- Comic page extracted from http://www.stbeals.com/office-pool-algae/2014/2/office-politics
My mum had always warned me, that office politics can be very detrimental. It’s a double-edged sword. If you play it right, you can exterminate just about anyone you want to. But if you’re not careful enough, you might find yourself on the losing end. I never bothered much about what she said, and never understood what it was like until I unknowingly became involved in a situation that led to a co-worker being fired.
The organization which I was working for had strict rules against office politics. Staff were advised not to get involved in any situation which might put themselves or colleagues in a difficult position, including whistle blowing. We were encouraged to speak directly to a person if we had any disagreement or dissatisfaction towards that person’s actions or words. I felt safe and protected in that environment.
However, I was still warned by my manager that there will be co-workers who would poke fire and try to create friction between one another. I needed to know how to avoid or push them away if they ever approached me to start a conflict about another co-worker.
How did it start?
About half a year after I started working, there was a slight situation between two co-workers and my manager. One co-worker turned to me to seek consolation. She confided in me and told me why she was so upset and bothered by the whole situation. I didn’t want to get involved further so I just listened as she poured her heart out and cried. I felt sorry for her but there was nothing I could do.
The next day, as soon as I arrived in the office, I was called in to the manager’s office. He questioned whether I had been talking to my colleague about a recent incident. I quickly said no but admitted that she related her side of the story to me over lunch. He wanted to know about the conversation we had. At first I was reluctant because my colleague told me everything with trust. But my manager explained that he needed to know what she had told me in order to investigate the situation further. Trusting my manager, I told him everything. He promised that he would not mention to anyone what I had told him and whatever we discussed in his office was confidential. He also warned me never to get involved in such situations again, be it just listening to someone talk or tell me their side of the story. It was unethical either way.
What happened next?
Everything went on as usual that day, but half way through the day I saw my colleague being called into our manager’s office. He seemed really unhappy and I knew something wasn’t right. I couldn’t help feeling a sense of guilt. I felt like I was the one who exposed her and threw her into the fire pit alive. I couldn’t do anything. I had to just wait and see what the outcome was.
About 30 minutes later, they both emerged from my manager’s office. She was sobbing uncontrollably and I knew it was bad news. Our manager gathered us around and told us that she would be leaving us. That it was her last day with the company.
My heart sank. I was dumbfounded and I didn’t know how to face her. Was I the cause of her getting fired? Why was the decision so rushed? But my manager had promised not to use my words against her. Why couldn’t he just give her a warning instead of resorting to immediate termination? She came around to bid everyone farewell. Then it was my turn. She hugged and kissed me goodbye. I was still in shock much less to say, speechless. So I just hugged her, whispered goodbye and went back to doing my work.
I wondered if what I did was right, telling my supervisor about what my colleague had told me in confidence. I wondered if my words had swayed my manager’s thoughts which led to my colleague being fired. I thought about what my supervisor could have told her, and wondered if she hated me for it. I felt partly at fault and the worst part was I couldn’t do anything to remedy the situation. I felt so guilty but yet I had no way of finding out what they had talked about that led my manager into making such a sudden decision.
No one in the company spoke about her or brought up the issue after she left. No one dared to even mention her name and we all went on with our daily lives as if she never existed. It has been almost 7 years since the incident. I never kept in contact with her, and neither did I make any attempt to knowing that I could have played a part in my manager’s decision to terminate her.
How did I come to realise after so many years?
It’s been so many years and frankly, I never actually thought about her after she left. Today was just like any other day. I was getting ready for work and it suddenly hit me. At that time I was so new and raw to the working environment that I never knew there was a downside to it. I always thought that as long as I was honest and sincere, others would do the same too. The organization I worked for felt safe and protected and so I thought that I would never have to face such challenges as long as I worked there.
When this situation happened with my colleague, I thought I was being a friend by listening to her pouring her heart out. Little did I expect to be questioned for it and never did I expect that telling the truth would get her fired! I realised that it wasn’t plainly my fault for being honest with my superior about what my colleague shared with me. This was plainly office politics, people merely using others to get what they need. It’s how most people survive in a competitive working environment.
I used to read a lot of articles on corporate politics. How to play them, and how to get away with them. And I thought that people only played politics in organizations where there was a need for competition. Not in a small company like the one I worked at. It can be a very hurtful experience for some people, especially if you have trusted someone only to learn that they were just using you for their own gain in the organization. Sometimes a person’s whole career is jeopardized because of foul play.
What have I learned from this?
In the corporate world, there is no right or wrong in how you achieve your goals. It is the integrity of a person. What is acceptable to some, may not be acceptable to others. Sometimes, it is a survival race, where only the most cunning and treacherous person gets to be on top.
In my case, my manager wasn’t exactly cunning or trying to outdo anyone. It was just his approach towards the issue that really bothered me. I didn’t agree with the way he handled the whole situation, that he disregarded any possible implications towards me and used my words against another colleague in his attempt to settle the issue.
In the real world, it was a fair game where the employee could have played her cards differently right from the start if she knew how to. If she had played her cards correctly, the whole outcome might have been different. I’m no expert either, and truth be told, till today I still find myself intermittently getting involved in minor squabbles in the office. I’ve grown to be more accepting of this kind of situations, but also more wary of my words and actions. At the end of the day, it is a big big world we live in, it’s either we learn to adapt to different circumstances differently, or risk being pushed to a corner with nowhere to run.