Am I in the business of resolving 'office politics'?
This 12 wk series will share my thoughts, insights, conversations and questions about workplace relationships. Why they matter; which ones may matter more; what's the difference between a relationship that languishes and one that flourishes; what questions I get asked about them and so on.
It must be something about this time of year. Like last autumn, I feel compelled to commit to writing about something weekly for the season. I'm eager to re-introduce the discipline of a once-a-week article because it provides a reflective practice as to what is going on in my work and helps me develop the art of speaking simply. Something I can lose sight of when I get excited and passionate about a topic!
Why Workplace Relationships?
I'm on a mission to get workplace relationships being talked about. I'm really curious as to why there is relatively little research about our relationships at work when compared to the amount of research into our family and personal relationships.
“From conception to death, we impact and are impacted by the biology and behaviour of those around us, and depending on the scaffolding of others for our survival and sustained wellbeing” (Cozolino, 2008, p.13).
In essence, Cozolino (a neuroscientist) is saying that we are born into relationship and our attachment to others is at the core of our health, brain performance and well-being.
Historically, the focus at work has been on communication, influencing, decision making skills, collaboration, understanding others etc.... My experience, which I don't believe is unique, is that psychometric debriefs & team profiles predominantly focus on who you are, who others are and how to acknowledge each other's differences and flex your style to improve your functional performance with each other.
This is useful, but the art of relationships is to jointly pay attention to the patterns you co-create, both consciously and unconsciously.. Then to jointly agree what to experiment with in order to improve the pattern. It is the next step on from understanding oneself and I believe, is crucial in the pivotal relationships which form the structure of a workplace.
So what came up this week....
The difficult employee... Everyone's got one
I was taken by surprise and a little shiver went down the back of my spine when someone said me:
"ah, you're Felicity, the one that works with office politics. We could do with someone like you to manage our difficult employee. Every workplace always has one."
On the surface I was swan-like, smiling and acknowledging that there are often unresolved tensions at work, but underneath that cool calm appearance, there were several reactions which came at lightening speed:
Panic - how did what I said in my one minute intro about coaching workplace relationships possibly become 'office politics'
Familiarity - hmmm, office politics I remember those well, even if they are now in my past. I suppose I was quite good at navigating them
Judgement - a strong adverse reaction that employees are 'difficult' and to be managed. It's just not that simple
Resistance - you'd be tough to work with
And before you know it, I've fallen into a crevasse of judgement.
How judgement limits our vision
When we are passionate and committed to something, it is easy to fall into judgement of those who don't agree, don't believe or don't get with the plan. I fell into this limiting crevasse head first and before I was aware of it, started to reject the group with whom I'd spent an interesting evening. Rejection and separation often feels easier, quicker and the only option if someone does not get with the plan, your plan. By excluding thoughts, ideas, ways of working which don't fit, our vision becomes narrowed. We seek to re-inforce what we know and disregard anything else. And, it happens incredibly quickly.
So this is where I found myself last week, thinking 'hmm, not sure that this group are right for me or my work'. Reflecting as I drove home, I saw with blinding clarity that there was a start of a parallel experience going on (what they felt with their employee, was how I felt with them) and I was narrowing my vision. I turned my attention to what I'd learnt from the conversation:
The difficulty of workplace relationships may be 'office politics' to some
I have chosen a field of coaching in which there is difficulty
Is it that I am more interested in supporting some workplace relationships rather than all of them?
And, surely as a coach, I can find a better response than the one I had? One that finds out more about what is going on for them.
This reflective practice is my ladder out of the crevasse. It opens up more choices as to what I can do next, instead of just going with the flow of my reaction.
So yes, bring on the office politics and bring on the difficulty, however let's focus it on the pivotal relationships within your workplaces. The ones in which the stakes are high if they fracture, or the gains are great if they flourish, such as:
Co-founders of SME's driving for growth
Directors & Boards visioning high performance
Senior new starters who are expected to bring about change
Project teams leading change
Let's explore and experiment with creating the patterns of interaction which create the structure needed for the performance of your workplace and support your well-being.
Have a great week
An invitation....(actually 3 invitations!)
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Collaborate: I'm interested in collaborating with charities, researchers and other professionals to set up a ground breaking research project in 2018 that explores the connections between workplace relationships, well-being and performance. If you feel that you can contribute in some way and would like to be involved, please contact me directly.
Cozolino, L. (2008) Healthy aging brain: sustaining attachment, attaining wisdom. New York: W.W. Norton & Company Inc.