Boosting your career with a little manipulation

It’s important for career development — and to maintain a position of authority — to utilize the techniques of passive aggressive behaviour mixed with non-compliance.

The true goal of any professional, especially one in the information technology field, is to procure a reporting structure in which more people report to you than there are people above you in the organization chart. This means that you can give away all work with any tangible metrics (e.g.: analysis, programming, QA, et cetera) to your staff, leaving you to ensure that the work looks good and, consequently, your appearance to the senior management is optimal.

Of course, during your career there will be those who want to take you down. It has nothing to do with your personality; it’s just human nature for others to want to move up the ladder, even if you yourself are happy where you are.

Typically the danger comes from people who report to the same management you do or those to whom you have dotted line reporting. That is the worst scenario because they can discuss your performance across the organization without being obliged to use a suitably intricate performance assessment system that would allow you to highlight your performance and denigrate theirs.

Being a senior manager is like playing tennis. The ball should be in your court the minimum length of time possible. You should also be able to send multiple balls over the net to either your staff or your ‘peers who pose a risk.’ It’s important that these balls arrive at roughly the same time with vague or conflicting priority. This will buy you time, as they will have to expend effort prioritizing.

Meetings are the single most important place to practice non-compliance and passive aggressiveness. Meetings are usually where new tasks and projects are assigned and it’s important that you don’t take on any new ones, even if the subject matter is interesting. The reason for this is simple. If you offer to take on something new, it will imply that you have spare time, which you clearly don’t because you have to answer all those e-mails asking for clarification of the priorities of tasks you just assigned.

The basic techniques of non-compliance and passive aggressiveness are:

• Generate concern — there is no way that those who are trying to bring you down have thought of all contingencies for their new project. Whenever possible, emphasize the worst-case scenario. “Have you considered the union implications?” and “have you run this past legal?” are both solid standbys.

• Stay silent as long as possible — this is particularly helpful when it looks like specific work is going to be heading to your department. They can’t assign things without your consent and if they do, you can legitimately complain. Make sure to respond vaguely to e-mails that have the phrase, “your silence is considered consent.”

• Recommend bringing in consultants and doing more analysis — if someone accepts this recommendation, this buys at least three months.

• Insist the long-term picture is not defined and therefore the initiatives cannot proceed.

• Expand the scope — all systems connect to others; try to add a major initiative like a full server farm upgrade when they add a new e-mail server.

• Make sure your calendar is full so that you look busy.

• Never return phone calls.

• Minimize e-mail usage; it leaves a burdensome trail.

• When you need something, get it in writing.

• When ‘peers who pose a risk’ make mistakes, document it.

These are just a few of the basic techniques in passive-aggressive non-compliant behaviour. Of course there are others that we don’t have time to discuss here — for example denial, which needs to be used in conjunction with others listed above. The best way to learn the techniques is to find a master in your own organization and observe him or her. However, as it should now be clear, don’t ask directly for assistance; the master won’t reply.

In the ’80s, Ford graduated from university and several Canadian corporations with a certificate in cynicism. E-mail him at if you want to find out if he’s feeling better now.

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