"It's A Trap!": How to Identify & Avoid Office Over-Commitment


Having a passion for one's work is the secret ingredient to employee engagement. If you've ever worked with someone with a clear passion like that, you most likely felt envy, rooted in a desire to hold the same kind of passion for your work. Even if you enjoyed what you did, it wasn't to the same degree. Only passion can push you far enough to make a difference.

But when passion for one's work goes too far, it's not so positive. Too much engagement can lead to over-commitment.

The Office Over-Committer is a special breed of passionate coworker, who, to the chagrin of everyone else, has an out-of-control infatuation for pet projects and personal missions. An unusual mix of joyous collaborator and forceful champion, this employee possesses an intensity so strong it melts opponents' resolve and good common sense. It's the workplace equivalent of the irrationally passionate beauty-pageant mom or shirtless, face-painted sports fanatic.

Under the guise of the Office Over-Committer's passion, a trap is set for colleagues. The "passion player" will insist, for instance, on pushing into the stratosphere a project whose pitfalls are obvious. But such "passion" seems to force your hand . . . to take on that project as your own . . . even while that voice inside is screaming "RUN!"

How can you spot over-commitment before you are trapped? Relationship Management is the key HR competency in play here. Build your proficiency in Relationship Management, and you'll be able to handle the situation effectively, serving as a good business partner while remaining true to your strategic principles.

Like any proficiency-building exercise, the first step is learning to identify the problem. Three dead giveaways can help you find your Office Over-Committer (don't mind the mix of so many metaphors):

1)      A wide-open of "value" valve. Office Over-Committers tend to overstate the value of their core interests. What they're working on may be important to part of the organization's effectiveness formula, but they view it as absolutely critical. Their projects always "need" or "must have" something added, even when nothing adds up. They always try to enlist others into adopting their mission, instead of contributing to a shared mission. Don’t be lured into their trap. Your mission, as a great business partner, is to evaluate all opportunities strictly on their merits.

2)Ultimately, it's ultimatums. Office Over-Committers work hard to get their way, lobbying everyone to build support. But when they don't succeed, they throw tantrums, doling out threats and ultimatums. Don’t succumb. Call their bluff and stand your ground. Or take the off-ramp and simply exit from their perspective. Giving in to Over-Committers' ultimatums derails a shared mission and eliminates the potential for future collaboration. Remember, such people are really just toddlers in business clothes.

3) Let's have a pity party. Office Over-Committers want you to feel their passion. They seek out coworkers who share their ideal view of the world. But when colleagues disagree with their views, look out! Now they want everyone to know how badly they’ve been wronged: "Can you believe the VP wouldn’t invest in my project?" "If only you'd taken my advice!" "Why won't anyone support this GoFundMe campaign?"
Nobody likes being told "no"—but Office Over-Committers are strongly averse to accepting a "no," recovering and moving on. You may even get to see a martyrdom drama worthy of an Oscar (more likely a daytime Emmy!) when others fail to see things their way. Moping and immature comments are the worst part of dealing with Office Over-Committers. But don't join the pity party. An HR professional who is competent in relationship management knows better than to be "guilted" into making bad business decisions, going along with projects that don’t align with strategy.

Identifying the problem is the first step toward successful negotiation with an Office Over-Committer. The next step is developing the courage to evaluate matters objectively, without damaging relationships. Just remember: it's not your fault if a relationship is damaged because of unreasonable office over-commitment. Admiral Akbar in Return of the Jedi said it best: "It’s a trap!" Make that warning your workplace mantra.

How do you handle your office's Over-Committers? How do you flex your relationship management muscle, starting with problem identification? Do you have a great story about an epic case of office over-commitment?


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