Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 10, Issue 33;   August 18, 2010: What Insubordinate Non-Subordinates Want: I

What Insubordinate Non-Subordinates Want: I

by

When you're responsible for an organizational function, and someone not reporting to you won't recognize your authority, or doesn't comply with policies you rightfully established, you have a hard time carrying out your responsibilities. Why does this happen?
Male peponapis pruinosa — one of the "squash bees."

Male peponapis pruinosa — one of the "squash bees." Flowering plants use a variety of strategies to gain the cooperation of pollinators. Their strategies are so effective that they rarely have to deal with "insubordinate non-subordinates." For example, some plants produce two kinds of pollen — one that is involved in cross pollination and a second type that's sterile but which is more appealing to pollinators. Other plants produce a nectar laced with a narcotic to encourage the pollinator to linger at the flower, enhancing the probability of successful pollen transfer.

Both of these strategies illustrate a general principal of organizational dynamics: it's easier to stay out of trouble than it is to get out of trouble. To apply this principle to insubordinate non-subordinates would be to recognize that keeping non-subordinates cooperative is easier than winning their cooperation once it has been withdrawn. Keeping non-subordinates cooperative requires an understanding of their motives for not cooperating. Photo by Jim Cane, courtesy U.S. Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service Bee Biology and Systematics Lab, reproduced by the U.S. Forest Service.

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.

Attention
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 effectively
C might just be collateral damage.
Revenge
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.

Next time, we'll examine scenarios that involve people other than C or S.  Next in this series Go to top Top  Next issue: What Insubordinate Non-Subordinates Want: II  Next Issue

303 Secrets of Workplace PoliticsIs 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

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenDDfhaqSshOPXpjIDner@ChacPSJmCZJezLPMgllxoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.

About Point Lookout

Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.

Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.

Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.

Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.

Related articles

More articles on Workplace Politics:

Patterns of ConversationPatterns of Everyday Conversation
Many conversations follow identifiable patterns. Recognizing those patterns, and preparing yourself to deal with them, can keep you out of trouble and make you more effective and influential.
President Richard Nixon resignsObstructionist Tactics: I
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. What tactics do obstructors use?
George Washington Crossing the DelawareThe Advantages of Political Attack: II
In workplace politics, attackers are often surprisingly successful with even the flimsiest assertions. Often, they prevail, in part, because they can choose the time and venue for their attacks. They also have the advantage of preparation. How can targets respond effectively?
Gen. John J. Pershing, Gen. George C. Marshall and Gen. Dwight D. EisenhowerWhen You're the Least of the Best: II
Many professions have entry-level roles that combine education with practice. Although these "newbies" have unique opportunities to learn from veterans, the role's relatively low status sometimes conflicts with the self-image of the new practitioner. Comfort in the role makes learning its lessons easier.
Senator Jeff Sessions grills Budget Director Sylvia Burwell on President Obama's 2015 Budget March 5, 2014That Was a Yes-or-No Question: I
In tense situations, one person might question another. As the respondent replies, the questioner interjects, "That was a yes-or-no question." The intent is to trap the respondent. How does this work, and how can the respondent escape the trap?

See also Workplace Politics and Conflict Management for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

Puppies waiting intently for a shot at the treatComing June 27: Interrupting Others in Meetings Safely: I
In meetings we sometimes feel the need to interrupt others to offer a view or information, or to suggest adjusting the process. But such interruptions carry risk of offense. How can we interrupt others safely? Available here and by RSS on June 27.
A VoiceStation 500 speakerphone by PolycomAnd on July 4: Interrupting Others in Meetings Safely: II
When we feel the need to interrupt someone who's speaking in a meeting, to offer a view or information, we would do well to consider (and mitigate) the risk of giving offense. Here are some techniques for interrupting the speaker in situations not addressed by the meeting's formal process. Available here and by RSS on July 4.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenYsIcUEjtQogRVeDLner@ChacMZlGiiqYjXdJHtmtoCanyon.com or (650) 787-6475, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.

Get the ebook!

Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:

Reprinting this article

Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Public seminars

The Race to the South Pole: The Power of Agile Development
On 14The Race to the Pole: An Application of Agile Development December 1911, four men led by Roald Amundsen reached the South Pole. Thirty-five days later, Robert F. Scott and four others followed. Amundsen had won the race to the pole. Amundsen's party returned to base on 26 January 1912. Scott's party perished. As historical drama, why this happened is interesting enough. Lessons abound. Among the more important lessons are those that demonstrate the power of the agile approach to project management and product development. Read more about this program. Here's a date for this program:

The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
Many The Power Affect: How We Express Personal Powerpeople 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.

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Follow me at Google+ or share a post Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
Please donate!The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
Technical Debt for Policymakers BlogMy blog, Technical Debt for Policymakers, offers resources, insights, and conversations of interest to policymakers who are concerned with managing technical debt within their organizations. Get the millstone of technical debt off the neck of your organization!

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.

303 Secrets of Workplace PoliticsIs 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!
303 Tips for Virtual and Global TeamsLearn how to make your virtual global team sing.
My free weekly email newsletter gives concrete tips and suggestions for dealing with the challenging but everyday situations we all face.
A Tip A DayA Tip a Day arrives by email, or by RSS Feed, each business day. It's 20 to 30 words at most, and gives you a new perspective on the hassles and rewards of work life. Most tips also contain links to related articles. Free!
101 Tips for Effective MeetingsLearn how to make meetings more productive — and more rare.
Exchange your "personal trade secrets" — the tips, tricks and techniques that make you an ace — with other aces, anonymously. Visit the Library of Personal Trade Secrets.