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Aliza Licht's BLACKBOARD

Episode 4: "On Wednesdays We Wear Pink"

 
"Aliza, I'm quitting! I can't take it anymore!" read the text message that had just popped up on my phone. It was 7:20 am on a Saturday morning, and I had barely rolled over, let alone had a sip of coffee. Okay, I thought to myself, I need to put out this fire, but later, at a more decent hour.
 
Understanding human nature seems to be one of my strong suits. In turn, career therapist is a badge that I wear frequently. As much as I am happy to help in this area, it also saddens me to consider how many of my friends (and readers who have written into #AskAliza) have similar work problems. Politics is the hottest topic in America right now, but in the workplace, office
 politics has always ruled.
 
Later that afternoon I called my friend *Jason to talk him off the ledge of job suicide. "You can't quit," I urged. "You're finally doing something you love," I reasoned. I asked Jason to give me the full run down. He was sure that people were gunning for him. He felt that there wasn't a day that went by that he didn't have to withstand an off-handed or snarky comment. His tales from the office reminded me of Mean Girls, except these were adult men and women who had real jobs and weren't wearing pink on Wednesdays.
 
When people share stories like this, I always consider the situation from every angle. First, it has to start with Jason. What did Jason do to elicit such behavior from his coworkers? I asked him to take a deep dive into his office life, so I could understand why the kids weren't playing nicely with him in the sandbox and who was throwing sand.
 
I asked Jason to analyze himself and think through the various ways he interacts with his coworkers. It's not easy to be self-aware, but when you start to peel away the layers and understand how your actions speak volumes you can begin to understand how the tide turns ugly.
 
I asked him the following:
1. Are your emails tone deaf? Can brief be misconstrued as harsh or bossy?
2. That 'funny' comment you meant as a joke, did it actually come out as snarky?
3. Are you inclusive of the appropriate people? Have you inadvertently left stakeholders off of email threads?
4. Have you adopted an elitist mentality and do you need to come back to earth a little?
5. Does doing your job well require the support of other people doing theirs? If you're late on delivering something, does that equate to your teammates having to work harder? Could that be a source of resentment?
6. Does your boss always come to you for answers making everyone else feel less worthy?
 
He painted the picture for me, and I surmised that for one, all of these people might be reacting to the fact that Jason has a big personality.  Perhaps he's too much for their fragile egos. Identifying the key players that he probably needed to soften his approach with was a good first attempt. We also recognized that the nature of his job sometimes did require late hours and last minute accommodations and yes, that dragged other people down the mudslide with him.
 
Next, though, we had to tackle the ringleader who had blatantly recommended that others not include Jason on emails even though he was a lead on the project. How did Jason know this you might ask? A long email thread of course. (INSIDER TIP: Always scroll through a long thread before responding to an email that you were just added to. The thread is typically filled with treasure troughs of information).
 
I talked to Jason for about forty-five minutes, uncovering the various scenarios that had led to his current status of office unrest. I tried to show him that finding a resolution was a much better way to proceed rather than his instinctual desire to give up. Why should his objectively successful career suffer because of office politics? (INSIDER TIP: You don't leave a job you're excelling in because you work with a few jerks. You have to try and alleviate the tension, and that often involves compromise).
 
I advised Jason to face this head on and ask the ringleader to coffee. He needed to understand the source of resentment and what he could do to diminish it. (INSIDER TIP: People naturally expect a fight, but when you show them that you are willing to do the work to make a tough situation better, people begin to ease up). I also recommended that he speak to his boss because the odds were that if the natives were restless, they were also venting about Jason to anyone who will listen. Jason needed to protect his reputation first and foremost with his boss. (INSIDER TIP: Be your own best advocate).
 
Jason met with his boss, and I was right, his colleagues had painted an ugly picture. Now Jason was able to explain his side of the story and implement his defense. Jason was also able to be a team player by being forthcoming about what he could do better. He told his boss that he would reach out to his coworkers and try to find better ways to work together. In doing so, he showed his boss that he is self-aware, willing to change, dedicated to the company and passionate about being an integral member of the team.
 
Dealing with office politics is never easy because it involves understanding humans and their motivations. The key though is always to start with you. People naturally play defense, but if you show them that you are not attacking the situation but rather wanting to pacify it, you can move mountains. Being the first person to compromise doesn't make you appear weak, it makes you strategic. You have to be likeable to win at this game. Work is hard enough without the drama, and your success depends on your ability to work well with other people. Understanding the players in the sandbox helps tremendously. Then, at least, you can learn to duck when someone starts throwing sand.
 
xo,
 
Aliza
 
*This week's episode topic was by special request. If you have a topic that you would like explored, please email it to blackboard@alizalicht.com. You can also find more on office politics in my book LEAVE YOUR MARK.
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