Ethics & Office Politics

By admin ~ March 5th, 2011 @ 6:25 pm

Skeptical? Don’t blame you. Bad politics can devour an organization through lost productivity from infighting and the critical absence of truth. Usually, one thinks of credit-stealing backstabbing gossipers who wreck havoc on innocent employees’ careers. In fact, so much so, that some decent people won’t risk the climb on the corporate ladder because they don’t want their character corrupted. Others try to duck political issues by staying invisible and out of the crossfire.

But, is there such a thing as ethical politics? Can one maintain respect while battling against disgusting behavior in the corporate hallways? Is it possible to get in the fray without getting dirty?

Yes. According to the book GUST: The Tale Wind of Office Politics, author Tim Johnson asserts that engaging in office politics doesn’t require a mean spirit or loss of integrity. Instead, he believes that it’s a matter of being able to recognize what resources are being manipulated (e.g. time, money, power structures or labor), then discreetly discerning how to satisfy the needs of the manipulator without compromising the best interest of the organization or sacrificing one’s own principles.

Help the manipulator get what they want? That seems like a tricky new twist on the old game of politics, but Mr. Johnson explains that people are motivated to engage in bad politicking by six different factors. Negative actions might be spurred by the need to form a more powerful alliance with like-minded colleagues. Or, the misbehavior could be driven by a desire to stop a threatening activity, avoid change, protect information, or an impulse to diminish another’s credibility in order to enhance personal standing. Once we understand that most of the issues are caused by emotional insecurities, then we can become more adept at dealing with the politics in a constructive manner.

For example, ever confront a sneaky corporate snake – the kind that undermines and blindsides? Your strategy is not to sink to that belly-crawling level or self-righteously point out their forked tongues. Instead, there are other techniques that will better serve your interests. This might mean covering one’s tail by tactfully documenting actions, requests or agreements through cordial follow-up emails. By focusing on facts and data, one can avoid the emotional snakebite of confrontational issues, especially those that involve false assertions.

It’s not easy to take the high road in politicking. In fact, one of the hardest things to do is put aside our own egos in order to better understand the challenges that the antagonist may face. But, by doing so, we are better equipped to diffuse political bombshells. For instance, if our adversaries fear losing control, then perhaps some simple reassurances or easy concessions are needed. Or, maybe they have legitimate questions about the impact a project could have on the company’s reputation or profitability. It might be worthwhile to reflect on those before proceeding further. In other words, being an ethical political warrior requires us to objectively look beyond our own needs to that of others. By first analyzing the motivation behind the others’ behavior, one can take appropriate political steps to safeguard his career and protect the interest of the company’s stakeholders – all without the loss of honor.

The ethics of office politics

By Shannon Warren, Founder of the Oklahoma Business Ethics Consortium

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