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A look at office politics as Cain vs. Abel

Review: Not your brother's keeper

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"Cain and Abel at Work"
By Gerry Lange and Todd Domke
Broadway Books, 222 pages, releases this week

In this story:

'You owe me'

The therapeutic model

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(CNN) -- "Cain said to Abel his brother, 'Let us go out to the field.' And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel and killed him. Then the Lord said to Cain, 'Where is Abel your brother?' He said, 'I do not know, am I my brother's keeper?' And the Lord said, 'What have you done? The voice of your brother's blood is crying to me from the ground.'"

That scripture from the Book of Genesis goes on to say, of course, that Cain went away and dwelled "in the land of Nod, east of Eden," Mr. Steinbeck.

graphic Have you ever run afoul of a Cain at work?

Yes. I know this character.
I'm not sure. People aren't that black-and-white.
No. I've never run into this personality.
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"He not only survived," write Gerry Lange and Todd Domke about Cain in their new book, "but seems to have done pretty well for himself. He courted and caught a wife and had a son -- a nice, supportive, traditional nuclear family -- and he also 'built a city and called the name of the city after the name of his son, Enoch.'"

Cain gets no breaks in what Lange and Domke are doing in "Cain and Abel at Work." Its subtitle, in fact, promises what Abel needed and didn't have: "How To Overcome Office Politics and the People Who Stand Between You and Success." The co-authors start with the premise that "There are Cains in 'the real world,'" both male and female.

"Cains operate in every kind of organization -- corporate, political, academic, military, even charitable. ... Cain is a backstabber and a liar. He is a self-motivated, manipulative and ruthless individual. He aims to control people and situations for his own advancement, using a variety of tactics to accomplish his goals."

And who is Abel? Well, as his name sounds, the key to the nice guy here is ability. "Underlying the Cain-Abel interaction," write Lange and Domke, "is a cardinal truth about human relationships: Abel's ability is a fundamental threat to Cain's personal achievement and ultimate success, and Cain knows this all too well."

'You owe me'

Domke and Lange's technique is as stark as their two visions of the U.S. employee. The chapter titles on Cain, alone, cinch the story: "The Lies Cains Tell," "Cain's Drive for Success," "Keeping Score, Stealing Credit, Placing Blame," "The Power of Image."

The co-authors assert that a Cain can be remarkably sophisticated in hiding his or her intent. In the chapter "How To Know a Cain," they write: "Cain is eager to do favors -- especially when he has to 'bend the rules' or 'shade the truth' to do so -- because it gives him leverage with people. He doesn't want to hear 'Thank you.' He wants to say, 'You owe me.' To Cain, these are the three sweetest words in the English language."

Author name
Gerry Lange  

Abel, write the authors, "is someone who has been conditioned, by his own nature and experience, to assume that good behavior will automatically be rewarded and bad behavior will be punished. Abel believes in behaving 'decently.' He is considerate of others. And his accepting and unsuspicious nature can be easily exploited by Cain."

If the main motivation for a Cain is described by these authors as self-gain, the main failing of an Abel is what Elizabethans might have called a "sweet nature." And Domke and Lange offer 27 suggestions meant to help Abels get a little smarter in the field. Each comes with some discussion in the book. Among these points of advice:

•   Be honest about your own motives.

•   Don't obsess about someone you've identified as a Cain who might harm you.

•   Don't sink to Cain's level.

•   Never underestimate a Cain.

•   Don't corner a Cain.

•   Don't expect a rational opponent.

•   Don't fall for flattery.

The therapeutic model

Maybe it comes a tad late in the book -- Chapter 14 of 18 -- but Lange and Domke have one of their best moments in a kind of viability test they perform on their subject matter.

On finding an attorney who described himself as an "extreme Abel," the co-authors write, they ended up in the therapeutic arena. The attorney's therapist led them to another and then to Norine Johnson, president of the American Psychological Association. She referred them, yet again, to another therapist.

Author name
Todd Domke  

Reference after reference, the authors found confirmation for the viability of their Cain-Abel approach. In the chapter "Psychoanalyzing Cain: Three Perspectives," Domke and Lange weave a trio of therapists' comments together into one statement -- in part, they write, so that these psychological professionals' clients don't worry that confidentiality was breached.

A couple of these therapists' comments bear quoting.

•   "Most people are Abels. There is a tendency to think of them as naive because they're well-intentioned and they assume that everyone else is also well-motivated ... unless there is evidence to the contrary. But this isn't naivete, it's normal. If someone has a positive view of life, he's justified in thinking that most people are like him. Obviously, they can be taken advantage of when they run into a Cain. Normal people can be fooled by Cain's superficial charm and surface attractiveness."

•   "Cains have a polished manner. They know what is expected by other people, then they project exactly that. And they're good at it ... precisely because they have no conscience. They don't care whether the image they are projecting is genuine. In fact, sincerity may be irrelevant to them because they are not even consciously aware that they're doing what they're doing. They don't really think much about other people at all -- they are focused on themselves, on what they want, and they don't consider much of anything but that. When they do happen to think about other people, they see them as objects to be used for advancement. This is how Cain views the world, and how he views his place in it."

"Cain is eager to do favors -- especially when he has to 'bend the rules' or 'shade the truth' to do so -- because it gives him leverage with people. ... Abel believes in behaving 'decently.' He is considerate of others. And his accepting and unsuspicious nature can be easily exploited by Cain."
— Gerry Lange, Todd Domke, "Cain and Abel at Work"

While the business section of a bookstore may be filled with guides to office politics in one form or another, "Cain and Abel at Work" is a standout for its straight-ahead concentration on the concept that there really are bad folks out there, people who'd like to get you. Domke and Lange are predictably at pains to convince you of the presence of these bad-biz seeds (hence their use of the psychotherapists' comments). The value of this book to you will depend on how well you feel they make their case.

But if you're willing to at least go along for their ride, entertain the concept of Cains among us and think, in that light, of how best an Abel can protect himself, you'll find this an interesting read on, as the authors put it, "why good things happen to bad people."


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