As those who have read my book Managing with Asperger Syndrome will know, I lost a career that I loved through no small part due to my relationship with a protagonist within the company I worked for.
I did nothing to trigger his dislike of me initially; in fact, it was the exact opposite: he unfairly targeted me to start with via his initiation to all newcomers to the company by deliberately confronting people early on to let them know “that he was somebody important around here”.
Moreover, I was later to learn from a colleague who received the same initiation when they joined the company that I assumed from him as the youngest Executive upon my arrival the “role of the whipping boy” or the person upon whom my protagonist would deflect criticism away from him. Or as my colleague put it: “if it is your fault it can’t be his!”
We have a saying in England that says “keep your friends close and your enemies closer still”.
What this means is that if someone is potentially an adversary, or if they can do personal damage to you or your situation, then you go out of your way to get on with them. Basically, you hide any personal dislike that you may have for them.
Doing this as someone with Asperger is something that I have always found difficult. My objective viewing of situations and people mean that I am – literally – very fair. The negative or downside is that my empathy levels are lower and I struggle to read between the lines. Being somebody important around here is not something that is of importance to me: you [he] may or may not be, but I haven’t done anything wrong to you so I don’t expect you to do anything wrong to me.
In the corporate world alas it doesn’t work like that of course. As Professor Adrian Furnham says in his latest article in The Sunday Times “Map Out Friends and Foes to Win the Office Battles”: “to be influential at work, you need to be savvy which is defined as being well-informed, perceptive, shrewd.
To get along with, but also ahead of, peers in the organisation, you need to be strategic, tactical and “in the know”. The latter used to be called “being political”, but today that term carries too much baggage.
According to Professor Furnham, being efficient at work requires being able to answer six questions:
- Who are the key players in the organisation in terms of how they affect you. Official titles do not automatically mean they are a key player;
- What is the nature of their influence or power? Is it because of their expertise or because they know where the “bodies are buried”? Are they influential because they are liked, feared or trusted?
- Are they for or against the issues that concern or affect you?
- How likely are they to change their view? Are they immovable or able to be persuaded to change that view if approached correctly?
- Do they have strong or negative relationships with the other key players involved in the issue?
- What are their expectations and possible rewards for supporting the issue?
Persuasive strategies depend on understanding two key things: the territory and the agenda. If you know where people stand and what they want, you have a good or perhaps better chance of winning.
Doing this as someone with Asperger is far from easy. It is something however that does need to be done. I believe that it can be broken down into a coupleof directives that may make things easier:
Identifying or working out who has “clout” or, if you can’t do that, playing it safe and simply being nice and inoffensive to everyone no matter how hard at times that may be to do.
Doing the former of course is preferable and more beneficial and, according to Professor Furnham, this is where mapping comes in. Plot the key players and identify how you can get to and persuade those who have influence. Are these the ones you can trust or those most likely to change?
The map should show you the social dynamics of the group because you have answered question 5 above – you know how people are connected. This sociometry idea is old but works well. Asking questions like “which person would you most like to work with” or “who do you admire mostly or trust” means you can identify and plot who is connected to whom and why.
So savvy workers have a map: they know where people stand and what their position is on any issue. It is then possible to use this information to work out who you should approach first and trust and then try to persuade. Importantly, know what is in it for them so you can steer your contribution towards your advantage.
As Professor Furnham says this may sound Machiavellian, but it is nothing or than articulating a savvy operator’s instinctive approach to the power structure that underpins corporate life and the wheels of motion.