HBR Guide to Office Politics: A Book Review by Bob Morris

June 26, 2015
Bob Morris
Media Appearances

HBR Guide to Office Politics
By Karen Dillon
Harvard Business Review Press (2015)

Rise above rivalry, avoid power games, and build better relationships to accelerate personal growth and professional development.

In HBR Guide to Office Politics, published by Harvard Business Review Press 2014), Karen Dillon offers an abundance of information, in sights, and counsel that can help almost anyone to rise above rivalry, avoid power games, and build better relationships, not only at work but in all other dimensions of their lives.

I cannot recall a prior time when I have observed or heard about more incivility in the workplace than I do now. Courtesy is hardly common. There is severe pressure on everyone to produce more and better work in less time, and at a lower cost. Electronic devices enable almost anyone to connect with almost anyone else, anywhere and at any time and yet many (most?) workers, paradoxically, feel out-of-touch with, if not alienated from their associates. This is the context, the workplace culture, within office politics are most likely to thrive.

At the outset, she offers four invaluable caveats to those who find themselves engulfed in “playing politics”

  • Question your reaction: When people appear to be playing political games, we often think we know their motives, but sometimes we’re off the mark. Step back and reevaluate: What else could be driving the behavior? Maybe it’s not as vengeful as it seems — or even intentional.
  • Try removing yourself from the equation: Everybody brings her own quirks, worries, and stresses to work. What you assume is a personal attack may have absolutely noting to do with you.
  • Accept that not all conflict is bad: Great performance can come out of being challenged by an aggressive colleague or being forced to collaborate with someone you can’t stand. We can and often do rise to challenges. Don’t assume ‘uncomfortable’ means bad.”
  • Keep your cool: Office bullies and other game players win every time they see they’ve rattled you. Never give them that satisfaction — you’ll just perpetuate the problem. Stay composed, and they’ll lose their power.

She wrote this book for those who are now in urgent need of assistance with achieving these goals: to increase their influence without compromising their integrity, contend with backstabbers and bullies, working their way through really difficult conversations, manage tensions when resources are scarce and prospects are ambiguous, obtain their fair share of choice assignments (including promotions), and meanwhile, avoid the feeling that all conflict is bad.

With regard to the last point, it is well worth keeping in mind Harry Truman’s definition of politics as “the art of getting things done.” Those who comprise a workforce must decide which politics will be acceptable to help their organization to get the “right things done” and done right.

Karen Dillon concludes: “So what’s the main takeaway, if I had to boil it down to one? As organizational development and HR expert Susan Heathfield puts it, don’t try to be the boss’s pet — be everyone’s pet. That is, devote your energy to being a terrific employee and colleague. You’ll find that you’re less preoccupied with all the jockeying that’s going on around you– and more focused on positive pursuits like performance, growth, and fulfillment.”

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Bob Morris reviews mostly business books for several websites (including Amazon US, UK, and Canada) and interviews thought leaders when not helping his corporate clients accelerate their employees’ personal growth and professional development. Read more book reviews from Bob on his site, Blogging on Business.

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