Office – Presidential Politics Have Lots In Common

By admin ~ November 16th, 2009 @ 3:09 am

Feb. 5 – known as the “Super Tuesday” for presidential primaries – is arriving with all the hoopla the political scene can muster.

Candidates from both sides have been squaring off to persuade voters to mark the ballot in their favor. Each candidate believes his or hers is the only way to run our country.

In some ways, the process is characteristic of what happens in our workplaces and within our families, with feuding among people who believe they have the corner on what should be truth.

Office politics can be particularly harsh, derisive and painful. Small groups gather in the breakroom or behind closed office doors to gossip about colleagues. Often the talk is based on assumptions about how their office world should operate.

They assume that CEOs don’t care for their employees, that managers don’t consider as important what employees believe need attention. And employees themselves often view each other with suspicion. As gossip grows, the workplace can become an unhealthy environment.

A friend recently related how difficult it is to work in her office. Among her colleagues is an individual who finds fault with and is suspicious of other co-workers. She takes new employees under her wing to perpetuate the gossip chain. And every time she thinks someone is not doing what she thinks they should be doing, she calls the corporate office.

“The tension when she’s in the office can be cut with a knife,” my friend told me. “She looks for any infraction she believes has been committed and is like the office tattle-tale.”

Judgments begin to fester, dispersed among everyone due to a lack of trust and belief someone is getting something they do not deserve. Soon the infection spreads.

Recently I read some wisdom written by Rabbi Yisrael Salanter, in the 18th century. He said, “We should worry about our own spiritual lacks and our neighbor’s material lacks. But usually we do it the other way around. We worry about our neighbor’s spiritual lacks and our own material lacks.”

In essence, he is saying we should look within ourselves first to see where we lack in our work ethic, morality and spirituality. Instead of trying to tear them down or put up roadblocks to their success, we need to consider what our co-workers need from us to support them in carrying out their responsibilities,

More often than not, gossip is merely a half truth because the whole story is not known by the gossip mongers.

This kind of workplace behavior is a carry-over of the herd behavior commonly seen among adolescents. Someone gossips about another, and rumor spreads to the others in the clique without regard to the parameters of the truth. Assumptions and misconceptions form the base of the gossip.

How do we respond to the unkindness of gossip? Now, that’s where true strength of character emerges. It comes in the form of our ability to respond without retaliation when someone does something wrong.

There is a Talmudic saying, “He who takes vengeance or bears a grudge acts like someone who, having cut one hand while handling a knife, avenges himself by stabbing the other hand.”

Consider these steps suggested by seminar speaker Sara Rigler:

1) Judge the person favorably;

2) Do not speak negative, true speech about the person;

3) Do not hate the person in your heart;

4) Do not carry a grudge and do not take revenge;

5) Only confront the person privately, but only (when) you can do it (by) making the person feel like s/he was helped rather than criticized;

6) View what happened as a message to examine your own deeds.

I suspect this is easier said than done. What it does require, however, is the ability to go within ourselves and recognize that seeing deficiencies in others often is the same deficiency we need to work on ourselves. It also requires that we consider the correct response to what we envision others are doing that we believe is inappropriate.

For example, say someone leaves work early. His or her colleagues don’t know why. The result can be a false judgement.

What is the correct response? Be careful. Your response could trigger the assumption of wrongdoing when, in fact, the person may have left to attend a meeting, or attend to a work-related crisis they are not at liberty to discuss. It could be a pre-approved absence.

I remember sitting in the waiting room of my obstetrician for almost 45 minutes. Several others had been there longer than I had been and began complaining about the wait.

I refrained from complaining, since I knew that when both of my children were born during the noon hour, the obstetrician was in the delivery room attending to their births. I never complained about how long I had to wait, knowing someone else was getting the attention they needed.

Competition, both political and in the workplace, often brings out the worst in people. Harsh words are uttered, judgments made, and half-truths are manipulated to become gossip that tears down another, serving only to make the teller feel superior.

However, as the Talmudic admonition implies, our response to such behavior must rise about vengeance, carrying a grudge, or repayment with added judgments.

Lao-tzu said, “One who understands others has knowledge; one who understands himself has wisdom. Mastering others requires force; mastering the self needs strength.”

(c) All rights reserved Maralene Strom Jan-08

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