Monday, August 24, 2009

Tangling with Tyrants: Managing the Balance of Power at Work

Tony Deblauwe
PageFree Publishing (2009)
ISBN 9781589615786
Reviewed by Tyler R. Tichelaar for Reader Views (7/09)

Tony Deblauwe's "Tangling with Tyrants" offers practical advice for dealing with stress at work, primarily resulting from a difficult boss. Deblauwe begins by making a case for how the workplace is full of difficult bosses and how many people have difficulty with their employers. While few people I think would disagree, Deblauwe offers some interesting statistics; for example, surveys about work attitude show that a person's relationship with his or her manager is the most important factor in determining a person's satisfaction at work, even outranking pay and benefits. Television programs such as "The Office" reflect how common bad bosses have become in today's business world, and people need to learn how to manage their managers, how to get their work done despite their managers, how to avoid emotional bullying from managers, and how to know when to move to another job. Furthermore, today people are being asked to do more work, with fewer resources, which puts pressure on everyone, including the managers, who then put pressure on their employees.
"Tangling with Tyrants" offers numerous suggestions for dealing with a difficult manager. The answers are not simple, but largely introspective. Employees need to change their perspectives, understand the situation from the manager's point of view, and avoid making assumptions or having pre-conceived ideas about their managers based on past actions or stereotypes. Having an effective communication process with your boss is extremely important, and it can be used to align your actions with your boss' needs to create a partnership to get the job done.
For me, this book had two strong points. The first was the discussion of popular ideas for how to deal with a difficult boss, and why those ideas are not the way to handle the situation. Among the seven common ideas are standing up for yourself, going over your boss' head to his or her boss, and getting your co-workers to complain with you as a group about your boss. Instead, Deblauwe suggests the GRACE model, which shows how to be Grounded (rather than reacting to your boss from fear), then Reframe the request, Acknowledge the boss' perspective, create a Consensus with the boss, and then Execute the action necessary to complete the task. The second strong point was the inclusion of scripts demonstrating the GRACE method so people could see ways to verbalize how to respond to the boss.
I thought "Tangling with Tyrants" was a good starting point for dealing with difficult bosses. I would have liked to have seen a great deal more of the scripting, and maybe even a sort of index or appendix that provided multiple scripts to use on different occasions such as: when your boss expects you to cover for him, when your boss takes credit for your ideas, when your boss comes to work in a foul mood, etc. Some of this was covered in the book but a handy reference guide to multiple situations with effective scripts would have been a bonus and an easy way to keep going back to the book in times of need. Even in the form of a workbook this would have been helpful.
I hope "Tangling with Tyrants" will help many people find ways to improve their work situations. If not, Deblauwe also offers good advice on when and how to leave your job.