Nepali Times
Strictly Business
Office politics


Astute managers know that one undeniable fact of any office life is that you either sense or see all sorts of politicking going around on any given day.

These acts of politicking need not be based on a national party-political affiliation, or on union-driven activities. In its harmless avatar, office politics lubricates the social life of a company. It makes it easier for staff to swap gossip, to gripe against irritating managers "who don't know anything", to show off to others that they have privileged information, and to allow some to exercise influence over their peers. When it's harmful, as it often is, it pits one group of employees against another, fans misperceptions about issues and staff, makes the working environment negatively charged, and even derails jobs and careers of otherwise promising employees.

How does one deal with office politicians (OPs)?

Acceptance: When Nepali managers bemoan the very existence of office politics, they are being na?ve. A company where people meet to work every day for eight hours is, by definition, also a social place. In social places, whether we like it or not, people talk about people, and not in flattering terms. The sooner managers accept the existence of office politics, the quicker they can learn to deal with it.

Share information: OPs trade in distributing (negative) information about others that they think the rest of the staff members do not know. This could be about managers, employees, products and customers. The best way to pre-empt OPs from gaining ground is to share relevant positive and more negative information faster and widely to relevant parties via face-to-face meetings, emails, text messages and memos. Consistent and widespread verifiably true information is a manager's best defence against OPs' corrosive gossip.

Point to data: My 10-year experiences in dealing with OPs in South Asia suggest that they are often poor students of data interpretation. That is because their strengths lie not in doing cool-headed analyses but in starting hot-headed, wordy, and emotional flare-ups against those they don't like. Given this, a smart manager should refuse to give in to OPs' emotional sways, and stick to sharing the truth from data tables with regard to what the company is doing or
not doing, and what its plans ahead are.

Focus on the future: OPs live in the past. If you listen to their conversations, you'll see that they love endlessly exhuming all the past mistakes so that they can blame others for all that has gone wrong. Blaming others is the only way they can present themselves as innocent by-standers. The way to neutralise OPs' draining negativity is to make the managerial language relentlessly focus on the future and on upcoming opportunities for growth. When staff members repeatedly hear about a better future, they will not want to live in the past.

Go on the offensive: Through a process of trial and error in their companies, smart managers come to understand which battles are worth fighting for, and which ones are all right to ignore or lose. This knowledge is important because it allows managers to focus their limited energy on activities that give the best results, even if that means strategically going on the offensive against the OP in a manner that publicly shuts them up. When the OP reacts, a manager's defence is to be steadfastly proactive in a manner which makes the OP look like an evergreen complainers in their colleagues' eyes.

Dealing effectively with office politicians is one career-strengthening skill they don't teach at business schools. But not honing this skill almost guarantees the failure of most high-flying executives.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)