Time for this week’s book review! This my complete summary along with cliff notes of the book: Peer Power – Transforming Workplace Relationships written by Cynthia Clay and Ray Olitt.
Peer Power by Cynthia Clay and Ray Olitt would interest anyone wishing to explore methods of improving interpersonal collaboration within the workplace. Most chapters provide quick reference summaries and others feature behavioral indicators, assumptions, principles, and practices. There are numerous dialogs that illustrate common workplace conflicts and the authors’ remedial methodologies. The first three chapters provide a foundation of principles and strategic approaches and should be read sequentially; subsequent chapters may be read in any order. The book provides specific steps for readers who want to improve relationships within their companies or organizations to enhance personal effectiveness.
The major key concepts of this book:
Collaboration is usually the most appropriate strategy for developing peer power. Because it emphasizes providing a joint resolution to conflict, successful collaboration efforts not only resolve problems but set foundations for improved working relationships.
Each organization has a specific set of relationships, established hierarchies, written and unwritten rules, values, and histories. Individuals must respect their organizations by following their policies and procedures.
Everyone is worthy of respect, and behind every bad behavior there is some internal need that is not being met.
Despite modern technology’s contributions to communication, tools such as e-mail, voice mail, and instant messaging are poorly suited for resolving disagreements and working through conflict. The best method is face-to-face conversation, which provides both verbal and non-verbal cues to define the situation in question.
Allowing others to solve their own problems is a powerful demonstration of respect that can transform work relationships. People must resist the impulse to control others, give unsolicited advice, or rescue others in difficult situations.
When dealing with challenging coworkers and bosses it is natural for individuals to want to employ tactics of aggressiveness, manipulation, or slacking. They must resist these approaches as they will not produce the necessary transformative results.
Enter Cynthia Clay & Ray Olitt…
In Peer Power, Cynthia Clay and Ray Olitt address disruptive behaviors in the workplace and suggest methods that readers can employ to influence improvement in the conduct of their peers. The authors identify dysfunctional behavior patterns and principles that are typical of many work environments. They then detail practices that support each of the principles and assist in resolving the more difficult interpersonal situations that can arise between coworkers. Peer Power offers approaches to repair and strengthen relationships between individuals. Individuals who employ these strategies can enhance their personal effectiveness, reduce stress levels, and make their work environments friendlier and more productive.
Mistakes We Have Made (And You Can Avoid)
One of the most difficult aspects of any workplace is getting along with troublesome coworker personalities. These personalities appear in numerous forms, but can be broken down into four main groups:
1. Manipulators: Coworkers who attempt to influence others’ attitudes or behaviors through deception or secrecy.
2. Whiners: Coworkers who complain without taking responsibility for improving the conditions that surround them.
3. Attackers: Coworkers who repeatedly express anger and frustration by venting improper personal criticism.
4. Bullies: Coworkers who employ unwarranted demands and inappropriate threats to get their ways.
What We Have Learned:
Four Key Principles
There are four principles that the authors present to address manipulating, whining, attacking, and bullying.
When these behaviors are encountered at work, individuals can use these principles to initiate effective and satisfying interaction. Individuals must:
1. Be Real: To be real is to be open, authentic, and sincere rather than manipulative.
• Share Their Thoughts: Individuals should take the opportunity to express their points of view openly; this will enable others to understand their perspectives.
• Acknowledge Reality: Never ignore the unpleasant realities that may exist in the workplace environment, including pending layoffs, reduced benefits, and reorganizations. Pretending that these realities do not exist will inhibit communication. The best practice is to acknowledge them frankly to diminish their influence.
2. Take Responsibility: Choose to take responsibility by being accountable instead of whining.
• Be Responsible for Their Experiences: Put aside blame and victimization. This requires an objective examination of one’s own conduct to determine if there is a personal contribution to an unsatisfactory situation.
• Respect Their Needs: Balance the needs of oneself and others, and maintain self-esteem. Do not make harsh judgments when mistakes occur, regardless of who made them.
• Communicate With Others: Obtain agreement on ground rules and expectations up front instead of waiting for discord to arise through poor communication.
• Perform Well: Do one’s best work regardless of the circumstances.
3. Extend Respect: Treat others with kindness instead of launching personal attacks.
• Honor Differences: Coworkers will have different personalities and backgrounds. Recognizing them helps individuals adopt effective personal approaches.
• Listen, Listen, Listen: Enable coworkers to offer differing opinions. Maintaining an open mind enhances communication.
• Allow Others to Solve Their Own Problems: Respect people by allowing them to succeed or fail without intervention.
• Respect Their Organizations: Organizations are complex structures with their own rules, hierarchies, values, and histories. Show respect by acknowledging the roles within the managerial chain.
4. Build Relationships: Partner with others instead of bullying them.
• Network with Others: Develop relationships with people across one’s organization.
• Get Input: Before taking actions that effect others, discuss them with everyone involved.
• Seek Solutions that Benefit All: When disagreements arise, assume leadership in suggesting solutions that work for all parties.
• Build and Protect Self-Esteem: Be attentive to the self-esteem of others—praise them for positive contributions and acknowledge their work on joint efforts.
• Express Compassion and Empathy: Demonstrate concern for others by acknowledging their feelings.
Strategies for Transforming Relationships
The above principles and practices are useful for effectively dealing with difficult situations and will help to build constructive relationships with coworkers. However, they may not be sufficient when dealing with a truly challenging person whose conduct is detrimental to workplace efficiency. There are five strategies that individuals can use to address important issues with difficult colleagues:
1. Going Head-to-Head: Meeting one’s own needs in a manner that blocks others’ needs. This strategy should be used when:
• Own’s own needs are not met.
• Time is limited.
• The issue is critical.
• Maintaining a good relationship is not a priority.
2. Compromising: Meeting one’s own needs partially while meeting others’ needs partially. This strategy should be used when:
• One’s own needs are not met.
• Collaborating fails.
• Time is limited.
• Maintaining a good relationship is a priority.
3. Caring-for-Self: Meeting own’s own needs by limiting the effect of others’ behaviors. This strategy should be used when:
• One’s own needs are not met.
• Other strategies fail.
4. Coaching: With another’s permission, attempting to help solve a problem or teach skills so that the other person gets better results. This strategy should be used when the other person lacks a key ability and is receptive to advice.
5. Collaborating: Working jointly to meet the needs of all parties. This strategy should be used when:
• All parties consider the issue important.
• Maintaining a good relationship is important.
• There is adequate time.
From the Attacker to the Constructive Critic
Attackers are coworkers who repeatedly use inappropriate personal criticism to express anger and frustration. They often employ verbal abuse, sarcasm, and shouting to mask their personal difficulties. Attackers often act out of frustration during situations that they care deeply about.
Recipients of attacks need to take responsibility by considering their contributions (if any) to the situation, and by communicating to determine the source of the attackers’ hostility. Attack recipients must also build relationships because being on cordial terms with others makes them less likely to become attackers. In addition, obtaining their input enables them to feel a sense of control and lessens their likelihood of becoming frustrated.
Collaboration is an effective strategy to use with attackers. Collaboration entails listening carefully, acknowledging concerns about problems, and using dialog to explain each party’s position (or blamelessness) in the matter. This dialog is an opportunity to invite or offer solutions.
From the Whiner to the Problem Solver
Whiners will not assume responsibility for improving unsatisfactory aspects of their environments. Instead, they complain and direct blame without offering any solutions. Often, whining is used to gain attention or coax others to act on a perceived problem.
To effectively deal with a whiner, individuals must take responsibility by looking at their own contributions to problems without agreeing with the whiner (which can be a form of reinforcement). In addition, they should establish rules for communicating about the matter, such as discouraging the whiner’s further complaints about a person or issue.
Individuals can also extend respect by listening without responding, but they must not be drawn into solving the problem. It is also important that they deflect backstabbing by advising open communication rather than covert condemnation.
Coaching is a useful strategy to pursue with the whiner. After listening to the complaint, individuals can offer to provide guidance toward a solution. However, it is important that they avoid agreeing or disagreeing; instead, they should acknowledge the complaint with neutral responses and ask questions to guide the whiner into setting objectives as part of the overall solution.
From the Scene Stealer to the Ally
Scene stealers build their own reputations at the expense of others. They may appear friendly to peoples’ faces, but will criticize them behind their backs.
They will take credit for the achievements of others and will blame others for their own failures.
Dealing with a scene stealer requires people to safeguard the credit they deserve. In communicating with a scene stealer, they must establish rules for communication and document agreements. They should also build relationships by publicly giving the scene stealer due credit for actual accomplishments.
Collaboration can be useful when individuals’ reputations are not at risk. This requires face-to-face discussions for issue resolution, calmly presenting facts, making assertive and clear requests, acknowledging the scene stealer’s needs, and working to create joint solutions.
From the Drive-by Boss to the Engaged Leader
Drive-by bosses appear indifferent to some or most of their major managerial responsibilities and fail to meet the needs of their organizations and employees.
When addressing their behaviors, individuals must first take responsibility by concentrating on what they can do to educate their drive-by bosses. Keeping bosses informed is highly important, as is keeping individual work performance at a high level so that their bosses will want to assist. Individuals can extend respect by listening thoughtfully to their bosses’ explanations for their conduct.
They must be open to the idea that different styles or work methods may be involved. Also, they must respect their organizations by accepting that some of their bosses’ indifferences may be due to a concentration of effort on strategic company goals that are not apparent to subordinates.
Collaboration works best when the issue in question affects people personally. They can schedule face-to-face discussions to resolve issues by outlining problems and seeking joint solutions. After reaching agreement, they should discuss implementation.
When the issue involves organizations rather than individuals, coaching is the advisable strategy. Individuals should be tactful and ask permission to provide coaching before doing so.
From the Manipulator to the Open Communicator
Manipulators use deception or secrecy to attempt to influence others’ attitudes or behaviors. They may offer favors or gifts, employ flattery, or suggest actions by describing only positive results and concealing adverse consequences. Manipulators often reveal themselves by telling stories that are inconsistent. Manipulators also avoid openness because they fear the results and have, out of necessity, learned to exercise power behind the scenes.
The best principles that individuals can use when dealing with manipulators include taking responsibility and extending respect. Taking responsibility means being sensitive to the signs of being manipulated.
Noticing the first indications of deception is an effective shield against these machinations and a necessary characteristic of those who will not let themselves be manipulated. Individuals can extend respect by recognizing manipulators’ capabilities of solving their own problems. They can facilitate solutions by listening carefully and asking probing questions that help identify manipulators’ objectives.
Collaboration is the preferred strategy to use with manipulators. When manipulators state misinformation, individuals must provide correct information, be patient, and probe to determine any actual needs before jointly identifying alternatives.
From the Clueless Colleague to the Considerate Teammate
Clueless colleagues are coworkers who are unaware of their detrimental influence on the work environment. These people decorate their workspaces with inappropriate material, are untidy, disable office equipment and fail to report it, and talk too loudly in public areas.
The principles best applied to clueless colleagues include taking responsibility, being real, and building relationships. Individuals can take responsibility by analyzing whether their own conduct may have invited the colleague’s behavior (e.g., if people do not like interruptions in their workspaces, they should not leave bowls of candy on their desks). To protect their own peace and privacy, individuals should put up an “I am busy now” sign during intense work periods.
Individuals must put effort into improving their relationships with colleagues by finding out what causes their stress, discussing it candidly, and showing empathy for the causative factors. They can also use the principles above to support the collaboration strategy, take the time to arrange a private discussion to address concerns, acknowledge the colleagues’ requirements and positive motivations, and listen carefully. After discussing mutually acceptable options, they should summarize the points of agreement.
From the Faux-Smart Boss to the Knowledgeable Leader
Faux-smart bosses have unjustified self-confidence in their ideas and skills and frequently lack confidence in their employees. They tend to insist on doing things their way, argue when others provide input, make impulsive or unwise decisions, and delegate very little.
The key principles that work best for this behavior are taking responsibility and extending respect. Individuals must take responsibility by concentrating on changing faux-smart bosses’ behaviors rather than just complaining about them. They should also communicate frequently, perform well to earn their confidence, and always be prepared when presenting ideas. They can extend respect by listening carefully to clarify expectations, and show loyalty by correcting misinformation without undermining their images.
When the issue at hand mostly affects organizations, individuals must instead use a coaching strategy.
They should employ sincerity and tact to approach the issue, and ask permission before providing coaching. They should also ask questions that assist faux-smart bosses in analyzing situations, determining goals, and deriving solutions.
When the issue mostly affects individuals personally, they should use a collaboration strategy by scheduling face-to-face discussions, making clear requests, and exploring alternatives.
From the Slacker to the Contributor
Slackers are coworkers whose substandard performances degrade the effectiveness of others. They ignore company policies, deliver work late, and do not keep commitments to group efforts. Oftentimes, however, these people may actually be industrious; they just might have different priorities.
Key principles that are most useful in dealing with slackers include taking responsibility and building relationships. Individuals must take responsibility by avoiding slacker behavior and introspectively examining whether their dissatisfactions are reasonable.
They can build relationships by networking with others, making an effort to get to know and understand people and their challenges, and seeking out solutions that benefit everyone involved.
Collaborating is the best strategy to employ with slackers. It is best achieved through face-to-face communication that describes peoples’ specific concerns and the potential impacts of slacker behavior. Individuals must link any requests for different conduct to the slackers’ needs and describe how the requested changes will be mutually beneficial.
From the Bully to the Assertive Leader
Bullies are colleagues who make unreasonable demands and threats to get their ways. They may insist that others ignore company procedures in order to meet their needs. Bullies frequently threaten to escalate problems to higher management rather than resolve them at the appropriate level. Bullies often set high standards for themselves, and expect others to fall short and cause failure. Their overbearing, aggressive behavior is a coping strategy intended to ensure their success.
Individuals can use three key principles to effectively manage bullies:
1. Take responsibility by establishing ground rules and cogent expectations. Communicate frequently and provide status updates to reduce the bully’s anxiety. Remember that bullies are often high achievers and hold others to high standards.
2. Extend respect by communicating in the bully’s preferred method of delivery. Keep in mind the shortcomings of e-mail, voice mail, and instant messaging. Never assist a bully by complying with improper demands; instead, respect organizational policy by offering solutions acceptable to company requirements and the bully’s needs.
3. Use the compromise strategy. Acknowledge the importance of achieving positive results, but do not hesitate to oppose unreasonable demands. Explain how existing policies are actually beneficial and then seek a mutually satisfactory solution.
From Challenges to Collaboration
The most effective strategy in dealing with workplace conflict is collaboration. However, certain obstacles may still prevent mutual agreement:
Obstacle 1: The Other Person Refuses to Discuss the Issue: Colleagues may refuse to discuss an issue out of distrust or fear of conflict. To counter this, individuals should stress the benefits of collaboration as being the best way to satisfy mutual needs, be attentive to the colleague’s self-esteem, and display compassion and empathy.
Obstacle 2: The Other Person Becomes Defensive: When colleagues doubt their own abilities, they become defensive. When confronted with workplace issues, they may sense blame or disapproval. This defensiveness is a barrier to collaboration, and can be avoided by providing feedback constructively and tactfully. Individuals must always stress the objective of meeting mutual needs in order to refocus on collaboration.
Obstacle 3: An Unacceptable Proposal or Request: The best way to avoid having a colleague propose an unacceptable solution or make an inappropriate request is to clearly communicate expectations from the beginning. Alternatively, using the unsuitable proposal as a basis for a better solution and exploring those of its elements that are important to the colleague before mutually identifying and eliminating obstacles to agreement can also be beneficial.
Obstacle 4: A Deadlock or a Decision Delayed: When a mutually acceptable solution proves elusive, individuals must look to solutions that may not be entirely satisfactory but constitute progress. They can break down the issue into components and concentrate on satisfying one or two of them.
Obstacle 5: An Agreement Not Honored: Some difficult colleagues may agree to a solution and later decline to honor it. Documenting the agreement may prevent this behavior, and follow-up discussions are useful in monitoring the solution’s success as well as motivating continued compliance. If the colleague still refuses to follow through, individuals must identify this failure and ask for the reasons behind it. If the colleague needs help in implementing the solution, they should provide assistance.
Technology: A Blessing and Curse
Despite their contributions to modern communication, tools such as e-mail, voice mail, and instant messaging are poorly suited for resolving disagreements and working through conflicts. In stressful situations, these technologies have resulted in some catastrophic consequences. The preferred method is face-to-face conversation, which provides both verbal and non-verbal cues that enhance understanding.
However, face-to-face conversations are not always possible. When this is the case, the following practices should be utilized during technologically-based communication:
• Speak to the other party telephonically, voice-tovoice.
• Organize thoughts before speaking.
• If leaving a voice mail message, keep it brief; details can be provided voice-to-voice.
• If voice-to-voice communication is not an option, write a carefully composed e-mail as a draft, and let it sit for 24-hours to ensure the language is appropriate.
• Never use instant messaging during a disagreement.
• Use a neutral facilitator to conduct team meetings if conflict is anticipated.
• Do not post workplace conflicts to discussion boards or social networking sites. • When confronting someone, do not copy e-mails to others.
Moving Forward: From Passive Reader to Active Communicator
Becoming a skillful communicator takes experience and patience. Constant practice will improve communication performance, as will the following actions:
• Monitoring others’ behaviors non-judgmentally.
• Not being over-critical.
• Setting realistic goals.
• Making objectives achievable by focusing on one work relationship at a time.
• Listing the benefits of changing behaviors.
• Identifying the benefits of behavioral transformation in order to provide continued motivation despite challenges and setbacks.
• Recording and rewarding progress.
• Not ignoring personal improvements.
• Reflecting on lessons learned.
Estimated Reading Time: 4–5 hours, 305 pages
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