Most of us have a sense of our own integrity. There are some things we just won't do. Yet, in extreme situations, most of us would violate our personal codes. Suppose that you believe that you would never assault anyone. Ask yourself, "What if someone tried to snatch my child from me at the mall?" That example might not work for you, but try to find one that does. For most of us, it's surprisingly easy.
So it is in workplace politics. We can justify almost any action when status, self-esteem, and money are at stake — especially after the fact.
This sounds bleak, and you might wonder whether it's worth participating at all. In fact, you're already participating. Maybe you aren't at the heart of the action, but you're at least part of the audience. To stand outside of the politics, you must stand outside of the organization.
You can participate comfortably if you adopt some principles that help manage your risk. Get a small notebook and start your collection. Here are some to get you started.
- Choose your dance partners
- Some people have values that are consistent with yours. Others don't. Some people are much higher rank than you are. Others are nearer your own level. Political agreements with others who are very different from you in values or rank entail greater risk that one of you will hurt the other. Work with those with whom you're comfortable.
- Make agreements explicit
- When a colleague violates an agreement, we can feel wronged, even when the agreement was implicit and even when the colleague was unaware of the agreement. Don't assume — make all agreements explicit. People hardly ever honor agreements they don't know about.
- Make exchanges contemporaneous
- Political agreements
with others who are
very different from you
in values or rank
entail greater risk
that one of you
will hurt the other
- When an agreement involves an exchange, make sure that the exchange is contemporaneous. An exchange in which you deliver now and your partner delivers in six months is risky, because it's tempting to re-interpret the agreement once the exchange is only half-complete.
- Confidences are (almost) always broken
- When you tell someone something in confidence, expect it to get around. Almost all of us — including you! — have repeated something we agreed never to repeat. Pledges of confidentiality have short shelf lives. For more on this, see "You Have to Promise Not to Tell a Soul," Point Lookout for July 25, 2001.
- Other people don't live by your rules
- When someone has transgressed, often the transgression is a violation of your own code of ethics, but not theirs. People are free to break your personal rules. Recognize that each of us has the right to develop our own rules.
Is every other day a tense, anxious, angry misery as you watch people around you, who couldn't even think their way through a game of Jacks, win at workplace politics and steal the credit and glory for just about everyone's best work including yours? Read 303 Secrets of Workplace Politics, filled with tips and techniques for succeeding in workplace politics. More info
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More articles on Ethics at Work:
- When Others Curry Favor
- When peers curry favor with the boss, many of us feel contempt, an urge for revenge, anger, or worse.
Trying to stop those who curry favor probably isn't an effective strategy. What is?
- When You Aren't Supposed to Say: III
- Most of us have information that's "company confidential," or even more sensitive than that.
Sometimes people who want to know what we know try to suspend our ability to think critically. Here
are some of their techniques.
- On Organizational Coups d'Etat
- If your boss is truly incompetent, or maybe even evil, organizing a coup d'etat might have crossed
your mind. In most cases, it's wise to let it cross on through, all the way. Think of alternative ways out.
- Personnel-Sensitive Risks: II
- Personnel-sensitive risks are risks that are difficult to discuss openly. Open discussion could infringe
on someone's privacy, or lead to hurt feelings, or to toxic politics or toxic conflict. If we can't
discuss them openly, how can we deal with them?
- Telephonic Deceptions: II
- Deception at work probably wasn't invented at work. Most likely it is a continuation of deception in
the rest of life. But the technologies of the modern workplace offer new opportunities to practice the
art. Here's Part II of a handy guide for telephonic self-defense.
See also Ethics at Work for more related articles.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming February 27: Brainstorming and Speedstorming: II
- Recent research into the effectiveness of brainstorming has raised some questions. Motivated to examine alternatives, I ran into speedstorming. Here's Part II of an exploration of the properties of speedstorming. Available here and by RSS on February 27.
- And on March 6: A Pain Scale for Meetings
- Most meetings could be shorter, less frequent, and more productive than they are. Part of the problem is that we don't realize how much we do to get in our own way. If we track the incidents of dysfunctional activity, we can use the data to spot trends and take corrective action. Available here and by RSS on March 6.
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- The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
- Many people who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.