Dealing with Workplace Politics

by | Feb 14, 2018

Workplace politics … ugh.  

Life at work in any size organization is already tough. It’s not easy to navigate competing interests, communicate well and still achieve what’s best for the organization. But when people are motivated strictly by advancing their careers or personal agendas versus  contributing to the organization and the mission of the team, it becomes all about them. That’s what breeds workplace politics.

It can be hard to avoid. There is no shortage of pressure or competition. At some level, many of us feel like we have to protect ourselves at work – that no one else will – and this fear often pushes us to self-preserving and political activity. When this happens, the result  is ultimately destructive, always undermines the greater goal, and disconnects us from the people around us.

As believers, we should operate from a place of confidence knowing that God has already met our every need in Christ. We have a great opportunity and responsibility to root out self-serving and political behavior in our organization. So how do we actually do this?

The book of 3 John is a great mini-management book and offers some insight in this area. John helped build the early church, and this book is essentially a memo to one of John’s direct reports, Gaius.

In the memo, John praised Gaius for specific actions he took that modeled the values of the organization. John also contrasted Gaius’ actions with another leader on the team, Diotrophes, who did not want to share recognition or any sort of spotlight. He refused to help the team, he gossiped, and wanted nothing to do with them – he wanted to be first. Pride was at the root. John said he would deal with him, and then affirmed Gaius to continue to lead well and live the values.

In this letter, there are three things John did that we can apply to our work today:

  • He praised Gaius in specific ways. As a result, Gaius knew that the fact he was living the values was noticed and mattered. He was encouraged and strengthened in his commitment to the team.
  • He addressed the problem. Gaius also knew that self-serving behavior would not be tolerated. He would have increased confidence in his leadership and a stronger commitment to live the values.
  • He encouraged Gaius. He told him how these actions fit in the bigger picture so that Gaius would feel more deeply connected and committed to the mission.

Whether you are in a position of direct management or not, follow John’s lead. Be intentional about praising the values done well in specific ways, and be intentional about confronting and rooting out behavior that is self-serving and political. It’s hard work, but your team will be grateful, strengthened and on the path to achieving its greater purpose.

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Ben Kirksey

Ben Kirksey is the Chief Operating Officer for Workmatters. He is a graduate of the University of Arkansas (2006, Economics and Political Science), and alumnus of Teach for America. He realized a passion for integrating faith and work while at Northstar Partnering Group (now Field Agent™) and subsequently co-founded the Workmatters Institute in 2010.