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 noncompliance 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 noncooperation 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 noncooperation 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:
- Using Indirectness at Work
- Although many of us value directness, indirectness does have its place. At times, conveying information
indirectly can be a safe way — sometimes the only safe way — to preserve or restore
well-being and comity within the organization.
- 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.
- Some Hazards of Skip-Level Interviews: II
- Skip-level interviews are dialogs between a subordinate and the subordinate's supervisor's supervisor.
They can be both heplful and hazardous. Here's Part II of a little catalog of the hazards.
- I Don't Understand: I
- When someone makes a statement or offers an explanation that's unclear or ambiguous, there are risks
associated with asking for clarification. The risks can seem so terrifying that we decide not to ask.
What keeps us from seeking clarification?
- Many "Stupid" Questions Aren't
- Occasionally someone asks a question that causes us to think, "Now that's a stupid question."
Rarely is that assessment correct. Knowing what alternatives are possible can help us respond more effectively
in the moment.
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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- Get 2003-4 in Why Dogs Wag (PDF, )
- Get 2005-6 in Loopy Things We Do (PDF, )
- Get 2007-8 in Things We Believe That Maybe Aren't So True (PDF, )
- Get 2009-10 in The Questions Not Asked (PDF, )
- Get all of the first twelve years (2001-2012) in The Collected Issues of Point Lookout (PDF, )
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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.