Handling Office Politics
I wanted to understand from different professionals as to what is it that bothers them the most at the workplace. One thing which came out strongly was that they wanted to know how to handle office politics. It made me think a lot, basically from three perspectives. Firstly, the reason behind the existence of office politics, since I’ve always believed it should not exist, secondly, how to eradicate it if it exists, and thirdly, even if we accept its existence, how do we handle it?
It takes me back to the days when I had just started my career. I remember observing a group of people whom I never noticed doing any significant work but they would still get very good ratings. Maybe they worked and I did not notice, but I felt that they got good ratings because they were close to the boss and he would always be happy with them. I would find them in the limelight at most of the evening parties and important functions. So I observed them closely and wondered if this was the way to move up in your career without actually working hard. It looked interesting because here I was breaking my back working from morning to late evening and trying to get results. But somebody else would always be the first to communicate it to the key people or talk about it in different forums and I would be left behind.
I thought, why should I be facing this if the easiest way out is to just keep your boss happy, attend all the parties, talk nicely to him, ensure that you get credit for what’s happening, spend a lot of time in rumor mongering so I could pick up the grapevine flowing in the office and communicate it to him? It seemed like a lucrative messenger’s position. So I decided to try it. For a couple of days I stopped working, focused more on the requirements and whims and fancies of my boss. I started talking to people around me to collect gossip.
Soon after the second day, when I was going off to sleep, I was lying in my bed and realised I hated myself. I felt very miserable about what I was doing. I don’t think I have felt so low about myself at any other point in my life. I realised this had to stop. I couldn’t do it anymore. I realised I cannot lie, gossip, indulge in character assassination, spend time in useless parties, just to please my boss. This was not who I am. If it meant I didn’t move up in my career, so be it. It was more essential for me to have a clear conscience so I could sleep peacefully without any guilt.
That was the turning point and the next day when I went to work I was back to my usual routine. I stopped bothering about what people said and what they were doing. My happiness rested in innovating at work, getting customers, changing systems for better customer service and being the best in what I do – innovating, thinking. I was clear to myself that I wouldn’t worry about what the others were saying, what my boss was thinking, whether I’d get credit – I would only do what made me happy. Everything else was immaterial. This decision made a huge difference in my outlook towards the things that were happening around me.
Now, if I fast forward to the present, after so many years of working in different offices, I know I took the right decision. I’ve seen enough of office politics and people who indulge in it. And as for the people whom I mentioned earlier, they could not sustain their so-called growth or happiness for a long time. You might be successful in the short term if you play the game of office politics, but if you lack a core substance, a good understanding of the business, you cannot make it big. If you want to really make it big, the last thing you should bother about is office politics. If your character is strong, you should never be a part of it.
It’s perfectly fine to have an opinion and to state what you feel is right. It may please some and displease some others. But if you state something in front of one person, you must be able to stand by it in front of anyone else. If that is what you believe, and it is good for the person and the organization, I don’t think there is any harm in doing so. Believe me, rumor mongering, pleasing others, trying to take credit – none of these will add any value to your career. I’m sure those who have had prior experience will agree with this.
But, is it possible to prevent all this? No, I think, it is associated with some primary human trait. I discovered this at a time when I tried to create a culture where this would stop. Yet, it didn’t. I tried to reduce it but there will always be some people who love playing the game. This is why you will see a lot of magazines and channels just survive on this sort of stuff.
But our reactions can obviously be different. We can focus on what makes us happy, improve on the delivery of our work and try to be a better human being. That is the only way you can handle office politics. The more you try to handle it differently, the deeper you will descend. Focus on developing your core values and strengths. From my experience I believe you’ll have an 80% chance of being better than somebody who resorts to other means.
I also did a bit of a survey to understand if there’s any office which can officially state they do not have any office politics. I was very disappointed because as per the statistics, around the world in every organization, there are 50-60 percent employees engaging in office politics. I would love to believe that the percentage is much lower in my company. The day it becomes zero will be the best day for our company. Because then, we shall be unbeatable in whatever we do and achieve.