The Wrong Side of Office Politics

This month Douglas Holwerda, American trained and licensed mental health counsellor, answers the concerns of a legal professional who has found herself on the wrong side of office politics

 

Dear Douglas,

 

I was so happy when I got my first job after graduating from university in a small office working for a lawyer. It felt like a chance to learn more and to improve myself. But now, less than one year later, I dread going to work every day and think about quitting my job. The problem is that one of my colleagues is unhappy with the boss and takes her frustrations out on me. She has been there the longest and expects to get certain projects that the boss gives to me. She has become sloppy in her work and now he trusts me more than her. I want to do my job well, but every day she is causing trouble for me, saying bad things and interrupting my work. It seems like she is out to drive me out of the company. I am afraid it will get worse if I say something to the boss. — Stressed

 

Dear Stressed,

 

It sounds like she is acting like a bully and that you are not doing much to stop her because you do not know what to do. Office politics often takes the enjoyment out of work because the systems to manage fairness and work distribution are inadequate. Small offices are susceptible to this if the boss is unaware of how his decisions affect the relationship between his/her workers. Ultimately, the responsibility is his/hers to manage in a way that keeps workers productive and working well together.

 

It sounds like you don’t trust what will happen if you inform your boss of what is going on. You have been using your strength of tolerance, but feel that you can’t keep enduring the situation. Sometimes it works to ignore a problem… it might go away on its own. But it seems that you are ready to find a way to use the strength of assertiveness to impact the situation positively.

 

Assertiveness has stages that one uses based on the response of the other. It helps to make a strong statement like, “I have been tolerating your bad behaviour towards me for awhile now, but I do not intend to keep tolerating it.” It lets a person know that you are willing to enter into conflict as a way of finding a resolution. The danger in avoiding conflict is that the frustration and anger can build up, and when one finally says something it is often angry, aggressive and out of proportion with the specific issue at hand.

 

It is easy to go from being passive to being aggressive… angry, loud, offensive and losing the clarity about what is happening.

 

Let’s take it by steps.

 

Step 1: The beginning of letting her know that she is hurting you and that you don’t like it, and that you will not continue to take it passively any longer. You might invite her to talk about what is bothering her and what she feels is a solution. Try to listen to how she feels.

 

Step 2: If she doesn’t engage in a problem-solving conversation, begin to make notes each time she says or does something inappropriate towards you. Use direct quotes, times and dates. You can let her know that what she is doing is not OK and that if she continues you will address this issue with the boss.

 

Step 3: If the problem persists you will need to inform the boss that you have tried to handle the problem in the ways mentioned, but that he/she will need to intervene. Be prepared to show your boss the notes and explain what you have done to solve the problem.

 

It is common that people do not want to get another person in trouble or fired from their job. Often that means that we tolerate unacceptable behaviour. Let me suggest that, if that were to happen in your case, that it is not you that has gotten your colleague in trouble… but rather the truth of what is happening.
Only she is responsible for her behaviour and the consequences that come as a result. Sometimes life requires us to stand up and be strong in the face of bullying or unacceptable behaviour. To be assertive is to expect no more nor no less than what is right for all people.

 

Good luck to you. — Douglas

 

Do you have a question you would like Douglas’s help with? You can email him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Personal details will not be printed

Douglas Holwerda

Douglas is an American trained psychotherapist, writer of the Dear Abby-esque monthly column in the Word, "Dear Douglas". He holds to the notion that the living of life is a creative endeavour... an eternal adventure without promises. And that we are both shaped by the journey and the shapers of what is possible. Our greatest hope is to find love and connection along the way. Live it all.

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