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Natural Born Trouble Maker But Smooth
By Robert Mueller, JD
Author of “Bullying Bosses: A Survivor’s Guide.”

It might be you’re in trouble or are a natural-born troublemaker. Ideally, there’s nothing much going, on but you know that trouble is always just around the corner. It could be that you have a union and it needs employee support for contract negotiations or a particular issue. You could seemingly be alone. How do you get that support? You earn it.

Information is power. With just a few covert lunches and coffees, you can become the holder of the workplace’s collective wisdom. It’s worth the effort. Don’t cower. Leadership means strength. Take confidence in the fact that most people respect strength and few will challenge it.

What you need personally is not where your power lies. Nobody wants to add someone else’s problem to their own. Worse, an ugly problem is a repulsive one. No one is buying. If you’re going to make your political “sale,” it will be because of what you do for others. That’s Politics 101. A Congressperson produces local jobs for people she’s never met. A mayor makes street repairs. Both collect votes the old-fashioned way. So will you.

You may think you already know what the needs of your coworkers are, who the key people are and all their interconnections but you really don’t. You can’t know without asking in a purposeful way. That’s canvassing. It’s showing respect one person at a time. Listening. Identifying issues. Don’t make a big deal. If asked, most people will spill whatever’s on their mind, stuff you could never have guessed. Finally, somebody really cares. That somebody is you.

It could be as simple as a coworker having a previously unknown, romantic interest in someone you know. It could be an issue as critical as a distant coworker needing a lawyer for a sensitive problem. Your neighbor, pastor or union rep might find a perfect lawyer. If you are a friend to others in ways that matter to them, you’ll have friends when you need them down the line. It won’t work with everyone, but all a workplace leader needs is just a few people he or she can count on. Their motivation comes from your true interest in them and your getting results.


When it comes to common issues, not just any one will do. It must be relevant, reasonable (which generally means numbers of some sort) and winnable. Particularly important are unifying issues. In winter’s darkness, the presence of security would soothe a wait for the bus or looking for a car. It can be anything. Listen carefully. Have an open mind. And have a good humor at the same time. Remember, it’s easier to catch a fly with honey than with vinegar. The easiest issues to win are those also helpful to management’s own needs. If not, then not. Production efficiencies. Safety problems. Listen to everyone.

Have a plan. Count heads. Jot quick notes about each person and issue separately on index cards. You can move these around as the facts around you move. When facts are arranged thoughtfully, they uncover goals. Knowledge turns into action. The tactical goal of any political action is simple: to cause significant people or number of people to make virtually any kind of relevant motion. There are more strategies and tactics than there are ways to describe them. Sentences themselves are the product of tactical thinking.

Information with power is just outside the building as well. If you are respected as “smart,” then that’s proof to everyone that you know what you’re doing. Probably no one cares to surf the internet for work issues in their off hours. You will.  On your screen will pop up good stuff on the big shots at work, as well as customers, politicians and the unions in your field. You’ll learn about general employee-employer problems and maybe even solutions. The press has already done most of the work for you. Take advantage of it.

These days, court records are often online. Even if they’re not, that’s where the really juicy stuff is – if you are willing to scan large files looking for it. Lawyers don’t mince words when battling each other. Don’t be shy. Members of the public flip through these files every day. That’s the whole point of having the public record and the public library as well. Knowing the seas you’re navigating is invaluable. To drop little tidbits at work at just the right time is to collect coworkers’ esteem.

It may not seem like it at first, but organizing to collect support turns out to be quite simple. Once started, it takes off on its own steam. Be smart, sharp, smooth and win.
Copyright © 2007 Bullying Bosses: A Survivor’s Guide