Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Office Politics - Ignore them at your peril

“Feeling resentment is like taking poison yourself and waiting for the other person to die.”

Ponder those words. They are gold. Many have been credited with them but whoever said them originally was truly insightful.

How much resentment do you harbour? Especially at work. Is it harming the other person or just you?

Resentment causes heaps of stress yet so much stress at work is avoidable.

How? By understanding and dealing with the emotions and feelings that underpin office politics and developing an approach to minimise their negative impact on you.

I hate office politics

Many people say they don’t want to be involved in office politics. Is that you? Do you say ‘I loathe the politics’, ‘I avoid politics’, ‘I refuse to play politics?

If you do, that’s the equivalent of committing organisational suicide.

And if you are a manager, paying too much or too little attention to office politics means you had better start looking at the jobs vacant ads.

Poor engagement, increased internal competition, conflict, withholding of knowledge and information, lack of innovation, missed strategic opportunities, reduced productivity – these are just a few of the ramifications of not attending to negative political behaviour.

And we haven’t even begun to talk about the impact on health, morale, trust and faith in the leaders.

So what’s at the core of office politics?

Self-preservation. Survival in the corporate jungle. Protecting your status and resources. Mimicking the behaviours of others to get the results you want for yourself.

Here are some examples of office behaviour that people shared with me recently:

* ‘Blatant favouritism/nepotism displayed by the 'leader' of the team’
* ‘Taking credit for something they did not do’
* ‘Manager using aggressive language to intimidate others to achieve own agenda’
* ‘People are afraid to speak up & voice their true opinion at risk of losing their jobs’
* ‘Power play within management affecting the success of the project’
* ‘Insecure boss trying to dodge criticism by lying about his staff’
* ‘Non-communication of important information’
* ‘Bullying, intimidation, spreading untrue rumours’
* ‘Pitting employees against other employees’
* ‘Denial of involvement in something that didn't go as expected’
* ‘Instructed to withhold information from Board’

Why do we do it?

We have to go back to the era of hominids to understand why people continue to engage in back-stabbing, manipulation and the ‘dark side’ of engaging with others; why people still become fearful, anxious, suspicious and cynical.

As you know, I call it The Almond Effect®. It’s when our inbuilt human survival system mistakes what other people are doing in the office for an ambush of sabre-tooth tigers.

So we react biologically to the threat as if the people were killer animals - though we modify our  behaviour to fit the work environment.

We respond with anger, gossip, poor performance, back-chatting, presenteeism and withdrawal of discretionary labour. We close our doors, roll our eyes, miss meetings, deliver poor customer service and challenge everything the boss wants us to change.

It’s hard to believe that human relationships have not evolved since the era of Neanderthals. But we clearly haven’t in some regards.

Tips to survive in the office jungle

Understanding and managing The Almond Effect® - it drives much of office politics -  is the critical first step in successfully navigating your way through your organisation’s political environment.
That and some other important strategies to shore up your career.

If you are a manager:

* Examine your own contribution – ask yourself: ‘what would it be like to work for me?’
* Set the standard and walk your talk
* Do not tolerate bad behaviour even from your most productive people
* Delegate effectively and don't meddle
* Ensure accountability goes with responsibility
* Create psychological safety for your people to talk to you

And as an employee:

* Performance is not enough – you also need EQ
* Inter-personal relationship skills are essential
* Check: Are you consciously/ subconsciously a contributor to office politics?
* Manage your emotional brain
* Build credibility through visibility and integrity, not negativity
* Grow your networks
* Manage upwards
* Maintain perspective: fight only the battles that count and let stuff go


Lauren Huynh said...

Hi Anne, Can I ask a question? What should I do if I have a boss who is threatened of me because I am a good performer? Should I then dumb down in order to build a better relationship with him? But that isn't exactly good for the organization and for me personally either. My boss seems to really like this other guy in our team as he is a complete brown-noser, plus not the sharpest tool in the shed. So do I need to grovel, suck up to people and dumb down in the workplace to get ahead? I feel like it would be selling my soul. It seems so ridiculous that I have spent 6 years working my arse off for a good degree and then to have to do this.

Anne Riches said...

Hi Lauren, there is a quote I love: 'Feeling resentment is like taking poison yourself and waiting for the other person to die.'
In other words, make a decision about what is best for you - 'selling your soul' or honouring your hard work and accomplishments and dealing with any consequences of being good at what you do. If you are not valued where you are, that's their loss particularly if you take your skills and talents elsewhere.