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 non-cooperation 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 non-cooperation, 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 non-cooperation 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:
- Obstructionist Tactics: II
- Teams and groups depend for their success on highly effective cooperation between their members. If
even one person is unable or unwilling to cooperate, the team's performance is limited. Here's Part
II of a little catalog of tactics.
- Ground Level Sources of Scope Creep
- We usually think of scope creep as having been induced by managerial decisions. And most often, it probably
is. But most project team members — and others as well — can contribute to the problem.
- Human Limitations and Meeting Agendas
- Recent research has discovered a class of human limitations that constrain our ability to exert self-control
and to make wise decisions. Accounting for these effects when we construct agendas can make meetings
more productive and save us from ourselves.
- Impasses in Group Decision-Making: III
- In group decision-making, impasses can develop. Some are related to the substance of the issue at hand.
With some effort, we can usually resolve substantive impasses. But treating nonsubstantive impasses
in the same way doesn't work. Here's why.
- 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?
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming October 17: Overt Belligerence in Meetings
- Some meetings lose their way in vain attempts to mollify a belligerent participant who simply will not be mollified. Here's one scenario that fits this pattern. Available here and by RSS on October 17.
- And on October 24: Conversation Irritants: I
- Conversations at work can be frustrating even when everyone tries to be polite, clear, and unambiguous. But some people actually try to be nasty, unclear, and ambiguous. Here's Part I of a small collection of their techniques. Available here and by RSS on October 24.
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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.