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It is no coincidence that the rise of the self-appointed subversive spokesperson (SASS) has taken place during the most chaotic of times. Amongst the growing number of tasks, the seamless connection between work and home, as well as the perceived higher levels of stress, the SASS emerges through the multi-colored smoke with all the thunder and blunder that would make the Wizard of Oz proud. In the middle of the noise, the SASS proclaims to be the representative voice of a silent chorus, hoping to intimidate through imaginary numbers and bask in the glow of power acquired from unsuspecting participants. The SASS understands that their role is the unintentional answer to the question, “Who died and left you in charge?” Armed with an unstated mandate by the equally elusive ‘We’ group, the SASS finds the cracks in the organization’s armor and uses that opening to search for molehills that can be transformed into mountains. Once accomplished, the constant yodeling is a reminder of what happens when control is wrestled from the organization’s designated manager by a SASS with an agenda.

The emergence of the SASS, typically, begins with an unreasonable request being rejected by someone in a managerial role. The hurt of hearing ‘no’ is personalized across several dimensions and vented to anyone within the surrounding cubicle. As the childlike, acting out behavior spins toward the surface, it seeks out the passive acquiescence of others as fertilized soil for the behavior that has taken root. The new found role of SASS is the perfect shield for fending off the barbs and banter of managers who are, unwittingly, pulled into a winless, emotional battle. The SASS understands that the perception of collective resistance sends a powerful message and positions that person to be the first choice for informal advice and misdirected efforts. As time goes on, the SASS is allowed to become louder in tone and delivery as well as demanding of time and energy. Now that the SASS has your attention, the expectation is to keep your attention as long as it is needed.

The most important notion for a manager to realize is that the SASS needs a forum in which to spout off. The most practical and visible setting for the SASS to operate is the team meeting. The SASS can be found at the opposite end of the table from the manager so as to justify their need to yell or directly across the table in order to achieve the ‘in your face’ intimidation. In any event, this closed setting is the perfect place in which to open the non-agenda related discourse. “We think you should consider….”, “We don’t understand why you have to…”, “We don’t like how you…”, and the dreaded, “We don’t like…” The SASS feeds off the limited spotlight and unchallenged statements to thwart any attempt to complete a task or facilitate a functional meeting. The longer the SASS is allowed to control the meeting, the harder it becomes to redirect or extinguish the behavior. The most effective step to challenging the ‘We’ collective is to ask individuals to voice their own opinion in lieu of the SASS mouthpiece. How often are we led to equate silence with agreement? How often do we confront a group dynamic by calling an individual by their name and, specifically asking, “What do you think?” More often than not, the manager will discover that the things that really bother people are minor, easily resolvable and have nothing to do with the SASS agenda. In fact, as managers and as individuals, in time we come to learn that we don’t have to take SASS from anyone.

© 2013 Lee E. Meadows
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