In the Mahabharata, they called it a Chakravyuh. In the workplace, it’s called sidelining. And whether the theory of handling it is learnt in the womb or in business school, the results are similar: Grief, attrition, discontent… loss.
Sidelining is possibly one of the workplace’s most disgraceful ‘schemes’. Under-the-radar and unprofessional to boot, it showcases people’s baser instincts, when managing workplace opposition.
One can concoct any number of ‘reasons’ why people gang-up against a colleague. Mostly they are perception-based: Some unpleasant history, coveting another’s success, professional disagreement. Additionally, sidelining has two underlying commonalities: (a) The blatant bypass of people policies (b) Someone’s big fat EGO.
Stakes, in the workplace, are high. Stakeholder pressure, fierce competition and the lust for quick results, forces leaders to relentlessly ‘drive’ strategies ruthlessly eliminating opposition (Get on the bus, or out of the way…). Sometimes even appropriating credit for someone else’s work, shamelessly!
Sure, results do happen… short-term and eventually expensive. And like in all quick and dirties, people end up suffering. No, not the lazy, poor performers, but the grounded, sensible voices of experience. Branded as detractors, they end up leaving, or – worse – getting sidelined.
Eons ago, Abhimanyu didn’t learn how to break out of the Chakravyuh – he was eliminated. Today, there’s hope:
- Recognize the signs: Sidelining is all about stealth – awesome stealth! That brief nod, subtle smile or finger-play on the table can convey messages sharper than any communication, via any medium. Observe! The drastic drop in the number of emails coming in. Direct reports stop stopping by. Plum projects go elsewhere. Suggestions that conversations be taken ‘offline’. Averted eyes, shifty feet and similar body language. There’s clear writing on the wall. Read!
- Seek the cause: Do some soul searching. Have you ‘crossed the line’ lately? Violently opposed some senior leader’s pet project? Someone who bears an old grudge? Have you asked unpleasant or uncomfortable questions at a Town Hall – yes, that too! Think!
- Ask the boss: directly: Sidelining cannot happen without surreptitious blessings of the leadership. Ask the immediate leader first: “I feel sidelined – can you help?” If the boss is behind the whole thing – and there is a fair chance of that – this question could open up a robust discussion where the air could be cleared. If the boss isn’t behind it, chances are there’s no will to oppose it – because maybe, a more powerful leader may be the kingpin either way. At least it’s clear now.
- Ask your ‘friends’: Office friends are allies. Hesitant to speak directly, they’ve been dropping subtle hints – which have been ignored. Respect their hesitation – hey, no one wants to rat on the clique. It is worth guaranteeing total anonymity in exchange for some (hard) truths and vital clues. True friends don’t lie!
Okay, it’s official. You’re being sidelined. Depending on your professional outlook, here are three alternatives:
- Work your own network: Reach out to and initiate business conversations with leaders you have worked with, enjoyed interacting with, or even briefly met at company events. Your visible, friendly interactions – in the lunchroom or workstation – sends the message that you too have influential friends! The creation of an alternative power vortex often forces bullies to rethink their plot.
- Massage some egos: Humility has been touted as a significant leadership quality. Yet, leaders are vain even about their humility. Unequivocally, the medicine for vanity is – flattery! A little covert (we’re in a ‘business environment’ for heavens’ sake) yet therapeutic, ego massaging… Like magic, people’s human side simply liquefies when hearing praise or exaltation about themselves!
- Polish up that resume: For those whose lofty ideals and values prevent them from stooping to their oppressor’s levels, doors are still open. Organizations have opportunities in every corner: Lateral moves, relocations, projects… Places where the committed can lay low, bide time, stay employed – and rise again later, once the air clears. Meanwhile, broken trust could make it impossible to work objectively. Then it’s time to move! A whole new world awaits, outside. Call a headhunter, crack a deal, say ‘bye-‘bye!
Sidelining is the work of powerful jingoistic clubs that ignore facts and bypass people policies to venerate someone’s oversized ego. Creating fake consensus. Gagging healthy debate. Leaving only a bad taste. Also fear, frustration, resentment – indicators of a deeply dissatisfied workforce and a de-motivating office environment.
Sadly, leaders – even HR leaders – participate in this pathetic shortcut, thereby depriving the organization of experienced talent. Others turn a nelson’s eye to those little fiefdoms of stifled communication and rebuffed new thinking.
Only if leaders demonstrate the will can sidelining be prevented from raising its ugly head. The accruing satisfaction would significantly contribute to an energizing organizational climate!