Office Politics Made Simple

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“Office politics” has gotten a bad name, but it’s really nothing more or less than the informal communications network of an organization. At the first TV station I worked at, there was a guy named Rick who had really figured out this network to the nth degree. He had determined who the key players were in the organization, and who had influence over these key players (for example, the General Manager’s adminstrative assistant had influence over the General Manager). He knew the difference between authority and influence, and that the “official” organizational chart didn’t always reflect who really pulled the strings. He had come up with his own “unofficial” organizational chart, and he worked it—playing up to the people who had influence and disregarding the rest. To be honest, he got a few promotions—but it was a lot of work. And you know what? It turns out there’s an easier way. There’s a shortcut. And it comes down to three words:

Treat everyone decently.

I mean, really, why expend all that energy trying to figure out who’s really important, who’s kind of important, who’s important solely because of their title, and who’s not important at all? Why not just treat everybody as if they’re important? That way, you’re covered, no matter what. And besides, that’s simply the way it should be. Because everybody is important—and you never know all the connections somebody has, no matter how carefully you’ve drawn your charts.

Treat everyone decently.

A friend of mine and fellow speaker, Robin Creasman, once interviewed Paul McCartney for a television project. Robin told me that Paul went out of his way to learn the names of all the crew people, and to make them feel special. Another friend of mine has done several photo shoots with McCartney, and his experience matches Robin’s. The few times I’ve met Paul he’s asked me questions and listened—really listened—to my answers, making me feel as if I were the important one, not him. Paul McCartney treats everyone decently. Now, if there’s anyone on the planet who could be justified in acting like a big star and disregarding others, it’s Paul McCartney. But he treats everyone decently, and his friends tell me he always has.

So if Paul McCartney, who arguably doesn’t need anything from anyone, can treat everyone decently, what’s stopping you?

Back at that television station where Rick and I worked, I was just a glorified secretary (and by “glorified” I mean “not glorified”). One day I was working late when the phone rang. It was after hours, and I was tired, but I answered it anyway. It was an elderly woman who had some question about our programming. I don’t know how helpful I was, but I gave her whatever information I could find. She asked me my name, and then, very nicely, said “Thank you.” The next day the General Manager came into our offices and asked to speak to me. It seems that his neighbor, an elderly woman, had called him the previous evening to tell him about the delightful conversation she’d just had with the helpful young man—whose name she’d written down—at his TV station.

Treat everyone decently. It’s easy. It’s right. And it works.


About the Author:

29-time Emmy Award winner and Hall of Fame keynote speaker Bill Stainton, CSP is an expert on Innovation, Creativity, and Breakthrough Thinking. He helps leaders and their teams come up with innovative solutions — on demand — to their most challenging problems.
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