Tech & Work

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.


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.

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