Power struggles at work can be draining, stressful and counter-productive. But there are ways to handle these tough situations, say experts.
“The most powerful thing you can do...let go of the rope! The other person reels backward and finds themselves holding the slack end of the rope with no idea what to do next. You don't win, but you don't lose either,” says Linda Galindo, author of The 85% Solution: How Personal Accountability Guarantees Success -- No Nonsense, No Excuses. “How do you let go of the metaphorical rope? Stop putting any energy into 'winning the power struggle' and get your 'Definition of Success' and 'Role Clarity' firmed up. Role clarity includes outlining the specific authority you have to do your job.”
If you can, avoid getting involved in power struggles at work. And don't take sides. "Power struggles are rarely between two people, and so it’s common for others to be brought into it. It’s better to acknowledge someone’s feelings than their controversial position or side of a power struggle. Instead of agreeing with a manager or another co-worker, make a supportive observation like, 'This has to be frustrating. How long can this go on?´ or 'This must be so frustrating for you. How can anyone be so oblivious to how their actions are affecting other people?´ If ever confronted by the other person, you can honestly state that you observed that they seemed very frustrated and you hope they can work it out,” advises Debra Yergen author of Creating Job Security Resource Guide. “Of course you don’t want to be labeled as Switzerland… being compared to Switzerland is never a compliment and you may end up the target of both parties.”
Beverly Hills psychotherapist Dr. Fran Walfish, author of The Self-Aware Parent, agrees and adds, ”It is wise to maintain a neutral position that gives each one of the feuding partners a sense of validation from you. Taking sides risks you becoming the Bad Guy. In the end, people can turn against you. Suddenly, you could find yourself in the position of the other two siding against you. Remain friendly, kind, understanding, and give little that communicates your personal biases.”
But if you must get involved or directly involved, then have a strategy. “If you need to personally get drawn into a power struggle, treat it like a chess game and think out the consequences a few possible moves ahead,” says Yergen. “Always think of the long-term consequences, and if it gets too bad, it may be time to freshen up your resume. Even if you don’t jump ship, having offers will absolutely increase your confidence.”
If things get too heated, be careful with whom you draw into the fray. “If you find yourself caught in a power struggle at work, it's best to take a blink, breathe deeply, and step back to get some perspective,” explains Dr. Walfish. “Fighting or battling in the office is generally not a good idea. Do not threaten to consult lawyers or take matters into further dispute. Try to dissipate the intensity of emotions. Sometimes, it helps to talk to a trusted person outside of the office like your pastor, counselor, or a therapist. Getting good advice from a trusted, clean-slate point of view is a good idea.”
Once the dust settles, you want to remain standing and still have a good enough relationship with the other person to be able to work together.