Monday, June 15, 2015

Office Politics: How to Thrive in a World of Lying, Backstabbing and Dirty Tricks

According to Wikipedia office politics is the use of power and social networking within an organization to achieve changes that benefit the organization or individuals within it.

The modern working world is a dangerous place, where game-playing, duplicity and sheer malevolence are rife. Do talent and hard work count for nothing? Is politics everything? Office Politics: How to Thrive in a World of Lying, Backstabbing and Dirty Tricks by Oliver James provides us with some answers.

The basic notion in this book is that as ever more of us work in complex white-collar environments, success at work depends ever more on office politics. Where blame can be spread and credit stolen, and the bonus pool depends on staying in the boss's good graces, you need to know how to hustle.

The traits that make for a successful hustler are not always attractive, James says. In fact, there's a "Dark Triad" of character types disproportionately represented in office environments: psychopaths, who have no conscience; machiavels, to whom others are but pieces on a chessboard; and narcissists, bursting with malignant self-love

This book teaches how to read the lie of the land; suck up without looking sucky; boast without looking boastful; network and scratch backs; cultivate a persona but don't cause yourself to have a nervous breakdown by cultivating one wildly unlike your own, and so on.

Of particular amusement is in the way he talks about fields of work and structures of reward that encourage the worst sort of politicking. It's good to read someone being scalding about tournament bonus schemes, "360-degree assessment", public‑sector outsourcing and neoliberal labour markets from the point of view of psychology rather than ideology or economics.

James is also sceptical of human resources gobbledygook. He quotes with approval, for instance, an unnamed HR veteran who assures him IQ testing is a waste of time: "The ancient statistical tests are of course fraudulent. As for interviews and personality tests, the whole idea of getting an individual to declare the unknown sources of their life motivation is daft beyond the reach of words."

Most triadic people are the way they are, apparently, because they were unloved as children.


James doesn’t show a  link between how well you do on tests of intelligence and how good you are at office politics. Being clever at exams and tests does not mean you will be clever at politics. As you have probably already observed in your working life, some apparently not very bright people do extremely well, while many people with great educational qualifications and high IQ scores, do quite badly.

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