When people work together, they often have to act jointly, even though they would make differing choices if they acted independently. This tension between personal perspectives leads people to try to influence each other. In any given culture, some influence tactics are nearly-universally regarded as ethical, and some unethical, but we can debate about most of the rest.
The ethics of these choices are worth debating, because we all would prefer to be treated ethically ourselves. One possible framework for that debate is a set of ideas due to Virginia Satir [About Satir], which she called The Five Freedoms. We all have these freedoms:
- The freedom to see and hear what is here, instead of what should be, was or will be
- The freedom to say what one feels and thinks, instead of what one should
- The freedom to feel what one feels, instead of what one should
- The freedom to ask for what one wants, instead of always waiting for permission
- The freedom to take risks in one's own behalf, instead of choosing to be only "secure" and not rocking the boat
Here are the first two of these five freedoms, with applications to influence in organizations.
- The freedom to see and hear what is here…
- When we limit what people know, by withholding or by delaying dissemination of information, especially for our own benefit, we're probably over the line. Even when the motive is to make the information more palatable to its recipients, we're at risk.
- Example: Your spouse receives a great job offer, but it's a two-hour commute. So you try to find a nice place to live halfway between your two workplaces. Just after you buy a new place, you get laid off. The company knew all along that your department would be cut, but they didn't want to say anything until a "more appropriate" time.
- Some influence tactics are
nearly-universally regarded as ethical,
and some unethical, but we can
debate about most of the rest
- The freedom to say what one feels and thinks…
- When we limit what people can discuss, whether by policy, pronouncement, or tacit understanding, we're probably over the line. Sometimes these limits even apply to conversations among those who already possess the subject information. These constraints can harm not only the targets of the constraint, but also the organization itself.
- Example: The boss announces to the team that the deadline must be met, and that we aren't discussing deadline adjustment — just how to meet it. Some deadlines can't change, but this tactic is common even for deadlines that can change. Restricting the discussion for the convenience of some could keep the team from finding a solution that's even better than meeting the deadline. Limiting what people can say deprives us of access to their creativity.
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 the Five Freedoms and their relationship to a sense of organizational safety, see What to Do About Organizational Procrastination.
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More articles on Workplace Politics:
- Getting Into the Conversation
- In well-facilitated meetings, facilitators work hard to ensure that all participants have opportunities
to contribute. The story is rather different for many meetings, where getting into the conversation
can be challenging for some.
- Fooling Ourselves
- Humans have impressive abilities to convince themselves of things that are false. One explanation for
this behavior is the theory of cognitive dissonance.
- Preventing Spontaneous Collapse of Agreements
- Agreements between people at work are often the basis of resolving conflict or political differences.
Sometimes agreements collapse spontaneously. When they do, the consequences can be costly. An understanding
of the mechanisms of spontaneous collapse of agreements can help us craft more stable agreements.
- When the Answer Isn't the Point: II
- Sometimes, when we ask questions, we're more interested in eliciting behavior from the person questioned,
rather than answers. Here's Part II of a set of techniques questioners use when the answer to the question
wasn't the point of asking.
- Exploiting Functional Fixedness: I
- Functional fixedness is a cognitive bias that creates difficulty in seeing novel uses of things that
have familiar uses. Some devious moves in workplace politics exploit functional fixedness.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming August 22: Dealing with Credit Appropriation
- Very little is more frustrating than having someone else claim credit for the work you do. Worse, sometimes they blame you if they get into trouble after misusing your results. Here are three tips for dealing with credit appropriation. Available here and by RSS on August 22.
- And on August 29: Please Reassure Them
- When things go wildly wrong, someone is usually designated to investigate and assess the probability of further trouble. That role can be risky. Here are three guidelines for protecting yourself if that role falls to you. Available here and by RSS on August 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.