April 23, 2021 • By Dennis Beaver
“Office politics,” says Boston-based Karen Dillon, “is impossible to avoid. But it is manageable if you know what not to do. As author of the Harvard Business Review Guide to Office Politics, Dillon provides a wealth of accessible, highly useful approaches to prevent being steam-rolled by nasty behavior in the workplace.
I asked her, “What are some of the worst things I could do when faced with craziness on the job from my boss or co-workers?”
1 – Take everything personally when someone talks over you, or criticizes your ideas. Fume!
Consequences: Assume that anyone who dislikes, competes, or in any way impedes your accomplishments is trying to take you down. You can drive yourself crazy by second guessing who is an ally instead of putting your energy into doing a consistently good job.
2 – Become the worst version of yourself! Get so caught up in competing with a peer, or thinking the boss has a pet that’s not you! Spend an extraordinary amount of time obsessing over the unfairness of it all.
Consequences: You are so worked up–obsessed–over what you see as unfairness that it invades your personal life at home. This can threaten the stability of your marriage, not being the parent you want to be, the friend you want to be, while you are wallowing in misery.
3 – Think only in terms of yourself. When something negative happens to you at work, immediately think of how this affects you personally, but never stop to consider whether others are also impacted.
Consequences: By only thinking of how something affects you, the opportunity to collaborate with peers in ways that can help improve the workplace for everyone is lost. You may have a colleague who is a bully, or a hyper-competitive peer. While it is normal for this to feel personal, in reality it is affecting others as well. Think beyond yourself.
4 – Micro-manage the people who report to you. Hover over their desk, their projects, and never trust them to do a good enough job.
Consequences: These people will eventually lose all respect and won’t want to work with you. You are preventing them from growing, from becoming more useful to you and to the company and from enjoying their jobs. This behavior may reveal more about your insecurity and fear of failing than their competence. You could benefit from training – as micro-managing is often the result of not knowing how to support the people who work under you
5 – See yourself as a “friend” of your boss rather than a direct report. Blur the lines between personal and professional. Over-share personal information or opinions about others at work. Assume your boss always has your back.
Consequences: By hitching your wagon to one star, you leave yourself vulnerable should that person ever leave the company or fall out of favor. Your peers may come to resent you.
6 – Align yourself with a certain group of people who are very exclusive as to who they allow in. Always go to lunch together, have inside jokes you don’t share with others.
Consequences: You will be seen by others in the company as snobbish and never having matured beyond the level of a high school student. You miss opportunities to grow and collaborate. When the power dynamic shifts–and it almost always will–you will be left out of good opportunities.
7 – Never have a difficult conversation. If you have a disagreement with a colleague, or you feel that your work has not been fairly credited, or you want to speak up and say you don’t agree with the decision that has been made, but you don’t! Instead, spiral in anger privately and never take the opportunity to try to express what’s bothering you.
Consequences: If you never develop the skills of navigating conflict in a constructive way, people eventually will stop respecting you. Some of the most successful professionals are those who find a way to work through conflict without making it personal.
8 – Assume that your personal social media posts won’t affect your job.
Consequences: Everything you say in public will eventually make its way back to your job. Act accordingly.
9 – Quit a job you like because of office politics.
Consequences: Using good listening skills and confronting issues that are challenging usually leads to understanding and harmony. If you make a good faith effort to address what’s wrong and fail, at least you tried, and then it’s ok to quit.
Dillon’s book is like taking a drink from a magical bottle that gives the reader insight and maturity. If I had it when starting out in the working world, my foot would have felt so much better for all the times I didn’t insert it in my mouth!
Dennis Beaver practices law in Bakersfield and enjoys hearing from his readers. Contact Dennis Beaver.