Tuesday, June 01, 2010

3 steps to address territorial behavior (or how to respond to “Outta My Cave!!!”)

As part of our ongoing training initiative at Stinson Brand Innovation, Nancy Burgess recently participated in a course on work environment.  In today’s blog, Nancy shares insights on her key learnings.

Did you know that our Neanderthal instincts overtake our behavior in the business world? That’s what I recently learned in an online business seminar. Sure, I was aware that some people were more possessive of their staplers. (Think about Milton in the movie Office Space.) But what I didn’t realize was that 3 other types of territorial behavior occur when employees perceive a threat in the work environment:
  • Personal Defense
  • Informational Manipulation
  • Placement of Communication
Personal defense responses include ignoring, censuring, and intimidating. These behaviors are more typical of someone who is higher up in the corporate food chain. Not returning phone calls and not responding to greetings are examples of ignoring behavior. Yelling and aggressive body language are forms of intimidation. Public rebukes are a form of censuring.

Information manipulation is likened to a squirrel burying nuts. Confusion, distraction, and restriction are all forms of information manipulation. Withholding information needed to do a job, changing the subject, or restricting access are forms of this territorial behavior.

Placement of communication includes territorial behaviors that control access (eg, gatekeepers, screening calls and e-mails), create inconveniences (eg, offsite meeting, 6 am meetings, weekend calls), or simply noncompliance (eg, “Didn’t you get that? My e-mail must be acting up”).

The territory that is threatened may include information, associations (people), or decisions. For example, managers who feel their decisional territory is being threatened may be control freaks, change their minds often, and show favoritism by giving the best assignments to their supporters. Their employees are forced to be hyper-alert and flexible.

How should you address territorial behavior? Take 3 simple steps:
  1. Identify the territory being defended.
  2. Clarify that you’re not threatening the person’s right or claim to that territory. 
  3. Explain why you’re in the person’s territory.
For example, “John, I know you’re the marketing research guru, and I’m not trying to interfere with the project. I was hoping to get this fact to finish my report.”

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