Is There a Way to Stay Out of Office Politics?

Last Updated Apr 8, 2009 12:55 PM EDT

Dear Ron,
I'm reluctant to get involved in office politics, yet it seems to be very prevalent at my office. Is there any way I can avoid being a part of it?
The short answer is no -- politics are going to come into play whenever there's more than one person in an organization and limited resources to divide among them. But there are certain circumstances where you might be able to largely stay out of the fray -- typically if your job is very technical and fact-based. But even then, you might find yourself being drawn in as your information is used in the political struggles within the organization.

I once had an apolitically inclined client -- an engineer at a big company -- who somewhat innocently sent an idea that proposed a solution for a major business problem. The idea was picked up by a power player at his company who subsequently brought my client in to key meetings to present his ideas. At the same time, another important figure at the company started sending my client emails trying to subtly punch holes in his idea. What my client didn't know until afterward was that he had wandered into a turf war without any idea of what was going on.

At first, my client's work was acknowledged and he was brought onto a cross-functional team that both these dueling executives chaired. Eventually, though, the executive that opposed him managed to ease him off the team -- he basically shifted the direction of the group and got him bounced off of it. Effectively, he had wandered onto the battlefield and gotten caught in the crossfire.

The bottom line is that even if you strive to stay out of politics, you have to realize that there may be times when you'll still get pulled in, and so it pays to at least have an awareness of where the battle lines are drawn and what the issues are. Because if you don't, you still might find yourself getting drawn into a fight -- or worse, getting shot.

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  • Ron Brown

    Ronald B. Brown is a leading expert in the fields of leadership development and organizational change. He is the founder and president of Banks Brown, a management consulting firm that specializes in providing leading-edge skills to optimize the performance of leaders and organizations. He has served as a consultant to Fortune 100 corporations such as the Procter & Gamble Company, Avon Products, Inc., McDonald's Corporation, General Electric Plastics, Kaiser Permanente, Shell Oil Company, Eastman Kodak Company, General Mills Inc., and Motorola, Inc. Brown holds a Ph.D. in Psychology from the University of California, Berkeley, and an M.A. and B.S. from Michigan State University.