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Outrage at playing the game of office politics

Dear Office-Politics,

I worked for a family business for over four years. I was praised for my work, given very good raises and much more responsibility over those years. Everything was great until another family member came into my department. Once that happened, my boss, a non-family member began delegating to this person all the responsibilities that I had once handled. Spent two-hour lunches with them – completely pushed me out and became indignant to me. When I approached my boss about this and other situations that had been taking place, was told ‘there is something wrong with you‘. Needless to say, after six months of this, I approached the VP and his initial response was ‘it’s all politics’. I was fired two weeks later.

While I am no longer in this situation which I find to be an answered prayer from my higher power, my dilemma is that I have no intention of falling back into the daily routine of office politics. With this knowledge: they wrongfully discharged me, the words of the VP stating ‘we can hire and fire at will’, (even though there was no basis), knowing I worked for one of the biggest gossips and instigators of all my greatest desire is to never be in this position again.

HOW do I go back into an office environment and not be a victim of this game of ‘office politics’ again without being accused of not being friendly and personal with others? WHY are employers permitted to get away with this?



dr. rick brandon
dr. marty seldman

Dear Victimized-by-Politics,

We feel for you, but your letter does reveal a certain amount of moral outrage which leads us to want to coach you a bit on the need to have a “wake-up call” about organizational politics.

You ask, “WHY are employers allowed to get away with this?” The answer is “because they can!

Laws of human nature have not been repealed
Even though some companies are less political than others, none have repealed the laws of human nature. Even in the Girl Scouts of America, we hear there are lots of politics, so in a family-owned business, you unfortunately would be unrealistic to NOT expect these classic dynamics of politics that you describe: favoritism, a boss “kissing up” to get in inner circle of the family literally, being a “yes-man.”

If there are no politics, check the people’s pulse in your company since they are probably dead! We want to echo what your VP has told you, “it’s all politics,” only invite you to pierce the emotional veil you have around the word. Instead of defining “politics” as the old Greek word “poly” (many) and “tics” (blood-sucking parasites!), we hope you can defuse some of the negative emotionality you have built up. Otherwise, less political folks like you who are good, ethical people “quit and leave” to go find another company where, guess what? Same music, different words! Or worse, they “quit and stay,” letting their resentment build, draining their time, energy, and morale.

Redefine office politics as relationship building, networking, and gaining visibility
So, we suspect your first step is to accept politics as an organizational reality, realizing that you are engaged in either/or, black/white thinking that is causing your emotional upset. This is evidenced by your conclusion that you either have to be a “victim of office politics” or “be accused of not being friendly and personal with others.” We maintain that you CAN enter the ethical, high-integrity politics arena if you simply redefine poly-tics as relationship building, networking, and gaining visibility so that you can better influence people, sell your good ideas, and get into a positive power position to do great things for the company. But first, you need to “Get your mind right,” as the Southern prison guard told Paul Newman in the movie, “Cool Hand Luke.” You don’t have to force yourself into either selling out or not playing at all, refusing to interact with others. You CAN network, build a buffer from negative politics by letting people know your contributions, and getting to know powerful seniors. This does not mean you have to become a manipulative player. We wish you well in your next job as you are wiser, perhaps anticipate that others might gossip, so you want to build up a safety “net-work” by cultivating alliances of people who know and trust you so they stick up for you, feed you the “buzz” on you, and help you gain influence by spreading positive things about you in the company airwaves.

Become a student of power dynamics
You would do well to not only stop avoiding looking at politics, but to actually become a student of power dynamics in companies, so you can identify those that are more and less political. This way, you can target for employment those more conducive to your style and performance potential. For information on reading political styles of individuals and groups, check out our book, Survival of the Savvy.

Here’s to the power of your attitude choices. It’s mind over matter: If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.

Thanks for writing to Office-Politics.


Rick Brandon, Ph.d. and Marty Seldman, Ph.D. Co-authors,
Survival of the Savvy: High-Integrity Political Tactics for Career and Company Success

cover of Survival of the SavvyRick Brandon, Ph.d. and Marty Seldman, Ph.D. are Co-authors, Survival of the Savvy: High-Integrity Political Tactics for Career and Company Success. Dr. Rick Brandon is CEO of Brandon Partners. He has consulted and trained tens of thousands at corporations worldwide, including Fortune 500 companies across a variety of industries. Dr. Marty Seldman is one of America’s most experienced executive coaches. His 35-year career includes expertise in executive coaching, group dynamics, cross-cultural studies, clinical psychology, and training.

Publication note: This letter was originally published in 2005. We are republishing the best letters from Office-Politics and integrating them with our blog format.

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