Workplace Politics: 21st Century Navigation

The Kenwood house is moving like a freight train right now. We’re on our second week jacking up the floors – this is not something that is done in a day, the house is a century old so we have to inch up the floors little by little for weeks until they’re level. Remember, the basement floor isn’t deep enough for the machine to fit in there so we’re doing it with manpower.

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The second floor is getting framed out and we’re improving the structural integrity of the house by adding additional support to the roof and shifting how the weight of those huge gables are carried.

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Now that the second floor is framed, my investor stopped by the house and noted how much smaller the master bedroom looks with the new configuration. We only have so much room to work with and we’re adding a full standing shower to the master bathroom (which used to be the only bathroom on the second floor) and adding a second bathroom with a standing shower. We also need room for 18-inch duct for zoned HVAC. So, we had to bump the west wall of the master bedroom in to accommodate these needs, making the bedroom smaller. We moved the doorway of the master bedroom to square out the room and allow a few different options for bed placement. We also took out the ceiling to create a gorgeous vaulted ceiling which should add grandeur despite the size.

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Now, we do have a master closet that has accessible space to widen the bedroom; however, then the room isn’t square. We also need some hallway space for the 3rd floor stairs.

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Also, while my investor was there, Wesley had explained that we had to make the kitchen pantry bigger because our architect used the kitchen pantry installation as additional structural support for the bathroom above (which I think is brilliant). So, the pantry will stick out past the stove.

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In the meantime, let’s not forget that my guys are exhausted – we’re on our 5th dumpster in 4 weeks. They’ve been inhaling massive amounts of dust because their face masks start chaffing their cheeks when they sweat, their throats are sore, two have colds, and the work takes as much mind power as it does man power.

Now, I am aware that all of this is happening. I’m at the house everyday – sometimes I bring the guys coffee and some lunch, they ask questions – sometimes I give answers, Robert and I talk everyday, the architect talks to either Robert or I a couple times a week, and I’m relaying this information to my investor. So, Robert calls me from his sons’ parent’s weekend at college to discuss the bedroom layout, pantry size, and roof structural layout. This strikes me as odd because we’ve not only discussed and drawn this, it’s actually already IN the house and being installed. Then, it all comes together. Robert spoke with our investor and our investor is worried and wants us to revisit these issues. I tell Robert to keep moving forward and I will speak with our investor. Robert then adds “You know, Ally, you don’t need to bring the guys coffee and stuff. They’re there to work.” When I call our investor, he sounds nervous – very nervous. There’s so much going on and it’s happening fast and we have so many lead items and do we know what the lead items are and what are the deadlines on them and are we shopping for lighting and doesn’t that bedroom look small?

So, needless to say, this is touchy. First, I am accountable to my investor to run this project on time and on schedule in a code compliant and safe manner. My job is to manage our GC and Architect, ensure the design of the rehab is competitive within our market, handle all paperwork, permitting, and accounting, and eventually sell the property. I am the buffer between the investor and the organized chaos. However, if the investor wants to contact the GC directly and question the design – he’s footing the bills, right? He’s entitled, of course. Now, the GC is directly accountable to me as the project manager and liason. I’m also the one physically cutting checks. However, he’s not just my GC, he’s my partner and has a stake in our profits – he is also aware that I am logistics, not funding. He needs to make sure everyone is on the same page and if what I’m saying isn’t what the investor is saying – well, he has a problem. Finally, the investor wants to make sure that all of us make money…and a lot of it. He’s not throwing weight around for the sake of his ego, he’s genuinely concerned with the outcome of the project.

Whether you’re in a hundred-million dollar downtown high-rise or a century-old home, workplace politics exist. If you don’t know how to navigate them, you may create a glass ceiling above you. Even if you are right, the outcome may not work in your favor. It’s a tight rope walk, what can I say? So, here are a few pointers for the next time you find yourself in a touchy situation:

 

1. Give yourself some privacy. Politics are annoying and likely inefficient. You’re probably feeling many negative emotions such as irritated, angry, frustrated, sad, unimportant, disrespected, undermined, and/or helpless. Get the emotion out. Having said that, go find a private space where no one can hear you throw your laptop out the window. Don’t spread the gossip or make others feel uncomfortable. Just get it out of your system – take some deep breathes, call your best friend or spouse/significant other, type angrily in an empty Word document, go for a walk. Do NOT immediately respond in ANY WAY to anyone on your project. Breathe in your nose and out of your mouth – in a separate space from humanity.

2. Review the facts. What happened? Organize it on paper or in your head. You need to know the situation inside and out in case you enter into a discussion where the facts are relevant (which is almost always). You don’t want to ever look “uninformed” because the adjective most of your colleagues will use will not be that nice. The chronology and facts may also show you how a seemingly unacceptable situation happened in an actually acceptable manner.

3. Maintain the facts. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again. Do not let emotion get in your way. Be factual. Factual does not involve condescension, aggressiveness, anger, sadness, or sarcasm. It involves the facts in a calm, respectful manner. Why set yourself up to look like a(n) *insert negative adjective here*.

4. Have integrity. You know the facts, you’ve maintained the facts. What’s likely going to happen, especially if there is a senior person at fault, is that the person or persons at fault will have the discussion begin meandering. Now, depending on your position, it may be above your pay grade to digress the discussion of someone with seniority. If you absolutely have to shift the conversation for self-preservation or protection of a peer who could experience severe punishment or if things are simply unethical or if it’s going to make the project a complete failure – just respond with the facts. Do not point fingers. Let the facts speak for themselves. No one can argue facts.

5. Listen. I think it is rare that team members do not have the best interests of the project in mind. We’re all here for a reason, right? You may have different work styles, different personalities, maybe even different growth opportunities. Don’t make that the issue. Listen to each other and be open. Showing respect is likely not going to have a negative outcome. You may even hear something that changes your perspective.

6. No crying. I would not advise, in any professional situation, to show any extreme emotion. If you, for some non-defensible reason, have to show extreme emotion – you had better not let that emotion be tears. Tears do not gain sympathy, they encourage pity. Pity is not Power. Tears show weakness, tears show selfishness, tears show negativity. It also makes everyone around you uncomfortable. In your personal life, tears may show many positive attributes – in your professional life, tears show instability. Companies do not recruit unstable executives.

7. Talk. Cardinal rule: no hard conversations in writing. Email is for documentation. Do not hide behind email because it’s harder to say what you can write. We are people, we are not machines. Show respect both to your team and to yourself. Emails and texts do not have voice inflection or correct punctuation. It will probably get misunderstood and the situation will escalate. You also do not want anything negative being tracked back to you. Once you write it, it’s out there forever. It’s there to be picked apart. It’s there to be shared. It’s there to be re-read. You want people sharing your greatness, not your negativity. I am consistently awed by how a simple phone call mitigates a potentially dire situation. In my experience, show your professional humanity and they’ll show you theirs.

 

So, I spoke with my investor and realized that seeing the job everyday like I do and seeing the job weekly like he does are two totally different things. When you’re in it everyday, these challenges are minor issues. When they’re presented all at once, it seems like a monstrosity. In my mind, I was protecting him from “the grind” – presenting solutions, not problems. He wants to be more involved. I spoke with Robert and he understands that I’m desperate for camraderie with the laborers so I can keep my finger on the pulse when I walk in – Robert’s handing them their checks, the investor is obviously employing all of us, and I’m…what…to them? I’m a friendly face with pointed questions and some occasional food. Robert was concerned that I felt they were owed – he now knows it’s really all about me.

Another week in the life. As for other politics – well, my team apparently prefers to keep it subtle.

 

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