November 30, 2011
How to steer clear of messy office politics
Q: What’s the best way for a newbie to avoid office politics and still fit in with the rest of the crowd?
-- Dave in Chicago, via Facebook
A: You may want to sit down, because I’m about to go Greek mythology on this question.
In Homer’s tragically long poem “The Odyssey,” the heroic Odysseus and his ship-bound roommates must pass “the sirens,” bird-women who live on an island and hypnotize sailors with their voices, causing their ship to crash on the rocky shores.
Gossips, cynics and backstabbers are the sirens of the workplace. They’re seductive, particularly to newcomers, and they’re awfully hard to avoid.
Odysseus made it past the sirens by having his crewmen tie him to the mast and fill their ears with wax. That approach doesn’t seem applicable to the workplace, so I consulted some career experts.
Bud Bilanich, a career coach in Denver who calls himself “The Common-Sense Guy,” says that office cynics will invariably look to recruit a new person.
“They’re seductive, they’re often likable and every workplace is full of them,” he says. “They’re the people that didn’t get the promotion or the people who are always quick to complain about things. But if you get in with them, what you find is you start to become cynical as well, and that’s not a good tag to have associated with your name.”
Anthony Fasano, founder of Powerful Purpose Associates in New Jersey, suggests that new employees capitalize on their newness by “playing dumb” for the first few months. If someone puts a co-worker down, rather than playing along, the newbie can just say, “I don’t really know that person that well.”
Playing dumb can buy a new employee time to figure out who the players are in a workplace and, hopefully, learn who to avoid and who to follow.
Bilanich says: “If you’re new, try to identify who’s positive, who are the people who other people seem to respect and admire. Those are the people you want to be around. If you get to be known as someone who doesn’t say bad things about people, people come to trust you. It’s always the better path.”
Another tack is to take charge of the situation in a positive way. If you’re new and people are sniping and gossiping, you can make it clear -- without being snooty or a jerk -- that office politics are a drag and you don’t see the sense wasting your time with such matters.
Jessica Simko, founder of the Ohio-based company Career Brand Authority, says: “You can say something like, ‘I just came from a company that did a lot of that, so let’s find a better way to do this. Let’s find a way to make this a culture that doesn’t have all this back-stabbing and gossiping.’ Fitting in, if that’s your mind-set, you’re not going to get very far. A leader doesn’t try to fit in. A leader tries to be respected. You don’t just fall in to whatever everybody else is doing.”
In other words, channel your inner Odysseus and lead your people past the sirens. (But try not to fill anyone’s ears with wax. Human resources might not approve.)
- career profile (164)
- cool jobs (68)
- education and training (61)
- entry level (70)
- etiquette (107)
- events (71)
- featured (415)
- finding your passion (95)
- health care (73)
- interviewing (88)
- job fairs (61)
- management (89)
- market trends (92)
- networking (274)
- resumes (102)
- salary (85)
- social media (91)
- technology (113)
- unemployment (55)
- work/life balance (91)