The Politics of Work

Do you remember your very first full time job after school? How about your very first job interview? Now, I'm not talking about selling lemonade on the sidewalk - I mean an actual interview for an actual first job. Mine was a job at a large electronics firm, as an electronic technician. The part of the new job that was most surprising to me was learning about the "game", and by that I mean politics. The "P" word was something they never tell kids about work. Politics at work, at any company, is a right of passage - something that signifies a part of life that indicates transition from one state to another. We go into our first jobs not knowing how politics work... or do we?

There are social norms that we take for granted as we grow up. The concept of being polite is usually our first one. Saying please and thank you, or opening doors for people, become positive habits for us as we begin to interact with other people. As we get older, the combination of our own personalities and the personalities of others gives us a sense of who we are and how people react to us. Slowly, we form our own opinions about thoughts and ideas, and also learn how other people do the same. While in our adolescence and into our teens, we might typically follow those around us who are older and "wiser", while we hone our own individual people skills.

But even as our individual personalities evolve, we find that, once in awhile, we would run into someone we don't agree with, or someone that we just don't like. Hmmm, what to do with these people, and how to handle them? We are taught as human beings to be nice, and to be polite to other people, but what if that other person is somehow against us? What if that person opposes our opinions or thoughts? What if we want to punch that person in the face?

Say hello to politics!

Politics is that part of life that we learn, in order to deal with [what is to us] the "opposite" side of society. The "them" side. We learn that life isn't all rainbows and cookies; that there are actually people out there who are against us, who disagree with us, and who even "hate" us. The fact that people have differing opinions and thoughts - our individuality - is what feeds the need for politics, and it is especially warranted at work. The evolution from the word "polite" to "politic" can be summed up this way; the word politic differs from the word polite with the letters "i" and "c", like when you try to empathize with a person's opinion by saying "I see...". Okay, it's corny, but I thought it was kind of cute.

Why is politics needed at work? Because we need the almighty dollar, and if getting that dollar means dealing with people who disagree with us, sometimes you gotta bite the bullet. Anyone who works for a living bites that bullet every day.

Keep in mind, that if you didn't need that money in the first place, you wouldn't be in the position to need a job in the first place. It makes the idea of living in a log cabin, deep in the woods, sound really nice.

The right of passage at any job, and I mean ANY job, is to learn how to interact with people who typically don't agree with you, and with whom you don't agree with yourself. Like piling cats into a box, work can seem like a tense, sometimes uneasy experience as we try to navigate around other peoples opinions, to get tasks done. Being nice to someone you don't agree with (do you like how I say "agree with" instead of "hate"?), can be a challenge, even if you're the most tolerant person on earth. And to make matters worse, some jobs have the added challenge of opportunists - those vile human beings who would steal candy from a baby if given the chance. Opportunists exist and support themselves by using the kindness and generosity of others... think leeches with two legs.

Learning to deal with people you don't agree with is a challenge to any person, nasty or nice. But it is a requirement, if you ever want to have the chance to become successful in your career. By learning how other people think, and how they interact with people, you can actually "leverage" other people's opinions, instead of having to fight them. The key to any political struggle is mutuality. By finding a win-win situation, learning how to do politics in a positive way will make you a superstar at work. Learn the ways of politics to make your career more palatable, and even more successful...

... because success in your career, beats selling lemonade on the sidewalk, any day...

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