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Power war is driving me and others crazy

Dear Office-Politics,

I work for an LLC. 4 partners and 4 sons of 2 of the partners. Three sons are in a power war and it is driving me and others crazy. They call me (and a coworker) after hours to talk about the others. They come to my office (accounting) and ask questions about the salaries of the others, ask if I am afraid for my job, ask if I respect the others, etc. etc.

Then yesterday two of the sons had a confrontation (which is the norm) and one said he speaks for all the office staff when he says that no one respects the other. So, the one being attacked called me to put me on speaker phone to takes sides. Luckily, I had turned my phone off. One son is the plant manager, the other is the office/general manager.

It is making my job so hard. I hate going to work. I thought of telling the partners that their sons are creating a hostile work environment but since checking the definition of that, I do not think that applies. Is there nothing I can do to stop this nonsense except leaving my job? I need it. I don’t care what their titles are or how many times they step on each others toes. It is not my concern. Help!


My Brother’s Keeper

timothy johnson

Dear Brother’s Keeper,

Before I address the dysfunctional family dynamics, there was one phrase from your letter which I want to point out. You said that you need this job. That is one of the top myths of office politics. Too many people fall into the trap of thinking they NEED a job. Nobody, and I repeat, NOBODY needs ANY job that they do not enjoy and cannot put their heart into it 100%. The facts are that you may need an income to pay the bills. You may need a diversion to keep you occupied for the day. You may need social interaction. Or you may need a sense of purpose. You… and hundreds of millions of others across the globe. When you say you need a particular job, you’ve already given away your power base to the other side. So, while the alternatives may not be as pleasant, you must change your mindset about your relationship with your job. Healthy employer-employee relationships are not built on perceived co-dependency. And I can guarantee that there are very few employers thinking that they NEED any one given employee (but there should be more). I’ll get off my soap box now.

The reality is that the brothers need to grow up; however, making them do so is not part of your job description. Whether you approach the partners with this situation is up to you. If you have a good working relationship with one or more of the partners, then I would consider approaching that specific partner. When you do approach them, if you can enlist some of the other victims of the playground antics, that would help your cause. I would also recommend approaching one of the partners who is NOT a parent of any of the squabbling siblings to avoid any more family dynamics than possible. Share with them documented evidence of the activities of these children in suits, and share very objectively what it is doing to the office environment (no, legally it’s not hostile). Since the partner has an ownership stake, my guess is that he or she will not wish to see the investment undermined by a brat in a suit.

You also need to develop some boundaries for dealing with the brothers head on. When they call you at home, you need to communicate very firmly that you are maintaining strict lines of delineation between home and office, and such issues need to be addressed during office hours. When they attempt to do a “divide and conquer” maneuver on you, simply suggest that they have a meeting and come up with a consistent story before they take it to the masses (to avoid the “whole office agrees with me” tactic). When they ask if you are afraid for your job, smile and turn the question back on them, “No, but I’m sorry to hear that you are. What a shame it would be to lose you from our organization. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have work to do before the place closes.” Each of them is trying to gain an upper hand and manipulate your perceptions of reality. By answering the questions and the conflicts in this way, you are telling them that they are making bad choices. I’ve found the book “Parenting with Love and Logic” (Cline and Fay) has a lot of great lessons in it that can be applied in an office setting. It doesn’t have to be this way. One of my current clients has a cluster of family members at the top, and it works like a well-oiled machine. Do they have conflicts? Sure. But through maturity and trust and love, they work through them in an environment of respect.

The trick is to regain the power that you have abdicated to their bad behaviors. You don’t have to correct the mistakes their parents made (most HR departments frown on taking a colleague over your knee for a good spanking, regardless of how pleasant the image may be). You can, however, take control of each situation and let them know what you will and will not tolerate from a behavioral perspective. And above all, document, document, document (and if you need to, start recording conversations as well).

And remember: You DON’T NEED this job.

Best wishes and thanks for writing to Office-Politics.com,

Timothy Johnson, Author

Timothy Johnson is the author of the newly released Gust: The “Tale” Wind of Office Politics (Lexicon, 2007) as well as Race Through The Forest – A Project Management Fable (Tiberius, 2006). As Chief Accomplishment Officer for his company, Carpe Factum, Inc. (Latin for “Seize The Accomplishment”), he also is a dynamic speaker, providing keynotes and workshops on the accomplishment-oriented topics of project management, creativity, process improvement, systems thinking, and (of course) office politics. His consulting clients have crossed multiple industries and have included Wells Fargo, Harley-Davidson, ING, Teva NeuroScience, and Principal Financial Group. In addition to writing, consulting, speaking, and coaching, he is also an adjunct instructor for Drake University’s MBA program in Des Moines Iowa, teaching classes in Project Management, Creativity for Business, and Managing Office Politics.

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