As I walked down the street today I noticed a boldly emblazoned message on the front of a T-shirt. It said, “Don’t even talk to me ‘til I’ve had my coffee!” It would be nice if everyone at work wore a similar shirt warning of potential political and sociological pitfalls.
Almost everything that we come into contact these days is labeled with some kind of warning. Coffee cups from your corner latte pusher are likely to state, “Caution: Contents Hot!” Prescription drugs have so many warnings that it is often difficult to find the instructions for use. And the food and beverage industry must label every ingredient of every product with ingredients, nutritional information, and allergy alerts. However, people come with very few warnings. Misjudging their status can be hazardous to your health not to mention your career.
Here are a few of the ones I would like to see labeled:
Passive Aggressive – Non-participant will claim to be on your side, but secretly plots to put you under. This pitiful pest is best handled through transparency and open communications. Keep all members on your team up-to-date on program milestones and ask for reports to the group. Group members who drag their feet quickly become apparent, and must report to the group. Remember: communicate, communicate, communicate, but not necessarily in that order.
Town Crier – This person is Gossip Central. You might as well send a broadcast memo with color pictures to all of your coworkers. Every workplace (except ACS) has at least one gossip, so be careful who you tell your secrets, or they might not stay that way. Turning tables on a gossip is easily done by telling everyone that you know who they are. You can also learn from the military and cut off their supply chain.
Microcontroller – Will swoop into any project at a moment’s notice and rearrange all processes to fit their needs, or at least to the way that they would have done them. If this is a supervisor, the solution can be challenging. This may be best handled by simply stepping out of the way. If you allow them to focus on the process that obsesses them so, can you work on other aspects of the program to produce a better product? If you can’t step aside, can you isolate their pet-peeve, so that progress is not delayed on the rest of the project? Either way, look for an opportunity to take advantage of their skill-base while also preserving a role for yourself.
Empire Builder – Caution: this person may claim credit for your work, or steal resources out from under your nose. Your advantage will be their paranoia. These folks tend to plot their evil plans in isolation and are frequently worried about those around them. After all, they have probably double-crossed or stepped on most of them while climbing to the top. They can be defeated through coalitions. Identify allies working for the better good, and pool your resources. Also, establish distance between you and the dictator de jour. You don’t want to be underneath them when they fall lest they take you with them.
There are many other people in the workplace that can help or hurt your career, and this is not meant to be a complete listing. However, it is my hope that you will look for representative people in your institution’s cultural structure. By figuring out their roles, you will be in a better position to avoid pitfalls and take advantage of everyone’s personal strengths.
This article was written by David Harwell, Assistant Director of the ACS Department of Career Development and Management.