Please or Register to create posts and topics.

Dealing with 'the messenger' tactic when its used by a higher up

Had a hostile business manager put in on a project above me as a product owner.  Pure power player.

She controlled the technical people (for support work) that I sometimes had to use for projects.  Often playing the double game of pushing me on milestones and then saying I wasn't giving her people enough of a heads up.  Unfortunately due to the managers changing the priorities often sometimes there was an element of truth.

Had some work nearly finished I was trying to land for the Friday Exec meeting.   Spoke to her people explained I'd grab 2 timeslots and use whichever one worked for them.  BTW the work was actually to help them.  Scheduled 2 place holder 1 hour meetings on the Wed and Thur.

Got pulled up by her in a meeting with my boss saying

Sally:  'My people are feeling the pressure' and 'a few hours notice of a workshop isn't enough'.

I called her on it:

Transitioned: 'Interesting (with a very faintly disbelieving tone)  Firstly that didn't happen, those were placeholders and they got to choose which to attend.  And I got a different picture when I spoke to Sheena and Tammy.

Sally:   'I'm just sharing the feedback, its up to you what you make of it.'   Of course 'feedback' in our game means you're an idiot because you haven't noticed your ass is on fire.

Transitioned:  I shrugged at this point and said 'communications mixup' (while looking down and away - aka u lying POS) and said we'd reschedule it and that would mean X wouldn't be delivered this week and I'd flag that at the Exec meeting.

I didn't play this well - I must admit bare faced lying still shocks me.

What would be a better play? Given she's a higher mgr, my boss on the call, her owning the ppl who I still had to keep a working relationship with.

BTW the IT manager who was very savvy on the culture said he'd told the techs to work to me as much as possible because as far as he was concerned I was the delivery engine and all my releases had gone well (including the techs being happy).  So it didn't sound like he thought I was some hard charging PM crapping all over the techs.

Hey T,

Yeah, by the sound of it, that was quite a POS move.

Technically there is nothing wrong with it (IF she had said the truth), but that's where you see the difference between human people, and colder operators who care little about others: the more human and caring people would have told you off the call.
Saying that on the call with your own boss was a damaging move for you, and added little extra benefit for her -if any-.

Still, the mental power side here is to not start hating her, as that could lead to self-harming behavior. Instead, I'd start de-humanizing her, such as, start seeing her as a thing.
Not to hurt her, but to deal with her in a colder way more distant way, so that you never attach feelings to it -be it hating, fearing, or wanting to avoid-.

HOW YOU PLAYED IT ON THE CALL

I don't think you played it badly.

You had to protect your reputation there first and foremost and draw a line in the sand.
That was the first priority order, and you did that.

You rejected the attack, and pushed back with facts, that was your 80% accomplished.

HOW YOU COULD HAVE DONE IT

If you wanted to push back yet again and not let her slip in the last word, you might have said:

Her: I'm just sharing my feedback
You: Got it, thank you, when the feedback is real, it's always appreciated. I'm sharing my point of view as well, and no hard feelings.

See how many power moves there?

  • When feedback is real = you were a lying POS
  • I'm sharing my point of view as well = I push back on your lies
  • And no hard feelings = I'd have all the right to be angry at you for being such as a POS, but I'm still keeping it professional

Of course, this is a very high power response, and the danger with very high-power responses with a higher up, is that you can make an enemy you don't want to make.

FRAME CONTROL

Transitioned: Often playing the double game of pushing me on milestones and then saying I wasn't giving her people enough of a heads up.  Unfortunately due to the managers changing the priorities often sometimes there was an element of truth.

This is where a philosopher's frame can come in handy in my opinion.

If there is half-truth, it's either you submit and say "I'm sorry", and she gets her power kicks and you lose status, or you refuse to submit and say something like:

I think you make some good points.
You know how it is sometimes, it's either you prioritize warning people, or you prioritize speed and execution, and it's a constant tradeoff one must choose between the two.

Then, if you want to appease, you can add "if you want more heads up, I'll be happy to provide", but you still get the message across that it's either one or the other, and doing both at perfection, is challenging.

Ali Scarlett, Matthew Whitewood and Transitioned have reacted to this post.
Ali ScarlettMatthew WhitewoodTransitioned
Have you read the forum guidelines for effective communication already?

Yes, I agree that “feed-back” can be used to empower or to dominate.

If someone is giving you information to improve, they’re helping you right? That’s the common frame and if you’re disputing it, you’re saying it was value taking rather than value adding.

So in this case, I would do 2 things:

1. Surface it. There’s a lot of implied things here, lots of unsaid things. Make the hidden visible. It will force both of you to be honest. By increasing your honesty you become stronger than the people trying to manipulate. Because in the end, either you made a mistake or you did not. Be open and transparent and let the chips fall wherever they may.

2. I would not dispute the fact that she’s sharing the feed-back. I would even thank her for it. However I would dig down to understand the exactly what she means. See above.

So I would not defend until I’m completely sure I understood what she means. And then I would dispute the facts. I think you defended too early. She put you on the defensive emotionally speaking. At this moment you started to react. So detachment could be helpful in your case.

Mindset: take some distance emotionally, and bring her to the light.

Lucio Buffalmano has reacted to this post.
Lucio Buffalmano

Thanks both great points.  John your right clarifying questions r a great way to detach and move to a fact based discussion - I think in general I ll try and make it my default SOP.  I deffo shouldn't have called her on the lie so baldly.  Lucio shared much better words.

Questioning in this case bit tricky as she gave it as usual as a quick throw away line in a general WIP type meeting.  So u focus in they paint u as making a big deal of a small thing.

No issue with feedback.  This tells me that this mgr will play the truth buffet game and/or one of the techs flipped on me. No support from boss aka toxic workplace by Lucio s warning signs (power player in cahoots with boss).  That day I started looking and moved to better paying gig.

I liked Lucio s take on issue of mistake or not. Most of my game is balancing opportunities, priorities and perceptions.  His reply frames us as all being in the know aka 'one of us'.  As opposed to the dynamic she was reinforcing.

I think what we re doing here will develop detachment eventually.  I  ll try and b more consistent with my meditation too.

In my old martial arts days no fear in the ring.  Every opponent was a puzzle to be solved and you for go for a beer together after.

John: Surface it. There’s a lot of implied things here, lots of unsaid things. Make the hidden visible. It will force both of you to be honest. By increasing your honesty you become stronger than the people trying to manipulate. Because in the end, either you made a mistake or you did not. Be open and transparent and let the chips fall wherever they may.

Yeah, great advice, adding a couple of steps of surfacing would have been a very good move, and would have made it less "me against you". In the end, if it was a lie, you'd have equally won, and while coming across even more collaborative

Have you read the forum guidelines for effective communication already?
Processing...