Sunday, 30 October 2016

On soft competencies

Since in the recent days I have focused most on getting by and struggling not to lag behind with piling-up stuff to handle at work, today I’m sharing some odd, unstructured concepts from a workshop on improving workplace relationships I attended a few days ago.

It does not take a psychologist to notice that sets of traits specific people display pre-destine them to take up different jobs. A salesman who has to solicit new clients should be sociable, extraverted, determined, but does not necessarily need to have an eye for detail and might acceptably be chaotic while chasing several opportunities at the same time. An analyst in turn is rather introverted, has stronger analytical than social skills, is well-organised and keeps stuff in good order. Those two types of personalities need to interact with one another to move a corporation forward, yet because their perceptions of how work should be done vary by a long shot, salesmen and analysts tend to clash.

Workings of a corporation indispensably brings to mind the ever-up-to-date question, namely, if things go wrong, is the system or are the people to blame? Consider a situation in which a salesman’s goal is to acquire new clients, while an analyst has to evaluate whether taking on new clients is profitable, monitors and reviews portfolio of current clients. An analyst needs inputs from salesmen to prepare applications submitted to decision makers and to compile review papers for clients within allotted deadlines. An analyst then relies on inputs from salesmen to meet their own goals, yet delivering inputs to analysts is quite low on a list of salesmen’s priorities. Because goals of the two groups are not aligned, analysts keep chasing up salesmen to get their inputs, while salesmen do not give a damn and focus on their priorities. If additionally senior managers leniently treat salesmen who fail to deliver what analysts need to get on with their work, the system is to blame. If misconduct is tolerated by executives, salesmen get the message that it is acceptable and carry on not giving a damn.

The coach who delivered the training wanted to prove us the stick and carrot approach would not work in the hands of analysts attempting to motivate salesmen to co-operate in a proper manner. He pointed out punishments meted out by analysts (truth be told, they must not be severe) would not induce salesmen to deliver high-quality inputs to analysts timely. Because of analysts’ role in the organisation, they actually are not permitted to use the stick, so they should be beware and double-think not to harm themselves. The carrot, i.e. rewarding salesmen for professional behaviour also would not work, since no matter what they do, analysts need to do their job anyway – hence analysts, having higher comfort at work, are the main beneficiaries of giving out carrots, not salesmen, who at the end of the day are indifferent.

Another concept dwelled upon during the workshop was dealing with individuals claiming to be morally superior. As one theory states, the more morally superior one feels, they more they believe hurting others is justified and the less remorse they have over causing pain to others. The typical example is a husband who bullies his wife (because the soup was too salty) and because he believes his wife is a bad wife, while he is a good husband, he has the right to mistreat his wife (another example workshop participants instantly pointed at is Jarosław Kaczyński, who also claims to be morally superior)… In earnest, working (not to mention living) with such people is difficult, since if they abuse you, they feel they are empowered to do so and treat such situation as natural.

How much empathy should one demonstrate to one’s colleagues only seemingly is a simple question. Stepping into someone else’s shoes, understanding their standpoint, motivations and goals is a vital step towards improving workplace relationships, yet the issue is more intricate. Goals of individuals do not necessarily line up with those of a corporation. The most vivid example is applying work-life balance in practice. A corporation demands that a task is completed in unreasonably short time (which in practice requires staying overtime), while an employee wants to go home to look after their children. Human empathy tells you to let a worker go home, while interests of the corporation are at odds with human feelings are induce to motivate your colleague to stay in the office.

Manipulation as a method of attaining one’s goals brings out negative associations. This first impression, as the coach argued, and I hold the same view, is misleading. It all depends on goals and means one resorts t in order to meet them. As long as no crime, misconduct, violation of procedures nor other immoral deeds are involved, manipulation boils down to a set of actions aimed to steering others behaviours so that they help you reach your goals. Besides, if you feel your colleagues try to manipulate you crassly, the response in similar manner is a sign to them you are aware of their techniques and are armed with the same weapons. 

Corpo-reality is not a bed of roses, in order to survive you need thick skin and have to conform to the rules of that wicked game (to the extent your conscience lets you, if you approach a boundary, the only option might be to quit).

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