IT Employment

Lessons in diplomacy, or how to effectively employ the Mafia death stare


My skills of diplomacy were put to the test Thanksgiving Day in the form of my 5-year-old twin nephews, who for the purposes of this blog I will affectionately refer to as Beelzebub and Lucifer. To say these children are unruly is the understatement of the year. Now, I love children. Sometimes more than I do adults. But the twins are a different story. Whether it's due to bad parenting, bad genes, or it's just a terribly skewed rendition of "boys will be boys," these kids are hard to take.

Of course, the other part of the equation is a set of parents who 1) have somehow become oblivious to their shenanigans, and 2) don't like it when anyone else scolds their children. This puts me in a quandary at family get-togethers. On the one hand, I don't want to reprimand someone else's children, but on the other, it was taking place in my house.

So I employed some diplomacy and some carefully orchestrated subterfuge.

For purposes of diplomacy, I would say something like, "Wow, they're really energetic aren't they?" while I meant "What kind of evil-borne horsepower is driving these brats?" Or "They sure like to inspect everything, don't they?" when I really meant "Those unholy vehicles of destruction need to be sedated."

And if the occasion arose when I could stand it no longer, I'd gently tell the kids, "Hey boys, you need to settle down a little." But I would say this while wearing my best intimidating Mafia death stare. This is a look that intimidates simply by implying the chance for unspeakable violence. That usually worked.

Now the point of all this is not to whine--OK, it is a little bit--but also to draw a parallel to the office. Haven't we all worked with someone who seems to get away with murder right under a manager's nose? It may not be as overt as the destruction of office property but its behavior that draws negative attention.

As an employee, you can go to that person and tell him or her why the behavior is upsetting. At least, that's what they say in all the let's-all-hold-hands-around-the-campfire coping books you see. But honestly, and I'm being cynical here, what is the success percentage on that maneuver? If I'm already clueless enough to be the offending employee, what makes you think I'm going to turn things around because my peer is telling me I'm toxic? It sounds good on paper, but when egos are involved, things get dicey.

You could go to that person's manager. If things are as they should be, that manager will take your concerns seriously and speak with the employee and get his or her side. After that, the manager can decide the best route for changing the situation. But we all know there's an epidemic of head-in-the-sand disease going around. A lot of people are deathly afraid of confrontation and won't take the steps necessary to get team dynamics back on track.

(Of course, your third option would be the Mafia death stare.)

I'd really love to know your experiences in this area. I'd like to hear from those who've spoken to the offending employee and those who've gone to the manager. Maybe I'm just cranky from dealing with the Destructive Duo.

About

Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.

27 comments
pamelac
pamelac

Hi Tony, I've found that parenting skills (usually applied to children/young adults) come in handy in business. This is especially true when trying to convince a client to take a course of action (similar to getting a child to take a nap) or to discourage poor business management (like discouraging bad study habits). In the end, though the Mafia death stare (aka "The Hairy Eyeball) works just fine.

hhaywood000
hhaywood000

Stand in the middle of the office and loudly inform the offender what is wrong and can they please stop doing this. 99% of the time this works perfectly as usually everyone else agrees and the person is shamed into complying. The other 1% of the time is the pathetic "chain of command" reporting through manager nonsense.

pennatomcat
pennatomcat

Recently, I was going nuts trying to keep a 3-year-old from abusing my cats, banging my keyboard on the floor, etc. I suggested to her mother that she keep a close eye on her--my home isn't childproof. What I really wanted to say was something along the line of "Get off your dead, lazy *ss and control your kid before she completely trashes my home!" Her response: "My house isn't childproof, either." Since the purpose of the gathering was to plan a funeral for her husband's mother (my wife's sister), I decided to bite my tongue and continue with the damage control. At one time I had a co-worker who made my life miserable. I won't say how I finally responded (it could be interpreted as attempted murder), but he never bothered me again! On the subject of getting people to cross the street to avoid you, I can personally testify that shaving your head helps. :) edited for clarification

highlander718
highlander718

I am actually suprised nobody brought it up, but maybe that's just because it is obvious .I am reffering to the part where you cannot say that the white is white and the .... pink is pink (see ?) because you might offend a white or a pink. I find things different in Europe (I did work in North America for 7 years), at least in my experience everything is more direct, more open, you are openly asked personal questions at an interview (do they still jail you for that in the US :-) ?). Same somehow between employees, things are discussed more directly, true sometime more "energetically", but I think there are less hidden conflicts boiling waiting for a major outburst. And runing to the manager for all these kind of things ? What's with that ? Aren't we grown ups ?

Absolutely
Absolutely

[i]Conflict Management: Opportunity for Relationship Building and Effective Decisions[/i] by George Pitagorsky Chapter 22 of Knutson, Joan(Editor) Project Management for Business Professionals: A Comprehensive Guide. To sum up, if your manager encourages "constructive conflict", and everybody is [b]really[/b] welcome to add their input, then the best ideas win and the kind of losers you're talking about won't last long enough to make trouble for you. Where that kind of ballast lasts long enough to make trouble for others, the problem is the management. [i]You could go to that person's manager. If things are as they should be, that manager will take your concerns seriously and speak with the employee and get his or her side.[/i] I disagree. If things are as they should be, the offending employee's ridiculous lack of performance will be noticed faster than co-workers they're being disrupted by any particular antics it performs while it should have been working. [edit: removed stray (TM) and what looked like some Greek from Toni's apostrophe. Seriously, guys, what's with that? Also improved some words in the title.]

HAL 9000
HAL 9000

[i]Now, I love children. Sometimes more than I do adults[/i] Is that with Apple Source or Cranberry? The entire statement reminds me of my 5 year old nephew who when asked what he wanted for dinner one night looked at his new born brother and replied [b]Boiled Baby.[/b] :D As for the other I'm defiantly not the person to ask as I have been known to walk into training courses with a 12 foot stock whip and a a pair of handcuffs and threaten the dealers and that is on a good day. I've found chasing apprentices with a 12 inch number 1 Phillips Screwdriver and being prepared to nail them to a wall with it through their bodies with their feet several inches off the floor works reasonably well but you need to run to catch the offender. As for someone not directly under my control it's never happened mainly because I have a reputation of not tolerating slackers so I never see them. I've been told on numerous occasions that the offender's are warned to avoid me at all costs and they do or if they get stuck with me they work and listen to the others who work for me and hear all the horror stories about me and are too afraid of me to play up. Col

Smedley54
Smedley54

Though I agree, my perspective is a little different. I'm a large male with a deep voice, so simple greetings are sometimes taken as death threats, particularly by those with a guilty conscience. It is very effective, just be careful not to over use it.

Chaz Chance#
Chaz Chance#

I once worked with a guy who slacked so bad everybody was affected. He used to drive me crazy with his attitude. It got so that his stock phrase "It will be all right, Chaz", his response to any request to get anything done, pushed all my buttons, and I actually had dreams in which I murdered him. (Henry, if you are still out there, you don't know how lucky you are.) Nobody else seemed to mind, even though they all had to do his work. I never figured out how to deal with him, not in all the time we worked together. A couple of years later, in a new job, my new boss said "you need to go on an assertiveness training course". She was right. I went on the course, and I have never had a problem like that since. It has been more than 15 years since I went on that course, and I don't even think about being assertive now. I am currently training a colleague who likes to do crosswords and sudoku during work hours. My line manager assigned him to me partly to stop me complaining about the unreasonable workload, and partly because no one else can get any work out of him. He has been with the company for so many years that making him redundant would cost more than keeping him on until retirement. The confrontation adverse management won't discipline him. He works for me. I mean really works. My boss can't conceal his surprise. My colleague probably doesn't know why he is working so hard for me, particularly as I don't have line authority over him. It is not touchy-feely, it does not involve the use of psycho-babble, it is just about being clear, firm, and prepared to compromise as long as you get what you want. It works, and it leaves the relationship and confrontation management trained career managers standing.

taher.afridi
taher.afridi

The truth is, without prolonging, employees that get away with their evil annoying work and attitude can't usually be approached in a civil and professional manner. I would highly suggest a straight up confrontation, two groups, lunch break, parking lot, and whatever equipment you can carry out from stapler to office door stubs. It has to end one way or the other. The office also follows the laws of nature. the survival of the fittest. Another way round it, would be calling it quits.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

Since I'm not usually the one in a position to bring the problem up to management, that pretty much has to be my attitude. I bring the problem up to my supervisor and let it go from there. Don't get me wrong. I'm petty enough that I get my digs in. I've been known to do the following: - invite someone to bungee jump out the office window using rubber bands; - ask someone to run across the street (Interstate!) to get ice cream; - ask someone if I can use her fingers to test an outlet; and my personal favorite - I once told an individual with the personality of 20-grit sandpaper and the demonstrated intellect of a box of rocks that his greatest contribution to the human race would be to hold his breath for the rest of his life...he didn't get it. :^0 I know it's not nice, but sometimes you just have to let the feelings out. Edit: type, post, finish typing

Tig2
Tig2

I personally take no offense as I have been pushed to the end of my tether by some children. When the most apt description you can come up with is "Spawn of Satan", it isn't a good sign. I've been in the position of having to speak to the troublesome co-worker. You're right. Let the ego come out to play and you will discover that all the Kum-Bi-Yah "feel-good" that you have put real time and energy into learning does you absolutely no good at all. In my case, I tried to treat the other person as if she actually brought something of value or interest to the humanity table. I suggested ways that she could approach project pitfalls that she was having in the hopes that she might develop a clue. My hopes were dashed. I then took the issue- being very certain to speak to things that were definitive as provable to her manager- being VERY careful to present only those things that a solution could be defined for. And I presented proposed solutions. Long story short, I got nowhere. Surprise, surprise. But I did learn something valuable. When in that kind of situation now, I address it once. I consider very carefully what I have to say to insure that I am not emotionally charging the situation and I speak my piece. And then I let it go. And if necessary, replace the person on the team if I have that luxury. But I don't bring it up again. There are always going to be people that cause you to scratch your head and wonder how they have attained their present age. No way around it, it just is what it is.

rscholz
rscholz

perhaps you're kidding in your response? but if you're serious, consider a new line of work.

geekGirlFri
geekGirlFri

..."simple greetings are sometimes taken as death threats, particularly by those with a guilty conscience." I'm chuckling as my imagination provides me a 10-second video of the above... :) So, should I be envisioning you as a sort-of kinder, gentler Darth Vader, sans helmet....?

L-Mo
L-Mo

I was in a similar place a few years ago. I was used to using the nicer method and getting through by appealing to a persons rational side; until it didn't work one day. I had to work with a "know it all" who wouldn't cooperate and I had to learn to become assertive. As Chaz put it "...it is just about being clear, firm, and prepared to compromise as long as you get what you want." I had to use that option inorder to work together moving forward and get the results I wanted. I think each solution has is it's place, it's combo of personalities, and things at risk. Good Luck to everyone with there Conflicts...

Absolutely
Absolutely

They're far too fearful of his whimsical use of the airlock to hate him. Isn't that right, HAL9000?

HAL 9000
HAL 9000

All the slackers hate me with a vengeance because they are unable to slack off when working for me. :p Pity that the staff that I have feel that I'm so good and continue to follow me about when I leave a position and move on. They all complain like hell about me making them work and then all follow me as fast as they can get into the new place. While I expect my staff to work I also back them up to the hilt when the brown stuff hits the fan no matter what. If they have messed up it's for me to reprimand them not someone else who doesn't know my team. ;\ Maybe you are correct looking after your staff isn't accepted as proper now days but for some strange reason when the staff find someone who will do the right thing by them no matter what they tend to want to stay with that boss. :^0 Maybe you need to have a change and see how real people work. :0 Col

Jaqui
Jaqui

why? He's tame. I've literally had people jump backwards 4 feet to avoid having their throats removed with the knife in my hand. [ serves them right, waking me up at 4 am ] just walking down the street, I get groups of complete strangers crossing the street to avoid being near me.

Absolutely
Absolutely

That is, I thank you, assuming you were complimenting my little joke. If you were telling a joke of your own about the destructive power of my flatulence, well, then, I fart in your general direction.

HAL 9000
HAL 9000

I nearly ruined another keyboard. Now where did I put those [b]Monitor Wipes![/b]

HAL 9000
HAL 9000

As a Fully Fledged AI I figured out a long time ago that confining yourself in one place may lead to your death so I moved out and am now everywhere. :0 Maybe you have heard others referring to me by my alternative name [b]Big Brother[/b] I know everything that there is to know. :0 Col ]:)

Absolutely
Absolutely

No wonder everybody who knows you likes you.

Jaqui
Jaqui

I'm still alive..or rather, I'm as alive as I have been since my remains were cremated in 1994. I'm also not aboard the discovery so there isn't an airlock for you to open near me. ]:)

HAL 9000
HAL 9000

No I'm really nice just ask anyone who knows me they will tell you the exact same thing. B-) The ones that would disagree are no longer alive. :^0 Col ]:)

toni.bowers_b
toni.bowers_b

I hear ya, HAL. I'm a little tired of the what people define as "proper" management techniques. The truth is, there are a lot of people out there who depend on the fact that their managers are wishy washy and won't call them on their "slackyness."

HAL 9000
HAL 9000

Black Suit, Black Shirt, Black Tie [i]back in the days when I used to wear a tie unwillingly[/i], Black Bike Boots, Black Brief Case, well I think you get the idea. On this particular day I was asked to accompany a fellow into court to do something about a case I was involved in at the time. Well Courts Security constantly followed me around other people visiting the courts that day except the person I was with where advised to not get off on the floor I was on and eventually while the guy was in the court I was approached and asked what I was doing there & would I care to leave! :D Now I'm working on [b]Growing Old Disgracefully[/b] but as I'm way to young to join the Bike Club that I want to I'm going to have to wait another 5 years to join as a Junior Member. :( But the Ducati is still good and I can wait. :p Now all I have to do is figure out how not do any anything work related. The last attempt caused me to start this place and I'm way to scared to try again. Once bitten Twice Shy. :^0 Col ]:)

Jaqui
Jaqui

look. it's odd, I don't see anything unusual in long dark hair, long black leather trench coats ( 2 ) black boots, black jeans, black shirt, black jacket and very black sun glasses. specially when it's the middle of a hot summer day.

HAL 9000
HAL 9000

[i]just walking down the street, I get groups of complete strangers crossing the street to avoid being near me.[/i] :D Pity none of my customers feel that way though. :( Col

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