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.
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More articles on Workplace Politics:
- Stonewalling: II
- Stonewalling is a tactic of obstruction. Some less sophisticated tactics rely on misrepresentation to
gum up the works. Those that employ bureaucratic methods are more devious. What can you do about stonewalling?
- Rope-A-Dope in Organizational Politics
- Mohammed Ali's strategy of "rope-a-dope" has wide application. Here's an example of applying
it to workplace politics at the organizational scale.
- Social Transactions: We're Doing It My Way
- We have choices about how we conduct social transactions — greetings, partings, opening doors,
and so on. Some transactions require that we collaborate with others. In social transactions, how do
we decide whose preferences rule?
- Exasperation Generators: Irrelevant Detail
- When people relate stories at work, what seems important to one person can feel irrelevant to someone
else. Being subjected to one irrelevant detail after another can be as exasperating as being told repeatedly
to get to the point. How can we find a balance?
- 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.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming October 4: Self-Importance and Conversational Narcissism at Work: I
- Conversational narcissism is a set of behaviors that participants use to focus the exchange on their own self-interest rather than the shared objective. This post emphasizes the role of these behaviors in advancing a narcissist's sense of self-importance. Available here and by RSS on October 4.
- And on October 11: Self-Importance and Conversational Narcissism at Work: II
- Self-importance is one of four major themes of conversational narcissism. Knowing how to recognize the patterns of conversational narcissism is a fundamental skill needed for controlling it. Here are eight examples that emphasize self-importance. Available here and by RSS on October 11.
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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.