By Sara Harrup
I’ve worked in and been involved with some great organizations in my life. Places where I felt so strongly about the cause I would have sold my soul for it. Places where my salary and conditions were so good my only financial worry was when I was getting my next pedicure. If I had to pick one main issue which detracted from the fantastic positives of these organisations I would say office politics every time. When I speak to people about what they love and don’t love about their jobs they will almost universally say it’s office politics.
So what do we mean when we say office politics? We are really just talking about the human side of work. When we go to work we have to interact with people, sometimes lots of them. We don’t get to choose who we work with, unless you are the CEO and planning on clearing the decks, which is another blog altogether. When we put a bunch of people who may have nothing in common in close proximity to one another, sometimes bad things happen. People annoy each other. They talk about each other. They compete. They have different standards of work. They have different ideas about things. They make mistakes.
I could spend a whole day talking about how politics play out. I’ve seen my share and to be brutally honest I’ve been part of it. I think you would be hard pressed to find anyone who didn’t succumb at one point or another. The lessons you learn when get involved in office politics can be brutal, so don’t get involved. That in itself can be a challenge. I’ll share with you what works for me, in the hope it might work for you too.
- Focus on yourself.
How many times have you asked someone how their work is and they launch off into stories about other people at their work. When you spend all your time focusing on other people you cannot focus on you, your work, what you want to achieve. If you find yourself ruminating on someone at work who you don’t gel with, refocus your attention on your own goals and desires.
- Practice tolerance and acceptance
Most of the time people are doing the best they can for where they are at. We can assume that when people behave badly or in ways that we find difficult it is because they have ill-conceived motives, but this may not be the case and often isn’t the case. Extending tolerance and acceptance to those around us can help us to feel calmer and avoid us ascribing unflattering attributes to our coworkers.
- Assume the best, not the worst
Once you get into the thick of office politics a certain level of paranoia develops. If you walk past someone who you don’t gel with and hear them giggle you may think they are giggling about you, when they may not have given you a thought. Always assume people are acting with good intentions. You may sometimes be disappointed but a lot of the time you won’t be.
- Don’t talk about people, talk with them
We often avoid the hard conversations. Many of us find it difficult to talk to people about issues which have affected us. It’s not something that comes naturally to us. As hard as it is, it is always better to talk to people about issues rather than talk about them.
- Be aware of your ego
Our egos can get us into all sorts of trouble. They can be sneaky creatures and there is, in my view, often a delay between when your ego starts leading and you realize its dominating your actions and behavior.
- Just notice, don’t judge
Sometimes people do behave badly at work. Try to just notice their behaviour without judging it (unless it breaches legislation).
- Look for positives
If you spend your time looking for positives in your co-workers you will be much happier. A word of warning. When you first start it feels contrived and uncomfortable. It seems much easier to find the negatives. Don’t give up. Keep doing it until it comes naturally.
Sara is a Cause & Effective Associate and a highly experienced not for profit Senior Executive and Board Member.