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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Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
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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.