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Avoid the office politics trap.

It is hard to separate this kind of advice from economic lessons in running a business, when office politics can threaten a business in ways that are subtle, but sometimes just as devastating as economic shocks or continuing poor management.

Most any office with more than one level of management (more than ten employees) can become a Petri dish for office politics.  It may be human nature to attempt to gain the good graces of one’s superior in the work place.  But it is a perverse form of human nature to do so at the expense of others.  Some employees disrupt a business intentionally in order to gain attention and an advantage over fellow employees.

Advanced Berkonomics soft front cover-smallOther times, people with personal agendas or personal dislikes of other individuals will disrupt the harmony of an office environment with negative statements, rumors, and damning comments.  We’ve all seen this unhealthy form of human activity in an office environment at one time or another.

So here’s the advice:  Never repeat, encourage, or even listen to the personal attacks by one individual against another within the organization.  The first time you join in the conversation instead of stopping it, the first time you nod in agreement, the first time you take a side as a manager –is the last time you rule over an office-politics-free organization.

[Email readers, continue here…]  A boss has power that person doesn’t often realize s/he has, when viewed from the lens of a subordinate.  That power becomes perverse when a boss takes a side in any disagreement that is personal as opposed to business-problem oriented.  The result is almost always hurt, frustration and anger from the party on the wrong end of such manager reinforcement, and a loss of work time and certainly good will toward the organization and toward management itself.

To set the example by stopping the personal attack, refocusing the parties on productive work and moving on is to state by your words and actions that you will not tolerate such behavior in the work place.  To ignore such action when observed is to allow one person or a small group to undermine the organization in subtle steps that can only increase in size and effect.

Worse yet, to take a side in a personal dispute is to reduce your authority and alienate one person or group and reinforce bad behavior.

  • In larger companies, avoid interdepartmental sniping. If you’re in engineering, don’t call the marketing people names — you’ve heard them all. And vice versa.

    Your job is to bridge the gap between all of the other departments and yours. Get to know people in marketing, finance, engineering, research, law, and sales. You’ll find that they are doing their best for the company you all work for and will do it better if you and your coworkers don’t snipe at them behind their backs.

    Everyone would like to think they work in the “best” department, but that’s just not so. In a healthy company, they’re all equal.

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