Office Politics

Some of us are good at office politics, some not. When I was a careerist, I often said that I refused to play that game, that office politics were not for me. In truth, if there are more than two people in an office, there will be office politics, and you’d better figure out how to play.

Office politics characters courtesy

In the best of circumstances, office politics is a specialized form of communication, something you can get good at. It is a way of communicating fairly about projects, giving (rather than withholding) information, building consensus to get work done rather than backbiting, and playing nicely  with others (often called working in teams).

In real life, we aren’t always loving, generous, and open-minded. We want to have our way, we want to take the credit, we want to win and get the raise.

In the worst of circumstances, office politics is forgetting ethical restraints, putting our wants ahead of our needs, and the needs of others. In the worst of office politics we forget one of the basic rules of office behavior–we can hate someone, we can wish them ill, as long as we keep all those thoughts to ourselves. Out loud, in the office and out, we have to treat everyone with respect. Treating people we don’t like with respect is actually a brilliant move. You never know whose team you will wind up on, or who will become your boss. Treating people with respect gives you a bigger field of colleagues who will recommend you for a better job when you need it.

Not everyone is cut out for corporate life. Entrepreneurs, visionaries, and highly creative people can often do better on their own, may prefer to carry all the responsibility and get all the glory. There’s no shame in owning your own business and doing well. You’ll still need communication skills, but that comes with every career.

—Quinn McDonald is a writer, life- and creativity coach and trainer who teaches people communication skills.

2 thoughts on “Office Politics

  1. The political dimension of behavior in organizations gets even more complex when there isn’t an office, or when the physical office you’re in houses people in the same company, but who you don’t work with. I’ve seen these complications:
    – jockeying among unrelated people and departments for more desirable locations in the building (closeness to windows is good, closeness to thoroughfares bad. Usually.
    – attempts to garner favor across continents, languages, and cultures. These seem to be either so subtle they’re invisible or so blatant that they’re funny.
    – time-zone politics. I regularly attend teleconferences with people in Europe, east-coast-US, west-coast-US, Beijing China, and Bangalore India all at once. Normal work hours don’t overlap at all, so whoever gets to have the meeting during THEIR workday wins. On the other hand, attending a meeting at an absurd time (2am) gets you some political capital you can use later.
    – email politics. Two varieties: sending incredibly, unnecessarily detailed emails to show how “on top of the details” you are, and assigning action points to people in the course of an email (“…and AP to Shemp: pop Moe in the eye with your finger next Tuesday…”).
    – language politics: having an email conversation with someone in your OWN language, but copying other people you know don’t read that language.
    – language politics 2: getting away with writing things in email you shouldn’t by claiming that English is not your native tongue and you didn’t realize anyone might take offense.

    There’s another layer of political complexity in a company that uses “matrix management” where you have different managers for different parts of your job. It’s enough to make me wonder if hermits living in the middle of nowhere have to cope with politics too. Probably.

    If you ever want to write another book, I have material… 😉

    • Wow, this is horrible in even more ways than I could ever imagine. AND you worked in a 3 Stooges reference. I think YOU should write the book. Just copy memos, that would be horrible enough!

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