Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 1, Issue 50;   December 12, 2001: Workplace Politics vs. Integrity

Workplace Politics vs. Integrity

by

A reader wrote recently of wanting to learn "to effectively participate in office politics without compromising my integrity." It sometimes seems that those who succeed in workplace politics must know how to descend to the blackest depths, and still sleep at night. Must we abandon our integrity to participate in workplace politics?

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
BalletSome 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.

In workplace politics, as in Life, there are no guarantees. Participation entails risk. By managing that risk sensibly, you can participate at your own level of comfort. Go to top Top  Next issue: Are You Changing Tactics or Moving the Goal Posts?  Next Issue

303 Secrets of Workplace PoliticsIs 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:

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Most of us have information that's "company confidential," or possibly even more sensitive than that. Sometimes people who try to extract that information use techniques based on misdirection. Here are some of them.
Harry Stonecipher, former CEO of The Boeing CompanyPersonnel-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?
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With the emergence of knowledge-oriented workplaces, counterproductive work behavior is taking on new forms that are rare or inherently impossible in workplaces where knowledge plays a less central role. Here are some examples.
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In knowledge-oriented workplaces, counterproductive work behavior takes on forms that can be rare or unseen in other workplaces. Here's Part II of a growing catalog.

See also Ethics at Work for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

Senator Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) speaks at a recent Senate hearingComing October 17: Overt Belligerence in Meetings
Some meetings lose their way in vain attempts to mollify a belligerent participant who simply will not be mollified. Here's one scenario that fits this pattern. Available here and by RSS on October 17.
A man, standing, explaining something to a woman, seatedAnd on October 24: Conversation Irritants: I
Conversations at work can be frustrating even when everyone tries to be polite, clear, and unambiguous. But some people actually try to be nasty, unclear, and ambiguous. Here's Part I of a small collection of their techniques. Available here and by RSS on October 24.

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