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I’m the quiet, reserved, stay at my desk type…

headline illustration and photo composition by franke james; man on couch ©iStockphoto.com/René Jansa

Dear Office-Politics,

I know that you have to play the game sometimes but some of us are just not very good at it. I’m one of those quiet, reserved, stay at my desk, get my job done types. I’m a first time manager (a department of three) and in my second year have already managed to alienate my boss, our Director of Operation’s.

Doesn’t matter how I guess; it’s a subtle thing. I just know. His actions speak louder than words. I know there’s some animosity towards me. Could it be he wasn’t too happy about me going over his head while he was on vacation a year or so ago? Could be. Probably was the start of it. Kind of hard not to when his boss is pushing me to do just that!

One of the other Directors thinks my boss is threatened by me. I don’t know… perhaps; I could say I don’t care, but I do. I don’t care about being friends with him or liking him, I don’t. I just want to figure out how to be better at playing this game!

I like this job and it has a lot of benefits and perks and I have a lot of things I want to accomplish at this position. I want him to make people accountable. He won’t. Drives me (and others) nuts! I want him to talk to me, to have team meetings, to communicate better! He won’t. He’s stubborn, he doesn’t think things through and generally, likes to tell (yell) at everyone to work as a team when really it’s one specific department we all have an issue with that he refuses to do anything about. Basically I have a boss who’s just waiting for retirement, (he’s in his late 50’s), is set in his ways and I know he’s not changing anytime soon. I don’t want to cut him down, I’m not like that but I do need to figure out how to “fit in” better with him.

Otherwise I should just go back to my prior job where I could twiddle my thumbs, get paid better and have less responsibility and would be a dead end, unchallenging career. What advice do you have for someone like me?




franke james

Dear Determined,

Let’s circle back to your opening comment, “I know that you have to play the game sometimes but some of us are just not very good at it. I’m one of those quiet, reserved, stay at my desk, get my job done types.” You are very comfortable being an under political player. But keeping your head down doesn’t mean that you’re safe, or protected. It just means you won’t see it coming when you get whacked on the head!

Here’s my take on how you can get better at playing the game.

Part A: What are you doing right?

One of the best things about your letter is that you’re trying to find out what you may have done wrong, and what you can do better — and you’re also reaching out for more knowledge on management issues and behavior. That is excellent and bodes well for your future success.

1. Opening up the Communication’s Channels
Your desire to make employees accountable, have team meetings, and communicate better is 100% right. It is totally in step with the best and brightest management thinking. Many of the nasty problems around office politics (e.g. internal bickering and finger-pointing) evaporate when people wake up to what the goal really is: Making your company a winner on the world stage. That takes employees who understand what their role in the company is, and how their passion, intelligence and energy contributes to its success. Everyone has to be focused on goals and be held accountable — and employees who do not perform, or act as blockers, need to be jettisoned. Studies have shown that job satisfaction is often not about the money — employees want to see that they are achieving their objectives and making a difference.

2. You’re a team player
Your interest in getting the team to play better is healthy for you and your company. Good on you! Team meetings are a great idea. Can you imagine a hockey or football team not having team meetings? Of course not, it would be laughable. Players need to understand the big game plan (how the company makes money, wins market share from their individual efforts), what their fellow players are doing to help score points, and what their individual ‘play’ is. A three-part structure we use in meetings all the time is to 1. Imagine the big dream (or goal) 2. Identify the hurdles 3. Create an action plan with deliverables and dates. It’s simple but it works very well. I wouldn’t embark on any project without doing it.

3. The company scorecard
Making employees accountable is a no-brainer but it’s amazing the company’s that don’t do it. Figure out what your company scorecard is. For most it’s profits. Make sure that everyone on the team understands the profit wheel, and how they keep it going around. To go back to the game analogy — you’d never play a hockey game and not know what the score is, so in that light every employee needs to understand the financials.

4. Enthusiastic Attitude
You have a great attitude: “I like this job and it has a lot of benefits and perks and I have a lot of things I want to accomplish at this position.” Your enthusiasm is transferable to other companies. If your company culture doesn’t improve and get up to speed, you may be wise to look elsewhere.

Part B: What could you be doing better?

1. Risky move
Going over your boss’ head while he was on vacation was a risky move. You may have achieved your objective but as you’ve pointed out it’s caused animosity and a loss of trust. People hate having someone go over their head. But having been there, I know that there are situations where, for the good of the company it is the right thing to do. You need to be tough and stand by your principles — and sometimes that means bringing a problem (or opportunity) to the attention of upper management.

We don’t know why you butted heads with your boss. But the next time it happens, step back and ask yourself these questions:

· Is this a battle worth fighting?
· What is the internal and external cost?
· Is there another way to achieve my objective?

If it is worth fighting then here are a few ideas to consider:
· Analyze the power structure. Who is the key decision-maker? Who is on your side? Who is against you?
· Analyze your game strategy: How will they try to knock you down? What can you arm yourself with (supporters, data, external research etc.) that will help you to win?
· Is there an outside objective source that would support your battle?
· Focus on the big picture. Does this impact your industry at large?
· Does the battle you’re thinking of waging impact the bottom-line?
· Who stands to benefit?

Whichever direction you take ask yourself:
· Is my action in the best interests of the company?
· If this was front page news tomorrow, would my actions be seen to be honorable or self-serving?

2. Actions speak louder than words

If I was your coach your statement below would not cut it.

“I have already managed to alienate my boss, our Dir. of Op’s. Doesn’t matter how I guess; it’s a subtle thing. I just know.”

To be a good OP player you need to probe deeper and really analyze your behavior. It DOES matter how you alienated him. You need to figure out the actions that got you into his ‘bad books’. Which does not mean you wouldn’t do the same thing again — BUT you want to try to think creatively whether there was another route that would have achieved your objective without burning the relationship bridge with your boss. Only you know that.

As you say ‘Actions speak louder than words.’ Try some positive actions in your boss’ direction. Small kindnesses and simple courtesies can smooth the rough edges off a disagreement. Maybe you’ll think it would be too obvious if all of a sudden you did anything nice for him. In that case, do something nice each day for a coworker — without looking for thanks or a pat on the back. Your objective here is to subtly create positive and authentic buzz on you that you are a nice guy who always has the best interests of the company in mind. It may not bring your boss on side, but it can help you enormously — people want to work with people they like and are nice to have around.

So why is being nice a smart game strategy? It will build a protective shield around you and your reputation and help you to network. Because ultimately, as fellow OP advisers Rick Brandon and Marty Seldman say office politics is all about:

1. Influencing people
2. Selling your good ideas
3. Getting into power so you can do the right thing

There are many good books on management which will help you to grow, guide you and give you confidence. Feed yourself a steady diet of these books. You are on the right track.

Thanks for writing to Office-Politics.com. Please let us know if this was helpful to you!

Good luck,

Franke James, MFA
Editor & Founder, Office-Politics.com
Inventor, The Office-Politics® Game


Franke James, MFA is the Editor & Founder of Office-Politics.com. She is also the Inventor of The Office-Politics® Game a dilemma-based social game that teaches you how to play, and laugh, at office politics. It’s used by HR departments, and corporate trainers worldwide. The Office-Politics Dilemmas have been inspired by the hundreds of letters submitted to Office-Politics.com.

  1. One Answer to “I’m the quiet, reserved, stay at my desk type…”

  2. Yes, my first reaction was wow! Great response! Thank you! I appreciate it very much! I apologize for not replying sooner. Been a frantic, hectic, stressful week!

    I think the advice is correct and great and, here I am, 43 years old and still trying to learn this stuff. It’s frustrating for me to not have this stuff figured out already.

    By Letter writer on Feb 16, 2008

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