I discovered your website last week when searching on search engines for insight into my situation at work and found the office politics website to be very informative. Hence, I am contacting you in the hopes of obtaining some valuable insight into my situation.
I was hired by my company a year ago to work with some technology that they were unsuccessful with and they all expected me to fail as well. As it turned out, through some long hours and determination, the whole project I was left with was successful. It appeared that the other team members were feeling threatened. My co-worker, pretending to be my best buddy was back stabbing me and saying subtle negative things about me behind my back to sway my old manager and now my new manager to distrust me. Whatever he did worked. The whole team is against me. There is one guy on this team who is particularly good in the political game and he is masterful at manipulating people to believe his point of view. He gets to know them on an emotional level and works from there. He could not do this with me because I saw through him so I kept my distance. Basically, since this well connected guy “Mr. X” has been talking to my manager and the other manager that he is in cahoots with, my new manager has said very little to me and only comes to me to find out how I do what I do. Of course, I have not imparted with that knowledge.
Last week I found out from a friend that my manager purchased the technology I have been using for the past year for each member of our development team as well as each member of the test team that Mr. X is on. They have excluded me from the meetings. My manager told me that he was buying additional licenses but nothing more than that. During the last two weeks he has asked me to put my files onto the network and provide him with some basic information on how to use the software I have been working with. I put the files on the network but fearing that they are planning to oust me from the company, I have taken my time with the documentation while looking for another job. One of my colleagues came to me last week to thank me again and again for my help with the project and that things went well. I asked him how the new software was that was purchased for the team and he said it was put there and they were told to try to learn it. I asked him what was next and he did not say much. Problem is, he is close to my manager’s colleague who gave me a lot of work to do about a month ago until Mr. X created some friction between the team and myself that resulted in me no longer being involved in those team meetings and resulted in my manager giving that work to someone else and telling me that I can pick up that work again once I have competed my network performance project which I finished two weeks ago.
There has been no follow up about this or anything said about new work. He booked a meeting with me so that I could put my files onto the network and then provide him with an orientation of what is what. I have called in sick to look for another job. I want to ask my manager what my next project is going to be but I am not sure that this will be the right approach as it might force him to bring things to a head and give me notice.
Please advise me as soon as you can. There is also the issue of the team that has been turned against me by Mr. X and they do not say very much to me at all except for my buddy James who came over to thank me for my work. I think that he is hinting that I will not be there much longer so I should look for something else. I am technically supposed to be there until Feb 28. 2005. Please advise. Your insight into this situation is very much appreciated.
Tactical Moves: How can I win at Office-Politics?
OFFICE-POLITICS REPLY BY DR. RICK BRANDON AND DR. MARTY SELDMAN
Dear Tactical Moves: How can I win at Office-Politics?
Firstly, please know that we wish you well regardless of the upshot, and our hunch is you will be successful as you are obviously competent in your field. So keep your head on straight since no matter how this turns out, if you handle your reputation well and cover your tracks, you will land on your feet. You might be able to salvage the current situation, but if not, you’ve invested a year and will leave wiser for the experience. Now, how might you make lemonade out of these lemons?
You can only control your half of any relationship, so give up on trying to prevent sabotage or wish it away. If the people you talk about really are out to trash you, you don’t want to spend undue energy trying to stop human nature. A savvy person accepts that organizational life brings out the best and the worst in people. Try to steer clear of thoughts of outrage or “it shouldn’t be this way.” Of course, it shouldn’t. But this ruminating won’t help you.
BUILD A REPUTATION FOR SELFLESS SHARING
You can buffer yourself from less ethical people by continuing to create a track record of technical competence, but also adding a clear mind-set of helping the immediate team and the company. Ironically, this means being open and forthright with your expertise to help the company build a “learning environment.”
Sure, it’s possible this will make you expendable because you fear they won’t need you anymore, but if that’s the deal, taking your marbles home and refusing to play doesn’t help. The only thing anyone currently is trashing you for seems to be in the area of TRUST, so don’t give them any ammunition!
Instead, do all that you can to prevent this negative Corporate Buzz by making it impossible for anyone to trash you about this. We do hear a tendency on your part to hold information close to your chest out of fear of being ostracized, burned, and run out of the company by threatened, jealous, or power-thirsty people. We worry that your knee-jerk reaction of withholding documentation while you look for another job might backfire and actually fuel the fires of people distrusting your loyalty and team spirit. Right now, people can accuse you of dragging your feet, being uncooperative, and maybe even costing the company unnecessarily around extra licenses being needed when they cannot learn from you.
We’re NOT saying that Mr.X, the new manager, or the fair weather friends on your team SHOULD be treating you this way (if your perceptions are accurate), but the company does have a right to expect you to share openly your knowledge and technically relevant information. That’s what being in a “work for hire” environment means — they do own what you create for the company under salary.
BUT BROADCAST ALL THAT YOU ARE SHARING. We’re recommending one way to avoid being labeled as distrustful is to go out of your way to share EVERYTHING you are working. Just make sure that this open kimono approach of showing all of your technical prowess is not naive, by making sure your openness is totally documented for all to see.
Put your hand print indelibly on every program you share, on the lessons you provide others, on Intranet postings you provide to help the company. WE KNOW THIS GOES AGAINST THE GRAIN. We’re proposing that you make yourself indispensable by being the resident guru on this technology. Come from a mindset of abundance rather than scarcity and fear. Usually around saboteurs we advise people to be prudent, careful, and guarded about what you say, but here you are battling to combat the reputation of being untrustworthy and you are painting a picture of this being a last resort situation. So really you have nothing to lose. If you’re out of a job anyway and you can’t change their minds, you might as well make it really hard for anyone to accuse you of not helping the team or company.
SUMMARY RATIONALE. If you hoard data and don’t help, then you may be more vulnerable to their finger-pointing. The thing that makes this not playing victim are two points:
1) You need to create an impression of open sharing since that is the opposite of what you’re being accused of doing. And you have some appreciative witnesses already.
2) Your value proposition isn’t just doing your job, but helping others do theirs, too. Even Mr. X. It’s your job to make your manager look great. Make yourself a mentor, a professor emeritus, someone so valuable to the knowledge bank that it will be tough for anyone to fire you.
3) You are doing this only while promoting your results and contribution so that they are visible to everyone.
WATCH YOUR SELF-TALK
You might find all of this distasteful, since it relates back to the famous line, “Keep your friends close, but your enemies even closer.” But this might be the only option for swimming with the sharks. If you do this with open eyes, in order to purposely prevent blame about hoarding, and with plenty of networking and visibility with other seniors about how magnanimous and non-protective you are being, perhaps other stakeholders and power holders will buffer you against Mr. X. if all of this doesn’t work, you’re no worse off than you are now, and you can point to how open and forthcoming you were to your new job interviewers. By the way do NOT gripe about your current situation while interviewing since they might brand you as a malcontent or troublemaker even though you are not.
Please let us know how this all turns out! Thanks for writing to Office-Politics.
Rick Brandon, Ph.D. and Marty Seldman, Ph.D. Co-authors,
Survival of the Savvy: High-Integrity Political Tactics for Career and Company Success
Rick Brandon, Ph.D. and Marty Seldman, Ph.D. are Co-authors, Survival of the Savvy: High-Integrity Political Tactics for Career and Company Success. Dr. Rick Brandon is CEO of Brandon Partners. He has consulted and trained tens of thousands at corporations worldwide, including Fortune 500 companies across a variety of industries. Dr. Marty Seldman is one of America’s most experienced executive coaches. His 35-year career includes expertise in executive coaching, group dynamics, cross-cultural studies, clinical psychology, and training.Publication note: This letter was originally published in November, 2005. We are republishing the best letters from Office-Politics and integrating them with our blog format.