Saturday, November 23, 2002
M A I N   F E A T U R E

Office guiles, wiles ... and missiles
Rashmi Chugh

Office guiles, wiles ... and missiles

PICTURE THIS: Rishi and Atulya, are two super successful corporate guys in their early thirties, with glamorous wives and picture-perfect children in tow. They not only work together, but also party together and live life in the fast lane. Besides Organisation Development workshops and other marketing jamborees, they take weekends together, enjoying river rafting and singing the nights away. The wives exchange notes on village hideaways to source fusion wear and the children trek together since they happen to be in the same futuristic school. Ah, perfect male bonding! Think again. Atulya has been plotting the downfall of Rishi for the last five years and has recently succeeded in convincing the CEO that Rishi lacks killer instinct. Atulya has managed to make the CEO believe that the company must now fall back on him to play the saviour — a role which he is only too willing to take on, ‘friendship’ with Rishi be damned.He has to get ahead and he cannot let such niceities stand in the way. It is a war out there which only the fittest can survive and Atulya is all prepared to go out with all guns blazing.


Naively or otherwise, most employees even in these savvy times believe that "war" is what you declare with a rival brand. Skirmishes are said to occur when your rival lands up at the same time at a client’s office. Yet few realise that your colleagues can play the most damaging role in the workplace. Sabotage, plotting, taking the sheen off your achievements and portraying you as a hysterical inept worker (if you are a female) or as an inconsiderate laidback player (if you are a docile male) can be some of the common tricks employed to put you down in the workplace.

In companies, where basic norms of performance evaluation are not in place, you often find the smooth operator landing up with the goodies. He has achieved this by deploying all the standard techniques of a gureilla operation —hit-and-run tactics, camoflague, sniping, and, of course, linning the official route by missives that explode like IEDs in your face. The enemy is right in front of you but is yet invisible. A war is on and yet you nothing about it.

What then are the signals to watch out for?

First and foremost you must remember that while you may be spending more time with your colleagues than with your family, there is no need to get carried away. Most office colleagues always prove to be just ‘colleagues,’ defined as those with whom you work in an office and you should not mistake them for friends, who are defined as mates, buddies, etc.

To trust colleagues, as you would trust friends, is a common error that you commit. You lay open a front where you expose your weakest side. Confidences about partner trouble, teenager woes, parental pressures, etc provide ammunition to those in the same matrix. Colleagues use this information to make seemingly sympathetic comments that can damage your credibility irreversibly in the eyes of your seniors. "Oh, he has to go for counselling for his son", "He is stressed out since his wife/ girlfriend has deserted him," "It is so nice to see that he leaves early to visit his mom twice a week" are the red highlighters that show that your ‘buddy’ while sounding sympathetic is actually baying for your blood. The message that he is sending across is that your personal problems are such that you would not be able to give undivided time and attention to work. It undercuts your standing as a worker and achiever in the organisation as nothing else does. Moreover, you can’t even pull him for it as he can always claim that he was only empathising with your woes.

Whath do you do then? First, never let out your personal life. Sort ouot all your problems outside the office by developing a support system from within friends and the family.

Second, turn the tables on the troublemaker. The next time he inadvertently lets out that he is feeling off colour, line up the ambulance for him. Announce to all and sundry how you will do any thing, including taking over his responsibilities, for this ‘bosom pal’ who needs to rest and recuperate.

Another tip. Watch out if your colleague has made it a habit to come to work a little before his colleagues do. Bosses generally go for the early bird while distributing the office can of worms. Team leaders look lovingly at those who enter or claim to enter the office premises with the cleaning crew.

Another simmering signal to look out for are those ‘ magical moments’ that happen when you are absent. Of course, if they have happened only a couple of times you could consider it to be a coincidence but if too many glorious presentations or department meetings take place while you are away on a tour or while you have taken a planned casual leave, it is a sign that team buddies are sucking up to the boss behind your back. Pals, who disappear or plan a VIP client visit whenever you need support for your ideas, play another version of this game. They absent themselves from crucial meetings where they are needed to declare their support for you. Such colleagues are fence-sitting and will go the way the wind blows..

A prolific use of consultants by peers who are on opposite positions about organisational plans is another smoke signal that should put you on guard. Though consultants are perceived as neutral people, they can be used as Trojan horses for trashing your ideas.

Do you feel that you should stay away from it all and, if you work conscientiously, future benefits will be yours? It might be disillusioning but studies by management experts Gandz and Murray have indicated that political behaviour is an undesirable but unavoidable aspect of organisational life. Although half of the managers they surveyed felt such behaviour was unfair and unhealthy, they realised that it was unavoidable if you wanted to progress in an organisation.

Contrary to the general perception, highly secure, celebrity-status individuals have a greater propensity towards politically active behaviour in an organisation than others. Similarly, the more job opportunities a person has, the more likely he is to risk devious action. Also the likelihood of success (dependant on the organisation’s culture and past history of successful political manoeuvring) prompts political behaviour.

Another study by management experts Gemmil and Heisler found that employees having views compatible with 15th-century thinker Niccolo Machiavelli (who had elaborated on combining cunning and intimidating methods to control followers) were adept at manipulating others and were better disposed in engaging in political behaviour in organisations.

Other political techniques to watch out for to save your skin are: information that does not come to you despite repeated requests and reminders; outlining the agenda or controlling decision parameters, change of loyalty of subordinates and lowering of targets for you. Also be wary about those with fancy clothes, fancier cars and sometimes fancy put-on accents. These colleagues are into massive impression-making trips and maybe lobbying for prime posts, promotions and prime assignments. This type will make an attempt to be associated with every star project and may even try to take credit for something that should go to somebody else. Another category that you should be cautious about is the enthusiastic job hunter, the floater of biodatas. Be warned, for it is not his own biodata that he is floating but that of every ‘friend’ in the organisation.

Advantage-Disadvantage Politics

THE positives of using netas as role models in offices, according to management expert Madison, are — career advancement, recognition, status, achievement of goals, effective coordination and surviving in organisations at a time of layoffs and retrenchments. The negative aspects are loss of image, credibility, trust, guilt that usually accompanies shenanigans and the creation of a negative divisive climate. It is a recognised fact that eliminating political behaviour from offices is not possible though management gurus have recommended certain steps that managers can initiate if the workplace begins to resemble a political party meeting. Moorhead and Griffin, noted behavioural scientists, recommend the three-step solution of free-flowing communication, reduction in uncertain unspoken rules in the organisation and gathering awareness on issues that lead to negativity among employees. Another expert, Vecchio’s six-pronged formula for managers to confront political situations includes becoming a role model of fair and equitable practices. Managers should also set clearly defined performance goals and divide cliques or coalitions that have disguised themselves as working groups or teams. Another solution is to directly confront those who are initiating political gameplay and take the political discussions to a more formal setting like a meetings to send out the message that private charges are not being used to hang people.


Political blunders at workplace

  • Bypassing your immediate boss and developing alliances with his senior. By doing this you will meet immediate success since everyone loves to have his own private detective in place but you will reap no real benefits since the focus will always be on your boss and not you.

  • Throwing tantrums. Occasional star behaviour is acceptable, it puts you in the ‘creative’ category, but public display of hysterics, screeching at meetings to put your view across will typecast you as ‘difficult’ or a ‘solo player.’

  • Refusing the super boss. Saying a direct ‘no’ to a back of beyond posting or assignment means you are challenging his decision. Try the ‘I have five projects that have to be finished, I will need two assistants’ or, if you are very desperate, ‘My mother needs intensive care.’ And yes, if you have gained a fraction of political sense, recommend your buddy for the job you don’t want.