Re: On Office Politics and Being the New Kid

Subject: Re: On Office Politics and Being the New Kid
From: Beth Agnew <beth -dot- agnew -at- senecac -dot- on -dot- ca>
Date: Mon, 06 Feb 2006 13:17:51 -0500

I think you're wise to tread carefully and try to figure out what's going on before approaching your manager. I'm assuming you have some training as a technical communicator, and this woman doesn't. You can bring up your background and experience as justification for the statements you make about improvements. For example, if she says she doesn't want step-by-step documentation, you can counter with "I know it seems like it's a crutch, but research by members of the STC has shown that users learn better when they are given task-oriented instructions. It increases their confidence in the system." Any time she has an objection, agree with her without taking her position, i.e., "I understand that you feel it's too informative. Giving this information helps the users develop an understanding of the bigger picture." If you need to cite an authority, make it a third party such as the STC, the body of literature of technical communication, or one of the journals; don't make it sound like you are the one who's making this statement. She can't argue with an entire profession, so you can deflect her disdain away from you.

It does indeed sound like a territorial reaction. Your friendliness and understanding toward her will go a long way. Even if you have to bring it out into the open with "I realize it must seem like I'm stepping into your area here. I don't want to do that. I just want to make sure I'm providing the stuff they hired me for." And smile! BTW, never use a "but" to join those two ideas. If you say "I don't want to encroach on your area, but I'm just trying to do what I'm hired for", it will have the effect of convincing her you _are_ encroaching. Eliminate "but" from every conversation you have with her, except when you want to counter her objections.

You mentioned that she seems like a pleasant, approachable person. It would not be amiss to go to lunch with her and try to develop a good working relationship. Let her know of your sensitivity to overlapping some of her responsibilities. Avoid words such as "encroach", "invade", "take over" -- they're too inflammatory. Try "bordering on", "edging into", "duplicating" or "mirroring". Express to her your desire to work together to improve the information provided to the users. A little sincere praise couldn't hurt either: "I know there's a lot I can learn from you about this product." Don't forget to sound a few notes on your own horn, too. "I have done quite a few of these projects, they were quite successful." "My training strongly emphasized giving users good step-by-step instructions because they build such a good foundation for using the system." Educate her, and support her, while establishing your own position of authority in the subject.

As long as you are sensitive to others' feelings and aware of having to ease into the new job, and it sounds like you are, you should be able to get control of this situation quickly and enjoy this phase of your career. Good luck with it!

Lori Olcott wrote:

... She also said that she doesn't like documentation that tells someone exactly what to do to run the system. She wants to force people to learn the system and feels that step-by-step instructions are a crutch. ... Ideally, those procedures will also include overviews and "this is what is going on behind these commands" information to help develop an understanding of the bigger picture. ... I also suspect that some of this is a territorial reaction. I'm encroaching on what has been her area.
Beth Agnew
Professor, Technical Communication
Seneca College of Applied Arts & Technology
Toronto, ON 416.491.5050 x3133


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On Office Politics and Being the New Kid: From: Lori Olcott

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