Recently we've examined the behavior of uncooperative non-subordinates from the perspective of the non-subordinate, exploring both internal and organizational reasons for the behavior. We now turn to motivations related to the actions of supervisors.
As before, we'll use C as the name of the person who needs cooperation to carry out his or her responsibilities, and S as the name of the person subverting C. Here are some insights related to the behavior of the supervisors of C and S.
- Strong public support from C's supervisor is essential
- Unless C's supervisor declares to all that C has responsibility for the task in question, the problems C is experiencing could be the result of a misunderstanding. C's supervisor might have been inadvertently ambiguous, or might have chosen ambiguous wording to avoid conflict with one of C's peers.
- When accepting any assignment that could offend others, C can ask for a supervisory commitment to make an unambiguous declaration to everyone whose cooperation C requires.
- C's and S's shared supervisor might be using divide-and-conquer tactics
- Some supervisors believe that competition is an effective tool for managing subordinates, using a technique I call divide and conquer. If S and C share a supervisor, S might be exhibiting behavior encouraged and even sought by their supervisor.
- If so, C didn't create the problem, and C probably can't solve it. If C can't persuade S that the trouble between them is externally caused, C might have to move on.
- C can't control S — only S's supervisor can
- C's best options are asking S respectfully for cooperation, and negotiating with S for cooperation. If they fail, commenting to S about the quality of S's cooperation is a tempting but dangerous course of action. S's resentment and anger are likely outcomes.
- If S's supervisor is C's peer, or of lower rank, C's asking S's supervisor directly for help can be effective. If S's supervisor is of higher rank, C can ask C's own supervisor for help. Some are reluctant to ask for such help, for fear that they might be seen as weak. Such a response by C's supervisor to a request for help is probably out of line, because this kind of help is exactly what supervisors are best able to provide.
- S's supervisor might be targeting C or C's supervisor
- On occasion, Strong public support
from your supervisor
is essentialSs act on behalf of their supervisors, who are targeting C or C's supervisor. Coping with this situation is difficult indeed, especially when S has received deniable direction.
- In these cases, the problem is not between C and S. It's between S's supervisor and C or C's supervisor. C would be wise to deal with it as such.
The most effective strategy for C is asking for supervisor support proactively, before trouble develops. If the request is declined, C has the advantage of learning early that support is not available. First in this series Top Next Issue
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More articles on Workplace Politics:
- When we offer a contribution to a discussion, and everyone ignores it and moves on, we sometimes feel
that our contribution has "plopped." We feel devalued. Rarely is this interpretation correct.
What is going on?
- Devious Political Tactics: Divide and Conquer, Part I
- While most leaders try to achieve organizational unity, some do use divisive tactics to maintain control,
or to elevate performance by fostering competition. Understanding the risks of these tactics can motivate
you to find another way.
- Inappropriate Levels of Regard
- The regard we have for others as people is sometimes influenced by the regard we have for the work they
do. Confusing the two is a dangerous error.
- Not Really Part of the Team: II
- When some team members hang back, declining to show initiative, we tend to overlook the possibility
that their behavior is a response to something happening within or around the team. Too often we hold
responsible the person who's hanging back. What other explanations are possible?
- Workplace Anti-Patterns
- We find patterns of counter-effective behavior — anti-patterns — in every part of life,
including the workplace. Why? What are their features?
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- In disputes or in problem solving sessions, when we can't seem to come to agreement, we often attribute the difficulty to miscommunication, histories of disagreements, hidden agendas, or "personality clashes." Sometimes the cause is much simpler. Sometimes the concept vocabularies of the parties don't overlap. Available here and by RSS on July 15.
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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.
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Decision-makers in modern organizations commonly demand briefings in the form of bullet points or a series of series of bullet points. But this form of presentation has limited value for complex decisions. We need something more. We actually need to think. Briefers who combine the bullet-point format with a variety of persuasion techniques can mislead decision-makers, guiding them into making poor decisions. 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.