Compliments of Artem Nezvigin via Flickr

Throughout history those in power have pitted the less powerful at odds. In totalitarian regimes, contrived shortages were created to sap the energy of the oppressed. In modern firms these same principles are used by managers who pit employees against one another. Divide and conquer is the Trojan horse of human discourse – where workers are used as tools to create distrust.

Infighting ensures that employees will have less energy to question the elite. If attention is deflected away from perpetrators, those in power can continue unencumbered. Their method is insidious, and plied behind the scenes. Egregious managers:

  1. Talk to employees about other workers in a way that embarrasses or humiliates the target. They do this on the sly (in the privacy of their office) so that others don’t know what’s transpiring.
  2. Share choice tidbits during these sessions, negative pieces of information that are “to go no further,” or worse yet, things that were said in confidence to the manager about you. In doing so your supervisor has achieved a dual purpose: (a) turning you against your colleagues, and (b) building camaraderie in a twisted, unhealthy fashion.
  3. Confide in people they can control. The untalented, lesser tenured, and those with fewest options are targeted as soil in which to plant negative seeds.
  4. Play both sides of the coin – bad mouth all people to those in your inner circle, pretending that their loyalties lie only in one direction.

If you’re a supervisor, be aware that your employees place a price tag on your behavior. Even the most rudimentary tenets of motivational theory suggest that a feeling of esteem at work surpasses [in terms of worker happiness] the more mundane aspects of pay, working conditions, and fringe benefits. The late Mary Kay Ash argues: “There are two things people want more than sex and money…recognition and praise.” Individuals have told me they would rather work for less compensation at a firm in which they felt valued, supported, appreciated, and loved. Non-monetary rewards cost you nothing. Some of these include:

  • Attention. TALK to people. Not over the e-mail, not through text message, but in an actual face to face conversation where you discuss the status of your relationship. After performing this exercise Jack Canfield realized he did some things which made his assistant unhappy (p. 158), and was able to subsequently improve the relationship. Don’t be so task oriented that you forget about what creates true value.
  • Freedom. Eschew the need to supervise workers as soon as you see them. This practice is particularly offensive to highly trained professionals (who are accustomed to working without constraint). Bossy and overbearing behavior leaves workers feeling helpless and emotionally hogtied.

What emerges from your mouth should be life promoting. Try to use your vocal capacity (especially if you’re a manager) in the service of those who depend on you for support. The enhanced productivity from a community of connected people far surpasses the solitary contributions of those in conflict.

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All viewpoints expressed by Jackie Gilbert are her own, and not of her employer.

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