Office Politics: My coworker is hogging information
Erika Andersen, Founder/Partner
I work in a mid-size company and within my department, I have a coworker who has the same responsibilities in Germany. Since we work closely together, we have to manage information sharing to ensure that both services are transmitted with equal efficiency and standards. However, whenever we have to deal with our boss to get an approval, he gently excludes me from the discussion phase to ensure that our boss is takes note of his being on ‘top’ of things. Several times, I have spoken to him and explained to him that it would be good if I were informed of processes so that we can manage our jobs on each of our respective countries but he has not done so.
Today, I have received an email from our boss giving us the final instructions on a decision and at the bottom of that email, my boss included the email that my coworker has conveniently excluded me from. When I approached him, telling him that I would have appreciated that he could have put me on copy of that email for my information, he replies “Now you know!” This got me all bothered. Am I being overly pushy about being informed of this? And how can I manage him?
I work well at work, but without information, sometimes I feel left behind and not being able to react quick enough when dealing with issues where this information would have helped. I have not tried doing back to him the same way as I believe that work is work. PLEASE HELP!
OFFICE-POLITICS ADVISER ERIKA ANDERSEN
Dear Conveniently Forgotten…
Very frustrating! Being left out of the loop on important information can feel like an insult or a power play—and it definitely makes it harder to do your job.
Let’s start with the “why”—that is, why he’s leaving you out of communication. Short answer: you don’t know and neither do I (this sounds flip, but it’s important —it’s way too easy to assume negative intent on too little information; unnecessary feuds and stand-offs can easily ensue).
Longer answer: there are a number of possibilities. He may actually be doing it for nefarious purposes, as you suspect—he might be trying to curry favor with the boss, make you look bad, etc. etc. Or, he might not understand why it’s a big deal—it doesn’t impact him negatively, and (since he’s in Germany) he doesn’t really see the impact on you. A third possibility is that he’s simply never learned to collaborate: some people are great at building relationships upward and downward, but haven’t focused on (and don’t see the benefit of) creating strong “across” relationships.
Now, I’m basically of the innocent-till-proven-guilty school of thought. I’d suggest you start by assuming that he’s oblivious or uncaring, vs. out to get you. (If you later get enough data to conclude that he is, indeed, out to get you, there’s lots of great advice on this site about how to protect yourself from others’ negative political machinations.)
OK: if he’s oblivious or doesn’t care, then your main task is to help him understand what’s in it for him to share the information with you, and then to make it as easy as possible for him to do so. When you’re asking people to change their behaviors, you need to make the new behavior as easy, rewarding and normal as possible.
Easy means there are no impediments to doing it—and that, in fact, there are simple “pathways” set up to facilitate doing it. I’d suggest you look at how to make it drop-dead easy for him to share info with you. How about if you schedule a quick weekly phone call between the two of you, focused purely on information-sharing? Or perhaps you could even suggest a weekly call with the two of you and your boss, to discuss important issues and key decisions or approval requests? And you can definitely (if you’re not already doing this) forward him important information from your side and ask for any comments or relevant info in response.
And that brings us to rewarding. Those phone calls (or any other communication mechanism you invent or encourage) will only happen if he feels there’s something valuable there for him. So, think about that: What’s the benefit to him of sharing this information with you? What’s the benefit to the boss for you two to be sharing information? Unless you come up with some rewards that are pretty compelling (to him), it’s unlikely he’ll change his behavior.
And finally—normal. Normal means, “people who are like me do this, and/or people I respect and admire do this.” It may be that in his office in Germany, what he’s doing is standard operating procedure. Are there some examples you could share with him of this kind of information-sharing by truly successful people at your level in the organization? (And if you can hook your example directly to how it has supported their success, that goes to rewarding—two birds with one stone!)
So, the core of what I’m suggesting is that you shift your focus from why it would be good for you if he did this, to why it could be good for him; most of us naturally focus on the benefit to us of others behaving differently, and that’s just not that motivating to the other person (unless they already like and want to help you). Once you’ve figured out what’s in it for him and have shared that with him—figure out the “easy”: how to make it almost harder for him not to do it than to do it!
Good luck—keep us posted on your results—and thanks for writing to Office-Politics.
Erika Andersen, Author