There comes a time when we realize that we’re:
- Too aligned with the wrong coworkers
- At odds with our boss
- Parked in the wrong job
- Part of a doomed project
Situations like these creep up on us.
Each day we’re faced with decisions and options that take us down one path or another, usually believing we’re advancing our careers not putting them at risk.
I’ll write it here again: Things are rarely what they seem, and that’s especially true at work. The closer you are to where the real work gets done, the farther away you are from the decisions and decision-makers affecting the organization’s direction.
The less you really know, the more careful you need to be about your choices. This is why developing business savvy is so important.
We often make a mess our of careers by getting tangled up with the wrong people or by putting ourselves in places where we can’t meet expectations.
Here are a couple examples:
- You get hired by a boss who once worked with you as a staff professional and where you were also friends. Now you’re expected to support his wrong-footed policies. If you buck the boss, you lose all around.
- You’re new on the job and the boss isn’t training you. You turn to coworkers for help which they give gladly along with their “rules” for getting along, so there are no “problems.” In time you realize that you’re in the wrong camp.
- You eagerly accepted a role on an important project team to gain some visibility for your technical talents. The forceful team leader has a predetermined result she’s promoting. You realize that her basic premise is wrong, the team is going in the wrong direction, and the result is going to be a bust with your name on it.
We get ourselves into these situations through our own naiveté. As much as we want to be optimistic about opportunities, we need to stop and weigh the potential downsides.
5 ways to disentangle
It is much easier to get situations tangled up than to untangle them. (If you’ve ever tried to get the knots out of a necklace or a fishing line, you know.)
When you need to extricate yourself from a complicated situation at work, consider these approaches:
- Avoid getting in deeper: Assess the people and/or decisions that are exacerbating the problem and figure out how to start distancing yourself from them. That may mean changing the way you communicate, reducing personal (not professional) sharing, and developing relationships with others who represent your viewpoints.
- Resist the “lures”: Step away from the temptations that may have drawn you to the situation in the first place like special access to the boss, the need to make “friends” with everyone, associations with “big” players, and egoism. Instead, refocus on doing your best work for the right reasons, even it if means accepting a short term setback.
- Plan and activate an escape plan: When you’re in a mess, you have to get out of it, slowly and carefully in most cases. This takes careful planning and a bit of finesse. You may need to craft a special bit of face-to-face communication, build new alliances, reduce your level of involvement, and/or make a big break. It all depends on the severity of the mess and the risk it imposes on you over time.
The worst thing you can do is nothing. The longer you stay in a bad situation, the more you risk increasingly dire consequences, the worst of which is feeling trapped and helpless.
The best thing you can do for your career is to avoid pointless drama caused by unhealthy entanglements. It only adds stress and needless complexity to the work you’ve been hired to do. Each time you’re given a career opportunity, first ask yourself, “What am I really getting myself into?” That should help you take the right step and avoid troublesome drama.
Photo from framelius via Flickr