The Dark Side of Work for Managers: Undercurrents

April 9, 2018

The Dark Side of Work for Managers: Undercurrentsundercurrents

In the previous set of posts (The Dark Side of Work Revealed), we discussed how undercurrents in the workplace, such as power, groupthink, and lying, can affect your work life and career. This is as true for managers as it is for employees. But the issues may be different from the manager’s point of view.

Let’s go back to the dialog on deciding holiday schedules. In the original situation, You, as the boss (Ned), tried to get agreement on how to parcel out time off over the holidays. But Thomas, one of your employees, thought you cut people off you disagreed with and suspected you of rigging the situation so it went your way.

There are at least two issues in this admittedly minor incident. One is that Thomas is probably suspicious of you now and the second is how groupthink, like other work undercurrents, can affect everyone, even you.  I need to cover the first topic in this post before I can move onto the second in the following post.

You did no such thing

First, let’s deal with the belief you cut off discussion. You don’t see that—you were just trying to run an orderly meeting. But if you look at the discussion, the only things you said before allowing a vote were:

Ned: Thomas, let Susie finish.
Ned: Thomas, let others have the floor.

See? You were trying to get everyone’s opinions but, in the process, inadvertently cut Thomas off.

Of course, you couldn’t possibly know what Thomas was thinking. And, even if you could, his discontent might be sour grapes. That may be true so let’s leave it as a possibility.

Being true doesn’t matter

But even if there was no foundation, Thomas may now be suspicious of your trustworthiness. When managers hear of this type of belief or rumor, the typical personal reaction is That’s ridiculous, I did no such thing, and leave it at that.

Here’s the problem—just because your intent was pure doesn’t mean employee(s) will change their opinions. People act on their perceptions. You don’t trust me, even if I am actually trustworthy. You act on your perception—perhaps by withholding information, or slanting it in some way, or even quietly sabotaging my goals. And certainly by being alert to other possible signs of untrustworthiness.

The fact that it’s not true from your point of view doesn’t mean you don’t have a problem (sorry for all the double negatives).

Managing undercurrents

I know—from this, you might think you have to live a management life of second guessing, mind-reading, and protecting your back. Not true.

Thomas and his colleague were swept away by the undercurrent of groupthink—where group pressure will either prevent people (i.e. Thomas’ colleague) from saying what they really think or, in Thomas’ case, shut down discussion which is not in line with the group’s feeling or desire.

You can manage in a way which minimizes the groupthink tendency. Next post.

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