"That dirty rotten jerk! I'll get even with him for that."
Bet you've been there before. I certainly have. In the world of work, we are all subject to various political games including things like: blaming, backstabbing, badmouthing, cheating (sorry, ran out of ones starting with "b"), swindling, scapegoating -- the list goes on and on.
So how should you react?
Human nature would be to "get even" -- an eye for an eye, that sort of thing. Or both eyes for an eye, would probably be more typical. We want to make those people who make us suffer pay for it. And as a survival skill from back when we were cavemen, it kinda makes sense. "Grog will rain down massive retribution on anyone who crosses him, thus making the next caveman think really hard before they give it a try". Now, that might be a bit sophisticated for a caveman, but you get the idea -- it undoubtedly helped.
In the corporate environment, however, we are hired and paid to look at the interests of the stakeholders (I wanted to say "shareholders" here, but our jobs do, in fact, go beyond just the shareholder's priorities). Getting into a Hatfields vs. McCoys type feud hardly seems like it's in their interests.
But is rolling over, and letting people walk all over you, the best solution?
In some instances, the answer is yes -- particularly when the impacts of doing so are short lived. But you also have to think through the long term impacts of being too much of a pushover -- much like our caveman.
It's a judgment call....
If you let your responses be governed by the commonly held views of others in the company (particularly bosses and peers), you can't go too far wrong. If your peers are scratching their heads and asking, "Why did Fred let her do that to him?" then you probably responded too passively. If bosses seem to think you have a Vendetta against another manager, you've undoubtedly become too aggressive.
In one of my jobs, I was sued by a former employee for what was termed a "constructive discharge" (meaning I'd effectively fired him, given the circumstances I'd forced him to exist under). Needless to say, I disagreed -- in fact, I thought I was doing him a favor by giving him several options about how he went forward either within the company or outside. I felt violated. And it made my blood boil every time I thought about it. Furthermore, he threatened to expose an embarrassing corporate incedent he was familiar with (Hey, I was totally uninvolved in that thing), if I didn't agree to a rather hefty settlement.
I fought back against his unreasonable demands using every legal means at my disposal -- counter claims, injunctions, demands that improperly obtained documents be returned, etc. I was determined to make sure I didn't lose.
Eventually, however, I turned around and looked (in the figurative sense, only), and noticed there wasn't anyone else standing with me. Most of the corporation's senior management was nervously pacing about with their hands in their pockets (figuratively, again), apparently hoping the whole thing would just go away. I finally realized they had a lot to lose if the blackmailer made good on his threats.
So I backed off, delegating the task of dealing with the situation to someone else. It was shortly settled for a disgusting amount, but one that was probably a good move for the company as a whole.
I'd nearly pushed my vendetta too far.
In another situation, I was the recipient of a demand for an exhorbitant price increase from an internal supplier (a peer) -- one that would have had a major impact on my division's performance. In this incident, there was no risk to other stakeholder's welfare, as the corporation would earn the same amount of money regardless of who "won" our little war.
I was open to compromise -- infighting seldom improves the general opinion of either combatant. But my opponent was a bit of a bully, not being willing to accept anything short of total capitulation. So I pushed back -- starting with logical arguments, and ending with an appeal to a higher authority when logic didn't get me anywhere.
The incident went all the way to a senior corporate executive, who acted as a judge based on the merits of each side's argument. He ended up permitting a minimal increase in prices as a peace offering, but nowhere close to what was demanded. In this case I won the battle, but the cost was high -- I was never able to successfully work with my opponent on anything again. I'd turned him into an enemy. It was still probably still the right move, but sometimes winning the feud isn't as satisfying as it seems like it might be going in.
So how should you decide what to do?
Carefully play out the scenarios, and try to look at the situation through the eyes of peers, subordinates and superiors. If people will think you're way out in left field with the position you're considering, don't go there. But don't be a complete push-over either -- you don't want to end up being a corporate doormat. And keep in mind what's best for the stakeholders of the company, too. You can't go too far wrong by keeping their interests in the forefront.
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If you enjoy the ideas presented in my blog posts, then check out my novels. Corporate Thrillers LEVERAGE, INCENTIVIZE, and DELIVERABLES are all based on extensions of my basic experiences in the world of business.