Office politics #8

By John Nicholson and Jane Clarke

Managing divided loyalties

Anyone would think that you didn't have enough to do. Your normal workload is stretching anyway, but it is made ten times worse because you're being pulled in so many directions. Reporting to two bosses is hard: they both want 100 per cent of you. And then there's the rest of the department to contend with. How do you sort out whose priorities are the most important? What do you do if the tasks you're given seem to contradict each other? And how do you cope with being the go-between when two people seem to hate each other's guts?

Why does it happen?

In the good old days, you may have been lucky enough to work for one boss, with one approach and one set of priorities. But all the downsizing of recent years has left many of us with what used to be a couple of jobs to cope with. You could also be serving on a number of teams, and be balancing several conflicting demands against those of your boss.

Managing conflicts of interest

This is more difficult, because there are differing opinions to deal with - which just might be attached to fragile egos! Look for some common ground. Is a compromise possible? In order to arrive at a solution which will be acceptable to both parties, you will need to understand what each wants to achieve, and why.

Once you have the answer, be careful to sell your idea. What would make them say yes to you? If you find that compromise is impossible, point out why you're going to do something different - in advance. It's essential to manage expectations. Faits accompli are usually faits badly accompli.

Managing personality clashes

First, retain your sense of humour! Remember where you are and who you're with. You will probably need to adapt your style if you're going to work well with both parties. Satisfy both whenever possible, and don't be disloyal about one in front of the other. However, it may get to the position where you need to tackle the issue. Talk to them separately. Point out what impact their behaviour is having. Let them know that you can't tolerate being put in that situation. If possible, offer solutions. Then ask them to sort it out between themselvesn

John Nicholson and Jane Clarke are directors of Nicholson McBride, the business psychology consultancy.