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Franke James is Editor/Founder of Office-Politics.com and Inventor of the Office-Politics® Game.
Peter R. Garber has worked as an HR professional for over 25 years and is the author of many business books including: Winning the Rat Race at Work and 100 Ways to Get on the Wrong Side of your Boss.
Dina Beach Lynch, is an Ombudsman, Author and former attorney. An award-winning mediator, Dina served as the Corporate Ombudsman for the 7th largest bank in the US helping over 48,000 employees to resolve workplace issues.
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.
Arnie Herz, is a lawyer, mediator, speaker, author and consultant nationally recognized for his practical and inspired approach to conflict resolution and client counseling.
Dr. John Burton LL.B. M.B.A. M.Div. Ph.D. is an ethicist, mediator, lawyer and theologian. John is currently located in Prince Rupert, B.C., Canada, working with Canada's aboriginal communities.
The problem of office politics is in getting students to work in my lab. The colleagues with whom I declined to collaborate spread rumours that any student joining my group does not have a good future...
I came across your webpage by searching on Google. As everyone, I am also in the middle of "office politics" and wanted to know if there is any information to help my situation.
I work as an assistant professor in a research university. Performing independent research is the focus. As such dealing with colleagues and seniors does not occur on a day to day basis as in most of the stories listed on office politics. As a reserch faculty, our so called clients are students. All the faculty compete to get good students to join their research team. This is where the politics is!
As I joined as a youngster in the department, many of the elderly colleagues urged me to collaborate with them and be a part of their group. There were two schools of thoughts then.
One is collaborating with senior colleagues does not get credit for the work I do. The other school of thought is that if you collaborate with your seniors, getting grants is much easier and life is all the more simple.
As I am of a very independent mind. I chose to be independent and expressed my inablitiy to collaborate with my senior colleagues. Due to this, I was not hindered in getting grants and fellowship. I was able to get enough grants to setup a lab from scratch, which has state-of-the art facilities for conducting research. The problem of office politics is in getting students to work in my lab. The colleagues with whom I declined to collaborate and join hands spread rumours through their students that any student joining my group does not have a good future. In the student's perspective, a student is so scared not even to approach me. Hence, I am not so much in demand due to the bad rumour floating around. Even if by chance some students do join my research group they don't stay for long and get sucked away towards my colleagues as they are easygoing and basically want to hurt me! This might just be my belief, and the students might as well be lazy enough not to work hard and progress and might be using the differences between the faculty to their advantage.
Essentially, the colleagues of mine encourage students in my lectures and reseach group to mutiny and report against me to higher authorities like chairman and others. This essentially makes me look bad and I am always thought of the wrong-doer. Though in many circumstances there is no fault of mine. This is the way my colleagues are doing office politics so that it will be very difficult for me to progress in the work place. The higher ups do not care whether I am right or others are wrong. All they want is a smooth functioning of the department with as little intervention as possible. As it seems, and is projected by my colleagues, it appears that I am a trouble maker. If there is any suggestion to overcome my situation it will be great. It is too late in the day to negotiate and start collaborating with my abovesaid colleagues as they are not willing to talk to me, though I approached them many times.
Dear Lonely Lab,
Thanks for writing to Office-Politics.com. Let me say it’s never too late to start relationships anew. But before I make suggestions for how to engage your colleagues, let’s examine your situation, which will help you in the future and others who find themselves in a similar situation.
Academic settings are exciting yet challenging workplaces. Why? Because they contain people who are independent thinkers who may lack the skills needed (i.e. curiosity, flexibility, emotional intelligence) to embrace a differing perspective or work collaboratively. It seems likely that this is especially true in a research facility where a strong vision and a certain amount of arrogance are qualities that can lead to success. When you decided to work exclusively in your own lab your colleagues probably felt that you had rejected them and their ways of doing things. You can see how this would lead to hard feelings and cause them to be less than supportive of you. Things might have worked out differently if you’d taken the opportunity to explain your reasoning or choices first.
How can you remedy the situation now? It will be difficult and may take a long time, if ever. However, one way to engage people without giving up total control is to seek out their input. For instance, you might mention to one of your colleagues that you noticed that students tend not to select your lab and that although you two haven’t worked closely in the past, you would value his thoughts about what you can do to change that since his lab is able to attract and retain students. By doing this you are inviting him to collaborate with you. Of course, he may decline the offer given the past but over time you may regain his trust and interest.
It’s clear in your letter that this matter is frustrating to you and I applaud you for seeking help. No doubt the same patience and persistence that you employ in the lab can help you build new relationships with your colleagues.
Dina Beach Lynch, JD
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The Ethics Letters that appears as a feature of this Website is an educational and discussion oriented column designed to help the reader better understand ethical issues. The matters discussed in the letter are reviewed in a summary/abbreviated way and are only meant to foster thinking on the part of the reader. If a person decides to adopt or implement suggestions, they do so at their own risk. No representation or warranty is provided in relation to suggestions or the contents of the letter. Neither the authors of the letter, Franke James, John W. Burton, Rick Brandon, Marty Seldman, Arnie Herz, Dina Beach Lynch or the owners of this Website accept any liability whatsoever for any opinions expressed in the letter or for errors and omissions. Submission of letters to the Office-Politics Forum grants the Publisher, Nerdheaven Ltd. the right to reproduce, republish, repurpose and excerpt the submission in any and all other media, without compensation or contacting the author. Copyright Nerdheaven Ltd. 2002-2006