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.
Is 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
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More articles on Workplace Politics:
- The High Cost of Low Trust: I
- We usually think of Trust as one of those soft qualities that we would all like our organizational cultures
to have. Yet, truly paying attention to Trust at work is rare, in part, because we don't fully appreciate
what distrust really costs. Here are some of the ways we pay for low trust.
- The 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?
- Beyond Our Control
- When bad things happen, despite our plans and our best efforts, we sometimes feel responsible. We failed.
We could have done more. But is that really true? Aren't some things beyond our control?
- The Knowledge One-Upmanship Game
- The Knowledge One-Upmanship Game is a pattern of group behavior in the form of a contest to determine
which player knows the most arcane fact. It can seem like innocent fun, but it can disrupt a team's
ability to collaborate.
- Judging Others
- Being "judgmental" is a stance most people recognize as transgressing beyond widely accepted
social norms. But what's the harm in judging others? And why do so many people do it so often?
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming December 18: The Trap of Beautiful Language
- As we assess the validity of others' statements, we risk making a characteristically human error — we confuse the beauty of their language with the reliability of its meaning. We're easily thrown off by alliteration, anaphora, epistrophe, and chiasmus. Available here and by RSS on December 18.
- And on December 25: Disjoint Awareness
- In collaborations, awareness of how our own work might interfere with the work of others is essential. Unless our awareness of others' work — and their awareness of ours — matches reality, the collaboration's objective is at risk. Available here and by RSS on December 25.
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- 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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- 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.