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:
- Ethical Influence: I
- Influencing others can be difficult. Even more difficult is defining a set of approaches to influencing
that almost all of us consider ethical. Here's a framework that makes a good starting point.
- Devious Political Tactics: A Field Manual
- Some practitioners of workplace politics use an assortment of devious tactics to accomplish their ends.
Since most of us operate in a fairly straightforward manner, the devious among us gain unfair advantage.
Here are some of their techniques, and some suggestions for effective responses.
- Managing Personal Risk Management
- When we bias organizational decisions to manage our personal risks, we're sometimes acting ethically
— and sometimes not. What can we do to limit personal risk management?
- Some Truths About Lies: IV
- Extended interviews provide multiple opportunities for detecting lies by people intent on deception.
Here's Part IV of our little collection of lie detection techniques.
- More Things I've Learned Along the Way: IV
- When I gain an important insight, or when I learn a lesson, I write it down. Here's Part IV from my
personal collection. Example: When it comes to disputes and confusion, one person is enough.
See also Ethics at Work for more related articles.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming December 11: The Rhyme-as-Reason Effect
- When we speak or write, the phrases we use have both form and meaning. Although we usually think of form and meaning as distinct, we tend to assess as more meaningful and valid those phrases that are more beautifully formed. The rhyme-as-reason effect causes us to confuse the validity of a phrase with its aesthetics. Available here and by RSS on December 11.
- And on December 18: The Trap of Beautiful Language
- As we assess the validity of others' statements, we risk making a characteristically human error — we confuse the beauty of their language with the reliability of its meaning. We're easily thrown off by alliteration, anaphora, epistrophe, and chiasmus. Available here and by RSS on December 18.
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Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:
- Get 2001-2 in Geese Don't Land on Twigs (PDF, )
- Get 2003-4 in Why Dogs Wag (PDF, )
- Get 2005-6 in Loopy Things We Do (PDF, )
- Get 2007-8 in Things We Believe That Maybe Aren't So True (PDF, )
- Get 2009-10 in The Questions Not Asked (PDF, )
- Get all of the first twelve years (2001-2012) in The Collected Issues of Point Lookout (PDF, )
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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.