Office Politics

Civility at Work

Unfortunately, disrespect for one's co-workers isn't that uncommon. And it often causes people to leave their jobs. For employers this means losing good people, and then having to hire and train new ones. For co-workers it means having to get used to working with new people, and picking up the slack until new employees can be found. The saddest part of the lack of respect in the workplace is that many people don't realize they are being disrespectful. They aren't trying to hurt someone's feelings. They just aren't trying to not do that. Barbara's boss, for example, was doing what he felt was best for his pets. He thought leaving them at home was cruel. He may have even felt that his employees would enjoy having the dogs there. He didn't consider the negative effect the dogs might have on someone.

The Actions to Avoid

How can we avoid offending the people we work with? It seems as if it should be blatantly obvious. But if it were I wouldn't even be writing this article. Let's take a look now at actions that may offend your co-workers.

  • Having loud telephone conversations
  • Not cleaning up after yourself in the staff kitchen
  • Showing up late for meetings
  • Looking at a co-worker's computer screen over his or her shoulder
  • Taking supplies from a co-worker's desk
  • Neglecting to say please and thank you
  • Wearing too much perfume
  • Chewing gum loudly
  • Taking the last of something without replacing it
  • Talking behind someone's back
  • Asking someone to lie for you
  • Blaming someone else when you are at fault
  • Taking credit for someone else's work
  • Asking a subordinate to do something unrelated to work, i.e. run errands
  • Espousing your political or religious beliefs
  • Opening someone else's mail
  • Sending unwanted email
  • Telling offensive jokes
  • Smoking in common areas
  • Not pulling your own weight
  • Complaining about the company, boss, and co-workers
  • Having a condescending attitude toward others

Office Politics

You don't have to work in an office to be familiar with office politics. Anyone who has ever had any job, anywhere, knows that the dynamics among those who are part of the work environment play an important part in how a business is run. Apparently office politics is an increasing problem according to a study. “Eighteen percent of an administrator's time - more than nine weeks out of every year is spent resolving conflicts among employees”.

Besides causing problems for the individuals who work together, the end result can be far more devastating. Employees and managers who must concentrate on the political aspects of work may have less time to pay attention their jobs. This translates into financial loss which may in turn translate into job loss. Author Gerald Graham talks about ways in which managers can lessen the effect politics have on companies in “Eliminate Office Politics and End Many Problems in Companies.”

Office politics is something most people recognize when they see it in action, but find difficult to define. “Office Politics: Do You Play or Pass” defines it as “...the use and misuse of power in the workplace” (Alesko, Michael. “Office Politics: Do You Play or Pass,” Today's Careers). This definition implies that office politics is not necessarily a bad thing. I agree that it isn't always bad and it certainly isn't avoidable. Therefore we must learn to cope with it.

In any game, in order to succeed you must know the rules. Office politics can be the most competitive game of all. The stakes are quite high - succeed and you get to keep your job or get promoted - lose and you may be pounding the pavement looking for a new job. When dealing with office politics, having a set of rules is a good idea. Reading up on the subject is also wise.

Rules for office politics

  • Keep it professional at all times.
  • Play the game being played, not the one you want or think should be played.
  • Don't make enemies. Don't burn bridges.
  • Don't whine and complain.
  • Don't intimidate superiors. Try to avoid going over your superior's head.
  • Don't make others look bad.
  • Don't criticize employees or bosses.
  • Couch criticism in terms of employer's interests, not personal.
  • Help others get what they want.
  • Establish affiliations of mutual advantage with important people.
  • Find common ground with others.
  • Don't discuss personal problems.
  • Selectively self-disclose.
  • Don't assume anything will stay secret.
  • Create win/win solutions.
  • Keep employer's perspective in mind.
  • Cultivate a positive, simple, accurate image.
  • Force yourself to do difficult, uncomfortable or scary things.
  • Be pleasant. Laugh and smile.
  • Be assertive and tough when required, not aggressive.
  • Don't oversell. Be natural. Develop your own style.


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