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True Stories: Manipulating the Boss

Think your team is devoted and loyal? These harrowing tales might make you think twice before overlooking your employee's bad behavior.
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Last week, I posted a gallery describing the 6 ways that employees manipulate their bosses. I was a bit surprised that more bosses didn't get up in arms over that column: After all, I was providing employees with blueprints for getting their own way, despite what their boss wants.

Here's the original column if you want to take a look.

Meanwhile, I thought I'd share some real-life stories of boss manipulation that I have personally witnessed in the workplace.

Take, for example, "creative goldbricking"–the art of looking busy while actually doing nothing.  You'd think that no boss would be dumb enough to fall for this, but you'd think wrong.

I worked with guy who for seven years managed to avoid any assignments that entailed deadlines and deliverables unless it was as part of a team that would do the work without his actual participation.  I remember seeing him give only one presentation.  It consisted of a single slide: a scan of a biology textbook page illustrating different varieties of rat poop.  His message: "In business you must be able to differentiate between small rat **** and huge rat ****."

Absolutely true story.

Hijackers

Another technique I describe in the gallery is the hijacking of other people's meetings.  Does this method actually work? Oh, you betcha.

Back when I worked in marketing, we constantly hijacked engineering meetings. The ostensible agenda would be some engineering thing, but by the meeting's end, everyone would be discussing an increase in the market research budget.

We secured some pretty big budgets before the VP of engineering finally caught on to what we were doing.

Underminers

I've also seen employees torpedo bosses right before big meetings.  I once overheard a woman tell her boss (also a woman), right before she presented to top management, that "I don't think anybody has heard the rumor that you're having an affair. So go in there and knock 'em dead!"

The most common form of boss manipulation, however, is the use of partial truths to tell virtual lies. I once worked for a guy who always told "the truth" but still managed to get his firm to spend millions of dollars to "capture" an entirely fictional "middleware" market.

This guy had slides up the wazoo, each of which was completely accurate but which, in total, told a story that made no sense to an outside observer. Still, it somehow sounded credible when presented to top management.

That guy, by the way, later moved to an executive position at Polaroid, where he was personally responsible (in my view) for delaying that firm's move to digital photography. It's fair to say that his "completely true" BS has caused thousands of people to lose their jobs.

The simple truth is that bosses are, like most people, easy to manipulate. But I'd blame the bosses that bring this kind of behavior on themselves. Show me a company where the employees are manipulative, and I'll show you a company where the bosses are trying to manipulate the employees.

In a future column, I'll describe the standard tricks that bosses use to manipulate employees.  After all, why should the employees have all the power?

Last updated: Feb 1, 2012

GEOFFREY JAMES

Geoffrey James, a contributing editor for Inc.com, is an author, speaker, and award-winning blogger. Originally a system architect, brand manager, and industry analyst inside two Fortune 100 companies, he's interviewed more than a thousand successful executives, managers, entrepreneurs, and gurus to discover how business really works. His most recent book is Business Without the Bullsh*t: 49 Secrets and Shortcuts You Need to Know. If you enjoyed this post, sign up for the free weekly Sales Source newsletter.




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