How To Get Out Of The Doghouse

Ever found yourself in the workplace doghouse?

Being "in the doghouse" is a British and American idiom for being in trouble with someone who has the ability to affect your life. Insubordinate athletes are often in the doghouse with their coaches. And husbands with their wives.

Or, employees with their bosses. I remember finding myself in the doghouse early in my career. A new executive joined the leadership team and moved into the office right next to the CEO. This new executive had a lot of opinions about my area of responsibility and was freely sharing those with others. In the process, he planted seeds of doubt about my leadership and I could feel, slowly but surely, that my influence was waning. I didn't feel he was playing fair. I didn't think he was right. But that wasn't the issue. The issue is that my effectiveness to lead was hampered and I needed to take action.

If you're wondering if you're in the doghouse, you probably are. Want confirmation? Ask yourself these questions:

  • Are your ideas dismissed in meetings?
  • Are your requests deferred?
  • Do people seem a little less willing to take your side or ask you out to lunch?
  • Are people asking you, "How are you?" with a look of sympathy in their eyes?

If you answer "yes" or "maybe" to these questions, you're in the doghouse and it's time to get out. Here's how:

Act quickly. The doghouse is self-reinforcing. The longer you're in the doghouse, the more people will forget that you were ever allowed in the big house in the first place, and the less your ideas will get through.

Be humble. Make it easy for people to give you feedback by admitting that you know something is wrong. Ask them for their insights and advice. I ate humble pie with my boss as well as the new dog. I didn't actually have to say, "I'm sorry" to the new dog, but I did let him know that I was ready to work more effectively with him. I did so by reaching out and expressing sincere interest in understanding his perspectives and ideas. Over time, we came to an agreement about the critical priorities and jointly pitched the supporting strategies and tactics to the CEO and ensured that our organizations were lined up accordingly.

Be patient. It will take at least as much time to get out as it took to get in. Being in the doghouse probably hit you by surprise. But it didn't happen overnight. I was vulnerable to the new dog's nifty tricks because there were a few other dogs that felt snubbed and wanted my attention as well.

Go overboard. Perceptions die hard. Don't give anybody a reason to question your commitment. Postpone vacations. Arrive early. Leave late. Follow the advice of great marketing pros: tell them what you are going to do, tell them that you are doing it, and tell them you got it done.

Ask for help. If you need help, ask for it. You didn't misbehave on purpose. You did so inadvertently, either because you didn't know what to do or how to do it given the resources at your disposal. Surround yourself with the people who complement your skills. And if you need more arms and legs, figure out how to get them.

Solidify your base. Even your supporters will question their judgment in light of your new residence. Stay connected to the other important dogs in your pack and don't neglect them and your other responsibilities.

Be confident. Everybody finds themselves in the doghouse at one time or another in their career. It doesn't really matter that you are in trouble. What matters is how you rebound from adversity and demonstrate resilience. An occasional visit to the doghouse won't derail your career unless you are defensive, can't play well with others, continue to fall short of expectations, or refuse to learn from your mistakes.

For me it was miserable being in the doghouse. But with the right attitude and a lot of hard work, I learned a few new tricks and used the experience to my longer-term benefit.

How about you? Ever been in the doghouse? How did you get out?

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