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Can you really do anything about office politics?

April 29, 2009

[This post is dedicated to my friend in Shanghai (again) 😀 ]

People say upward mobility is the #1 reason for seeking new pastures. I disagree. I think the top reason is office politics.

You might say lousy pay is the top reason. I say lousy pay is a symptom, not a cause. The bottom line is you feel you are being treated unfairly. You might even point out that others who leave at 5pm sharp are getting more pay or a promotion while you worked harder and got stiffed. You’ll spill it out to a trusted colleague. A person passing by who catches the conversation will say, “Ah, politics!”

When I was in Singapore, a company I joined actually had a written policy that employees should not indulge in office politics. They didn’t explain what office politics was so innocent moi enquired with my boss. He said, “Talking behind people’s back, playing favorites, that kind of thing.” Right. Clear as mud but I think I got the drift.

The oldest employee, our ceo, was 28 years old. The youngest was 20. How we let off steam was unusual and might sound cornier than corn salad. We’d all sit around a large table once a week and if there were issues, rather than stab each other in the back, we’d stab each other in the front. Yeah, with brutal honesty. It was liberating too.

But perhaps it was because we were young and idealistic that we made the impossible possible. Remember how we kids used to quarrel one moment and then laugh and play together the next? We seem to lose that as we grow up.

Here’s the funny thing about office politics. Everyone complains about it but no one could tell me what it is, except to say its something he or she did. Apparently, blaming someone by email and cc-ing it to all is playing politics. Praising someone in the same manner is not. So what is it, really?

If you ask me, I think they’re both fruits from the same tree – the result of competition for scarce resources and rewards. Let’s face it, its impossible not to trample on each other’s toes in a stampede. The thing is, without scarcity you and I will not have a job. There will be no reason to do business because no one would need anything from you. Money will not change hands and we’ll all go hungry.

That’s why I think politics is the evil twin of scarcity. They’re inseparable. No company policy can stop it. If anything, the more competitive the work environment, the more intense it will get. If you thought Singapore is bad, wait till you see Hong Kong.

So when work-related emotions reach toxic levels, people throw in the towel and move on. Eventually it dawns on them that wherever they go, the game is the same. Only the players change. The only real choice left is to take the bull by the horns and deal with it.

So IMHO, no one can stop office politics but you can teach yourself some mental kung fu. Then you can sit back confidently and say bring it on.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. April 29, 2009 10:45 am

    Actually office politics are nearly everywhere whether you like it or not. It just depends on how you see it and how you react to it. Maybe I should write something bout it. ahaha. Or even, draw something about it.

    Hmm, but sometimes, the term “office politics” can be taken for granted. I’ve heard technical guys with poor communication skills, discussing among themselves that this guy A has been polishing the bosses’ shoes. A has been promoted few times, and these technical guys were jealous about him. But A is actually a close friend of mine, and he’s not someone who is into office politics. The reason for his promotion? He’s good in terms of communication and technical. He’s able to communicate a lot better than those techies. That’s why.

    But due to jealousy, the techies prefer to call him “back-stabbers”, “shoe polishers”, etc.

    Guess the people who started this office politics thingy is none other than those techies. 🙂

    Funny isn’t it. When people start a rumour, they’re just sharing information. When others do the same, its office politics. LOL. 😀

  2. April 29, 2009 1:48 pm

    well , i think its more fun being the boss ( i am sure you experience it )

    worker A bitching about worker B

    worker B bitching about worker C

    Worker C bitching about worker A

    you will hear everything ..LOL
    at the end of the day , you do not trust any of your workers

    Yup, you hear it all. Good thing my clients keep everyone busy, real busy, so there hasn’t been much time for socializing so far. 🙂

  3. April 29, 2009 6:39 pm

    mate , am just curious . how well you pay your boys ?

    what are the cause and effect , pros and cons of paying well / average and low ..maybe you can blog something on it 🙂

    Yeah I might just write about that, from a business owner’s perspective… thanks!

  4. LC Teh permalink
    April 29, 2009 9:54 pm

    Let me recommend a book on working kungfu.

    Is the book still on the shelves? I’ve flipped thru a few myself & seen techniques that range from avoidance to full onslaught. Like martial arts, the outcome will depend on the personalities involved, methinks.

  5. LC Teh permalink
    April 30, 2009 9:33 am is giving a glimpse of it here

    The cover looks hilarious, haha!

  6. LC Teh permalink
    April 30, 2009 9:40 am

    Talking about kungfu principles I always remember a line from old Bruce. “Be fluid, be formless, like water…” then you’ll survive in any situation. Unless Someone from upstairs pulls your plug, of course.

    Ah yes. The water form. Very difficult to master. Most people go into situations like a rock – stiff, stubborn, unbending. Given water time and it will erode the hardest rock.

  7. LC Teh permalink
    April 30, 2009 10:41 am

    If they fly a jumbo jet at your center, here’s somewhere you you can find shelter…. maybe.

    Hey that’s an interesting site! Thanks for the link. 🙂

  8. Glenn permalink
    May 2, 2009 3:12 am

    I was taught that “politics” was the practice of getting things done through other people. Within that broad definition, you can have anything from full cooperation to backstabbing manipulation.

    That’s a good definition. Essentially it means that saying, “Honey, can you get me a glass of milk?” will make you a politician. 🙂

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