Fight back against peers who abuse your staff

When the executive in charge doesn't address political infighting, take the matter into your own hands

Dear Bob ...

I've read you long enough to know your position: Business runs on relationships. I try to build them with my peers. I work hard at it.

[ Also on InfoWorld: Bob takes on another form of office shenanigans in "How to respond to rumors in the workplace" | Get sage advice on IT careers and management from Bob Lewis in InfoWorld's Advice Line newsletter. ]

What do I do about peers who don't read your stuff and instead figure business is built on pecking orders?

A few of my fellow middle managers here seem to think it's just fine to yell at members of my department, make snide remarks about them (and my whole organization), and (in some ways this is the worst offense) interrupt them with a request for something or other, complete with short deadline, that completely blows away any chance we have of operating according to a plan.

Their direct reports have started to do the same thing, and it's killing our morale, not to mention our ability to function.

I should add that the worst offender is close buddies with my manager -- an individual who also hasn't read your relationship advice and who has made it very clear to me that I'm not now nor am I ever going to be in his inner circle. I'm pretty sure an open and direct conversation to clear the air isn't going to work with these characters. What I don't have is a better idea.

Any thoughts?

- Pecked

Dear Pecked ...

Well, that's ugly. I'm not sure what I'm about to suggest is a great idea, but I don't have any better ones. However, I don't think it can do you any harm given how bad the situation is already, so what the heck.

Before I get started, here's why I don't have a better one: The best textbook way to handle this would be to document enough instances to prove it's a real problem, then use your manager's manager's open-door policy to present the situation and request assistance.

You could do that. I'm pretty sure it would make you look like a craven wimp, not a professional ready to work in the rough-and-tumble world of executive interaction that seems to be the preferred corporate style in your company. And so ...

Find a supplier who will do custom silk-screening. Buy a large quantity of white tube socks. On every sock, have the supplier silk-screen the message: "Put a sock in it!"

Next, print out an equal quantity of nicely formatted instructions on how to request work from your department on one side and how to make a suggestion for improvement on the other. Both should be simple processes that route through your office.

Hand them out to your direct reports and, if appropriate, to everyone else in your department, with these instructions:

Any time anyone is either personally subjected to yelling or criticism from anyone out side the department but inside your manager's chain of command, they are to smile warmly, pull out a sock, hand it to the offending individual, and say, "Here -- just follow the instructions."

Then walk away without further comment.

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