that they will be drawn into the mess.
- The fight is a performance issue for the feuders' supervisor
- The responsibility for intervention lies with the person who has organizational responsibility for both feuding parties. A feud of long standing is a sign that the responsible person hasn't yet acted effectively — or hasn't yet acted at all.
- In proximity lies danger
- The closer you are to the feud, the more you're at risk. At least one of the feuders, and probably both, will lose. You could be on the losing side, which might mean that you could be reassigned or lose your job. Prepare to move on.
- You can lose (win) even if your boss wins (loses)
- When your boss "wins," part or all of the losing organization might be absorbed into yours. The result could be a new tier in your organization, with you underneath it. When your boss "loses," you might be acquired and you might end up higher in the new org chart. Your interests are not necessarily aligned with the interests of your boss.
Once peace arrives, reorganization is a likely outcome, and you might find that you have new peers, new subordinates or new superiors. Taking a strongly partisan position during a feud could make trouble for you later. If you've been very partisan, or even if you haven't, practice bridge-building as soon as possible. Top Next Issue
Is every other day a tense, anxious, angry misery as you watch people around you, who couldn't even think their way through a game of Jacks, win at workplace politics and steal the credit and glory for just about everyone's best work including yours? Read 303 Secrets of Workplace Politics, filled with tips and techniques for succeeding in workplace politics. More info
For more about feuds, see "Organizational Feuds."
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More articles on Workplace Politics:
- 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.
- Conflicts of Interest in Reporting
- Reporting is the process that informs us about how things are going in the organization and its efforts.
Unfortunately, the people who do the reporting often have a conflict of interest that leads to misleading
and unreliable reports.
- How to Avoid a Layoff: Your Situation
- These are troubled economic times. Layoffs are becoming increasingly common. Here are some tips for
positioning yourself in the organization to reduce the chances that you will be laid off.
- Projects as Proxy Targets: I
- Some projects have detractors so determined to prevent project success that there's very little they
won't do to create conditions for failure. Here's Part I of a catalog of tactics they use.
- Stone-Throwers at Meetings: II
- A stone-thrower in a meeting is someone who is determined to halt forward progress. Motives vary, from
embarrassing the chair to holding the meeting hostage in exchange for advancing an agenda. What can
chairs do about stone-throwers?
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming April 8: The New Virtual Meeting: Digressions
- The bane of meetings everywhere, even before the COVID-19 pandemic, has been digressions. But there are reasons to expect the incidence of digressions in meetings to increase now. What reasons could there be, and what can we do about digressions? Available here and by RSS on April 8.
- And on April 15: Incompetence: Traps and Snares
- Sometimes people judge as incompetent colleagues who are unprepared to carry out their responsibilities. Some of these "incompetents" are trapped or ensnared in incompetence, unable to acquire the ability to do their jobs. Available here and by RSS on April 15.
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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.