We began to explore pariah professions last time, when we defined them as professions regarded within the enterprise as "outsiders." That view needn't be universal. That is, the people in Finance might regard the people in Engineering as "less than" because, as the people in Finance might say, "the engineers are more concerned with adding new features than they are with generating revenue." The Engineers might have similarly low regard for Testers, but the people in Finance might be neutral about Testers. A profession that is a pariah to one group might not be a pariah to another.
When one profession regards another as a pariah, the disregard can be symmetric. Pairings that often have low regard for each other include Engineering with Finance, Marketing with Product Development, Product Development with Product Testing, Doctors with Nurses, and Attorneys with People Who Aren't Attorneys. And in some organizations, for people looking for a pariah, there's always Tech Support.
In the society at large, social outsiders often lead lives of relative economic deprivation. In organizational life, the economic extremes can be much less pronounced, but compensation is often correlated with pariah status.
In organizations that permit some professions to regard others as pariahs, people exhibit behaviors that limit organizational potential. Here are two classes of behaviors related to information management.
- Passive deception
- When representatives of a pariah profession encounter opposition as they attempt to carry out their duties, some might resort to passively deceptive tactics, which are efforts intended to prevent detection of actual capabilities and plans. For example, employees of a financial control unit might entertain appeals for policy waivers from some politically powerful parties, while other employees of that same financial control unit — possibly even the same employees — assert to other less powerful parties that waivers are never granted.
- Passive deception can be a tempting expedient in dealing with opposition. Still, its effects are caustic and durable.
- Information hoarding
- To defend against perceived or anticipated actions by members of pariah professions, some When one profession regards
another as a pariah, the
disregard can be symmetricemployees conceal information from members of pariah professions who need that information to properly carry out their responsibilities. The concealers feel justified, because they perceive the pariah's behavior as subverting organizational goals. This behavior can be symmetric; members of pariah professions also conceal information if they feel that they will be hindered in carrying out their duties if the information is made available internally.
- These behaviors are especially toxic, because they only add to the tension between the pariah profession and other professions.
Passive deception and information hoarding are representative of a rich catalog of behaviors observable in organizational cultures that tolerate pariahdom. There are, of course, many better ways to be. Whether or not they are in reach for you depends on your position and your courage. First in this series Top Next Issue
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More articles on Conflict Management:
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Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming December 13: Contrary Indicators of Psychological Safety: I
- To take the risks that learning and practicing new ways require, we all need a sense that trial-and-error approaches are safe. Organizations seeking to improve processes would do well to begin by assessing their level of psychological safety. Available here and by RSS on December 13.
- And on December 20: Contrary Indicators of Psychological Safety: II
- When we begin using new tools or processes, we make mistakes. Practice is the cure, but practice can be scary if the grace period for early mistakes is too short. For teams adopting new methods, psychological safety is a fundamental component of success. Available here and by RSS on December 20.
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