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I am a programmer by trade, but in a role that involves training and supporting clients at the moment. I consider myself pretty good in this role. For the most part I have the respect of my bosses, coworkers and clients, and believe myself to be good with my interpersonal skills in a one-on-one or classroom situation.

However, over time, I've realized that in large organizations I am terrible at using the chain of command to the advantage of myself and my clients. I was working on a project with a coworker on my team and I realized we needed a resource from another team. He went through our boss and got the resource in less than an hour, with minimal ruffling of feathers. My methodology (file a help desk ticket) would have either taken three days or required me to be the squeaky wheel, which of course would not win me any friends.

I don't want to invest the time or expense in a Bachelors, or Associates, in Organization Behavior (I lack a Bachelors in anything so Masters is doubly out of the question). Are there some good books and or courses I can take that will help improve my skills in the 1-6 month range? What other steps can I take?

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    Is your company large enough to have an HR group that runs workshops on group communication both in general and also within the organization? – jcmeloni Aug 8 '12 at 16:05
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    @jcmeloni they definitely have general classes. I'll look into that and ask about org specific ones. – Justin Dearing Aug 8 '12 at 16:18
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My personal rules for organizational behavior (not all directly applicable to the particular situation you mentioned, but it seemed you wanted general advice not just specific advice):

Rule 1 (and the most important) - never let your boss be blindsided because you didn't give him information about a potential problem. This means add him to the email chain (any potential problem generally has one) or forward past emails he wasn't copied on. And if the issue has the potential to be really big (or to come to him from someone above him) or there is no email chain, go tell him in person.

Rule 2 - know who the goto people are for various things you will need. Help them out when they need it.

Rule 3 - Never let another employee know you dislike them. Be polite and friendly to everyone.

Rule 4 - Ask for things through the informal chain first where possible - then followup with the official request. So you tell your boss you are going to need this person and why and get his general agreement. You call the person's boss (or better yet have the boss do it) and tell him the problem and get his general agreement and tell him to expect an offical request. Then you put in the request in writing.

Rule 5 - When possible go to management with a potential solution as well as the problem. And where possible fill out any required forms or paperwork for them (you may want an informal agreement to the solution before you do this) so that all they have to do is sign.

Rule 6 - You don't get what you don't ask for.

Rule 7 - Learn the politics of the office. If George can alawys get things done, get George on your side before a major meeting or get him to help with a request that might be hard to sell (unless your boss hates George - in politics it is generally better to err on the side of your own boss unless you know positively he is being removed). This will probably also involve helping George out when he wants something or needs help. Politics is very much about favors for favors.

Rule 8 - If there is a major political war going on in your office, stay out of it as much as possible. People who aren't in positions of high power can never win by getting involved in these things.

Rule 9 - Have something to trade. Be the goto person for something.

Rule 10 - Get to know people. Ask about their families, express condolences when they have a death in the family. If you know he is a Giants fan and the Giants just won the Superbowl, then make sure to stop by and comment on it. Share some of your interests with them. People work better with people they like.

Thought of a couple more.

Rule 11 - When people are overwhelmed (this is when they are seriously overwhelmed due to an unexpected occurance like a subordinate going on emergency leave or they need to drop everything and meet a deadline becasue someone else failed to get the stuff done), volunteer to help if they are in your work group or one of your immediate bosses. This one is tricky because you don't want to do it so often they think you have no work to do and because you can't let your own work not get done because you are helping someone else. And when you do this, you may need to stay a little later to ensure your tasks don't get behind schedule. If you are asked to pick up someone else's work because they are in the hospital or on Emergency leave, do it graciously and without complaining about the state it was in (your stuff isn't perfect when it's not finished either).

Rule 12 - Present things to management in busness terms. You will go a lot farther getting things you want done if you can express them in terms of increased income, decreased costs, or client satisfaction.

I'm an introvert and I can do these things, so even if they don't come naturally to you (they don't to me), believe that you can do them.

  • I think my biggest lesson here is the second part of rule number 4 and Dunbar's number. I'm generally helpful and useful for sure. There are a lot of things I can get done through informal methods. It rarely occurs that I can ask my boss to ask someone else's boss though. – Justin Dearing Aug 8 '12 at 16:04
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    The only issue I have is that you left out "Wherever possible" at the beginning of Rule 5. Sometimes there's no solution you can offer without management's input. Good bosses/managers recognize that (because they recognize the primacy of Rule 1), and would rather hear about a potential problem even if there's no fix on the horizon. Great ones actively work to help you find solutions. – voretaq7 Aug 8 '12 at 16:58
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Why do you need a book? It seems you have everything you need in your co-worker. Pay attention to how they handle situations such as the one in your example. Learning from others in the workplace can be just as effective as from books, and tends to be cheaper. Heck, sometimes it's actually MORE effective than books/classes, as you will get experience in your specific office environment.

  • My coworker has the right combination of interpersonal skills and institutional knowledge to get the right people to get things done. I can learn a lot from him and I try to. However, I find for interpersonal things books are a great foundation for me. I lack empathy and intuition in social situations. When I read http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/How_to_Win_Friends_and_Influence_People I felt I was learning new things, not consciously realizing what I subconsciously knew. – Justin Dearing Aug 8 '12 at 15:02
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    I think it would be best to see this as a "long term" problem. It is not easy for anyone to come in and become immediately effective in the conventions and structure of an organization. This takes time. And if someone really is good at it, it is because they've had a lot of practice. – Angelo Aug 8 '12 at 19:29
  • @Angelo agreed. – acolyte Aug 8 '12 at 20:04
  • @JustinDearing - rely less on books and spend more time interacting. Take advantage of any person interaction you can get. Don't eat lunch alone. – user8365 Aug 20 '12 at 13:26
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There's a ton of books out there on various aspects of human communications - many of them are marketed to managers. What you describe is a combination of networking skills, persuasion and negotiation - and a search on those items is likely to churn up a daunting collection of information that may or may not be helpful.

When picking books, I tend to think the best sources are self-chosen based on reviewing excerpts and considering whether you will find the information useful. I, myself, have a fairly high book-abandonment rate in this type of reading, because if I can't respect the author or the writing, I won't absorb the knowledge. I highly recommend finding a source where you can borrow books or get them used or cheap so the failure rate isn't so annoyingly expensive.

Being effective as your coworker was is as much learning your own personal strengths and using them as it is knowing a piece of textbook information. Recently I studied the DISC model which highlighted how different people are going to derive different appreciation and be effective in different ways because we are not all the same type of person. In many cases, it's not about fixing your knowledge base, it's about knowing your strengths and weaknesses, and buffering your strengths by working as a team.

For the record - I don't really endorse any specific personal style/aptitude awareness model - I find they are all somewhat enlightening and they are all somewhat simplified and limited in their depth. But there's an entire field of this type of stuff = many of which have free online quizzes that can help with at least understanding yourself enough to find out what comes natural for you and what may be difficult.

With almost any of these communication/soft skill type information streams, you have to figure out for yourself what makes you more effective.

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