Ever feel envious of that successful work colleague who’s connected to everyone, whose projects and budgets get approved, and whose opinions are actively sought out because people want to know what they think?
If you do, please don’t waste your time being jealous. Rather, focus on improving your abilities in the art and science of influence. (more…)
Ah, work/life boundaries—so tricky, so necessary, and so darn hard to manage for many reasons both personal and professional.
A female business colleague and I were sharing insights for how we set (or don’t) boundaries for work and personal time.
(Before I go on, I must raise my hand and confess, “I, Jane, am a workaholic” because this tendency plays a role in how my story unfolds.)
Over the last six weeks, I attended twelve teeball games, two a week, all with 5:30 PM start times (My corporate hard wiring kept asking, isn ‘t 5:30 PM the middle of the afternoon?!).
There I saw my six-year-old grandson smile shyly yet proudly at us on the sidelines after his triumphant runs to first base. I could cheer him (and others) on in what one charming little fellow so creatively named “first we hit, then we glove.”
To my second act of life way of thinking, this encouragement and our presence were acts of leadership development for those small girls and boys. We were helping them build self-confidence, learn teamwork, and get better at sharing.
Because the coach rotated the kids from one fielding position to another, they were learning to appreciate that each one of them brings different skills and outlooks, a great exercise in building tolerance.
Going to those teeball games was a commitment of time for me, I’m sad to say, that wouldn’t have happened in the first act of my life.
In the corporate America first act of my life, there was the ever-present, yet albeit covert, belief that individuals—especially women—who left work early for family reasons (things like 5:30 PM teeball games) “weren’t giving it their all” or were “unwilling to do what it takes.”
Given my desire to succeed, I drank the corporate koolaid by the gallon. Not wanting anyone to say I wasn’t willing to do what it took, 70 or even 80 hour work weeks were my norm.
I used to joke that a 40-hour week was a part-time job.
Ah, what a sick puppy I was.
Time for a new direction
Having emerged from my “corporate detox” period, I’m more objective. Now I see the error of my earlier ways.
Back then, I didn’t set any boundaries. I was an all-work-no-play gal. I allowed my work schedule and life to be influenced by covert stereotypes.
But now, from the perspective of time and distance, I can see how badly frayed the fabric of business practices is. Spoken and unspoken expectations that enabled, no – encouraged, my nose-to-the-grindstone, crank-it-out work ethic.
Organizational cultures where taking time away from the office to participate in activities like cheering on the next generation of leaders wasn’t valued. Where doing so is, in fact, negatively rewarded at review time for those bold and smart enough to set boundaries. I’m now taking ownership to change this.
Along with Anne Perschel, I researched women in business and their relationship with power. You can read our findings in our report.
Now I’m ready to start reweaving the fabric of business so those teeball acts of leadership development and other changes can happen. For women. For men. For anyone interested willing to learn the lessons of paradox and power.
Today’s guest post is from Jane Murphy, a partner in Giraffe Business Publishing LLC and Giraffe LLC, a consulting firm that designs custom solutions to help organizations improve the management capabilities of their people. Jane also leads Giraffe’s coaching engagements, working with clients to solve business and leadership challenges. Jane has been principal and co-founder of several publishing ventures, including KIDVIDZ, which won numerous awards for its special-interest videos. She has received grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Rockefeller Foundation National Video Resources. She has co-authored several books, including “What could happen if you do nothing? A manager’s handbook for coaching conversations.” Jane speaks and writes regularly about coaching in the workplace. Visit Jane on her blog, Coaching Mojo for Managers.
Every day at work involves some kind of negotiation, whether it’s simply when to schedule a conference call, or a more complex issue such as where to cut costs on next year’s budget. We wrestle with the pros and cons and usually come to consensus…or someone simply acquiesces and moves on.
However, there are occasions when issues become really thorny. Someone digs in and won’t budge. “Getting to yes” is subverted by getting nowhere.
In this case, an individual is often identified as the problem: “He’s so stubborn and won’t listen to what I think should happen.” “She thinks she knows all the answers, but this is more complicated than she realizes.”
Coaching can help move people outside their comfort zone and beyond their “positions” by letting them deal with difficult personalities and find common ground. Managers who coach individuals and teams through these difficulties can guide a problem-solving process that may have benefits beyond the roadblock issue: the outcome may include greater self-awareness, improved communication, cost and time efficiencies, and more.
Coaching conversations can help to reframe a situation, enabling someone stuck in a position to look at it from another perspective and consider others’ viewpoints. For example, coaching can help someone with a negative outlook to see the pros instead of the cons: what is working rather than what isn’t; what opportunities are out there vs. what barriers may exist.
Anticipating and planning for hurdles
Coaching might include role playing the worst that could happen, giving a “glass half empty” person the chance to test the likelihood of all those downside possibilities. Then there’s the opportunity to anticipate the upside, and how to make it happen.
Appreciating different styles
Coaching can help us better understand our work and communication styles, and those of co-workers. We can identify particular strengths and call upon them to facilitate cooperation. Appreciating different styles can open the way to better ways of collaborating and communicating, so all parties are heard and understood.
Finally, coaching’s emphasis on engaged listening and deliberative questioning enables the coachee to think more deeply about threads and patterns—when his coworker has not been unpleasant, when she has been more collaborative. Identifying these positive patterns can encourage more successful interactions going forward.
Thinking more deeply can also provide better insight into what triggers difficult exchanges in the first place, and ways to avoid those triggers in the future. Small behavior changes are the stepping-stones to healthier, more collaborative working relationships.
Because coaching is solutions-focused, managers who coach can help their people recognize and accommodate different styles and points of view in working to a common goal.
What have you found works in working with difficult personalities?
When you hear the words power and office politics do you shudder and say “ewwwww”?
Lots of people do.
That’s both unfortunate and sad.
These words have picked up negative connotations because of the actions of self-centered workplace schmoozers interested only in their own careers.
Work with anyone like that? I know I have. Seeing people play office politics and throw colleagues under the bus only to advance their careers is super off-putting. However, choosing not to play office politics can be a contributing factor in us getting a pink slip or in not receiving a promotion.
How can that be? Because playing office politics in a good way is a good thing. First, the bad news. No matter how much we may want office politics to go way, they aren’t.
Office politics is a workplace reality. Here’s a simple rule of thumb to see if office politics exist where you work.
First, count the number of employees at your organization. If that number is greater than two, then office politics is a factor.
Dismayed? Don’t be. Any time there’s scarce resources, competing interests, and ambiguity, office politics will exist. Scarce resources, competing interests, and ambiguity are darn near a given in every place I worked. Other people say the same thing.
Now for the good news. Office politics doesn’t have to be a bad thing. it’s a bit like “The Force” from the Star Wars movies in that there’s a light (positive) side and a dark (negative) side to it.
Office politics gets its bad name from the manipulators, backstabbers, and “I win, you lose” competitors. When you peel back the unsavory people and take a look at the actions that are happening when we say office politics are going on, what’s happening is people working to sell an idea, gain influence, or persuade others to join in.
What distinguishes good office politics from the bad one is motivation. Are people persuading because they me-focused or we-focused?
However, when executed from a we-focused, win-win perspective, office politics relies on collaboration, sharing, relationships, and networking.
Competent people do politics so competently that it looks like being nice. If you have political skill, you appear to not have it. ~Gerald Ferris, psychology and management professor at Florida State University
Opting out of office politics doesn’t serve your career well. Being an effective leader requires you to champion your agenda, be it getting assigned to a special project or getting a bigger budget, and that requires use of the positive side of office politics (collaboration, sharing, relationships and networking).
People are hired for what they know and fired for who they are. ~Penelope Trunk, author of “The Brazen Careerist”
Using a win-win approach is a make-or-break skill for doing well at work. Research from the Chartered Management Institute found that 88 percent of managers claimed to have honed their knowledge of politics through workplace mistakes.
Avoiding making me-focused office politics blunders can be easy if you keep six simple practices in mind.
6 ways to play “win-win” office politics
Be open to hearing other points of view even if you disagree.
Allowing someone to voice their opinion and really listening to what they have to say strengthens a relationship. Working from a win-win viewpoint also helps to build allies.
Be a broker of ideas and information.
Willingly share what you know. Giving (without focusing on what you may get in return) bolsters your reputation and facilitates building your network.
Understand who the informal leaders in your organization are — those individuals whose opinion is sought by others because it is so respected and not necessarily because of their job title. Tap into their knowledge and their circle of influence.
Always credit “we” not “me.”
When a group of people have been involved in a work project, give them the recognition and credit they deserve.
Having a strong, strategic network goes beyond passing out and collecting business cards. Build and maintain relationships that are mutually beneficial. Staying in touch can be simple: share articles or send congratulatory e-mails.
Be sincere and authentic.
People like to work with those whom they genuinely like. Those are the ones who are playing the “light” side of office politics.
The recent tornado that hit Joplin, MO or the massive flooding along the Mississippi River—those are forces over which we have no control. Same goes for the big boss who goes beserk in a meeting, shouting and pointing fingers.
It’s not the same with power…our capacity to change “what is” to “what can be.”
Not the same at all.
Recently, the media has been full of stories of people (mostly men) in high places who have exploited their power in despicable ways.
As I see it, those people had a choice. They weren’t victims of forces beyond their control. They knowingly chose to abuse their personal or their professional power, or both.
At some point, these unsavory individuals choose to believe they were more special, more privileged and hence above the rules that are applicable to us lesser mortals.
Power, office politics, and countless other topics are labeled as corrupt, evil, and something to be avoided because someone elected to apply them in a ‘I win, you lose’ manner. Taking that position is akin to the old saying about throwing the baby out with the bath water.
By definition power isn’t bad nor are office politics. Power and office politics only becomes bad when people choose to use them in self-centered and self-serving ways.
Power, in and of itself, does not corrupt absolutely…unless one chooses to let corruption be the outcome. Having power merely reveals what the person was all along.
What say you? Disagree? Agree?
Whew…stepping back from the edge, mini-rant over…looking forward to hearing what you have to say!
Quotes about power
Personal power is the ability to stand on your own two feet with a smile on your face in the middle of a universe that contains a million ways to crush you. ~J.Z. Colby
He who controls others may be powerful, but he who has mastered himself is mightier still. ~Lao-Tzu
What lies in our power to do, it lies in our power not to do. ~Aristotle
Within you right now is the power to do things you never dreamed possible. This power becomes available to you just as soon as you can change your beliefs. ~Maxwell Maltz
The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any. ~Alice Walker