Recently we've examined the behavior of uncooperative nonsubordinates from the perspective of the nonsubordinate, 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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Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
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- And on December 14: Straw Man Variants
- The straw man fallacy is a famous rhetorical fallacy. Using it distorts debate and can lead groups to reach faulty conclusions. It's ad readily recognized, but it has some variants that are more difficult to spot. When unnoticed, trouble looms. Available here and by RSS on December 14.
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