George sat very still, withholding comment on what Trish had just said. She sipped her coffee and waited patiently for the idea to sink in. Trish knew that he would have difficulty accepting that the people in his organization didn't trust each other, and that they didn't trust him. And she knew that he wouldn't run away from the truth. So she waited.
George now sipped his coffee. He set the cup down, laced his fingers together, looked at his hands for a while, and sighed. Then he turned to Trish.
"I think I understand," he began. "People CC me on so many emails because they're trying to write a 'transcript' of their activities, so nobody can attack them later for not doing the job. Right?"
"Almost," said Trish. "Some expect you to defend them later, on the basis of the 'transcript.'"
"Right," said George, wincing because he'd forgotten that part.
Trish continued, "And some believe that since you saw the messages, you're now responsible, too, if they've made some bad calls."
"Right." George winced again. "And it doesn't matter that I get so many messages that I can't read them?"
"Right," said Trish. "It's a cultural problem. It's about Trust. But it's the same in International. It's no different in my patch."
Low-trust cultures have
more defective products,
more rework and
more toxic politicsTrish and George are dealing with a common problem — a low-trust organizational culture. On the surface, things look OK, but the consequences of low trust include toxic politics, low productivity, lost sales, defective products, and still lower levels of trust.
Addressing the problem begins with understanding how people cope.
- Preemptive defense
- The preemptive defense, or "CYA," entails creating explanations or excuses intended to defuse any possible later attack from a colleague. Usually it takes a verbal form — a statement, a memo, or an email message — and serves no productive purpose.
- The costs of preemptive defenses include not only the effort required to create them, but also the time and effort required to read or hear them. In meetings, the preemptive defense can be very expensive, wasting time for all who attend.
- Preemptive attack
- The preemptive attack is intended to head off perceived threats from those we distrust. By limiting their ability to harm, we hope to defend against whatever we fear.
- This tactic leads to lower productivity for both the attacked and the attacker, and sometimes for bystanders, in two ways. Through the distraction and harm it causes, it interferes with getting work done. And attacks can actually disable those attacked, limiting their ability to exercise influence, even for legitimate purposes.
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 Trust, see "Creating Trust," Point Lookout for January 21, 2009, "TINOs: Teams in Name Only," Point Lookout for March 19, 2008, and "Express Your Appreciation and Trust," Point Lookout for January 16, 2002.
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More articles on Workplace Politics:
- Empire Building
- Empire builders create bases of power within the larger organization. Typically, they use these domains
to advance personal or provincial agendas. What are the characteristics of empires? How can we navigate
through or around them?
- The Deck Chairs of the Titanic: Strategy
- Much of what we call work is about as effective and relevant as rearranging the deck chairs
of the Titanic. We continue our exploration of futile and irrelevant work, this time emphasizing
behaviors related to strategy.
- Bottlenecks: I
- Some people take on so much work that they become "bottlenecks." The people around them repeatedly
find themselves stuck, awaiting responses or decisions. Why does this happen and what are the costs?
- Behavioral Indicators of Political Risk
- Avoiding dangerous political interactions is easier if you know what to look for. Among the indicators
of possible trouble are the behaviors of the people around you.
- 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.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming January 22: Disjoint Awareness: Bias
- Some cognitive biases can cause people in collaborations to have inaccurate understandings of what each other is doing. Confirmation bias and self-serving bias are two examples of cognitive biases that can contribute to disjoint awareness in some situations. Available here and by RSS on January 22.
- And on January 29: Higher-Velocity Problem Definition
- Typical approaches to shortening time-to-market for new products usually involve accelerating problem solving. Accelerating problem definition can also help. Available here and by RSS on January 29.
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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.