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BEWARE OF OFFICE POLITICS

Posted by Tim Bryce on June 10, 2013

BRYCE ON MANAGEMENT

– There’s no avoiding it, regardless of the type or size of company.

(Click for AUDIO VERSION)
To use this segment in a Radio broadcast or Podcast, send TIM a request.

When we join a new company, we’re all hoping for a fresh start and clean slate. The last thing we want is to get embroiled in political intrigue, regardless of how petty it might seem. Most of us just want to do our work and move along with our lives. Even if this were so, which is rarely the case, we must still deal with “political correctness” as defined by society; we have to recognize certain protocols in our mannerisms, language, and conduct. So, even before we get started in a new job, we have to recognize there is going to be some form of politics, like it or not. I remember visiting a manufacturing company in the Midwest where a Vice President proudly said to me, “You’ll like this place Tim, there’s no politics here whatsoever.” And I think he firmly believed it too. In reality, they had more cutthroat politics than I had ever seen before.

Whether you are a new employee or a visiting consultant, one of the first things you have to determine about a company is its pecking order. An organization chart makes a convenient road map in this regards, but it doesn’t truly define the power structure in a company. For example, a weak manager may actually draw his strength from a powerful assistant. Nonetheless, it is important to identify the fiefdoms of the company, who the key players are, and who the allies and adversaries are. Without such knowledge, you will inevitably trip into some political dispute or become an unwitting pawn in a power play. The best advice in the early going is to simply keep your eyes and ears open, and your mouth shut.

Aside from the power players in an organization, the three most common types of political animals you will encounter are the Suckup, the Radical, and the Saboteur. The Suckup (aka “Brown Noser”) essentially has no spine and is the perennial “Yes Man” to the boss. The boss says “Jump” and the Suckup says, “How High?” But the Suckup has a political agenda of his own which typically is an advancement through the assistance of the boss. He therefore bends over backwards to please the boss at the expense of losing the respect of his coworkers.

The Radical represents “the bull in the China shop” or “loose cannon” and is best known for revolting against the status quo, not quietly but loudly, and is not afraid of stepping on a few toes along the way. In many ways he is like Sherman’s march to the sea. Perhaps his mission is correct, and perhaps it isn’t. Regardless, this type of person has a slim chance of succeeding as his detractors will work overtime to undermine him. When dealing with such a person you basically have two choices: either join him and hope for the best, or get the heck out of his way so that you are not run over.

The Saboteur is perhaps the most viscous of the three and can probably best be characterized as the “conniving weasel” or “backstabber” who schemes to make the lives of others miserable. He is driven by petty jealousy and wants desperately to be seen as a power broker in his institution. Since he has no real life of his own, the Saboteur gets his jollies by undermining anybody that garners more attention than he does. Whereas the Suckup and the Radical can be dealt with politically, the Saboteur is a pest that must be exterminated.

Office politics is about loyalty and trust. At some point, you will be asked to choose sides and this to me is what makes office politics ugly. I might understand this in government politics, but not in a company where we are all suppose to be on the same team. Politics is an inherent part of the corporate culture; some companies deplore it, others thrive on it. I guess it’s a matter of whether a company values the concept of teamwork or rugged individualism. I have found there is much less politics in companies promoting the former versus the latter. Either way, my advice to anyone joining a new company, be it a corporation or nonprofit organization, is actually quite simple: “En Garde!”

Keep the Faith!

Note: All trademarks both marked and unmarked belong to their respective companies.

Tim Bryce is a writer and the Managing Director of M&JB Investment Company (M&JB) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 30 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at timb001@phmainstreet.com

For Tim’s columns, see:
timbryce.com

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Copyright © 2013 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.

NEXT UP:  OFFICE GOSSIP – Does your business promote or squelch idle gossip?

LAST TIME:  RESISTING CHANGE – Who is defending the status quo in your business? Are they right?

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5 Responses to “BEWARE OF OFFICE POLITICS”

  1. Alex Menin said

    Dear Tim,

    Unfortunately I know very well what the Saboteur is, from a past job:

    – schemes to make the lives of others miserable (yes) – driven by petty jealousy (she was, definitely) – wants desperately to be seen as a power broker in his institution (I think Business Analysis for Dummies is everything she ever read about requirements gathering) – Since he has no real life of his own (her daughter hates her) – the Saboteur gets his jollies by undermining anybody that garners more attention than he does (and that’s why this is my PAST job)

    I would like add one additional point to the profile of the saboteur:

    – The saboteur’s only quality is to stay in their place, and sometimes even promoted, despite their utter lack of qualities

    Like

    • Tim Bryce said

      Alex – Yes, I too have seen my fair share of the Saboteur who exists only to make the lives of others miserable. You’re right, promotion is inconsequential to them; their mission is to defend the status quo at all costs.

      All the Best,
      Tim

      Like

  2. A D.F. of San Antonio, Texas wrote…

    “There a strategies to reduce involvement in office politics. Even though we can rarely achieve 100% avoidance the closer the better.

    I use this one – Sorry but I’m here on contract as a temp. My company doesn’t allow me to participate in the office politics at our clients. Our only political stance is we want to work with our clients longer, so please renew me, and more, so please look into the other services my company supplies to end clients. “

    Like

  3. […] Twitter Facebook ← BEWARE OF OFFICE POLITICS […]

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  4. Tim Bryce said

    An R.F. of San Francisco, California wrote…

    “Thank you for your article and this discussion. I hope it is of great use to younger people.

    I never was any good at this corporate politics stuff. I was never any good at it anywhere.

    I could tell all sorts of reasons for this, either by way of explanation or as a “sell” about myself. But that would be of zero use to those who might look to us here as elders to guide them.

    I would say this. Everywhere in the world, most people are engaged in the action of “doing-power”, one way or the other. It is a thwarting action. It thwarts others, and\or this action thwarts self. It is very difficult to not be this way. The “doing-power” thing is almost a necessary survival skill. This is sad.

    The reason behind it is that everything in the illusion functions as both a stimulus to itself and a stimulus to everything else. This is problematic, by definition. The result is that in the illusion, there used to be an ebb and flow of energy exchange, going one way or the other, whenever anything stimulated anything else or was stimulated by anything at all (even self).

    The presence of stimulus produced a ramping up of an emotional response (an amplification of energy within self – – contained-energy). This then could be used for something.

    With me it typically resulted in explosive conquest of whole continents when i was only just born; then then whole galaxies as i moved into my teens; and then whole dimensions as i matured…. ROTFL

    The point is that anything i did fed off of me. It sucked up my energy. That is an act of “doing-power”, both on my part and on the part of the galaxies which sucked up all the contained energy i expended on them.

    The magnetic-fields have and are continuing to change. They will no longer support Anything or Anyone receiving energy from Anything or Anyone else. So… blowing up at something is a useless exercise… and trying to get someone to blow up at you so you can suck their energy is a useless exercise too… though no one knows this.

    So, what to do…

    I would always encourage a young man to find a way to be his own small business man.

    The smaller the operation the better. Being a “cobbler” (for example), building specialty wares for a specialty clientele that will pay you what you what is needed for the life-style you look to express as your experience, would be perfect.

    How you get to this position of becoming a private “subcontractor”, being made use of by a society\community, is another story that i don’t know how to answer. Being your own man, with a skill-set that you can trade for what you want, is the only way i know to cloister self even partly well and thus be able to stay away from the politics in the world.

    As is my traditional moniker, and attempt at wry humor, to bring some levity to each and every day because the illusion can be such a pain in the butt, let me leave you with this: Remember, this IS the illusion… so laughing at the comedy of it all is a good thing.

    And with that, may I once again raise a toast to Mirthful Irreverence Everywhere.”

    Like

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