Helping the Chronically Overworked Find Life Balance

Beware The Illusion Of Community At Work

Chapter 8: Build Your Community Part 5

Remember Sue from Chapter 6, the successful VP who was secretly throwing up every morning, crying and not wanting to go to work?  Of course it didn’t start that way.

“When I was more junior, [it] felt  like we were going somewhere.  There was financial success, bonuses, and I moved up quickly. I appreciated being recognized.  It was an absolute pleasure.  The team stuck together four years and we liked each other.  Many nights we’d go to the gym, come back and stay till 10.  We were willing to do that it was fun.”

In many ways, what Sue is describing is a community – people you like to be with who provide support and conquer obstacles together.  When I asked her if it felt like community, Sue agreed.   “I loved the company.  Marketing got along with development and sales, and it felt like you were a part of something.  The day in day out conversations were positive.  Everyone was working towards the same goal.  It was fun.”

When the company started having trouble maintaining the high growth rate, things got ugly.  “There was this one person,  I thought it was friendship but she didn’t hesitate to stab me in the back without a second thought.”  And that was not an isolated case.  Sales, marketing, and development, departments that had worked so well together were now caught in a cycle of very personal and destructive political attacks.  And then the layoffs began.

I think it was this sense of community that drove Sue to stick  with it, to try to “be the one to bring it back.”  And that effort made her very sick.

A company isn’t a real community, it just provides a community-like experience.  You can never be kicked out of a real community, but a company can and should get rid of anyone if business conditions warrant it.

In the next post, Sue searches community outside of the workplace.

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How To Deal With a Manipulator At Work

Chapter 4: Who To Trust At Work Part 12

In the last post, I shared stories of people who had negative experiences dealing with a Fox.  While a Fox can talk you into anything, the great weakness of the Fox is execution.  If you don’t do the job for him, he can’t get it done by herself.   I asked Liz how she dealt with Susie, who was taking credit for her work.

“When someone gets a promotion before me, I don’t mind, no sour grapes.  But when they lied and cheated and misrepresented themselves, I have more of an issue.  You get to a point where it’s not benefiting me to get all riled up about it.  At a certain level you will be found out.  [If you choose to live that way], you will be the one looking over your shoulder waiting to see who would stab you.”

For the record, Susie was eventually demoted and later let go.   Liz was promoted several times, and went on to run a group of more than fifty people.

Another Senior Marketing Manager shared the following with me, which led me to a strategy for dealing with a Fox. Sometimes “the guy who takes the hit is the guy trying to execute on unrealistic, jackass plans.  Two to three rounds [of layoffs] later, it eventually it gets figured out and cleaned up. In the meantime there is a wake.”

So my takeaways from both stories:

1. It can be more stressful to be the fox than to deal with a fox, because a fox is always worried about being exposed or disempowered.  So don’t worry too much about them “getting away with it.”  You wouldn’t want to live that life.

2. A fox survives by manipulating others.  Once you understand a fox, they lose their power over you, and you have a decent chance of outlasting them.

Often the person being manipulated  by a Fox is a Wolf, which I will begin to illustrate in the next post with the parable of The Fox and The Wolf.

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Were You Ever Betrayed In the Office? Chances Are It Was a Fox That Did It

Chapter 4: Who To Trust At Work Part 11

In the last post, I used Aesop’s fable The Fox and The Crow to define a Fox at work as someone who gets by on flattery. Now compare Aesop’s fox with the following true stories.

Story 1: “Jack,” a Director at a national telecommunications company, laments not recognizing that his colleague as a Fox.

“My colleague and I were in contention for a promotion.  She went overboard to be my buddy and friend, to be helpful.  At the same time she was damning me with faint praise all over the company.  ‘Jack is really good at what he does.  Jack is a really good leader, meets project deadlines but….’  That was her technique.  It planted enough doubt about me that I wasn’t selected.  One of my reports who was close to someone in this other woman’s department told me about how she did it, how long she did it, how many people she did it with.  That was my experience with betrayal.  I thought she was my buddy.”

Story 2: “Liz,” a Senior Manager in the software industry describes her friend “Susie” who got ahead at her expense.  “She [Susie] would present my stuff and her stuff, but would never tell them I generated it.  She was very sweet about it, saying things like ‘I didn’t mean it that way.’  But she did.  She accelerated her career that way.  She got a lot of visibility by indirectly taking credit for other people’s work.  I don’t know how she made it work.  She was very charming and managed her bosses well.” 

Now that you have some idea how to recognize the spoor of the Fox, in the next post, I will offer strategies for how to deal with one.  What is your experience with betrayal, and how have you tried to prevent it from happening again?

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