19Aug

Complexity of Work Relationships and other Power Inequity Encounters

There is so much complexity in the work encounter.  Part of it has to do with our social roles, be it woman, man, wife, husband, parent or sibling.  Part of it has to do with that which is not social, but individual instead, such as our place in Maslow’s hierarchy.  Another portion of that complexity has to do with our place in the work hierarchy: secretary, janitor, chief operating officer?

The psychological factors are myriad and cannot be denied ~ although we may wish to deny them:  Am I attracted to you?  Do you remind me of my mother, my father, my Uncle Joe who molested me, my Aunt Jan who took me to the playground?  How badly do I need to be approved of?  How badly do I need to be dominant?

How do I see my belief system?  What do I think about my role in this work encounter?  Are my beliefs about proper protocol unyielding?  Do I believe that men and women should act differently?  When I see a woman tell a subordinate what to do, does she become a bitch and when a man displays the same behavior, he is commanding?

Are my beliefs set in stone?  Do I believe that I have the right to my beliefs because I am the supervisor and therefore everyone must abide by my beliefs?  Do I believe myself to be the expert?  No other person can tell me what is correct in my field.  I know it all.

In Maslow’s hierarchy, do I fit on the very bottom tier, struggling so that I can feed my family and one paycheck away from homelessness?    Do I feel panicked about my work because I work with hostility and others who threaten my well-being?  Have I accomplished these minimum American standards (food, shelter and safety) and I am only looking for friendship and alliances?  Am I working on career accomplishments, or is this a paycheck until I can go somewhere else or do something else, or finally make my dreams come true?

What we think about someone or something based on our workplace encounters have so little chance of being accurate because of these reasons outlined above.  We have very little chance of understanding what a person is doing or feeling or attempting to accomplish, unless we are willing to have a conversation with that person.  Part of the conversation will include the person’s perspective and the other part of the conversation is understanding where the person’s experience is.  But this kind of understanding needs hard listening, not a casual in the hallway, or 10 minute “I’m in a hurry” listen.

So many managers are dismissive, hardly caring what the subordinate is experiencing or dealing with.  Often managers have a hidden philosophy, that says “I’ll fire you and hire another better than you.”  The view of the manager can be entirely focused on the product and the making of the product. 

Managers often do not believe in the importance of avoiding staff turnover, if there is difficulty in dealing with a relationship, they will often choose to end the relationship rather than learn from the encounter.  Why not?  No one is quite monitoring the supervisor.  Nor is anyone quite believing the subordinate.  For this reason supervisors can be extraordinarily egomaniacal.  It is a position that is hard to resist.  When you can act as you wish with very little consequence, why not turn everything to your own favor?  You can find any number of reasons to dismiss the needs of others when you are the boss, and you have the power.

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