Group Theory

The Tech’s Guide to Office Politics

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Working in a company, either a small startup or major corporation, can have many challenges outside what your actual job’s responsibilities are. Navigating the vastly different personalities of your co-workers, understanding power distribution, knowing when to lead and when to follow, and even what is and isn’t acceptable in today’s day and age can be tricky, yet yield substantial benefits if you use them accordingly.

While I will try not to go too deep into my own beliefs, it is a fact that we are living in the time of PC (Political Correctness). Although in the past many issues such as gender identification, women’s rights, and many others may not have seemed to have the traction they needed to make real change, we are now living in a world where they can. Finally, those who have the will to speak, are being listened to. Finally, those who have been wronged, are making their case heard. Finally, we are trying to heal not only the declining health of the planet but the health of our mental state/awareness as well.

These much-needed steps in the right direction have recently received a massive increase in speed, due to the Internet, social media, and the bravery of many. For the first time, the faults of our society, the errors of humanity, and the dreams and desires of those who wish to create change are not only be given a canvas for their painting, but are having their work published for the entire world to witness.

Let me say again that no matter your beliefs, there are things you can’t do, state, or display in a professional setting. Just like in IT, there are best practices that help achieve your goals in the office in the most time-efficient, practical, and ethical way. If one of your actions offends someone, you will most likely get called out for it. If you try to gain a promotion by shifting negative attention to the other potential candidates, again, prepare for your greed to be blasted on social media. I for one, love the transparency of the new and emerging workplace, however, for older generations or us tech nerds with often poor social skills (nothing wrong with that!), we can all use some help.

Some of my favorite theories and believes about this area of psychology come from Frederick Herzberg’s Two-Factor Theory- Workplace Influences, Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Social Contract theory, and above all, Arthur Schopenhauer and Sigmund Freud’s Hedgehog Dilemma. For those not familiar with the Hedgehog Dilemma, it is a metaphor about the challenges faced regarding social intimacy. Since a hedgehog is a mammal with a vast number of spines on their back, the metaphor describes a situation where a group of hedgehogs seeks to move closer to one another for warmth during a cold winter; while this action can achieve the comfort they desire, the spines on their backs can sting one another if they get to close.

That might seem off topic, but the reality of a group of hedgehogs grouping together and thus creating the possibility of harm to others is precisely what happens in an office setting. Combining a group of individuals whose beliefs, religions, and mannerisms significantly differ from each other can be both a beautiful/rewarding experience or an unpleasant/chaos-filled disaster. Whichever potential result you gain from ‘huddling with each other for warmth,’ is up to you. With proper education, regard for the well-being of others around you, and understanding concepts such as conflict resolution, group theory, and open-mindedness, you can, on your own, help usher in the new world of global acceptance for all.

For this lesson, I will be discussing Intercultural Communication, Conflict Resolution Techniques, Verbal and Nonverbal Communication While Working with a Group, and finally, Frederick Herzberg’s Two-Factor Theory- Workplace Influences.

Intercultural Communication

Intercultural communication is a form of communication that is intended to share information across different cultures and social groups; these groups can be made up of individuals from different social, ethnic, educational, and religious backgrounds. The world is an enormous place, and the people inhabiting it are often separated by thousands of miles of land or ocean; this creates exceptionally different cultures and personalities of people who inhabit these countries. Communicating with each other and sharing ideas is needed to broaden our perception of the world and experience different ways of doing things. With today’s technology, communication with someone from a different country can happen quickly which enables businesses to talk and work on projects with people from overseas; this also allows friends and family to stay in contact with each other even if they are on the opposite side of the world.

Intercultural communication is essential in today’s workplace for several reasons. America has people from all over the world living here and working with one another; because of this, employees must know how to work with different cultures. Knowing what holidays different religions have, the clothing preferences of different races, and the many languages that are used in the world can create a successful working environment. Outsourcing is also a common occurrence in today’s workplace. Hiring individuals from another country to work for you can be a beneficial and cost-effective way of getting work done. However, one must have good intercultural communication skills to be able to work with someone like that. It is effortless to offend somebody who is from another country if you don’t know enough about their ways.

Cultural differences impact both verbal and nonverbal communication. Verbal communication is where spoken or written words are used whereas nonverbal communication includes things like hand gestures, body language, and accents. When dealing with someone from a different country, even something as simple as the wrong handshake can get you into trouble. To avoid all of these potential disasters, an individual needs to be adequately educated in the ways of the person from a different country or culture.

Intercultural communication is something I dealt with on a daily basis in the United States Air Force. Having been in Germany, England, and South Korea, I was exposed to many different kinds of people. When you first meet someone from a foreign land, it is a good idea just to be quiet and let them lead the conversation. Most understand that you will have poor intercultural communication skills with them and they are okay with that. However, if you assume you know more than you do and make the wrong hand gesture or say something that offends them, they are less likely to be friendly and forgiving. A simple Google search of a specific race, culture, or religion can do wonders in increasing your intercultural communication skills. It is not recommended to make an assumption on the way somebody dresses or acts and categorize them in a specific religion or race. Instead, it is recommended you get to know them first. Assuming someone is a particular religion and then treating them as such when they follow a different faith can have devastating consequences; this happens more frequently with race as the color of one’s skin can make somebody assume they are a specific race. Don’t be foolish. Instead of assuming and stereotyping, have a conversation with an individual from a different culture and learn more about how to act around them. Interpersonal communication is a valuable tool needed to achieve any goal in life, and due to technology, this giant world of ours just keeps getting smaller, thus turning intercultural communication into a must-have skill.

Conflict Resolution Techniques

 Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) is an efficient and cost-effective way of resolving a conflict. It offers several different methods of resolving legal disputes without going to court. Some of the benefits it holds over litigation include flexibility, confidentiality, mutuality, and effectiveness due to how the parties involved can save money and time. By using ADR, multiple jurisdictional resolutions can also occur, which is when the afflicted parties can simultaneously resolve disputes in other jurisdictions. To encourage ADR usage, Congress passed a series of laws in federal courts that promote it. ADR is widely and often used in many different scenarios.

ADR can be a great help to some different kinds of disputes such as in business, property, family problems such as divorce, consumer, and collection, employment, landlord and tenant conflicts, as well as personal injury disputes. The most common forms of ADR are mediation, negotiation, arbitration, and case evaluation. In most of these processes, an impartial and trained individual helps all of the parties involved resolve their dispute together. In mediation, the mediator helps all of the individuals reach a mutually acceptable decision. This process is often used in divorce court where personal feelings can be a heavy burden when resolving a conflict. By using an independent party to conduct the conflict resolution, the problem can be dealt with quickly and efficiently.

Negotiation is another method of conflict resolution. In a negotiation, two parties try and reach an agreement that satisfies everyone involved without the use of a third party. In a typical negotiation, each party will prepare a list of what they want and then decide upon a timeframe to acquire the assets. Usually, each party will have an alternative or other option for the settlement. Once this occurs, a written statement will be made of the agreement. The most notable workplace conflict I have been a part of was while I was in the Air Force. I was stationed at Langley Air Force Base in Virginia and was part of a dispute with local authorities when I was transporting 20 MK84 bombs using a public road. The local police officers had problems with how we were carrying them and said that there was too much risk for an accident.

For a solution to be made that satisfied the local authorities as well as allowing me to finish my work, I contacted my supervisor and let him mediate the conflict. In this situation, negotiation wouldn’t have been much of a help as legal action could have been taken on what I was doing therefore not giving me negotiating power. I also didn’t hold a high enough rank in the Air Force to be able to make any decisions on my own. Proper use of ADR turned this possible volatile situation into just another day at work. My supervisor and the police officers both agreed to allow me to drive with the munitions; however, I had to have two escort vehicles accompany me. One of the escort vehicles had to be right behind me at all times as well as in front leading the way. Although this meant that more human resources had to be used and increased the time it took to finish the job, I was able to do so without risking getting into trouble or causing unnecessary risk to other drivers on the road.

Verbal and Nonverbal Communication While Working with a Group

Verbal communication

Verbal communication generally refers to the written or oral words we exchange; not just the words we speak. Pronunciation, accent, the meanings of the words being used, and the many variations in the way people speak all come into play. Language is also a central role in communication; some argue that it is our use of language that makes us human.

Nonverbal communication

Helps us express and interpret the verbal aspects of communication such as when a person smiles to reinforce an expression of thanks, uses the ‘OK’ sign to substitute for saying ‘I am all right,’ laughs flirtatiously to contradict the words, ‘I don’t like you,’ and putting one’s fingers close together to illustrate how thin their new computer is.

Verbal communication’s current state in society

Currently, the written and spoken word are being used less and less due to technology such as cell phones and social media. The use of text messaging, emails, as well as social media has created a society where spoken words aren’t often needed to communicate.

Music is still one of the primary examples of verbal communication that hasn’t been negatively impacted by technology; it instead is greatly benefited by it.

Society in the past

Before technology advanced to its current state, verbal and nonverbal communication were drastically different. When many of us grew up, we didn’t have cell phones or even the internet for a lot of our childhoods. Due to this, we were more acclimated to speaking to someone in person. Because we were often face-to-face with a person when commutating in the past, nonverbal communication was also increased.

Predictions for the future of verbal communication

Verbal communication is set to change drastically as our technology progresses. Cell phones could end up being an implant in our skin or an application such as Google Glass would both make actual verbal communication obsolete.

Predictions for the future of nonverbal communication

Nonverbal communication is also going to be significantly reduced due to not having to actually to speak to someone in person. Even with webcam video chat services, it is hard to tell the body language and other forms of nonverbal communication of the individual who is speaking. Emojis often help us convey our physical communication to someone for than typed words.

How verbal communication is used in a group setting

Proper verbal communication is a necessary skill when working with a team. The many benefits of working with others are lost if the individuals involved can’t share ideas and solutions to the problem at hand.

Working in a group that has poor verbal communication skills can actually be worse than working alone. If communication isn’t as it should be, the work that needs to be done will not be appropriately delegated or assigned to an individual who isn’t up to the task.

How nonverbal communication is used in a group setting

Nonverbal communication is essential when working with a team as well. You can always say the right thing to your teammates in any given situation, however, if your body language or facial expressions are not matching what you are saying, your teammates might not fully understand your point.

To improve your nonverbal communication skills when working with a group, it is recommended first to get a good idea of who you are working with. Things like religion, gender, race, and their basic personalities can be critical when deciding what the best forms of nonverbal communication to use.

Herzberg’s Two-Factor Theory- Workplace Influences

Frederick Herzberg states that two factors influence people in the workplace:

Motivation factors– Satisfaction and psychological growth

Hygiene factors– Dissatisfaction

Herzberg developed this theory during an investigation of 200 engineers and accountants.

The significance of the theory

Job satisfiers deal with factors involved in doing a job and job dissatisfiers deal with elements that define job context. These ideas relate to modern ethical management, social responsibility, and the psychological contract. Herzberg’s theory is an attempt to manage people properly as well as bring humanity and caring into the workplace. His research showed that individuals would strive to achieve “hygiene” needs because they are not satisfied without them; however, satisfaction is temporary. Most individuals are only genuinely motivated by enabling them to be able to satisfy the factors that Herzberg identified such as advancement, development, and achievement.

Herzberg’s research experiment

Data were collected from 200 engineers and accountants in the Pittsburgh area. Each respondent listed events that marked changes in feelings in the workplace and also other interpretations of what factors led to their satisfaction in the workplace such as Achievement, Intrinsic interest in the work done, Advancement, and Responsibility.

What do most individuals want from their jobs?

Do employees just want to make a higher salary? Security? Opportunities for advancement? Good relationships with their co-workers? Or something else?

By analyzing these interviews, Herzberg found that job characteristic related to the nature of the work an individual performs. However, he saw that the absence of gratifying job characteristics did not appear to lead to dissatisfaction or unhappiness. Instead, he discovered that dissatisfaction resulted from unfavorable assessments.

Purpose of the study and what it means in today’s workplace

The purpose of the study was to develop the Herzberg theory and its application to an organization to increase its worker’s productivity. The Two-Factor Theory is one of the most known and accepted job enrichment methods used today. The study caused considerable controversy among behaviorists.

Motivators

A sense of achievement meaning employees will know that due to their hard work, the business will grow. Recognition of workers contribution; giving credit to the employees as well as making them feel good about themselves. Intrinsic motivators represent less tangible, more emotional needs as well as challenging work. Extrinsic motivators represent more tangible and basic needs such as job security, pay, and fringe benefits.

Motivational factors

Career advancement, Personal Growth, Recognition, Achievement, Responsibility, and Hygiene.

Factor that has the effect to demotivate workers

Affect the conditions of the workplace. Elements of life or work that don’t increase satisfaction but can lead to dissatisfaction if they are missing: Hygiene factors, Rate of pay, Relations with others, Quality of supervision, Job security, and Company Policies.

Satisfaction and dissatisfaction

Satisfaction and dissatisfaction are independent of one another where one can increase, and the other doesn’t have to diminish. Satisfaction– Motivator factors. Dissatisfaction- Hygiene factors.

First step- Eliminate job dissatisfaction

Getting rid of hygiene factors which cause dissatisfaction. Fix obstructive company policies. Provide supportive and non-intrusive supervision. Create and support respect and dignity. Ensure wages are competitive. Build job status by providing meaningful work.

Second step- Create job satisfaction

Provide opportunities for achievement. Give credit for work done to who did it. Create rewarding work that compliments the skills of the employee. Provide advancement opportunities. Offer development opportunities.

Summary

Navigating the evolving world of office politics is similar to editing a continuously changing code in real-time. Only by understanding what makes us different, appreciated those differences, and applying your research to strengthening your own tolerance, acceptance, and leadership abilities may you succeed in this new era. Hopefully this information aids you in the many challenges you will face in your time spent in the office, avoiding actions and gestures that may be deemed offensive, getting to know your coworker, gaining respect and admiration without the aid of greedy practices, and above all, developing a safe, effective, and profitable work environment.

Sources

LeBaron, Michelle. (2003). Cross-Cultural Communication. Beyond Intractability. Eds. Guy Burgess and Heidi Burgess. Conflict Information Consortium, University of Colorado, Boulder. Retrieved from http://www.beyondintractability.org/essay/cross-cultural-communication.

Lionel Lavenue, Carlos Rosario, Cecilia Sanabria, Kristi McIntyre, Brandon Bludau, and Kumiko Kitaoka. (2015). Intellectual Property & Technology Law Journal, Alternative Dispute Resolution for Patent Cases: The Eastern District of Texas, The Northern District of California, and The International Trade Commission.

 Lucas, A. (2015). The Importance of Verbal & Non-Verbal Communication. Retrieved from http://www.livestrong.com/article/156961-the-importance-of-verbal-non-verbal-communication/

Human Communication in Society. (1990). Pearson. Jess K. Alberts, Thomas K. Nakayama, Judith N. Martin

Herzberg, Frederick. (1968). Harvard Business Review. One More Time: How do You Motivate Employees.

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