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Lone female working with cowboys

Dear Office-Politics,

I just started working in a construction company as a Sr. Contracts Administrator.

After working in a very stressful environments in the past, this place is a dream.

The only thing is I have to sell my ability to contribute to their efforts to them. I am female and work primarily with guys that, while highly educated, come across with somewhat of a cowboy attitude. I work for a separate department and have to bill my time. I have to get them to let me into their projects and see me as a team member. I have been there almost three months and, as they have no formal procedures for tracking contracts have offered to have my department purchase software and do the data entry and tracking myself.

So far, I have been met with blank stares and then been told that they would just as soon keep with what they are doing even though it has no real structure. Any suggestions on how to get these guys to warm up to me and the wealth of value I can add to their project management efforts?

Thanks,

Lone Female

OFFICE-POLITICS REPLY BY DR. RICK BRANDON AND DR. MARTY SELDMAN

dr. rick brandon
dr. marty seldman

Dear Annie Oakley,

We address you as that, so that you can remember that plenty of females learned to fit in with cowboys. You’ve started your letter by stressing that this job in many ways is a “dream,” so we would like to urge you to find ways first of talking their language and fitting in, which means you might do better to initially find ways of adding value and proving your worth and contribution withOUT necessitating their changing how they work. Then, once you fit in and have been accepted “into the club,” you will have then earned the right to push the river a bit by introducing new systems, procedures, and bottom line-impacting processes and process improvements. To take the cowboy analogy a bit further remember these home on the range maxims:

1) Sometimes the pioneers are the ones with the arrows sticking out. We’re not arguing it should be this way, just that it is. Sometimes the ones who make waves before fitting in and gaining enough trust, can just be viewed as a nuisance or forcing the status quo to change. We applaud the value you can and WILL bring, but we’re also reminded of the movie, “The Year of Living Dangerously,” in which Mel Gibson’s foreign reporter in Jakarta during political strife simply could not get an interview no matter what he did to show worth.

Finally, he called his editor and told him to forget hearing from him for two weeks since he decided that he wasn’t going to try to do the job right away, but simply to network, party, and hang out with the various groups he needed to maneuver within for cooperation and connections.

It wasn’t until he built trust INTERPERSONALLY that he could establish TASK trust. So we advise you to find ways to build interpersonal trust rather than attempting so much to convince them of your task-level trustworthiness and value. So the name of the game is to network, build your relationship, and not be perceived too soon as making waves or forcing change. Enjoy yourself socially with them, in other tasks that are part of the ongoing work the group does NOT requiring radically altering how they do business.

2) Ride the wild stallion bareback first, then gradually blend your energy in with the horse and bring it to eventually be comfortable with your putting on the bit, stirrups, and saddle. Here, again, is the image of not imposing your energy onto the beast, but to instead go with the energy it emits and to patiently build trust.

Don’t worry, we are NOT suggesting that you find yourself like in the movie, “Blazing Saddles,” sitting with the cowboys around the campfire, engaged in gas-passing contests! Still, how CAN you fit into some of their rituals and customs before imposing yours on them too prematurely?

The challenge for someone like you, who obviously does bring content and task capability, savings, efficiency, quality, and a solid work ethic, is to not go crazy while you are “paying your dues” in this interim period. You will need to really work on your Self-Talk–– your internal thoughts and self-statements–– so that you can “reframe” this waiting time as PART of doing your job, as the somewhat annoying period to a driver style worker like yourself. Part of organizational politics we call “navigating the aggravating,” since it can seem so counter to common sense. You want to just do the job, the obvious improvements. But it demands what feels insane at times, to bide your time. Try to view this as “the price of the dream” you are describing. At least you won’t make enemies this way, or let the dream become a nightmare. After all, you might truly threaten people who are invested in the status quo.

When the time is right, then begin making your case. Don’t try to corral all the cowboys at once. Work on one stakeholder at a time, enlisting willingness to bring structure just to his part of the organization while you document the cost-savings, time savings, productivity enhancement, all the while assuring him that you will give him half the credit. You want to make him a hero and have him endorse your value with the others in return. Find the one person who you have built trust with and rope him into your ideas with what’s in it for HIM. And then use his good will to gradually sell one other person, then one other. That’s how you’ll herd these bull-headed cattle, not by cracking the whip on all of them at once. That will only create a stampede. Guess who will get trampled?

Good luck, Ms. Oakley!

Warm regards,

Rick Brandon, Ph.d. and Marty Seldman, Ph.D. Co-authors,
Survival of the Savvy: High-Integrity Political Tactics for Career and Company Success


cover of Survival of the SavvyRick 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.

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