Beware of the undertow

Let us assume your business has grown nicely and you now have a team of people working for you, possibly even with some management levels. That is great and it feels rewarding. Your team admires your vision and what you have achieved, they think you are brilliant and they even laugh at your perhaps not so funny jokes.

Time to give some thoughts to the office politics.

Sorry – I forgot. You don’t have any of course.

You have known everyone for a long time, you personally selected each one, they all get on like a house on fire and everyone is open and respectful of you.

Dream on!

Every group of more than 2 people has politics, however small. Small irritations happen, as do jealousies and each person is an individual with their own concerns, aspirations, disappointments and personal pressures. So office politics grow.

Very often you will find that it is actually the quiet ones who have the most valuable things to tell you, but it is more natural to interact with the talkative ones. Beware of the talkative ones who may also be trying to ‘feed you’ with information. I encountered two companies this week where there was a clear undertow.

So how do you handle this?

Well, in the first place you need to figure out whether what is said is reality or perception. Ask yourself the question whether it is actually relevant. Sometimes people just need to get things ‘off their chest’ and you have listened, so job done.

Secondly you will find that people are often simply trying to ‘pass the monkey’. Something is troubling them and they want you to take ownership. As a manager this is very dangerous as you will have an office filled with monkeys in no time if you accept them.

Listen to what you are told, then ask them how they are going to deal with it and finally make sure they leave your office with the monkey. By now most issues will be solved.

If are still stuck you will need to verify what is said. Getting data is the easiest if it is available. Most information you will be fed will anecdotal – watch Judge Judy: no evidence, no case.  Does the data substantiate what you have been told? Even if there is no real data, you should be able to find some evidence whether the tale is true.

Simply accepting things on face value will pull you under water, as well as increasingly politicising your company over time. Of course if you enjoy that you can always run for public office – that environment is filled with undertow.

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