When meetings take place surreptitiously, behind closed doors and blinds, suspicion builds. I was working with a finance department for a major agency. The director was well-known...and feared...for her supposed "open door" policy. Loudly she proclaimed that anyone at any time was welcome to come and speak with her in her office. She declared that she wanted open communication and everyone feeling able to talk with her. Sounds great. So, what was the problem?
When a brave person would muster up his or her courage and take her at her word, it was likely that, in moments, the yelling voice of the director could be heard throughout the department, complete with language suitable for a gutter! Oh, but that was not all. Seconds later, the door of her office would slam shut and the blinds would snap. The hopeful employee trapped inside. And, the abuse would continue.
When I was brought in to act as consultant, trainer and coach, my task was to create a functioning team from these nine people. One screamer, three middle managers living on tenterhooks and five subordinates afraid to speak or step sideways. Whew! You can believe that there were many days that those folks seriously considered sick leave!
People enjoy power. Some people abuse power. And, they do it from fear. No one needs to abuse power when they feel secure, when they know they are competent and capable, when they have nothing to prove.
Some people feel they have to stomp on and mess with folks in order to get a promotion. In some dysfunctional businesses, this is true. I was recently working with an executive coaching client who had a boss who wanted harmony at any price. He was petrified of managing conflict in his office. My client was bringing in great clients, with their money, but her subordinate did not like her. The boss, in his wisdom, decided to release my client rather than deal with the underhanded and in-her-face behavior of the subordinate. All in the name of peace. Strange things happen in the corporate world sometimes.
Of course, the opposite could also happen. The person who brings in the most money could be allowed to trample over the subordinates because the bottom line is more important than respect.
A reader wrote to me about a director who plays power games. This woman calls meetings at inconvenient times and invites her favorites along. This requires folks to shift priorities, upset family plans, and give up weekends just to satisfy this woman's whims. But she takes the abuse of power to a whole new level. Once everyone has changed their plans to accommodate her, she changes her mind, changes the meeting time, and the shifting begins again. What an incredibly insecure woman!
Backstabbing, gossiping, greed, and power games are a sign of an unhealthy organization. Worse, though, those who engage in these things are wasting vital energy and making themselves miserable. You might think that eliminating these things will eliminate you from the promotion ranks. You might think that I "don't understand how the game is played". Believe me, I do. My question to you is "Are you willing to give up your integrity and peace of mind on a daily basis in order to play into someone else's misguided power games?" What is the real prize?
Yes, I know, you need the pay check. We all do need to be able to earn our keep. How about this, though? How about you behave in integrity with your values and refuse to play? Wouldn't that feel better? Would you enjoy each day more? And, eventually, folks will get the message.
Here are a few tips for you:
Be the appreciator
Mention the things you appreciate. Comment on the things you like. Discuss what you prefer.
William James, the father of psychology, said, "The deepest craving of the human nature is the need to be appreciated." Appreciation is cost-free. Move the things you like forward by talking about them. It takes almost no effort to find something you appreciate about each person you know. Just give voice to it. Guess what? You'll be appreciated.
Never say anything you don't want to be true
Wow! This one can change the face of the planet, let alone the culture of your workplace. Speak only about what you want to see happen, what would improve things. Focus on the positive and give voice to it.
No, this is not Pollyanna thinking. That's why I wrote the book, What You Pay Attention to Expands -- because it is true. How much energy do you lose when you engage in the "poor me" and "ain't it awful" conversations? You're doing it to yourself.
I'll bet you would not list gossip, backstabbing, or negativity as one of the desirable values you hold dear. But, are you behaving as though that were true? Remember, your behavior is your belief and there is no way around that one!
First rule of change: Be the change you want to see in the world. That's what Gandhi said and I believe it is paramount. How many people expect behaviors from others that they are not demonstrating themselves?
Talk about what you want to create. Keep the buzz going about what is possible. Influence the culture of your workplace with your presence. Be strong. Be the voice for fair play and reason.
Would that person who calls those meetings that inconvenience everyone be happy if it happened to her? No, she would be the first to complain. Would the person who runs to you with the latest gossip be thrilled to be the topic of conversation tomorrow morning? No, he would be outraged and declare it unfair. Would the backstabber cry when stabbed? Louder than anyone.
Stop this nonsense. Just stop it. Refuse to play. It will soon end the game and, if not the whole game, it will end the game around you.
I'm not talking about being a wuss, a doormat, or a snob. This is about being in integrity with what you value, with being the person you most want to be. Use your energy, time, and resources in ways that make you feel good every day. After all, it is your quality of life you're creating!
There are risks. You may be happier. People may gravitate towards you and want to play on your team. You may become a leader and have the opportunity to demonstrate a better way of doing things.
Of course, there are other risks. You may be seen as different and no fun at all. Some folks don't like people to rain on their pity parties! Or, you may catch the eye of the offender in power. Guess what? You'll be the one who is promulgating positivity. You'll be the one showing that there is another, a better way, to make it through the work day. And, they just may want you on their team. Why? Because you are easy to be around.
OK, now, do the math. You're easy to be around while sharing what's possible for the team, department, or company. That has to be attractive. Hang in. Backstabbers lose every day. Not only will you be winning every day personally, you very well may win the day. Be a shift shaper!
Dr. Rhoberta Shaler solves "people problems" at work by making it easier to talk about difficult things. Dr. Shaler speaks to, trains and coaches executives and entrepreneurs worldwide in the communication skills essential to creating powerful conversations that reduce conflict & anger, build trust, and streamline negotiation. The rewards: stronger teams, optimized productivity and increased profits. Author of over a dozen books and audio programs, Dr. Shaler's next book, Wrestling Rhinos: Conquering Conflict in the Wilds of Work will be available summer 2004. She is the founder of the Optimize! Institute in Escondido, CA.© 2004 Rhoberta Shaler, Ph.D.
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