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:
- Peek-a-Boo and Leadership
- Great leaders know what to say, what not to say, and when to say or not say it, sometimes with stunning
effect. Consistently effective leadership requires superior empathy skills. Here are some things to
do to improve your empathy skills.
- Virtual Conflict
- Conflict, both constructive and destructive, is part of teamwork. As virtual teams become more common,
we're seeing more virtual conflict — conflict that crosses site boundaries. Dealing with destructive
conflict is difficult enough face-to-face, but in virtual teams, it's especially tricky.
- Discussion Distractions: I
- Meetings could be far more productive, if only we could learn to recognize and prevent the distractions
that lead us off topic and into the woods. Here is Part I of a small catalog of distractions frequently
seen in meetings.
- Rope-A-Dope in Organizational Politics
- Mohammed Ali's strategy of "rope-a-dope" has wide application. Here's an example of applying
it to workplace politics at the organizational scale.
- Much of what we call backstabbing is actually just straightforward attack — nasty, unethical,
even evil, but not backstabbing. What is backstabbing?
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming July 22: Red Flags: I
- When we finally admit to ourselves that a collaborative effort is in serious trouble, we sometimes recall that we had noticed several "red flags" early enough to take action. Toxic conflict and voluntary turnover are two examples. Available here and by RSS on July 22.
- And on July 29: Red Flags: II
- When we find clear evidence of serious problems in a project or other collaboration, we sometimes realize that we had overlooked several "red flags" that had foretold trouble. In this Part II of our review of red flags, we consider communication patterns that are useful indicators of future problems. Available here and by RSS on July 29.
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