You've been given a responsibility that you can discharge effectively only with sincere cooperation from some people who don't report to you. Perhaps it's an organizational function, or developing a procedure or policy, or supporting a decision process, or any of a number of cross-functional tasks.
Typically, people cooperate, but since almost everyone is overloaded, the degree of cooperation varies. Although some people do present problems, most people mean well — they just have too much to do.
And then there are the other people.
Some are determined not to cooperate. Since they probably don't want to communicate either, we're often unsure why they don't cooperate. Sometimes we interpret noncooperation as personal. We assume that the issue is one between two people, and that we know exactly who the two people are.
If we understand the yearnings and goals of the person who chooses not to cooperate, we can respond more effectively. Here are some typical motivators or yearnings that can lead to noncooperation, emphasizing individual factors. I'll use C as the name of the person who's championing the effort, and S for the person who's subverting it.
- When getting attention is S's goal, the question becomes, "Whose attention is being sought?" The true target might be someone higher in the organization than C is, or someone else whose aspirations will be indirectly subverted.
- Even though C might be the most directly affected, it's wise not to assume that C is the target of the subversion. If we understand the yearnings
and goals of the person who
chooses not to cooperate, we
can respond more effectivelyC might just be collateral damage.
- C might not consider revenge as S's motivator if C is unaware of the supposed past offense, or if the true target isn't C. And sometimes C just can't believe that S would engage in such petty behavior.
- When trying to understand S's motivation, revenge can seem so unsettling as an explanation that C rules it out. C might even feel guilty for thinking about it. But revenge can be very tempting to S, who can often gain revenge simply by doing nothing.
- Sometimes they're confused or misinformed
- Often we assume, with some justification, that people act with intention and with full and accurate understanding of the situation, but it's possible that what appears to be intentional, informed noncooperation is not that. The behavior in question could be the result of confusion or misinformation. Perhaps S is truly swamped; perhaps S does indeed intend not to cooperate. But perhaps S is also merely confused; perhaps S has been misinformed. That is, if S truly understood the situation, S would cooperate eagerly.
- Confusion can have multiple dimensions. Consider investigating whether S is confused. Perhaps a private conversation will be enough to sort things out.
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
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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.
- How Did I Come to Be So Overworked?
- You're good at your job, but there's just too much of it, and it keeps on coming. Your boss doesn't
seem to realize how much work you do. How does this happen?
- 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?
- Embarrassment, Shame, and Guilt at Work: Coping
- Coping effectively with feelings of embarrassment, shame, or guilt is the path to recovering a sense
of balance that's the foundation of clear thinking. And thinking clearly at work is important if you
want to avoid feeling embarrassment, shame, or guilt.
- Answering Questions You Can't Answer
- When someone asks an unanswerable question, many of us respond by asking for clarification. That path
can lead to trouble. Responding to a question with a question can seem defensive, or worse. How can
you answer a question you can't answer?
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming November 30: Avoiding Speed Bumps: II
- Many of the difficulties we encounter when working together don't create long-term harm, but they do cause delays, confusion, and frustration. Here's Part II of a little catalog of tactics for avoiding speed bumps. Available here and by RSS on November 30.
- And on December 7: Reaching Agreements in Technological Contexts
- Reaching consensus in technological contexts presents special challenges. Problems can arise from interactions between the technological elements of the issue at hand, and the social dynamics of the group addressing that issue. Here are three examples. Available here and by RSS on December 7.
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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.