Office Politics: How to Spot It and Maintain Your Peace

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The office brings forth a long list of unwritten rules that are not explicitly stated on the hundred-page employee manual. At times, the social scene can feel like a battlefield which can become obvious as early as day 1.

Office politics, especially for those new to the workforce, may surprise you and draw parallels back to your grade school days.

Emerging (Secondary) Roles

The jokester, the lax dude who always brings in Tim’s for the team, or the lady who is always chirpy and willing to talk about her puppy. Every office has roles that emerge from the intermingling of different personalities. Clashes are natural in this environment. Respect is still non-negotiable, regardless of the specific types of conflicts present.

Common Scenarios and Solutions

Scenario 1: People on your team aren’t collaborating together well

Solution: Play the role of the mediator. You can affect positive change through a willing attitude and see the value every individual can provide. Expert power not required.

Strong emotional intelligence will pull you through times of group tension and allow you to help everyone to work effectively.

Scenario 2: You’re being pulled by two (or more) different groups

Solution: Avoid taking sides and diplomatically approach both groups. Try your best to treat everyone the same and not play favourites — this can take a wrong turn very quickly.

Remember: It’s best to focus on doing your best work without being subject to the additional task of sorting through others’ relational expectations.

Scenario 3: Someone doesn’t click well with you

You two may butt heads when brainstorming. Perhaps their way of communication irks you. You may not even be able to put your finger on precisely why you two just don’t get along.

Instead of mutually giving each other the cold shoulder or lashing out, try asking them what you do that bothers them (no sarcasm!) and address the issue head-on.

Admittedly, this is a bit of a gutsy move, but it shows that you are willing to take responsibility to improve and be honest. Kick passive-aggressiveness to the curb and choose integrity. This is a skill that effectively carries on through life.

Scenario: Happy hour turns into gossip hour

Solution: Smile and nod, but refrain from jumping in or making any comments. You’re not aware of the details, and it’s in everyone’s best interests to simply stay silent. The broken telephone game can end for the better.

The organizational grapevine is an incredibly powerful invisible force which could be dangerous. Quickly excuse yourself or change the topic. And if you absolutely have to speak about someone always keep it polite and positive.

Is It Bullying?

Not everyone will get along swimmingly — this is the reality. However, any violation of respect crosses the line (and the policies of most employee handbooks). Microaggressions fall under this category, which may be less obvious to spot. These are subtle comments based upon unchangeable factors such as your orientation, age, religion, or ethnicity.

When to Speak Up to HR

There are certain boundaries that must be addressed promptly to HR, such as sexual harassment and physical violations. Be as clear and detailed as possible when addressing your situation and concerns — do not downplay anything. Workplace violence and harassment is taken very seriously in each province’s Ministry of Labour department and will be dealt with accordingly.

Office politics can instead transform into more positive office culture. Instead of relying on power imbalances, horizontal organizations have everyone sitting on the level ground aiming to bring equality and inclusivity to the table. We can then collaborate more effectively to do some egg-straordinary work together!

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