Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 5, Issue 24;   June 15, 2005: When Others Curry Favor

When Others Curry Favor

by

When peers curry favor with the boss, many of us feel contempt, an urge for revenge, anger, or worse. Trying to stop those who curry favor probably isn't an effective strategy. What is?

Turning the last corner on his way to his boss's office, Matt heard laughter, and he instantly knew that Robert was again working on Will. He paused and took a breath, but when he turned into the doorway and looked into Will's office, he was hurt by what he saw.

Robert was in Will's chair, at Will's desk. Robert looked at Will as if to say "Up to you."

A harrow in action

Photo courtesy U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

"Excuse me," Matt said to Will. "I can come back."

Will turned to Matt. "No, come in, come in," he said.

'So it's come this far,' Matt thought. 'Robert sitting at Will's desk, telling Will what to do and what to think.'

"It's OK," Matt said. "I'll be back after lunch. No problem." He turned and left, but he knew there was a problem.

When a peer curries favor with your boss, your options are limited. Before you act, think carefully.

Time is short
The current favorite has probably been working on your boss for longer than you know. If you're considered a threat, you've been targeted. And for aggressive operators, truth is no constraint.
Unless something changes, your current job probably won't last.
Assess the competition
Those who curry favor are usually well practiced. They expect their peers to respond somehow, and they're probably ready for all the obvious or typical counter-tactics.
Know their level of expertise. Unless you can deal with their tactics, taking direct action could further jeopardize your tenure.
Don't respond in writing
Writing, either
electronic or hardcopy,
is dangerous
Writing, either electronic or hardcopy, is dangerous. Pretend that you've been given an organizational Miranda warning: Anything you put in writing could be used against you.
Email can be especially risky. If you do take action, do so in person.
If you act, expect a response
Responses to your actions might be difficult to handle. The boss might feel accused of favoritism. The current favorites will likely defend their positions. Others on the sidelines might view your action as an attempt to become the new favorite.
Choose actions that take account of these risks.
Open your mind, not your mouth
Keep an open mind about what you see happening around you. The really effective operators are so clever that they're very hard to detect. They can curry favor with you at the same time that they do with your boss.
Trusting the wrong person can be a serious mistake — one I've made myself.

If the favorites are making headway, the boss is partly responsible. Possibly the boss knows what's happening and chooses to play along, or your peers are exploiting a vulnerability that the boss cannot control.

The situation is unstable in either case. If you manage to restore fairness, and the boss remains in place, a recurrence is likely. Any progress you make has to be considered temporary, until you can permanently discredit the favorite. Consider moving on.

All this can be hard to hear, I know. I can say it only because I'm not trying to curry favor with you. Go to top Top  Next issue: The Loopy Things We Do at Work  Next Issue

According to The Dictionary of Word Origins (Joseph T. Shipley. Published by Rowman & Littlefield, 1967), the original expression was not to "curry favor," but to curry favel. In medieval times, Favel was used as the name of a horse. The etymology is complex but fascinating. Check it out. Order from Amazon.com

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