Sometimes the workplace can feel like Washington, D.C.. Chock full o’ politics. I’m told I’m being too logical or naive when I outwardly wonder why we can’t just focus on the work and leave all of the kindergarten politics in the schoolyard where it belongs. However, with some perspective, I realize that these political scenarios arise from a system in which people feeling excluded, undervalued or taken advantage of. Those feelings cause people to expect it again and protect themselves by employ measures to avoid feeling that way in the future. Can you guess what happens then? More often than not, the other party now feels the way the first one felt, reacts the same way and bam! Vicious circle time.

When you find yourself in a hotbed of workplace politics, its a good idea to really look at the problem with some distance and background information. People don’t usually come out swinging without a reason. Most people come to work wanting to do well and without malicious intent towards others! While people do have culpability for their actions, before you judge too harshly, look at why they do what they do. Why did they feel like their behavior was the best option? I mean, we all have moments that we’re not very proud of, but most of the time it is not just a lapse in judgement. I think you’ll find that when you dig deeper, you’ll find an underlying systemic problem that needs to be addressed. Or, you can keep trying to solve the individual situations and never stop swimming upstream. Since salmon can’t read this blog, I’m gonna guess that swimming upstream is not going to be your preferred option.

At my last job, the web team wondered why the sales team kept sending us these deals that were almost impossible to do, if not actually impossible. It turns out that sales employees had their commissions based on the net initial dollar amount of the sale. There was no impact to them if we couldn’t actually deliver what they sold. Therefore, they were incentivized to throw as much as they could onto the deal to get the most dollars. Now, how far do you think I’d get if I went and argued with the individual sales people? Not very far. They are going to work to get their incentives. A much better approach would be to take a higher level approach, identify the conflicting incentives and try to encourage changes that bring about more alignment in those incentives so that the company as a whole benefits.