Office Politics
© 11 Jan 2012 Luther Tychonievich
Licensed under Creative Commons: CC BY-NC-ND 3.0
other posts


A random sampling of observations about office politics.


I love office politics. One of my many quirks. Office politics are a wonderful microcosm of politicking in general. I don’t really have a structure in mind for this post; rather, it shall simply be a collection of observations.

There are at least four kinds of power in office politics. The most obvious is vested power, control over hiring, firing, budgets, etc. Next comes social capital, the willingness of other people to sacrifice for you, typically either because of a perceived system of credit and debt or because of respect or kindness. Third is interpersonal skill, be it charisma, demagoguery, social blackmail, or the ability to annoy. Fourth is correlative power over work produced, the sometimes vast power often held by secretaries despite their lack of vested power.

Very few people are able to “‍leave their egos at home‍”, as Sean Warnick once put it. Hence, people who lack the power to bring about their desired ends often feel the emotional loss of power more acutely than the practical failure to gain the desired outcome. This results in the principle activity of politicking that distinguishes it from other social interactions: providing parties with plausible arguments that they are influential.

If you care about the happiness of other members of the polity, the most valuable kinds of power are social capital and charisma. Charisma can influence people’s attitudes directly and largely remove the need to politick. People who yield to social capital generally usually either feel magnanimous and kind or empowered by a beneficial trade. Beware, though: charisma can degrade into demagoguery, leading to a feeling of being manipulated, and social capital can degrade into blackmail and annoyance.

There are several reasons to look out for the wellbeing of a corporation. From the outside, shareholders and clients both have financial interest. From the inside there are many more reasons. Some see the business as job stability, caring principally about its ability to support themselves. Some see it as community, caring about it as the habitat of friends. Some treat it as a stepping stone, looking only to its short-term health. Some believe in its mission and purpose, caring for its external success. Many people have all of these feelings in varying degrees, and in my experience few are aware of them consciously.

There are at least three inevitable clashes caused by different underlying desires. Those who hope the polity will do well in the long run clash with those who hope it will do well right now: sprinters lose marathons, joggers lose sprints. Shareholders clash with job-holders: raises cut into profits. Visionaries sometimes clash with everyone else, see hidden good at the end of visibly bad roads. In addition to these three, disagreements on the best path toward shared goals are part of the human experience.

As noted in the front, these are just a random collection of observations. None of the lists are intended to be exhaustive, though I have not consciously excluded significant elements where they came to mind. Hopefully later posts will wrap this boneyard in flesh.

Looking for comments…

Loading user comment form…