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 nonaligned 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:
- Things We Believe That Maybe Aren't So True
- Maxims and rules make life simpler by eliminating decisions. And they have a price: they sometimes foreclose
options that would have worked better than anything else. Here are some things we believe in maybe a
little too much.
- Problem Displacement by Intention
- When solving problems creates new problems, or creates problems elsewhere, we say that problem displacement
has occurred. Sometimes it's intentional.
- Meets Expectations
- Many performance management systems include ratings such as "meets expectations," "exceeds
expectations," and "needs improvement." Many find the "meets" rating demoralizing.
- Columbo Strategy
- A late 20th-century television detective named Columbo had a unique approach to cracking murder cases.
His method is just as effective at work when the less powerful must deal with the powerful.
- Conway's Law and Technical Debt
- Conway's Law is an observation that the structures of systems we design tend to replicate our communication
patterns. This tendency might also contribute to their tendency to accumulate what we now call technical debt.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming February 8: Kerfuffles That Seem Like Something More
- Much of what we regard as political conflict is a series of squabbles commonly called kerfuffles. They captivate us while they're underway, but after a month or two they're forgotten. Why do they happen? Why do they persist? Available here and by RSS on February 8.
- And on February 15: Four Razors for Organizational Behavior
- Deviant organizational behavior can harm the people and the organization. In choosing responses, we consider what drives the perpetrators. Considering Malice, Incompetence, Ignorance, and Greed, we can devise four guidelines for making these choices. Available here and by RSS on February 15.
I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenZLkFdSHmlHvCaSsuner@ChacbnsTPttsdDaRAswloCanyon.com or (650) 787-6475, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.
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- Get 2003-4 in Why Dogs Wag (PDF, )
- Get 2005-6 in Loopy Things We Do (PDF, )
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- Get 2009-10 in The Questions Not Asked (PDF, )
- Get all of the first twelve years (2001-2012) in The Collected Issues of Point Lookout (PDF, )
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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.