Sunday, May 14, 2006

Avoiding Office Politics

Considering the source, you may just want to skip right past this post, since I’ve only paid attention to political maneueverings long enough to learn how to avoid them. I’m not much of a political player at work. A few years (and positions) ago, an older colleague of mine was regularly berating me (in a caring way) for not paying attention to the political process at work. I just didn’t have the stomach for it. Still don’t. Sometimes to my detriment, actually. But I’m cool with that–at least I can sleep at night. And I mean that literally. The craziest stuff will keep me awake, so staying non-political, at the very least, is a surefire way to ensure better sleep. I assume that folks who are political at work also sleep well…they just have a higher craziness tolerance than me.

The Why
The primary reason that I stay apolitical is that it takes up too much space and time, and I’ve already got enough things to worry about. Plus, I don’t get the sense that being political would appreciably contribute to my overall efficiency or productivity. So I stay out of it.

The How
This is both simple and sublime. I strive to just be me. Here’s how, deconstructed and in no particular order:

Wear No Mask.
By “mask” I mean those identities that we assume in order to fit in better, feel more comfortable in a situation, or get people to loosen up around us. I don’t do it. Some folks think it’s a good idea to change like a chameleon to suit the situation. I think that’s a recipe for disaster. I try to be me, all the time. The guy that walks into your office is the same guy that walks into your colleague or boss’s office. What you see is what you get. One face, no mask.

Be Transparent.
Not invisible, just without guise. All my agendas are clearly visible. You want to know what I think? I’ll tell you. The words I say might make one or both of us uncomfortable, but I’ll do my best to soften them without diluting their truth.

Flex & Bend.
Rigidity is a sign of rigor mortis. I strive to be flexible and willing to hear opposing points of view. Defending a lame position for any reason is, well, lame. I don’t assume I’m the smartest person in the room, and I generally take the opinions of others at face value (this is where being apolitical can be painful, but only in the short term).

Listen To ‘Em.
This helps with the flex and it helps with the ‘no mask’ thing. I'm learning to really listen twice as much as I talk. It’s hard to do if you’re unwilling to be transformed.

Park The Ego.
This is a difficult one (and probably is for everyone), but it’s essential for me. When my ego gets wrapped up in the work, it’s too easy to start defending those lame positions mentioned earlier.

Forget The Empire.
I don’t want to be an empire builder. I’ve got my responsibilities and I attend to them. If I acquire an empire, I’ll probably never notice.

No Gossip.
I fail too often at this one. Gossip is talking about stuff that you haven’t confirmed as true. Unfortunately I slip into gossip mode too often, and I think it’s because I’m so willing to talk things out. Though censorship is a sign of politics, ironically a little greater control over the internal censor is probably well advised.

Focus On It.
What’s the business issue at hand? Focus on it. The key is to be sure I’m not being myopic about the issue I’m focusing on. Sometimes the issue is broader than my current focus.

Apologize Later.
As opposed to asking permission first. This is really just a corollary, but the willingness to act first instead of asking permission sometimes helps me avoid other people’s political quagmires.

All of the above is really what I do. I think it’s just a tad ironic that I have a plan to avoid being political, but my plan basically boils down to being consistently authentic. Seems to work pretty well.

With thanks and gratitude to the folks at