Paranoid Paradox?
August 10, 2012 3:14 PM   Subscribe

Being Paranoid About Office Politics: Is it a Self-Fulfilling Prophecy? "A third experiment measured study participants' comfort level with a co-worker who is worried about unfair treatment as compared to other types of employees. Rather than be saddled with a worrywart, participants were 3.5 times more likely to choose individuals who demanded feedback on work quality...."
posted by kettleoffish (11 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Well, you can do what I always did, just ignore the politics, but you end up getting eaten alive by them, anyway.
posted by Thorzdad at 3:51 PM on August 10, 2012 [5 favorites]


(My boss just left, and now I get to see the sheer naked ugliness of office politics in a way I'd previously been shielded from, especially since I'm being approached from multiple parties, each wanting others to confirm that the other is totally an asshole.)
posted by klangklangston at 4:04 PM on August 10, 2012

A prof of mine once said "Office politics is the one game you can lose by not playing."

I'm not sure if it an original quote but it definitely stuck with me.
posted by keeo at 4:26 PM on August 10, 2012 [3 favorites]

I worked in corporate for five years. I come from a solidly blue-collar background in a blue-collar area with very few models for corporate life. I essentially left because of office politics, I not only really couldn't get the hang of it, I hated the fact that you couldn't just drop out. It's not like Global Thermonuclear can definitely lose by not playing the game.

I'm back to my union life now. It's taken years to get back to the kind of money I was making slaving over a hot desk, but I'm way happier. Meanwhile, I hated it so much that I can't watch The Office and Office Space feels more like a documentary to me.
posted by nevercalm at 4:45 PM on August 10, 2012 [3 favorites]

The joy of being self employed is that you can be the backstabbing bitch and the office den mother, all at the same time.
posted by Ideefixe at 5:00 PM on August 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

You CAN drop out of office politics (or just not even join in the first place). But you have to be a vital part of a money-making project with high visibility at the management level and low visibility at the peon level. Apparently.
posted by DU at 5:37 PM on August 10, 2012 [5 favorites]

Yeah, I had a great job. Paid me more than I knew what to do with, benefits were amazing, company was stable enough I could've worked there forever, LOVED the people I worked with in my direct department. However, the guy I worked with in another department decided he didn't want to do part of his job anymore. And I'm not being snarky, he literally decided he did not want to do bullets A, B, and C on his job description and set about on a crusade to have them removed. He tried to push them off on several other departments and got shot down. Then he tried to just shove them off on me without consulting with my boss and she tore him a new one, which he took personal and put him on a vendetta against me.

His VP was BFFs with my boss, but my boss has the temerity to take another job somewhere else, so then we became The Bad Department That Had To Be Punished. Which meant his VP was suddenly on-board with shoving his responsibilities onto me. I sat in our shared office with him on the phone to VP going through his job duties and methodically cutting off all he wanted to cut off, and then I suddenly had a meeting where those bullets mysteriously appeared on my job description. And if it was cool stuff, I wouldn't have minded, but it was Charliework. So I was going to have my job, where I was already drowning in work, then half of another guy's job and it was all the crap he didn't want to do.

"So you're giving me half a job's worth of responsibility?" I asked my battlefield-promoted starry-eyed new boss.
"Well, I know it looks like that..." she said.
"Since I'm taking half his job, you're going to give me half his pay, right?" I asked.
"...well, no, not exactly."
"Just so I'm clear, you're giving me half again as much work with no increase in compensation and expecting me to be happy about it?"
"Try and think of it as an opportunity."

So I smiled and nodded and said, "Sure, that's fine, I'm sure it'll be a wonderful opportunity" then proved painfully slow to take on my new responsibilities because I was busy updating my resume and finding another job--this was when the economy was still good.

They were genuinely, truly surprised when I bailed and insulted that I told them outright I was taking $20,000 less a year just because I knew I was getting screwed and wasn't going to take it. Apparently, they really bought that "opportunity" crap. (Bright side: I actually left at the perfect time, because 3 months later they eliminated my position in a wave of layoffs).

Meetings were like a samurai movie. You know where all the samurai are sitting around the big planning table trading subtle put-downs and sucking in air because they just lost face in front of the shogun and the upcoming battle is almost irrelevant compared with jockeying for position? It was like that, all the time. This was one of those companies so big making products was entirely secondary to who lost face in meetings. I could massively screw up things but if I could effectively smear another department with the responsibility, my department won and I got off scot-free. We had approval checklists that ran to 10 pages for ridiculously simple things so there was a chain of "Well everybody signed off on it!" if something went wrong.

My problem was I came up in startups where it was mostly your quality of work and actually producing work that mattered, but since I've read 48 Laws of Power and similar books just in case I have to do the politics thing again.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 6:03 PM on August 10, 2012 [7 favorites]

This is kind of thin sauce for a topic which feels pretty important...

Anyway, I wonder exactly where the line between what this article describes as office politics ends and workplace bullying begins.
posted by hippybear at 6:18 PM on August 10, 2012

I interviewed a bright 28 year-old for a job at our Tech office in the UK. He worked at a giant aerospace firm. Why do you want to leave, I eventually asked.

The politics of the place is crushing me, he said. I see people around me develop thick coats of armour plating as if everyone is out to get them. There's little trust, it's absurd. But I knew five weeks ago I really should leave because unknowingly I have sunk into it. I was walking down the corridor and, passing a co-worker chum, he said to me 'D*mn, Andy, there's no toilet paper in the loo!' and I found myself saying 'I know nothing whatsoever about that.'
posted by Schroder at 2:29 AM on August 11, 2012 [6 favorites]

This is really interesting, but makes sense. Here's a pre-published version of the actual paper:
Do I want to know? How the motivation to acquire relationship-threatening information in groups contributes to paranoid thought, suspicion behavior, and social rejection. Jennifer Carson Marr, Stefan Thau, Karl Aquino, Laurie J. Barclay. In Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes.
We investigated the psychological and social consequences associated with individuals’ motivation to search for information about whether they have been indirectly harmed by members of their group. Consistent with a motivated social cognition perspective, group members who were either chronically (Study 1a) or temporally (Study 1b) high in the motivation to acquire relationship-threatening information (MARTI) made more sinister attributions in ambiguous situations and entertained more paranoid cognitions about their coworkers. Moreover, paranoid cognitions about coworkers mediated the relationship between MARTI and suspicion behaviors toward coworkers (Study 2). Consistent with a social interactionist perspective, others chose to exclude prospective group members who were high in MARTI from joining the group and planned to reject them if they became group members (Study 3). Others’ social rejection of the focal group member was predicted by their anger toward group members who were high in MARTI (Study 4).
posted by alasdair at 3:24 AM on August 11, 2012 [2 favorites]

This is the main reason I'm so thrilled about being self-employed despite making a third of what I was at my corporate job. I may have to scrimp and save, but by god I never have to take part in another meeting or worry about corporate politics again.
posted by languagehat at 10:56 AM on August 11, 2012

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