Workplace Politics: Men Seeking Power and Control

As I mentioned in last week’s blog, the kind of negative social pressures so many of us are faced with today as office politics are begun and perpetrated by persons lacking real personal power and self-control.  Two basic rules of human interaction that apply here are: 1.All bullies are cowards at heart  2. People who are controlling of others are in desperate need of self-control.  These two truths apply equally to both men and women.  The folks who seem to be exercising POWER over others in the office mayhem are in fact very small powerless people who seek external displays of power and control over others in order to offset their own feelings of true powerlessness, lack of control, and acute lack of courage to act in positive productive ways.

Sad but true, the word POWER has been twisted to mean its exact opposite in most folk’s mind.  True power is and has always been the personal power of wisdom and compassion.  It is manifested strictly as the drive to empower others.  Look around your office.  Those people who still dare to be kind, to genuinely care, and to support others, THOSE are your people of TRUE POWER.  No wonder they are the persons most frequently attacked, ridiculed, or taken advantage of.  True power has always infuriated the truly powerless.

Power struggles between men

Power struggles between men

As I’ve mentioned this applies equally to men and women, but the behavior of dis-empowered men is different from that of dis-empowered women.  Women tend to get manipulative, and often resort to using social leverage like the office grapevine to control others.  Men tend toward a more frontal and territorial attack.  Simply put men, more than women see their job as part of their actual identity & man hood. So any sense of threat makes the fight much more viscious, territorial and domineering. Physical confrontations may actually occur…or the perpetrators may go for the victims family, starting affairs with the victims wives or girlfriends. The victims may get repeatedly sent out of town on jobs as a way to hurt his family & his relationship with his partner. There will be physical battles over office space as territory: who gets the office and who gets the cubical? Who gets the windows? Who is left near the toilets? The battle may be psychological in terms of the loading-on of more work or more disagreeable assignments.

In the Man’s world there also exists another disturbing reality: The Victim whose wife or partner has gotten sucked into the office power-play and chooses to have that affair does so because of Her Man’s cowardice.  The male victim needs to realize that he has helped to create that situation because he communicated to wife – “I am powerless”.   Women are instinctively attracted to men of power more so than appearance. Handle it at work…do not bring it home.

Now, that does NOT mean you shouldn’t talk with your wife about the problem.  Just don’t KEEP talking about it without taking appropriate action.  And most importantly DO NOT bring your powerless feelings home and become domineering or controlling toward your woman or your children.  My man has actually seen wives flirting with their husband’s managers & even agreeing to meet “for coffee”in such situations.  Men, DO NOT ask or expect your wives to “fix” the problem for you – take action or find a new place to work.   If you value your wife/partner DO NOT put her in the position of observing your cowardice for long.  Even a very good-hearted loyal woman will become disenchanted and disengaged with you if you display this lack of personal power.

Solutions

Taking action for men-on-men office politics is different from what I described last week regarding female bullies in the office.  To take action, a man can choose to empower another man by the “buddy” system too. The action is not verbal and most decidedly NOT to praise him or his work to a superior. (For the uninitiated that kind of “praise” is a method of diminishing and patronizing a man. DON’T go there!)  A certain show of solidarity can be created among men by parallel activities of teamwork.   This could be a shared beer and sports talk after work, or it could be actual collaboration on a project.  Just keep it real.  Men are highly sensitive to patronizing or “fixing” by others.  Just give the dis-empowered man in question the opportunity to display his real strengths and find some genuine sense of satisfaction.

Male bonding = male empowerment

Male bonding = male empowerment

The other man approved method is to confront the perpetrator with a tenacious display of self-empowerment.  Use your best judgment and stop short of any legal act of insubordination, guys.  But the bare truth here is many men like and respect a man who stands his own ground and returns force with force.  A man also has a pretty good chance of success using the corporate structure, where a woman usually doesn’t.  Go to your bully’s boss and insist on your rights after standing up to the bully in your best workplace appropriate way.

Shows of force = respect among men

Shows of force = respect among men

There, my men, is where solutions end.  If one of these male-approved actions does not bring your bullying boss back to his true power, its time to look for alternative employment.  Sad to say, but these workplace bullies are sometimes created by the corporate structure.  The bullying may be the

corporate approved method of management and could well be reinforced on up the chain of command.  Or your bullying boss may be feeling dis-empowered on the home-front.   If a man’s recent divorce or lack of success with women generally is what has dis-empowered him, a few opportunities for team-building or confrontation with other men (like those above) could help him find his power again.  If that doesn’t work and the chain-of-command won’t help put things right, you need to move on to a new workplace.

Cowboy Up and move on if you must!

Cowboy Up and move on if you must!

Switching jobs is NOT a cop-out, believe me!  Job hunting is an act of courage and empowerment in the best of times.  In these hard economic times, it is an act of fierce cowboy independence and manliness.  Next week, I’ll share my best strategies for biting that bullet!  Till then gather your courage from within by chanting “Nam Myoho Renge Kyo” (see sgi-usa.org) and bolstering your TRUE power by reaching within yourself.

Man of power and honor: Jon Simmons, my personal hero & nephew. RIP beloved.

Man of power and honor: Jon Simmons, my personal hero & nephew. RIP beloved!

Keep the faith, Men! Keep YOUR power clean and REAL!

Tolley

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Workplace Politics: Disempowered Women

Hats off to caring people!

Hats off to caring people!

In my line of work I meet a lot of good-hearted, giving people in giving professions such as nurses, teachers, and military personnel.  I frequently see the same patterns of workplace politics.  These people are under tremendous amounts of stress from being attacked at work for doing the right thing.  They often report having workplace political machines leveraged against them.  I can name about 5 professional nurses who have faced formal reprimand or even lost their jobs for  “caring for patients too much”.  Really!

But no, you’re not amazed or even surprised, are you? You’re nodding your head sagely and maybe breathing a sigh of relief to know its not just happening to you, am I right?  If you’re being targeted at work to comply with an unspoken norm that says: cut corners, kiss ass and get promoted – then that’s your sign that YOU my friend are one of the good hearted, moral people of this world.  Its not your imagination, the world is going crazy.  But you DO NOT have to go there with them.

Fight the office politics machine!

Fight the office politics machine!

(If you are one of the people who WERE good hearted, open minded and moral but have recently rolled over to comply with the crazy social norms, consider this your wake up call. Pull yourself together and do what you know is right. You are NOT alone.)

The plain fact of the matter is people who use social leverage to bully and cajole others into doing what goes against the moral code are dis-empowered people.  In fact all bullies are cowards at heart.   I have seen this process at work in many developing countries and I’ve been able to put together some patterns and see a big picture and solutions that I’d like to share.

Friendships among women tend to be egalitarian. Most psychological analyses of females will tell you that woman value bonding and commonality with others.  No amount of personal achievement can satisfy a woman who has no friends or close heart-to-heart bonds.  Women’s bonding rituals tend toward finding common ground and leveling individual achievements to include the contributions of others.  This is why, when you open up and share some personal challenge with a female friend you are likely to hear her share a similar experience in reply.  Its a woman’s way of saying, “I’ve been where you are, Friend.  I feel you!”  Males are more likely to offer advise, or “fix.  Now that advise may certainly come from a place of understanding and compassion but the guy is unlikely to share his story like the gal would.

Living in developing countries and other societies where women were clearly second class citizens and they knew it, I found a quite different dynamic at work.  Friendships among women tended to be competitive.  In the beginning stages of friendship one woman would do something spiteful to put the other down.  If the second woman accepted the blow without retaliation the “friendship” would be established as a one-up, one down arrangement with the meanest woman in the up position.  If the second woman pushed back to re-establish her dignity, the first woman would make a gesture of subordination and allow the second woman to dominate.  Since I  accept neither domination nor subordination in my friendships, these patterns tended to repeat themselves until I would walk away from any possibility of friendship with that woman and instead keep her at a cool but friendly distance as a mere acquaintance.

When I have observed this dom-sub style relationship in my own country it has always been in cultural pockets or situations that  dis-empowered women.   Women who have met with some form of punishment for speaking their minds, displaying strengths and abilities outright, or taking charge of situations tend to drift toward manipulation of others and the “frienemy” arrangement I describe with other women.  In the workplace, they tend to use the gossip grapevine to punish, pressure and reward as a way of manipulating and controlling others.  Since coworkers are targeted one at a time they tend to feel alone and without support.  As long as the victims do not support one another each tends to capitulate one after another until the whole office is held hostage.

Solutions

So what can be done?  What seems like an obvious first step is to reach out to others who want to do the right thing.  But that’s a tricky thing to do.  Reaching out and providing support is important but you cannot expect such efforts to be immediately rewarding nor can you expect those you support to be grateful and return the favor.  This is simply because the “Frienemy” machine is lying in wait for such attempts at moral team building and whomever you reach out to will likely be targeted for more grief simply for accepting your support.  You may also find that people you reach out to will be targeted for nasty gossip about YOU that will serve to feed their doubt and create suspicion that you may actually be the one running the machine.  You may need to establish yourself as a strong independent, upholder of right who cannot be swayed by social machines before your support of others will be met with success.

Still, its not that hard to dismantle social machines of the “dark side”.  Your best first step is to resist the natural urge to reach out with team support ONLY to the victims and instead reach out to the perpetrators.  That’s right!  These are PEOPLE we’re talking about and as I’ve said we now know they are feeling dis-empowered.  They still have powerful potential as friends and allies.   The other thing to realize is that they are NOT actually getting the results they crave, they are simply employing a old default mechanism out of desperation, fear, and the need to feel some small measure of control in their out-of-control lives.     They NEED your help even if they think you are the opposition.

The best and most efficient place to start is to figure out who is at the top of this evil machine.  I’ve done that for you: its probably the boss’s secretary.  I’ll explain why this is likely in my next blog, but for now this a a good person to start with.  You can get chummy with the boss’s assistant or you can befriend her closest friends and allies.  The thing to keep firmly in mind is that you must create REAL friendship bonds, not the frienemy kind already at work.  You don’t have to pretend to like unlikable people you just have to give them the opportunity to be their true decent selves.  Take a page from Dale Carnagie (How to Win Friends and Influence Peoplehttp://www.amazon.com/How-Win-Friends-Influence-People/dp/0671723650) or David Leiberman (How to Get Anyone to do Anything and never feel powerless again. http://www.amazon.com/Anyone-Anything-Never-Powerless-Again/dp/B002HJ3JK0 ) and ask for a small favor.  Borrowing a pen is an easy low risk way to create a situation that endears you to another person.  Then when you thank your new friend, be genuine, appreciative but not fawning.

Next time ask for a slightly more personal favor and ask in a somewhat conspiratory way.  Let’s say you ask this person to tuck in a tag on the back of your blouse or get her to give you fashion advise. (“Do you think these boots would go well with my black skirt?”, pointing to a catalog picture.)  The personal nature of the favor sets you up as chums and by asking for a favor you have appealed to their desire to be in charge.  Now, you have cleared the way to do a favor for her.

Make your favor a REAL one – stand up to support her when she’s being bullied by her boss.  This is easier to do than you think.  Everyone needs support at some time or other so make it as natural and subtle a gesture as possible. Maybe you’ve noticed she frequently has to work through her lunch break.  If so, go ask her boss nicely one day if you can take his right hand gal out to lunch.  Then, ask her.  Or if her boss is the type who criticizes her openly, offer verbal  praise some work she’s done in front of the boss. If its reasonable, get him to agree with you.  This sort of workplace friendliness can be genuine and sincere without having to be best buds outside the office environment.

But let’s say the big boss is not a bully.  Then you probably have a situation where the top dog does not earn the respect of his subordinates and so his assistant has stepped in with manipulation and social leverage to fill that void.  The secretary is manipulating her boss.  So then you can direct your inroads to true friendship at the boss too.  Reinforce his appropriate actions with recognition.  Support his efforts to keep peace and fairness in the organization.  Still, remember to focus efforts on the perpetrators of the gossip mill, as well.  When they become true allies of fairness and moral behavior you will have done something powerful indeed.

Make a difference right where you are, every day!

Make a difference right where you are, every day!

Lastly, and most importantly, be ever vigilant about your own attitude and behavior.  It naturally makes us all defensive to feel under attack by an invisible organization.  But you are NOT alone.  You are NOT powerless.  You are powerful beyond measure whenever you choose to stand up to injustice, to reach out to empower others, and to keep your own hear pure and on the right path.  Seek out other people who stand up for whats right.  Seek out uplifting, inspiring environments. Seek out your own inner wisdom and compassion.  There is not better way to do this than chanting “Nam Myoho Renge Kyo” (see sgi-usa.org).  It is a simple, personal practice for tapping into your own Buddha nature, or in other, equally valid words, the God nature that lies within each of us.  Your chanting, your heart, and your wisdom, will wake up others in your environment even if you say nothing.  But it will also help you find the words and the courage to continue saying and doing the RIGHT thing, even in these crazy times.

Keep the faith, My Friends!

Never Love a River

The young protagonist in Life in Paradise from The Grand Experiment series starts in early talking about love. She eloquently describes how it felt to have love awaken in her:

“My life began like a small struggling bird who is now cupped into strong kind hands. Love began for me not like something new that I discovered or something strange that someone gave me, love began like something that was huddled inside of me afraid to wake up.  It began like a seed lying on the ground with no water, with its shell getting thicker and harder that is suddenly and unexpectedly drenched and soaked through.  Like a seed that stops being a seed and bursts out through the thickest of shells and becomes, overnight something green and tall, something that will never again be a seed, something that grows taller and stronger and more beautiful every day.  That is how the beginning of my life felt at the beginning of time.”

She introduces us to the joys and advantages of loving a tree:

“There is a big difference between climbing a tree and befriending a tree, there is a big difference between hiding in a tree and staying hidden in a tree. This difference is loving a tree, and you should try that one day as well. When you have the pictures for love, not just in your head but in your heart, when love had been born like a seed from within you and you can give it freely to others, then something happens to how you see and hear and feel the world around.  I began to see that the trees could love just as I loved. It was out of their love for us that the trees dropped their limbs heavy with fruit into our waiting hands. When I stood close with my back to a tree I could hear it whisper things to me. It whispered to my heart not just to my ears. It told me its secrets.  When I climbed a tree and lay on its strong branches it told me things. Sometimes it told me where to get the best fruit.  Sometimes it told me that fruit that was not yet would be coming in just a little while and it told me when to come back and eat its fruit. Sometimes the tree would tell me the best places and the best ways to hide in its branches. Sometimes a tree might tell me where to find the eggs of a bird in its branches.  You might wonder why the tree didn’t hide the bird and its eggs like it hid me.  I wondered that as well. The answer is simply that not all birds have learned to love a tree, just as not all people have learned to love a tree. It is an easy enough thing to learn when you love. You may know that not all people have learned to love other people, even their own kind.”

But she warns us never to love a river:

“Of course it would be both clever and lucky to find a river, but it would be both foolish and very unlucky to live by a river. By the river is where everyone wanted to live and where everyone did live when they could. By the river was also the easiest place to die and where many unlucky and foolish people did die. I often thought that those kind of people who liked to eat other people were fools. They were fools because they wasted so much time and energy chasing food that did not want to be eaten and cornering food that might at any moment decide to turn and eat them instead. They were also fools because they would live by a river.”

(From Life in Paradise (The Grand Experiment)  available for $4 at http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=life%20in%20paradise%28The%20Grand%20Experiment%29    GO READ IT, ALREADY!)

It is only much later in the book that we see first hand what she means by “loving a river”.   To fully get what shes talking about you must understand the climate of Africa.  In Africa it doesn’t rain every day.  In fact there they have the “long rains” and the “short rains”  The short rains last for a month or two and the long rains may last 3-4 months.  The rest of the year there is no rain. At all.  So what happens during the dry season is rivers, ponds, and lakes dry up.  Many dry up completely.  There are places like the Ngorongoro Crater of Tanzania where a huge lake forms once a year in what was a semi-desert. Great herds of wildlife migrate there just in time for the lake’s formation.  Then as the lake dries up they migrate away again.

So rivers in Africa are not the stable sort of thing they seem to be in other parts of the world.  If you’ve read the book you know the protagonist and her family, in fact all hominids of the time, spend most of their time finding water again and again.  It is what drove the nomadic way of life. There wasn’t so much gathering and no hunting to speak of in this species.  Their only driving quest was for water.

Naturally, it would seem to be a good thing to find a big river and to settle down beside it. Fresh water, fruit, and game (if you were into that kind of thing) would be readily available.  But that is why she issues her warning.  It seems like a good thing to sit down by your resources and make that your permanent home.  But, she warns us that it is not a good thing.

It is not a good thing to settle down to stay by a river what will soon dry up without warning and leave you stranded far from any other water source.  It is not a good thing to become too dependent on one way of doing things, one set of skills, or one way of defining the world.  In her world the foolish people determined to “love” a river become so greedy and so locked in to their one way of living and thinking that when the river retreats they begin to kill and eat their own tribesmen, beginning with the smallest and weakest, the children.   It is a horrific punctuation to her warning.

Dry River

Dry River

Like so many of her words and warnings, I think the admonition never to “love a river” has important relevance to us today.  Today our world is changing like never before. Really, its not your imagination!  It may be that technology has dramatically changed the pace of life and the pace of progress.  It may be something else, on a more grand scale.  Whatever is the cause, we can all see it all around us.  We are all being challenged to adapt and to change to keep pace.

Young people seem the best adapted.  Their language, their fashions, their music, their interests seem to change overnight.  I taught high school for about 14 years and I got to see first hand why our education system is not working.  We have a system of education founded on the culture of kids living on farms, rising before dawn to do chores, make their lunch and walk miles to school before their first class.  They would have been ever so grateful to sit still in a desk, copy some notes, read a book, memorize a few facts.  But those are not the kids we teach today. They can’t sit still and they know better than to memorize information when way too much information’s available at their fingertips on the internet.

Moreover, I’ve seen first hand that each year brings a brand new culture of kids into the same old classrooms.  The kids know we’re not trying to teach them so they don’t bother to learn.  But watch how quickly they learn new technology.  If you can’t fix something or figure out some new software or devise, get a kid to teach you.  The language and the system is hardwired into their brains.  We, my friends, are trying to love a river. And this river is on the move.

Ever had a boss or co-worker who claimed their way was best because “this is the way we’ve always done it?”  Yep, loving a river till it dries right up beneath their feet.  How often do your refresh and renew your skills? People all over the country are worried about jobs vanishing.  People with skills that were in hot demand just a few years ago are now standing in the unemployment lines.  My friend, I would venture to say the only dependable, truly reliable thing in this world is change.  If you’ve been doing the same thing the same way for some time – change it up!  What you don’t want is to end up being one of the zombies in the next zombie apocalypse greedy and desperate enough to feed on the “brains” of those who know how to adapt and embrace change.  I can promise you that!!

Now, don’t worry, its no time to panic.  Just find a way, or create a new way.  Here’s something to help you along the way.  I call it the Circle of Power:

Draw yourself an imaginary circle on the floor.  Fill it with your favorite color. Now put in your goals and any skills or resources you need to get you there.  Now step into the circle yourself.  Imagine your body is like a clear glass vase and that beautiful color and those amazing skills are just filling you up, flowing up from the circle and filling your whole being.  Feel the power!  Feel the flow of happiness, freedom, skills.  Now roll your shoulders back, roll your chin upward, and put a big smile on your face.  Now step out to face your day, your every day.

Its as simple as that.  Build your Circle of Power everyday and you’ll soon find that opportunities and options for success are seeking YOU out!  If you can conceive it and believe it, your inner mind WILL achieve it.  It is that easy! You tree lover you! lol