Workplace Politics vs. Integrity
by Rick Brenner
A reader wrote recently of wanting to learn "to effectively participate in office politics without compromising my integrity." It sometimes seems that those who succeed in workplace politics must know how to descend to the blackest depths, and still sleep at night. Must we abandon our integrity to participate in workplace politics?
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
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.
In workplace politics, as in Life, there are no guarantees. Participation entails risk. By managing that risk sensibly, you can participate at your own level of comfort. Top Next Issue
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More articles on Ethics at Work
- You Have to Promise Not to Tell a Soul
- You're at lunch with one of your buddies, who's obviously upset. You ask why. "You have to promise not to tell a soul," is the response. You promise. And there the trouble begins.
- Tornado Warning
- When organizations go astray ethically, and their misdeeds come to light, people feel shocked, as if they've been swept up by a tornado. But ethical storms do have warning signs. Can you recognize them?
- When You Aren't Supposed to Say: Part I
- Most of us have information that's "company confidential," or possibly even more sensitive than that. When we encounter individuals who try to extract that information, we're better able to protect it if we know their techniques.
- When You Aren't Supposed to Say: Part III
- Most of us have information that's "company confidential," or even more sensitive than that. Sometimes people who want to know what we know try to suspend our ability to think critically. Here are some of their techniques.
- 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.
See also Ethics at Work for more related articles.
I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates.
Contact me for details at rbrenner@ChacoCanyon.com
or (617) 491-6289, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.
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