Witty Wisdom on Workplace Politics

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Jone Bosworth
Jone Bosworth, J.D. writes about leadership, women, and wise organizational strategies. A speaker, certified executive coach and strategist, Jone is the CEO of inCourage Leading, LLC.
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Jone Bosworth
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Witty Wisdom on Workplace Politics

Is there anything cooler than winning a Nobel Prize for Literature? How about winning the Nobel Prize and winning an Academy Award. George Bernard Shaw is the only person to do both.

An Irish playwright, essayist, novelist, short story writer, Shaw received the 1925 Nobel Prize for Literature. In 1938, he was awarded the Oscar for “Best Adapted Screenplay” for his play, Pygmalion. Also co-founder of the London School of Economics, Shaw can certainly teach us a thing or two about the complexities of life—including work life and the workplace politics that often come with it.

To quote Shaw, “Advice is like kissing, it costs nothing and it’s a pleasant thing to do.” With that good-humored preface, what follows is my advice—seven witty and wise Shaw quotes—to help you manage workplace politics:      

  1. “Never wrestle with pigs. You both get dirty and the pig likes it.” It can be oh so tempting to get involved in (dirty) workplace politics—don’t give into that temptation. Typically, there’s not a sustainable ‘winning’ side as organizational priorities ebb and flow, people come and go. Stay in a curious, observer-mode. Believe Shaw, someone likes dirt more than you so it’s wise to stay out of negative workplace politics.
  2. “What really flatters a man is that you think him worth flattering.” I’m not advising you to be an inauthentic brownnoser. Ample research tells us that complimenting someone could be the key to improving work performance. As Japanese scientist Norihiro Sadato said, “To the brain, receiving a compliment is as much a social reward as being rewarded money.”  Shaw, and your Mum, is right:  flattery can get you anywhere. It can help you diffuse ugly workplace politics too.
  3. “Do not do unto others as you would that they should do unto you. Their tastes may not be the same.” While the Golden Rule is drilled into most of our minds, Shaw wittily tips that advice on its head. When we find out what’s really important to others, even the trickiest of workplace politics can be managed. Of course, if someone’s taste runs to something particularly nasty, please, please default to the Golden Rule.
  4. Take care to get what you like or you will be forced to like what you get.” Like leadership itself, our success depends on our self-awareness, knowing our core values, and having a clear vision of where we want to go. Know, hold true to yourself and no amount of workplace politics can force you to be something, or someone, you’re not.     
  5.  “When the master has come to do everything through the slave, the slave becomes the master, since he cannot live without him.” Don’t be a slave to work but do make yourself indispensable. What can you offer that no one else can? Find out and without playing workplace politics, you’ll be the master of your destiny.
  6. “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” Stirring of the workplace politics’ pot, like personal agendas and power plays, often gets fostered by miscommunication. Email, in particular, can give us the illusion that we’ve communicated. When our tone doesn’t hit the computer screen or smartphone with email we can inadvertently fuel workplace politics. Take care to avoid the illusion that you’ve communicated. When in doubt, use that old-fashioned communication tool—the telephone.
  7. “When a thing is funny, search it carefully for a hidden truth.” Workplace politics can be very funny and sometimes, there’s an important organizational value (or cancer) to be discovered. In one organization I led, a contingent of workplace “eco-warriors” demanded that no one be permitted to use scented shampoo, soap or deodorant. Perfume and cologne, of course, were forbidden. When a woman brought in flowers from her garden and they hit the foreboden list too, it was definitely time to search for a hidden truth. How can flowers be bad?

Taking our work seriously but ourselves lightly is vital when it comes to managing—rising above and beyond—workplace politics. Find the funny, my friends, and workplace politics will not dampen your drive.