Last time we began exploring why people who don't report to you sometimes decline to cooperate in efforts for which you're legitimately responsible. Our goal is control of our emotions by finding alternative interpretations of uncooperative behavior — alternatives to "He hates me," or other simplistic conjectures. We began with the personal motivations of obstructers.
Let's now examine organizational concerns that might lead to uncooperative behavior. As I did last time, I use C as the name of the person who's championing the effort, and S for the person who's subverting it.
- Objecting to the goal
- Sometimes the subversion is actually objection to the overall goal. To someone who has been frustrated in modifying that goal, or eliminating it from the organizational agenda, being required to contribute to its achievement can be very bitter indeed. Simple non-compliance becomes a tempting tactic.
- If S had previously expressed doubts about the goal, or had issued grave warnings against attempting it, failure might elevate S's status. In such cases, subversive activity isn't so much an attempt to target C as it is an effort to elevate S.
- Attachment to what has been
- If C's task is related to an organizational change effort, S's non-cooperation might actually be something often called resistance, which I prefer to call active persistence. See "Is It Really Resistance?," Point Lookout for January 24, 2001, for more.
- It's useful to identify these attachments, because others might be similarly affected. The behavior suggests that the change effort itself is the source of the problem, rather than S.
- Delaying tactics
- Sometimes the goal of non-cooperation is simple delay. Delay might prevent exposure of other problems, or it might conceal delays in seemingly unrelated efforts.
- What appears to be sabotage or intentional subversion might actually be a less malevolent attempt to prevent on-time or early completion. Consider not only who might benefit from failure, but also who might benefit from delay.
- Favors and deals
- S's behavior might What appears to be sabotage
or intentional subversion
might actually be a less
malevolent attempt to prevent
on-time or early completionbe less important to S than it is to someone else. That is, S might be acting on behalf of one or more others, as part of a deal or as a favor. This is rare behavior in most organizations, because it requires a relatively toxic political atmosphere where people believe that such behavior is permissible.
- Deals have prices attached to them. If you can outbid the person with whom S has struck a deal, you might gain S's cooperation for a time. Remember, though, that political prices come in both positive and negative forms — as incentives and disincentives, and as rewards and punishments. If S's political partner has a bigger budget for deals — that is, if S has more clout than you have — you probably can't compete in the auction.
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More articles on Workplace Politics:
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- Nasty Questions: I
- Some of the questions we ask each other aren't intended to elicit information from the respondent. Rather,
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very little in return. They're pumpers. What can you do to deal with pumpers?
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Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming February 27: Brainstorming and Speedstorming: II
- Recent research into the effectiveness of brainstorming has raised some questions. Motivated to examine alternatives, I ran into speedstorming. Here's Part II of an exploration of the properties of speedstorming. Available here and by RSS on February 27.
- And on March 6: A Pain Scale for Meetings
- Most meetings could be shorter, less frequent, and more productive than they are. Part of the problem is that we don't realize how much we do to get in our own way. If we track the incidents of dysfunctional activity, we can use the data to spot trends and take corrective action. Available here and by RSS on March 6.
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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.