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Politics in the Office—A Survival Guide

We can't look out for number one because there is no number one. The world is a team.
RON MCCANN AND JOE VITALE, THE JOY OF SERVICE

Office politics is characterized by infighting, power plays, hidden agendas, manoeuvring, and pettiness. If unchecked, it can have disastrous consequences on morale and an organization's ability to meet its mandate. Here are some guidelines to help you cope:

  1. Recognize that no organization is free of politics. It is an inherent part of organizations.

  2. Understand that it is difficult to remain neutral. It's like being in a battlefield. If you're in the middle, trying to pick up bodies, you could get hit by the crossfire. It's better to learn how to play the game smart, so that you either win more often or survive a loss.

  3. Before you commit to enter a battle between two opposing camps, consider the following:

    • Pick your battles. Don't get involved in every issue. Pick those that give you a good chance of being on the winning side.

    • Get a sense of what senior people are thinking. Look at issues from their perspective and join the side that aligns with real power-brokers.

    • Only fight battles you're likely to win. Don't fight against large odds, senior people, or large numbers unless the issue is of major philosophical importance to you and you're prepared to lose your job because of it.

    • Make sure you have allies who will stand with you and defend your position. The more senior the people in your "posse," the more energy you can put into the conflict.

    • Have some empathy for the other side. See things from that point of view. Maybe there is more than one way of doing things. This way, you'll spend time on issues of real difference, instead of appearing petty on all issues.

    • Look for common ground. Often our differences are semantic but not fundamental.

    • Take the big-picture perspective. In the overall scheme of things, how important is the issue you are fighting for? Learn to let go of issues that are not important, or trade favours so you can win some battles too.

    • Maintain a sense of humour; it often breaks the tension and allows people to collaborate more readily.

    • Reduce your personal criticism of others, focusing more on issues. It's easy to fault others and just as easy for them to fault you.

  4. If you notice faction fights developing, consider these strategies:

    • Avoid joining a faction that is trying to bring down your boss. This is unethical and could easily backfire on you.

    • Avoid taking a position that is contrary to the interests of the organization.

    • Consider getting off the boat if you feel your faction is about to lose. But don't get into the opponent's boat — it's probably time to be neutral and lie low for a while.

    • Fight important battles hard. But also fight fair. Don't resort to unethical practices — they'll come back to haunt you.

    • Form alliances of your own with like-minded people. This will promote the longevity of your relationships. Teaming up with people whose values differ from your own will require you to compromise yourself and your principles.


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