Once, at an airport, I had an interesting experience of domination which later provided much food for thought — and interesting parallels with workplace domination..
In a queue, the guy behind me was huge. Those who’ve met me know that I am not exactly small, but this man was massive, at well over six feet and I’d imagine around 30 stone (190 kg). As we stood in line, he used his bulk to begin intimidating me with his physical presence. Quite why I can only guess, but there were many little nudges from his belly, horse play with his tribe of minions and even the occasional breathing down my neck.
Whatever his reasons, I wasn’t going to budge or appear intimidated (even though, I’ll admit, it made me feel very uncomfortable).
Occasionally, after a nudge I would slowly turn to make it clear I was irritated, and I’d catch him not quite looking at me. Noticing I stood ready to act if I choose to do so. Perhaps waiting for me to make the first move, I don’t know.
As the queue progressed I became increasingly concerned for the small boy who should have been between us, but had been pushed to the sidelines, looking very anxious.
As I reflected later, it seemed clear that this chap was making his physical superiority abundantly clear to everyone around him although stopping short of overt aggression. He was using a variety of non-verbal acts to convey this. When I link this to the personal power sources and the components of power, he not only had clear physical assets, but was also putting them into action with force in an attempt to intimidate/influence others.
Yet he also appeared to be heavily (excuse the pun) reliant on his physical assets. This left him exposed if his primary source failed — while also creating potential enemies! Those who rely on dominating others in the workplace are often similarly exposed, even vulnerable.
The other point which struck home to me was how it is possible to succeed with these characters if you apply a little intelligence and resist the “flight” response. Once I had got my food, I turned and found him blocking my exit. With a level gaze and calm, firm voice, I simply said, “Excuse me” — not please, just “excuse me”. He almost jumped out of my way and I strode through.
Using the parlance of the Personal Power Profilc, he was using Presence (Size and Proximity) and Character (Intimidating). I made use of Credibility (Expression), Presence (Confidence/Posture), Skills (Body Language/Dialogue), to influence him out of my way.
Fortunately, the little boy used an alternative approach and went around the mountain, which is just as valid when you act in awareness.
The point here is that when you have to deal with overly dominant people, you need to have lots of other power sources to call into action. Trying to overpower them with their own dominant source of power is gong to be hard work, and potentially dangerous. The more sources of power you can develop, the more adept you will become at turning these situations/people around, without spilling any ...
Update: After I originally wrote this, a subscriber told me of a similar situation he had observed, where the one pushing his weight around was suddenly exposed to a loud and humourous remark from a wizened old man in the vicinity. The muffled giggles embarrassed the Goliath who at that point was dreadfully exposed. Not only did he become the laughing stock, he couldn’t do anything about it. Hh quietly shrank and went on his way. Tables can be turned so easily when you know what you are doing.
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In an earlier post here I talked about the basics of personality clashes, and how they begin with differences of agreement in content and progress to differences in the behaviours used to try to remedy the disagreement.
The more extreme the differences in behaviour, the higher the tension rises, and the more emotions come into play, ultimately producing a full-blown personality clash.
If you are in one of these “clashes”, here are some practical steps you can take:
The bottom line is that the only time personality differences are a problem, is when they are not recognised and accepted. There is no need to agree with their behavioural choices for you to accept their choice. And, if you have sufficient levels of trust, you’re on to a winner.
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A little while ago I talked with a Project Manager who cared.
He was very concerned about the way his sponsor was changing the scope and deliverables of his project, and told him he was making a mistake. That the project should be focused on delivering something slightly different. The change of direction was not in the best interests of the company.
The reason he was talking to me was that he had just been brutally removed from the project, perplexed because all he had done was what he thought was best for the organisation, and that the sponsor was really just pursuing his own selfish agenda.
From my angle, the political perspective, he had started to pursue his own political agenda, for the good of the organisation. This set him up against his sponsor’s political agenda. Instead of being the servant of the organisation, he had become a political player.
And he lost.
As soon as you begin to try to influence the decisions, you are acting politically. This may or may not be what stakeholders are expecting of you. If they think you are there to simply execute the project deliverables, what they have decided is best for the organisation, they will not appreciate your opinions. Your attempts to get their decisions to change, however well-intentioned, will not be welcomed, especially if you are talking to other powerful people.
It is wise to be clear about the scope of your project.
It is also wise to be clear about the scope of your role and what the key players around your project are expecting of you in that role, and when.
Review the OnDemand webinar How to Handle Project Politics
Some project managers are very assertive. They are in a hurry, focused on the deliverable, and nothing is going to stand in their way. They have a reputation to maintain.
But, what does this mean? How do you quantify very? More to the point, how do those you work with judge your level of drive and assertion?
You need to know, or at least begin to get a sense of what level to apply, in case you go too far (and be accused of bullying) or become too soft (and be accused of not delivering).
Here are some behavioural that some regard to be bullying:
(extract from Are You a Bully?)
Any one of these, in isolation, it probably okay. Not ideal, but okay. When you start adding more to the mix, you are likely to be coming across as too pushy, demanding and perhaps a bit of a bully.
Now, I know you have a job to do, and there are far too many people avoiding a good day’s work, but take this seriously, before it becomes a problem for you.
How do you judge the appropriate level of assertion to apply?
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Fun, because most of the people quite naturally focus on fixing the problem areas, working to overcome opposition, root out adversity and clear through the roadblocks.
A few wise ones respond that most time should be spent with their Advocates.
It is quite natural to try to fix the problems stakeholders present, that’s what you’re paid for isn’t it?
But, the very best way to do that is to enlist the support of your supporters. Mobilise their energy and effort to your cause. Advocates are on-side and you have a good relationship with them. Since they are on-side, quite likely they will also be a major beneficiary when you succeed.
Which means they will likely be quite willing to lend a hand. To spend time helping you plan your moves, develop your strategy, or even getting more personally involved. Remember, that while you may have a strained relationship with another stakeholder, your advocate may get on well with them and can influence on your behalf.
Aside from leveraging greater influence by working more closely with your advocates, you will also benefit by avoiding the risk that their support may wane. In the turbulent political environment, alliances can change and it is important that once you have gained agreement, you work to keep it.
And actually, you’ll probably enjoy your work more too. Trying to engage with enemies can be soul destroying, stressful and demoralising. You cannot ignore these people, but you can work with others to lessen the risk they pose, and increase your chances of winning through.
Review the OnDemand webinar Strategic Influencing for Project Managers