A reader asks about the pervasive problem of office politics. I’ll begin my answer with some introductory remarks. Then I will share her e-mail so you get a sense of her overall situation. After that I will respond point by point. I have numbered the paragraphs in her e-mail so I can refer to their number, instead of repeating what she wrote. Finally, I will end with some concluding remarks.
I thank our reader for raising the important issue of office politics. The office environment is like a family environment. Coworkers, like family members, may experience rivalry, frustration, a struggle for recognition, and a desire to become leader of the pack. In the struggle to assert oneself, harsh words and devious deeds may take place. Yes, the struggle may be painful, but in your heart, how can you blame family members or coworkers for lashing out at you? After all, their criticism says less about you than it does about them. They act spitefully not because they are vicious at heart, but because they are scared, insecure, and feel under attack. When we awaken to this fact, it becomes easier to accept others and realize that we’ve got to learn how to get along if we wish to succeed in life.
Enough of an intro, let’s move on to our reader’s e-mail.
“I read about manipulative people and how we should not let them take advantage of us, and I read ‘Nasty People’ and how we should look at them (1).
“What if a colleague pretends to be busy. She told our boss that I am not working as hard as I should, and that I come to work late. She destroyed the opinion that my boss had of me, which was excellent. And she spends half of the day on the phone or working on her second job, which nobody knows about (2).
“What do you do when she decides to do only the work she thinks is important? And she even has the nerve to ask me to do trivial things. What do you do in such a case? Do you let her be or do you talk to somebody (3)?
“How do I erase the feelings of unfairness that destroy my peace of mind, undermine my status at work (4) and rob me of the benefits I should have (5)?
“This problem has been going on for four years now and it’s a source of great stress and sadness for me. I often wanted to go to the boss and open his eyes but I don’t want to nail anybody, and I would look like the one at fault. When I get compliments from people I work with or people that I help, she becomes unbearable. And I’m five years older than her with much more experience, and a higher I.Q. and E.Q. (6)
“Something else, I love people and my nature is to help them. That’s why when I read articles and books about personal development, I want to share the word with all the people I know (7).”
Here are my comments to our reader. 1) Who do you suppose will be more successful in life, Mr. X who is reading “How to Get along with Others” or Mr. Y who is reading “How to Protect Yourself from Manipulative People”? Can you see how Mr. X is thinking about WE while Mr. Y is thinking about ME? Can you see how Mr. X is working from the assumption that all people are decent and worthy of friendship while Mr. Y believes others are out to get him and cannot be trusted? Are you surprised that Mr. X has many friends and feels in control of his life while Mr. Y is under stress, unhappy, and feels like a victim?
Attitude is everything. And attitude is a choice, whether subconscious or conscious. When we allow ourselves to react to events by automatically acting according to our feelings, we make our choices subconsciously. It is only when we are aware of our thoughts and feelings and think them through BEFORE we act that we make conscious choices. You can choose to change your attitude. You can choose to think like Mr. X. Here’s how:
a. Become aware of your thoughts and feelings.
b. Whenever you’re feeling stressed, ask yourself, “How DO I feel about this?”
c. Ask yourself, “How would I LIKE to feel about this?”
d. Ask yourself, “How do I CHOOSE to feel about this?”
e. After making your decision, ask yourself, “How do I feel about this NOW?
Chances are you can bring about a change in attitude with this simple exercise. If you repeat it as often as necessary, you’ll grow better and better each time. By changing the words in the exercise, you can also change your behavior. Just ask yourself the following questions: “What am I DOING about this? What would I LIKE to do about this? What do I CHOOSE to do about this? What am I going to do about this NOW?
Reread your words in paragraph 2. Can you see that what you are saying is that you are superior to your coworker? Do you really think you can harbor such thoughts without her being aware of how you feel? How do your feelings about her make her feel? If she feels threatened by you, it isn’t surprising that she will attack in some way.
3) You need to direct your attention, not on your coworker or boss, but on yourself. Ask yourself what can you do to make their jobs easier. Don’t you agree with George Elliot (the pen name of Mary Ann Evans, 1819 ~ 1880) that “What do we live for, if not to make the world less difficult for each other?”
4) You restore your peace of mind by opening your heart. Don’t worry. you will be appreciated when you appreciate others. Remember, you have it in your power to destroy your ‘enemies’ by making them your friends.
5) Regarding benefits you should have, don’t confuse your accomplishments with entitlement. Of course you are doing a good job; that’s why you have been hired and why you are being paid. But if you work on bringing harmony to the workplace, additional benefits may come your way.
6) Whoops, there you go again saying you are superior. Don’t belittle your coworker; after all, you have to be little to belittle. It’s great that you have experience and a high I.Q. and E.Q., but people don’t CARE how much you KNOW until they KNOW how much you CARE.
7) Great! I’m sure you want to make a difference in the world. It’s just that your own insecurities, suspicions, and judgments are blocking the way. What is true for you is also true for your coworker. Wouldn’t it be helpful if some wise, thoughtful person could come along and reconcile the situation? Well, that special someone can be YOU. When you make that difference, like Lily Tomlin, you will say to yourself, “I always wondered why somebody doesn’t do something about that. Then I realized I was somebody.”
Finally, for an overall personal development tune-up, you may want to read: SHUT UP, STOP WHINING & GET A LIFE, A Kick-Butt Approach to a Better Life” by Larry Winget.
I realize my advice may appear as “blame the victim,” simplistic, unrealistic, and Pollyannaish. But it is based on personal experience and the experience of those I have mentored. People are decent and worthy of our support. Yes, some of them are wounded, and as a result act cruelly. But the worse of enemies can become the best of friends and your powerful ally. The answer my friend, is not blowing in the wind, it is lying in your heart. Open it.
If my comments were unexpected and painful, remember that what you have been doing wasn’t working. If you want different results, you’ve got to do things differently. Your task, then, is to befriend everyone and gladly help all members of the team. Take a good second look at your coworker and ask yourself what you respect and admire about her. If you look for the good, you will find it. Also, ask yourself what is good about the situation you are now in. What can you learn from it? What good will come from it? Be thankful for your job and appreciative of your coworkers. And don’t keep your gratitude secret; express it. When you befriend everyone, it is impossible to lose, for should you later decide to leave the company to advance your career, those you’ve helped will support you and act as references.
For more ideas on dealing with this problem, check out “YOU CAN WIN AT OFFICE POLITICS: Techniques, Tips, and Step-by-Step Plans for Coming Out Ahead” by Robert I. Bell.
Also see “SECRETS TO WINNING AT OFFICE POLITICS: How to Achieve Your Goals and Increase Your Influence at Work” by Marie G. McIntyre.