To shirk is to avoid carrying out something such as an obligation, a task, or a responsibility. Motivations for shirking vary, but the simplest motives include laziness, fear, and distaste for work. An example of a more complex motive is reluctance to reveal ignorance, incompetence, lack of talent, or lack of a skill needed to accomplish the task. Understanding the motives of shirkers is important, but even more essential is recognizing shirking when it happens.
To shirk unnoticed is the shirker's ultimate goal. Here's a short catalog of tactics of artful shirkers.
- Pretend you're busy
- Looking busy can conceal the shirker's actual activities — surfing the Web, working on personal projects, whatever can be made to look like real work. But most important, shirkers can use fake work to deflect incoming task assignments, by backing their claims that they're "overloaded already." Ironically, pretending to be busy can be exhausting.
- Schedule check meetings too late
- Check meetings are meetings in which we verify that things are proceeding as planned and everyone understands what work is to be done. When shirkers schedule check meetings, they can time them to occur too late for any mid-course corrections. If what they've done is wrong or inadequate, the deadline is then too close to allow for any significant adjustments.
- Request feedback prematurely
- Asking for Understanding the motives of
shirkers is important, but even
more essential is recognizing
shirking when it happensfeedback early in an effort might indicate earnest concern for doing things right. It can also be a ploy intended to elicit words of encouragement that can later be cited as indicating that the level of accomplishment was adequate for the completed task, when the giver of the feedback was only trying to indicate adequate progress to that point. A request for early feedback can also be a trap for those who feel the urge to demonstrate how to do it right, and who thus inadvertently take on significant chunks of both the task and the associated responsibility.
- Transfer work to others
- Transferring work to others requires chutzpah, especially if the target of the transfer isn't someone to whom the shirker has the authority to assign tasks. The artful shirker just tells the target to do it, while subtly communicating the idea that the target is expected to take on the task. For example, "I need this by Friday," or "We're counting on you to get this done today."
- Exploit ambiguity
- Requests of the shirker that are ambiguous in the most innocent ways can be disastrous. For example, asking that "a communication go out," might actually be widely and reasonably understood to be a request that a formal email notification be logged and distributed promptly, but the shirker can interpret it broadly enough to mean that a casual conversation or phone call would suffice.
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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.
- 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.
- The Politics of the Critical Path: I
- The Critical Path of a project or activity is the sequence of dependent tasks that determine the earliest
completion date of the effort. If you're responsible for one of these tasks, you live in a unique political
- Projects as Proxy Targets: I
- Some projects have detractors so determined to prevent project success that there's very little they
won't do to create conditions for failure. Here's Part I of a catalog of tactics they use.
- Narcissistic Behavior at Work: II
- Narcissistic behavior at work threatens the enterprise. People who behave narcissistically systematically
place their own interests and welfare ahead of anyone or anything else. In this Part II of the series
we consider the narcissistic preoccupation with superiority fantasies.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming August 22: Dealing with Credit Appropriation
- Very little is more frustrating than having someone else claim credit for the work you do. Worse, sometimes they blame you if they get into trouble after misusing your results. Here are three tips for dealing with credit appropriation. Available here and by RSS on August 22.
- And on August 29: Please Reassure Them
- When things go wildly wrong, someone is usually designated to investigate and assess the probability of further trouble. That role can be risky. Here are three guidelines for protecting yourself if that role falls to you. Available here and by RSS on August 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.