I once had to deal with a vice-president at the company where I used to work whom I’ll call “Jason.” Jason had the ear of our CEO. I was developing an incentive program for the CEO, and he wanted Jason involved in setting performance criteria for this program.
I knew Jason well enough to know he had a big ego. I decided I would be as deferential as I could, while still meeting the requirements the CEO had set for me.
I met with Jason to get his opinion. He didn’t offer any concrete suggestions during our meeting, but said he would follow up. He didn’t.
When time grew short for me to finalize the incentive program, I emailed Jason to tell him what I wanted from him and when I needed it. He responded that he would get back to me in time. He didn’t.
The day before my meeting with the CEO (a meeting that Jason would also attend), I sent Jason another email with a draft of my presentation for the meeting, including my recommendations. I asked him to let me know if he disagreed. He did not respond.
The meeting time arrived. In front of the CEO and the conference room full of other executives, I presented my recommended performance criteria. The CEO asked Jason if he agreed. Jason then gave a lengthy speech opposing my recommendations and offering his own, which I had never heard before. Obviously, the meeting derailed. We got nothing accomplished, and I looked bad.
I still fume about this incident. It doesn’t matter that Jason was ultimately fired. I still feel that my credibility was hurt by someone with whom I was trying to act in good faith – in fact, I was trying to cater to him. In retrospect, I think I should have been more assertive, both with Jason and with our CEO.
One of my favorite books on working relationships and change management is Getting Things Done When You Are Not in Charge, by Geoffrey M. Bellman. (I’ve written several earlier posts on this book, see samples here and here.) According to Bellman, the strength of the relationships we develop at work are the most important factor in our success (success defined as “getting things done” in a way that does not violate our principles).
Bellman’s basic framework for working with others, as outlined in Chapter 9 of Getting Things Done, is
- Know what you want and what others want, and identify where your wants overlap
- Help others realize your common wants
- Explore areas where your wants are close, and work on those
- Where your wants differ, negotiate to get their help on what you want, if you help them get what they want
Bellman advises being candid with people at work with whom you need to build relationships. He says that collaboration and negotiation are your best behaviors for building relationships. Competition and avoidance do not work well.
I thought about Bellman’s framework as I reflected on my situation with Jason. I had tried to collaborate with Jason, and I had trusted him to collaborate with me. Instead, Jason acted competitively with my goals, and avoided dealing with our differences in advance of the meeting with the CEO. Ultimately, he sabotaged my success.
Thankfully, I didn’t have to work much with Jason during the rest of my time at that company. If I had, I would have had a hard time continuing to be collaborative, even though I believe in Bellman’s framework. But I probably would have copied the CEO on any future emails to Jason.
If you’re trying to collaborate, and you aren’t getting reciprocity, you need to find an ally. Or at least find someone else to see your attempts at collaboration. I still believe in Bellman’s framework and in the values of collaboration and negotiation. But I am also more careful now to guard my own interests.
We all have incidents like mine with Jason in our careers, but it doesn’t make them any easier to deal with. What have you done when someone acted toward you in bad faith?