Wednesday, April 09, 2008

How Snakes Operate

The practices of snakes in the workplace can be quickly listed. Betrayal, flattery, deceit, and disloyalty are just a few of their slippery ways.

There is one, however, that is overlooked: encouragement.

Like judo experts who use the opponent's force as a weapon, the accomplished workplace snake destroys the adversary by encouraging the innocent person's weaknesses. Unlike those fine people in the world who bring out your best, snakes bring out your worst. Iago saw Othello's jealousy and fed it with poisonous hints.

Lethal encouragement is a brilliant tactic because it causes the victim to self-destruct and the villain retains deniability. I've seen office snakes who encouraged people to write sarcastic memos all the while knowing that the tone would anger upper management and harm the senders' reputations. I've encountered reptiles who urged others to emphasize the least persuasive point in an important presentation.
How can you defend against such tactics? Beware of the empathizer who pushes you into turf wars. When anyone is urging "Let's you and him fight" be sure to move in the other direction. Whenever something feels strange, buy time so you can calmly sort out matters or get other advice. Know your own weaknesses and be wary when someone tells you they are strengths.
The workplace snake is not a mythical being. Some organizations have more than their share. The sooner you can hone your internal warning system, the safer you will be because not all of these creatures have rattles.


pawnking said...

Aren't we always in awe of the 4 centuries dead bard when it comes to human majesty and frailty? Iago took an awesomely powerful man and with a few timely suggestions, made him into a raving, uncontrollable murderer. So today can even the great fall pray to bad advice.

That's one reason why I try to study the classics and history (the other being the sheer pleasure of learning). There being nothing new under the sun, I reason that knowing what happened in the past is a good way of navigating the future, both my personal one and the huge sea of humanity.

Thanks for the regular advice and insights, Michael.

Michael Wade said...


It is difficult to beat the classics for insight. Shakespeare should be regular reading in management and political science classes. History and biographies contain lessons that can be put to immediate use.