In the fictional office of “30 Rock,” Tracy, Jenna, Kenneth, Frank and Pete run to Liz Lemon with every problem under the sun. This makes for great entertainment when the whiny characters on this NBC comedy program squawk and squeal about, well, you name it and they drop it at Liz’s feet to fix. But to emulate such tactics in your own career would be disastrous.
But, you say, my co-worker is a saboteur! He sets me up to look bad. She steals my ideas. She’s a slacker. He’s the slimiest of slime balls. What can I do but go to the boss? Yes, we all know the species. Still, you well-meaning, hardworking types must be wary of dumping your frustrations on your boss’s lap. He or she has better things to do and will not smile kindly upon you for bringing on more.
So that first means boning up on your office politics skills – a necessary tool for survival and to fight your own battles.
Politics is reality because other “people don’t check their humanity at the door when they punch in on the time clock,” say Michael Dobson and Deborah Dobson, authors of “Enlightened Office Politics.”
They define politics as “the informal and sometimes emotion-driven process of allocating limited resources and working out goals, decisions and actions in an environment of people with different and competing interests and personalities.”
There are only so many people and so much money to go around. Everyone is competing to get the resources to accomplish their goals. And people will go to all kinds of lengths to get what they want.
But that doesn’t mean there’s never a right time and place to knock on your supervisor’s door – or cubicle – and ask, “Do you have a minute?”
R. Dixon Thayer, CEO of ab3 Resources, a strategic consulting and investment firm in Unionville, Pa., explains just when it’s appropriate in a case study of the November Harvard Business Review. Thayer posts his four “rules for boss engagement” on his office door. The basic idea, “is that before you approach me, you should declare your purpose,” he says. So it’s OK to come to him when:
1. Bringing news that does not require action. “Don’t show up with bad news after 4 on a Friday, unless it’s business critical,” he says.
2. You want a decision. But make sure you “bring possible solutions to the problem – and your thoughtful recommendation.”
3. You want personal advice and counsel “not as the boss, and without expecting action on my part – it’s your job to solve the problem.”
4. “You want to complain about someone,” but “bring that person along with you, or we won’t have a happy meeting.”
“I explain that I’m not trying to be arrogant or unresponsive,” he says. “I care immensely about the people who work for me, but I have a company to run. If you want me to also do your job, don’t expect to be too thrilled with the outcome.”
Now there is one more thing to do before you rap on the boss’s door: Figure out why you’re so rattled. Often what makes or breaks a career is “how you react when you are too emotionally embroiled in the situations to think at all,” says Maggie Craddock president of Workplace Relationships in the Harvard Business Review case study.
Talking to your boss may be what you think you need to do when someone has you all worked up. But as Craddock puts it, sometimes “the most important conversations we have in business are those we have with ourselves.”
Andrea Kay is the author of “Work’s a Bitch and Then You Make It Work: 6 Steps to Go From Pissed Off to Powerful.” Send questions to her at 2692 Madison Rd., #133, Cincinnati, OH 45208; www.andreakay.com or www.lifesabitchchangecareers.com. She can be e-mailed at: email@example.com.