Anne Barreta was excited but scared when she became the !rst woman and the !rst Hispanic American ever promoted to district marketing manager at the Hillcrest Corporation. She knew she could do the job, but she expected to be under a microscope. Her boss, Steve Carter, was very supportive. Others were less enthusiastic—like the coworker who smiled as he patted her on the shoulder and said, “Congratulations! I just wish I was an af!rmative action candidate.”
Anne was responsible for one of two districts in the same city. Her counterpart in the other district, Harry Reynolds, was 25 years older and had been with Hillcrest 20 years longer. Some said that the term “good old boy” could have been invented to describe Harry. Usually genial, he had a temper that “ared quickly when someone got in his way. Anne tried to maintain a positive and professional relationship but often found Harry to be condescending and arrogant.
Things came to a head one afternoon as Anne, Harry, and their immediate subordinates were discussing marketing plans. Anne and Harry were disagreeing politely. Mark, one of Anne’s subordinates, tried to support her views, but Harry kept cutting him off. Anne saw Mark’s frustration building, but she was still surprised when he angrily told Harry, “If you’d listen to anyone besides yourself and think a little before you open your mouth, we’d make a lot more progress.” With barely controlled fury, Harry declared that “this meeting is adjourned” and stormed out.
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A day later, Harry phoned to demand that Anne !re Mark. Anne tried to reason with him, but Harry was adamant. Worried about the fallout, Anne talked to Steve, their mutual boss. He agreed that !ring Mark was too drastic but suggested a reprimand. Anne agreed and informed Harry. He again became angry and shouted, “If you want to get along in this company, you’d better !re that guy!” Anne calmly replied that Mark reported to her. Harry’s !nal words were, “You’ll regret this!”
Three months later, Steve called Anne to a private meeting. “I just learned,” he said, “that someone’s been spreading a rumor that I promoted you because you and I are having an affair.” Anne was stunned by a jumble of feelings—confusion, rage, surprise, shame. She groped for words, but none came.
“It’s crazy, I know,” Steve continued. “But the company hired a private detective to check it out. Of course, they didn’t !nd anything. So they’re dropping it. But some of the damage is already done. I can’t prove it, but I’m pretty sure who’s behind it.”
“Harry?” Anne asked. “Who else?”
Managers spend most of their time relating to other people—in conversations andmeetings, in groups and committees, over coffee or lunch, on the phone, or on the net (Kanter, 1989b; Kotter, 1982; Mintzberg, 1973; Watson, 2000). The quality of their relationships !gures prominently in how satis!ed and how effective they are at work. But people bring patterns of behavior to the workplace that have roots in early life. These patterns do not change quickly or easily on the job. Thompson (1967) and others have argued that the socializing effects of family and society shape people to mesh with the work- place. Schools, for example, teach students to be punctual, complete assign- ments on time, and follow rules. But schools are not always fully successful, and future employees are shaped initially by family—a decentralized cottage industry that seldomproduces rawmaterials exactly to corporate speci!cations.
People can become imperfect cogs in the bureaucratic machinery. They form relation- ships to !t individual styles and preferences, often ignoring what the organization requires. They may work but never only on their of!cial assignments. They also express personal and social needs that often diverge from formal rules and requirements. A project falters, for example, because no one likes the manager’s style. A committee bogs down because of
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interpersonal tensions that everyone notices but no one mentions. A school principal spends most days dealing with a handful of abrasive and vocal teachers who generate far more than their share of discipline problems and parent complaints. Protracted warfare arises because of personal friction between two department heads.
This chapter begins by looking at basic sources of effective (or ineffective) interpersonal relations at work. We examine why individuals are often blind to self-defeating personal actions. We describe theories of interpersonal competence and emotional intelligence, explaining how they in”uence of!ce relationships. We explore different ways of under- standing individual style preferences. Finally, we discuss key human-resource issues in the functioning of groups and teams: informal roles, norms, con”ict, and leadership.
Greatest Hits from Organization Studies Hit Number 6: M. S. Granovetter, “Economic Action and Social Structure: The Problem of Social Embeddedness.” American Journal of Sociology, 1985, 91(3), 481–510
The central question in Granovetter’s in”uential article is a very broad one: “How behavior and institutions are affected by social relations.” Much of his approach is captured in a quip from James Duesenberry that “economics is all about how people make choices; sociology is all about how they don’t have any choices to make” (1960, p. 233). Classical economic perspectives, Granovetter argues, assume that economic actors are atomized individuals whose decisions are little affected by their relationships with others. “In classical and neoclassical economics, therefore, the fact that actors may have social relations with one another has been treated, if at all, as a frictional drag that impedes competitive markets” (Granovetter, 1985, p. 484). Conversely, Granovetter maintains that sociological models are often “oversocialized” because they depict “processes in which actors acquire customs, habits, or norms that are followed mechanically and automatically, irrespective of their bearing on rational choice” (p. 485). The truth, in Granovetter’s view, lies between these two extremes: “Actors do not behave or decide as atoms outside a social context, nor do they adhere slavishly to a script written for them by the particular intersection of social categories that they happen to occupy. Their attempts at purposive action are instead embedded in concrete, ongoing systems of social relations” (p. 487). Granovetter’s argument may sound familiar, since it aligns with a central theme in our book: Actors make choices, but their choices are inevitably shaped by social context.
To illustrate his argument, Granovetter critiques another in”uential perspective: Oliver Williamson’s analysis of why some decisions get made in organizational hierarchies and others are made in markets (Williamson, 1975, number 12 on our list of scholars’ hits). Williamson proposed that repetitive decisions involving high uncertainty were more likely to be made in hierarchies because organizations had advantages of information and control—people knew and had leverage over one another. Granovetter counters that Williamson underestimates the power of relationships in cross-!rm transaction and overemphasizes the advantages of hierarchy. A central
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point in Granovetter’s argument is that relationships often trump structure: “The empirical evidence that I cite shows . . . that even with complex transactions, a high level of order can often be found in the market—that is, across !rm boundaries—and a correspondingly high level of disorder within the !rm. Whether these occur, instead of what Williamson expects, depends on the nature of personal relations and networks of relations between and within !rms” (p. 502).
INTERPERSONAL DYNAMICS In organizations, as elsewhere in life, many of the greatest highs and lows stem from relations with other people. Three recurrent questions about relationships regularly haunt managers:
• What is really happening in this relationship?
• What motives are behind other peoples’ behavior?
• What can I do about it?
All were key questions for Anne Barreta. What was happening between her and Harry Reynolds? Did he really start the rumor? If so, why? How should she deal with someone who seemed so dif!cult and devious? Should she talk to him? What options did she have?
To some observers, what’s happening might seem obvious: Harry resents a young minority woman who has become his peer. He becomes even more bitter when she rejects his demand to !re Mark and then seeks revenge through a sneak attack. The case resembles many others in which men dominate or victimize women. What should Anne, or any woman in similar circumstances, do? Confront the larger issues? Thatmight help in the long run, but a woman who initiates confrontation risks being branded a troublemaker (Collinson and Collinson, 1989). Should Anne try to sabotage Harry before he gets her? If she does, will she kindle a mêlée in which everyone loses?
Human resource theorists maintain that constructive personal responses are possible even in highly politicized situations. Argyris (1962), for example, emphasizes the impor- tance of “interpersonal competence” as a basic managerial skill. He shows that managers’ effectiveness is often impaired because they overcontrol, ignore feelings, and are blind to their impact on others.
Argyris and Schön’s Theories for Action Argyris and Schön (1974, 1996) carry the issue of interpersonal effectiveness a step further. They argue that individual behavior is controlled by personal theories for action—
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assumptions that inform and guide behavior. Argyris and Schön distinguish two kinds of theory. Espoused theories are accounts individuals provide whenever they try to describe, explain, or predict their behavior. Theories-in-use guide what people actually do. A theory- in-use is an implicit program or set of rules that speci!es how to behave.
Argyris and Schön discovered signi!cant discrepancies between espoused theories and theories-in-use, which means that people aren’t doing what they think they are. Managers typically see themselves as more rational, open, concerned for others, and democratic than others see them. Such blindness is persistent because people learn little from their experience. A major block to learning is a self-protective model of interpersonal behavior that Argyris and Schön refer to as Model I (see Exhibit 8.1).
Exhibit 8.1. Model I Theory-in-Use.
Source: Adapted from Argyris and Schön (1996), p. 93.
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