Even though you think you went to work, you hear playground noises around you. It’s not your mind playing tricks on you. It’s the boss (and co-workers) playing sandbox politics. They claim — in front of everyone — that you stepped out of line: ”That’s my area.”
When it happens with your boss, you’re particularly thrown for a loop. When he was promoted, his old task and "territory" was assigned to you. In fact, you reasoned for sure that he was going to give you a glowing review. But no…you stepped into the wrong sandbox and are ducking the sandstorm.
What caused this sudden regression in a professional workplace?
You’ve unknowingly traversed a sandbox minefield, with a boss who doesn't want to give up his turf. Instead of an asset to the corporation, you’re perceived as threat for gaining on his new (or even old) domain. He doesn’t want to lose any of his hard-fought ground. So instead of mentoring the new kid coming up fast, he fights it.
Your manager's unwillingness to let go may be due to insecurity and fear of losing stature. It could also be a “land grab” - a way for her to secure more power - as you ponder whether you have any options other than receiving a virtual “detention.” Regardless of the motive, you have choices on how to respond.
If your boss or co-worker displays these territorial symptoms, it’s time to arm yourself with these tips on how to cope and thrive - amidst all the schoolyard chaos.
…Enter the office in full battle gear, loudly demand your rights, and then plant a flag on your desk reading: “All or Nothing!” You might just be left with nothing, losing all.
Be the Office Diplomat. Ask diplomatically for greater clarity on your role. To delineate your tasks and responsibilities going forward, put them in e-mails, which will mitigate future confusion and conflict. You may need to overcommunicate until you're told otherwise. Do, however, draw a line in the proverbial sand when the behavior is out of control.
…Give false praise, flattery or tell outright lies, like: “Hey… that bright orange suit is so…festive.” Or, “Wow, I admire how you command the troops with your “take no prisoners” approach!”
When appropriate and genuine, praise your boss for his accomplishments with a sincere, “That's a great idea,” or a casual yet supportive phrase such as, “Works for me.” Talk up the areas in which your boss has succeeded to diffuse insecurity, and reinforce often the fact that you're there to help him and the team.
Show how to share the wealth. You can be a great example to your boss; as he sees you in action or hears you say, for example, "Mary has really picked up well on the areas I used to handle. It's really freed me up to be more strategic." A bell will eventually go off.
…Morph into a dagger-wielding diva yourself. If you mimic your boss’s glory-grabbing behavior or competitive style - or claim victory over your latest project conquest among your peers - you could quickly lose you the respect of your co-workers, and ultimately, your job as well.
Remember you should never suffer in silence. If nothing improves after various attempts over time, you can always walk. This is your career and you have the right to enjoy going to work. Just weigh the benefits and realize that human nature is never perfect - you could trade one irritating boss personality trait like territorialism – for another, and end up with a Terrible Office Tyrant (TOT) of another variety.
With some savvy in the boardroom, you can take yourself and others out of the playroom.