A Solution For Office Politics

Are you tired of the political discussion?  Now that the election is over, there’s nothing left but celebrations and grousing.  Most of us had our fill of it a month ago, but it drags on.  We react by covering our ears, unfriending people and pushing back.  Then we go to work, and a different kind of politics emerges, with no election-day-end-point in sight. 

Depending on your corporate culture, office politics can rule the conversation or be a rare occurance (annoyance) in your life.  Exactly what are office politics?  My favorite non-governmental definition is: Any activity concerned with the acquisition of power or gaining one’s own ends.  That’s it on the nose. Selfish organizational behavior.  

This is why it’s bad for you to employ or get sucked up into office politics.  In the end, any good company will expunge those who aren’t adding value – and the corporate politico is always thrown out, along with his cronies.  I’ve witnessed this countless times, especially at my last employer, Yahoo!  Politics lead to turf battles, the building of silos and a decline in the company’s brand.  

While it seems impossible for a non-leader to avoid conscription, I’ve found a way to sidestep most political movements at work.  Here are my recommendations for you: 

1.  Focus on the Customer.  Always ask, “what’s in it for the end user or customer?”  When you are pushed to participate outside those boundaries, bring the conversation back to this subject. Your most senior leadership is likely aligned with this, so consider yourself covered at the top.

2. Refuse to keep secrets.  In fact, leak them if you must.  Secrets are only good for the politicos’ interests, not the Customer’s or the company.  It’s pretty easy to ‘accidently’ include people outside the circle-of-trust in email threads, exposing the politico’s selfish agenda.  

3. Stay out of the conversation.  In some cases, options #1 and #2 may not work, due to your lack of power of authority in the organization.  If you don’t do what you are told, you might get canned before the politico is brought to organization justice.  I understand this fear, and personally believe it’s usually in your mind and not reality.  The last thing the politico wants to do is have a dissident with their own agenda, talking to HR or the media about their situation.  But still, if you have this fear, the easiest thing to do is the minimum: Turn in the report, show up for the meeting, etc.  To paraphrase Viktor Frankl, ‘you can lose your liberty, but you can never lose your final freedom – your response to a situation’.  You can choose to be silent on the political issues, patiently waiting for the politico to create his or her own downfall.  

The key, then, is not to be fuel for the political fire at work.  Once you get involved beyond your job description, you are a foot soldier, not a team player.  You might be thinking, “yeah, but the politico at my company is currently ruling the division with impunity!  She got a raise last year, and looks like she’s gaining power, not losing it.” Let me assure you that this is just the middle of her movie.  If you study the history of organizations, you’ll find that they always correct politics in the end.  The concluding scene of her movie won’t be pretty.  That’s the way any good story goes.