Fighting Sabotage part 1

Geek 5, Org savvy

There are two specific survival tactics that Brandon and Seldman address in Survival of the Savvy that are particularly relevant to geeks. One is how to deal with sabotage and the other is how to read power dynamics. By nature of being under-political and usually introverted, geeks often struggle with these – and they can be career killers.

Sabotage can take many forms. They describe behind-the-scenes sabotage as occurring indirectly and sometimes so subtly that you don’t even know it is happening. This can include gossip, rumor and bad-mouthing as well as planting seeds of doubt and marginalizing. Marginalizing can occur when a colleague tries to pigeon-hole you. For geeks, this could happen when someone says that you are so good at your technical area that you can’t be spared for a larger executive role. This is round-about sabotage with a compliment about your skills embedded in it – but it can result in you being stuck where you are.

Out-of-the-loop sabotage is also indirect but limits your access to resources and diminishes your impact. It includes withholding information, cutting physical resources, headcount or budget, assignment to corporate Siberia and butt-of-the-joke humor. I’ve seen all of these in play and seen the damage they can cause. In my company, you don’t get a physical reassignment to Siberia. Instead the kiss-of-death is to be reassigned to “special projects” when no projects have been identified. As for humor, I know a VP who constantly teases one of his female direct reports about what a poor performer she is (she is actually quite strong). They’ve worked together a long time, and I believe he does it with fondness. Even so, the outcome is that other colleagues underestimate her and it keeps her at a disadvantage. I think she’s getting frustrated with it as well.

In addition to the indirect types of sabotage, there is also out-in-the-open sabotage. That is easier to detect, but just as damaging. It includes sarcasm and insults; fixing blame; interrupting, steamrolling and freezing out; condescending and patronizing; and testing, tripping up or exposing. One of my colleagues tends to finish other people’s sentences. She doesn’t always finish it correctly. In any case, it is rude and disconcerting and takes attention away from the person speaking. She does it so “sweetly” that most people don’t recognize it as sabotage.

Depressed yet? Yes, it is a lot to think about it. Part of becoming a “power of savvy” person who is balanced politically is understanding and being able to recognize the negative side of corporate life. Once recognized, you can counteract it – without becoming manipulative or losing your integrity. You can fight back and stay true to yourself.

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