Work: He’s out to get me

While many aspects of our lives offer the potential for conflict and misunderstanding, conflicts at work can be especially troublesome. Work has an impact on our basic needs, particularly power (the need to accomplish) and survival (the need to be paid!) Here is Winnie’s story.

Winnie has just been promoted, and she’s excited. After years of diligently being the best worker she could possibly be, she’s finally gotten her reward: a team of her own. And just as she had set out to be the best worker, she’s determined to have the best team. Anything less would reflect badly on her.

So in her first team meeting, Winnie made sure to emphasize how important the team’s success is to her. Their performance doesn’t just reflect on them, it reflects on her, too. And they need to be the best.

To maintain control, Winnie spends a lot of time on the shop floor, keeping an eye on things. She’s not one of those hands-off leaders; she’s involved! Whenever she sees something that’s not quite right, she’s there. How will her team be the best if she doesn’t point out when they’re wrong?

Somehow, though, even after she’s lectured her team again and again that merely achieving “good enough” is not satisfactory to her, her team isn’t even achieving “good enough.”  It’s as if the whole team is conspiring against her to deliberately under-perform.

Winnie thinks she’s pinpointed the source of her problem. Young Winston is bright, well-educated, and thinks he is more qualified to lead than she is. How dare he? He hasn’t paid his dues, hasn’t put in years of hard work; he shouldn’t even be thinking about leading a team. But that doesn’t stop him. This younger generation, eh?

According to Winnie, Winston takes every opportunity to undercut her. She’s seen him talking to other managers, and she’s pretty sure he’s criticizing her. And he is so disrespectful! He continually makes suggestions in front of the team that he knows she won’t carry out.

For example, in one team meeting, Winston suggested that she request funds to replace a frustrating computer system. Winnie’s temper got the best of her. “You have no idea of the budget, so why don’t you just do your job and let me worry about equipment.”  Secretly, Winnie believes that the less she requests, the better her team looks. Her team can perform on a shoestring!

Now, team meetings have deteriorated to finger-pointing and blaming sessions. Problems are always someone else’s fault; the suppliers, other teams, the customers… No one takes responsibility for anything! Winnie wonders how she managed to get stuck with the team that has all the complainers, the blamers, and the problems. If only she had a better team…

Next column, we’ll look at Winston’s story. Do you think his perceptions are different than Winnie’s? If so, how?

This article is the first in a series about the workplace.
The next article in this series is here.
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