The elephant in the conference room

Cartoon silhouette of a grayscale elephant dancing on its hind legs on a small brown table.Office politics.

Something I’m often asked about, and something my clients almost always want help with.

More accurately, they want it to go away.

But – as I wrote about in my book – you can ignore the elephant in the conference room, but you’ll still have to deal with it, including cleaning up after it. (Yeah. Eww.)

The reality is that any time there are two or more people involved, there’s going to be politics. It’s a basic fact of human interaction, even between friends … and with the holidays recently past, you can probably think of the interpersonal politics that happen between family members.

So what can you do about it? I go into it in a lot more detail in the book, but here are a few tips.

Accept the reality

Politics ARE. It’s just a reality that any time you have more than one person involved, you’re going to have at least some level of interpersonal politics. It’s up to you to manage that reality so it aligns with your sense of who you are and how you live your values.

How? Start here.

Acknowledge the ick

Interpersonal politics, especially in the office, have an often well-deserved bad name. We sneer at the people who undercut others, suck up to the boss, and claim credit for the work of colleagues. All that is definitely political.

We need to remember that emotional intelligence isn’t just about empathy and understanding. It can also be about manipulation and gaslighting. And yes, emotional intelligence is a political skill.

And recognize the good side

All that – undercutting, sucking-up, stealing credit, manipulation, gaslighting – that’s the bad side of interpersonal politics.

The good side? Notice the instances of collaboration, support, generosity, courage, and inclusion.

We don’t usually call those “politics.” But they are, just as much as the ick.

Set – and maintain – boundaries

If you’re dealing with someone who’s playing dirty politics, first, I feel for you. Second, find a way to set boundaries. And yes, I know that’s easier said than done, and I wish I could offer specifics on how to make it work, but every situation is different.

That said, the thing to remember about boundaries is that they are yours. You set them, and it’s up to you to maintain them. Just because you’ve said – for instance – “Don’t interrupt me when I’m on the phone” (to take a very small example) doesn’t mean that anyone will pay attention. When – not if – they do interrupt, it’s your responsibility to know what you’ll do about it in order to maintain that boundary.

Most of the time, we decide to set a boundary because someone keeps crossing it. Thinking that by telling them “No more!” they will immediately recognize the error of their ways is – bluntly – dreaming. It’s your boundary, and it’s up to you to enforce it with consequences.

Your career, your values, your choices

In the book, I make the point that:

If you choose to participate in office politics despite your belief that it’s despicable or dishonorable, you’re handing your self-image over as a hostage.

On the other hand, if you choose not to participate in politics because you believe it’s despicable or dishonorable, then you’re handing your career over as a hostage.

Neither alternative works well.

The third choice is what I’ve touched on here: understanding that politics has a good side, and learning how to make it work for you in ways that align with who you are and how you want to show up.

Three ways to learn more:

  1. Get the book
  2. Book me to teach the workshop (note: cannot be done virtually because of a key interactive in-person activity)
  3. Schedule a call to discuss coaching