Office Wars! When Your Boss Grabs Your Glory

Office Wars! When Your Boss Grabs Your Glory

Posted Aug 14, 2009

Job losses are slowing and an economic recovery may be around the corner. Still, cubicle row looks a bit desolate, and you sometimes wish your job was eligible for a cash-for-clunkers trade-in.

The remaining managers - you among them - are working in an atmosphere that can only be described as chilly, even though the temperature outside is soaring. Surprisingly, your formerly friendly boss is giving you the cold shoulder, too.

Today was particularly notorious, as your boss literally grabbed from you the file of your favorite all-time project - to the astonishment of those at the staff meeting. She claimed that she didn't know why it was given to you in the first place, as it was her area.

Instead, she gave you the task of writing a report on how many cups of water are consumed per day as a new cost saving initiative. "And thanks for your teamwork," she added.

What's going on here?

It's a turf war where the boss doesn't want to give up territory. Like a microcosm of one army, she's moving in for a power grab amidst a highly competitive work environment. It's best for you to understand and brush up on your skills now - because the recovery and its pent up business demands could well incubate a new breed of frenzied, power hungry Terrible Office Tyrants (TOTs).

The "sandbox politics" syndrome is at play when bad bosses become fearful of losing ground or are unsure of the future, attached to the status quo. You may unknowingly come off as a threat to them - as unwanted competition for their "dominion."

If your boss seems territorial, try these tips:

Identify and avoid territorial triggers: Instead of buying into perceived danger or a sense of lacking, redirect the focus on the future. Create a plan and discuss it so that he can bring up - and you can clear up - any objections. Go ahead and point out areas where you and your team can have a significant influence on benefitting the business in the days and weeks ahead.

Learn to be a diplomat: Office politics can be a minefield when it comes to territorial wars. So tread lightly but confidently. Listening is an office diplomat's greatest tool. More specifically, hearing what TOTs have to say is an invaluable skill. In a meeting, reassure them if you agree with their point.

You can reinforce that you are a team player, not a scene-stealer by showing your willingness to help. Wars have been fought back-and-forth forever over territory and ownership, so in order to subtley win your office battle (or at least have a truce), demonstrate patience and compromise.

Put a positive spotlight on your boss: When appropriate and genuine, praise your boss for her accomplishments with a sincere, "That's a great idea," or a casual yet supportive phrase such as, "Works for me."  If the opportunity arises on occasion to publicly compliment an aspect of a worthy project spearheaded by your boss, don't fear being called "one of them," or "just making points."

We do not have to go out of our way to dehumanize ourselves any more than our bosses should avoid praising us. We should demonstrate supportive, positive behavior to bosses and others. The workplace can become more humanistic, starting with you. (P.S. This empathetic approach does help communicate to your TOT that your "five-year goal" is not to replace him!)

Do establish limits: If, after you've developed a relationship with your boss, the power grab dynamic is habitual, sit down and have a heart-to-heart talk. Often bosses don't realize the ill of their ways until told. If you let her know how this practice is hurting your work product, she will likely stop, as you are important to her success. Just be sure you sandwich the criticism between positive "bookends" in your conversation.

If nothing improves, you can always walk; this is your career and you have the right to enjoy going to work. Weigh the benefits and realize that human nature is never perfect - you could trade one irritating personality trait for another.

Show your manager that you can support her goals in a non-threatening way, and she is likely to ease up - and free up - some of her workload, including your pet projects.

She may even learn to share her sandbox shovel.