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:
- Devious Political Tactics: The False Opportunity
- Workplace politics can make any environment dangerous, both to your career and to your health. This
excerpt from my little catalog of devious political tactics describes the false opportunity, which appears
to be a chance to perform, to contribute, or to make a real difference. It's often something else.
- The High Cost of Low Trust: II
- Truly paying attention to Trust at work is rare, in part, because we don't fully appreciate what distrust
really costs. Here's Part II of a little catalog of how we cope with distrust, and how we pay for it.
- Nasty Questions: II
- In meetings, telemeetings, and email we sometimes ask questions that aren't intended to elicit information.
Rather, they're indirect attacks intended to advance the questioner's political agenda. Here's part
two of a catalog of some favorite tactics.
- Communication Traps for Virtual Teams: I
- Virtual teams encounter difficulties that rarely confront face-to-face teams. What special challenges
do they face, and what can we do about them?
- Conversation Despots
- Some people insist that conversations reach their personally favored conclusions, no matter what others
want. Here are some of their tactics.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming January 22: Disjoint Awareness: Bias
- Some cognitive biases can cause people in collaborations to have inaccurate understandings of what each other is doing. Confirmation bias and self-serving bias are two examples of cognitive biases that can contribute to disjoint awareness in some situations. Available here and by RSS on January 22.
- And on January 29: Higher-Velocity Problem Definition
- Typical approaches to shortening time-to-market for new products usually involve accelerating problem solving. Accelerating problem definition can also help. Available here and by RSS on January 29.
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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.