The Ugly Art Of Politics At Work

Musings / Thursday, April 5th, 2018

In my home state of Karnataka, next month is election month. The messy world of politics doesn’t interest me at all. I sometimes think I should be a more committed citizen. I go, stand in the queue, and vote each time. That’s all I do. I am not an activist of the city. I am an activist of my mind and soul.

But what of the ugly world of corporate politics? It’s been a little over two years since I left my full-time corporate job for an all-the-time start-up, consulting, freelancing, I-don’t-know-what-the-hell-I-am-doing role. During this period, I have had to grapple with demanding clients, rude customers, and some wonderful customers. I have had the same experiences of work as with any other job, but politics I haven’t had to face. So, when a friend asked me for guidance in dealing with politics in her job, I had to dig into years of stale experiences, gathering dust on the shelves of my mind.

Her problem? A person who doesn’t like her in the office had spoken to the Principal of the school where she works as a Counselor and had got her office timings changed to 7:20 AM.  My friend was upset at having that change forced upon her.

“I was anyway going to quit the job later, but I don’t like leaving like this. I am angry, upset, annoyed, irritated. My leaving of school this year was long due but I hate it that he is making me do it. I am surprised why is this affecting me, back of my mind I knew it was coming. And now I want to exit with dignity. I can do my job well but this politics playing is not my thing.”

I thought about her problem, and then I slept over it. In the morning, my mind gave her this answer. I thought I would reproduce that answer here because her problem is universal. Like most problems are. But then, my answer may not be the answer. It’s the questions you ask that give you the answers you want.

Dear Upset Counselor,

I thought about your predicament. Many times, during my professional life, I had always told myself that I would keep myself away from corporate politics. I thought I did. I was wrong. That’s also a bit like saying we want to go through life not knowing death or illness. When we work, we are faced with the many vicissitudes of human relationships – some people are nice, some are rude, some want to see us down, some are kind. As with your practice, you will find that the faces of many are all the same in the end. There is no cure for hot or cold. It just is. Same for the politics.

So, here’s what I would say. I would not bother about the guy’s intentions. There is your ego, which is causing you the anger. It’s not the guy’s actions itself that need cause that anger. He did something. You want to react in some manner. Take a deep breath and instead tell yourself that you feel for him – how miserable he must be to go around trying to make others miserable. Take 10 deep breaths taking in his misery, and just give out your calmness to him. Sounds ridiculous? Try it. It won’t be

Two, when it comes to work, we need not be rigid. Many times, our superiors put us in positions that challenge us. You can choose not to call it a challenge. Not the way you think – which is to just leave the job and say, “I can’t be bothered. I was going to quit anyway.” No. You can also tell yourself that reporting to work at 7:20 is not a challenge too? Try that. Perspective can shift.

What you keep resisting will stay. When you think this is no big deal, then your outlook will change. That big rock turns into a small pebble.

Three, think carefully about the other options. Continue with the school with the above two approaches and then lay down all the other kinds of jobs you think you want to apply for. Spend some 30 minutes thinking about it. Yes. Don’t be lazy. Think. Then, always leave one job knowing that you have another. That’s one thing I learnt. Otherwise, the days you spend sitting at home will eat into your head, playing tricks and slapping your self-confidence.

Don’t sit there thinking that everything should be the way you want it to be. Our unhappiness comes from that.

You are unhappy and confused because change is being thrust on you, you are losing control.

I know that feeling. I am a control freak, and you know that. But take another deep breath and understand that if not this, then what? What if what you want is not what will make you grow? What if you are just sitting there, comfortable, growing old in the illusion of security? Throw that aside.

Embrace the discomfort.

You need to grow. And you will.



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