Enterprise Software

Readers offer ideas for avoiding office politics

Bogged down in a client's company politics? TechRepublic members offer their strategies to avoid negativity, maintain objectivity, and get the job done.


In a recent article, "Five ways to avoid company politics," we shared the advice offered by TechRepublic featured member Ivan Belis. His five strategies were:
  1. Listen, but do not complain.
  2. Do not choose sides.
  3. Stay in contact with colleagues at other firms.
  4. Don't mix business with pleasure—or drinking.
  5. If all else fails, remove yourself from the situation.

We had a large response to the article. Other TechRepublic readers had their own ideas about avoiding company politics. Here’s what they had to say.

Maintain the chain of command
Dave Daurelle wrote in to remind us that office politics climb the ladder to our supervisor’s level and above.

“If the politics are bad, restrict yourself to working only with your supervisor and those reporting to you, and keep your supervisor updated regarding who you are working with in other departments,” he suggested. “Unless it's personal politics that are swirling around you, the politics are going to show up at your supervisor's level as well. If [supervisors] are not updated, they can easily be blindsided at the next meeting.

“If things are still bad, get human resources involved,” Daurelle added. “That's part of their problem domain.”

Don’t try to fix someone else’s problem
TechRepublic member Joost Vissers wrote that it’s easier to adhere to Belis’ guidelines when you remember that “to successfully implement these guidelines, you have to keep in mind: It's not your company! You’re passing through!

“My current customer has a dinner party every month and keeps inviting me. It's their way of saying, ‘Thank you all for your good work.’ But I'm not one of them, so I don't belong there. I have dinner with my own contracting firm. Being the 'guest’ makes it easier to stay clear of politics. As long as the management is acting like a good 'host,' you're in the clear. Like The Hitchhiker’s Guide to The Galaxy says, react to office politics as if they are ‘somebody else’s problem’—don’t ever take it personally.”

Suggestions for working with difficult people
What happens if certain people you work with drive you crazy? How can you improve those difficult peer-to-peer relationships? Bar Jabba wrote in to describe his improved relationship with a difficult person.

“We are kind of like siblings now. We play Unreal Tournament (an action, shoot-‘em-up video game). We laugh and exchange insults from time to time. However, we know when not to bother each other. We know when we aren't happy, and [we] respect and give some room to each other.

“Anyway, I found room for what I think is an annoying person. I am sure I do annoy him as well, and he has [found room] for me.”

Bar Jabba offered some suggestions for getting around a “lack of comfort and camaraderie”:
  • There are things to like about a person. Identify those things.
  • Invite that person to a game of golf or a barbeque. Even if this person does not accept, it is the outstretched hand that will warm up a potentially chilly atmosphere.
  • Find ways to show that the person is helping you or is effectual within the group.

Then he flipped the proverbial coin and told us about “the balanced side”:
  • Do not placate this person too much. Too many gushy interactions will make you the bothersome person. You do not want to look like a brownnoser.
  • If there is an opportunity to speak to this person, tell each other what bothers each of you. Then you can ‘work’ around it in mutual respect.

Dissension on the discussion boards: Socializing can be good
Some readers participating in the Discussion disagreed with some of Belis’ strategies. MCDY offered an alternate point of view on strategies two and four.

“I disagree with strategy two (Do not choose sides). I think you actually need to choose sides in a debate, especially when you're in consulting. People hire you to advise them. A fence-sitting consultant with no opinion isn't all that valuable.

“What you should avoid is getting into a situation where you keep siding with one faction even though you don't agree with what they're saying. In this case, you're definitely just playing politics, and you're not worth your rates as a consultant.

“I also disagree with strategy four (Don't mix business with pleasure—or drinking). As the article [says] in strategy one—you can gain a lot of valuable insight into the inner workings of a company or department from complaints and laments.

“Don't avoid corporate socials if you're just afraid of ‘unproductive, negative chatter.’ Respect strategy one in such cases, and view any problems or complaints as opportunities where you can add value to your client.

“People are social creatures. In general, I prefer working with people I know and like rather than strangers. Giving your client opportunities to get to know you better in a social context can only help you, provided you continue to behave professionally even in social settings.

Peter Ortenzi also had a problem with strategy four. He wrote that socializing can be a good thing as long as you’re obeying the “listen, but do not complain,” and “do not choose sides” directives.

“Building relationships in your office is key to success in the consulting business,” he wrote. “If no one knows who you are and what you can do, you may as well not be there. Use it as a tool by taking command of your conversations, and drive towards client and solution focus. When you connect with the people that share your vision, it's easier to build successful teams that will better serve your clients.”
Have complaints ever alerted you to an unforeseen problem within a company? Send us an e-mail and tell us how your sensitivity to office politics saved the day.

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