The politics at work can be similar to family dynamics–each person is a part of the larger system and plays a role within the group. We often unconsciously play roles at work that are familiar to us from our family-of-origin (i.e. the oldest child becomes the bossy leader, the adult child of an alcoholic takes care of everyone else, the neglected child sits in a cubicle and continues to not have his or her voice heard or needs met, etc.) We each have the responsibility of becoming conscious of the roles we play in larger groups. We must also make the necessary changes so that our roles promote wellness in our lives.
Each workplace has its own company culture comprised of particular values, expectations, communication styles, personalities, dynamics, and of course, a certain amount of dysfunction. Therefore, the workplace can be a political minefield unless we equip ourselves with the psychological and relational skills to navigate it effectively.
After nearly 20 years of counseling professionals, I recommend the following:
Reflect on the role you play in groups. Are you a leader? Pleaser? Mediator? Caretaker? Wallflower? Clown? Scapegoat? Loner? Reflect on what family-of-origin dynamics you might unconsciously be recreating at work.
Identify any aspects of this role that do not work in your favor. Write down the patterns you would like to change (i.e. succumbing to feelings of powerless, taking on more responsibility than your fair share, etc.) Consider therapy or or coaching to help you make shifts in so you promote success in your career.
Look before you leap. When starting a new role or job, assess the group dynamic. Pay attention to the norms, the alliances and the chain of command before asserting your position. In other words, be Switzerland–be professional, diplomatic, neutral and avoid being pulled or triangulated into conflicts. Identify any “tricky personalities.” This will help you unintentionally slide into a pitfall.
Stay consciously grounded in the present. We make the best decisions when our feet are firmly planted in the here and now, rather than obsessing about the past or worrying about the future. Practice a morning meditation, deep breathing or other mindfulness techniques to stay anchored in the present moment. This will help you to be less reactive to others, and keep a level head when dealing with challenging workplace dynamics.
Choose your words wisely. Avoid workplace gossip, badmouthing or even “harmless” joking about others. Be careful of what you say and to whom. For example, it is better to vent about your boss to your buddy than your nice-enough colleague who might unknowingly be looking an opportunity to sabotage you.
Avoid responding to emails when your feathers are ruffled. Write a draft and review it when you have cooled down before you send it.
Do not put anything in writing about somebody else that you would not say to them directly, as emails can always be forwarded. (At my first “real” job, I accidentally sent an email to my boss instead of my friend that said I thought a guy we worked with was “so annoying.” I realized immediately after sending it and rushed to my boss’s office. She looked up from her computer and I said, “I’m so sorry, I just accidentally sent you a really unprofessional email.” She said flatly, “Oh, I saw it… I totally agree,” and resumed her work… Phew!)
Manage your image. Think about what personal things you share with people at work and the rate at which you share them. Think twice about having one too many beers at the company outing. Be mindful of what you share via social media. Otherwise, you might set yourself up for failure.
Show proper respect towards others. Whatever your position, demonstrate respect to your coworkers. Respect your authority figures as well as those who work for you. Check your ego at the door and be willing to be a team player. Demonstrate awareness of the feelings of others.
Be authentic and direct. Behave in a way that is congruent with your highest self and maintain integrity. Filter your thoughts with these questions: “Is it kind? Is it necessary? Is it true?” if the answer to all three questions is yes, then speak directly. Be assertive, rather than passive or aggressive. This will foster trust and respect and demonstrate capabilities for positive leadership.
Remember, what goes around, comes around. You can choose to be a bad apple in the workplace or you can choose to be a part of what is right and good. Have a healthy respect for karma and choose your moves wisely!